British actress, Patrica Roc

Since his death in 2004, Ronald Reagan has come to be regarded as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. Last year, President Obama said that the 40th president helped “to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics.”

Now, in a new biography ‘The Goddess Of The Odeons’ about Patricia Roc, a British star of the 1940s and 1950s, author Michael Hodgson makes startling revelations about the former B-movie actor turned politician. In the book, film historian Hodgson alleges that Reagan suffered a nervous breakdown with the collapse his marriage to movie star Jane Wyman in 1945, and a passionate affair with Roc was the only thing that saved him from committing suicide.

Hodgson says Roc’s private papers reveal her many scandalous affairs with married men, which earned her the nickname ‘Bed Roc’ within the film industry.

Roc’s relationship with Reagan began in Hollywood and continued in London, and if the actress had accepted Reagan’s proposal of marriage in 1948, Hodgson maintains there might have been an English First Lady in the White House.

Roc was born illegitimately in London in 1915 as Felicia Miriam Ursula Herold and was adopted by a wealthy Dutch-Belgian stockbroker. She grew up in a wealthy household, and after a year at a Paris finishing school, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The made her London stage debut at the age of 22 and in 1943, broke into major box-office stardom in ‘Millions Like Us.’

In 1939, she married Dr. Murray Laing, a possessive husband who was 12 years her senior and who objected to her kissing other men on screen. He soon had real cause to worry when Roc had an affair with co-star Michael Wilding while filming ‘The Farmer’s Wife’ in 1941. Other affairs followed.

In 1945, she left for Hollywood to star in ‘Western Canyon Passage.’ Two days after she arrived, she met Ronald Reagan at the famous Brown Derby restaurant.

Reagan had recently returned from the war, having served in the Army Air Corps, to find his movie star wife, Jane Wyman, was no longer interested in him.

“All I wanted to do,” he later wrote “was to rest up awhile, make love to my wife, and come up refreshed to a better job in an ideal world. As it came out, I was disappointed in all these post-war ambitions.”

Roc was seriously alarmed by Reagan’s mental state.

“He was just wretched and miserable,” she said. “He adored his wife and family, and just couldn’t ¬understand why or how she had completely lost interest in him.

Had I been older, I suppose I would have realised that he was suffering a sort of breakdown, as he was quite often in tears and ¬dangerously depressed. He several times told me: ‘Life just isn’t worth living any more. I just don’t see the point of going on.’

“I became deeply fond of him, but rather as one becomes fond of a lost child. We became lovers because, quite frankly, I was scared and lonely on my arrival in Hollywood, and sex seemed the only thing to alleviate his utter misery.

“I was seriously concerned that he might do something to himself if I didn’t make him feel that somebody wanted him, because his wife sure as hell didn’t.

“Of course, we had to be extremely careful how and where we met, especially as he was still locked into one of the highest-profile ¬marriages in Hollywood. We could both have lost our contracts had we been caught out.”

Reagan, she said, followed her everywhere. “I couldn’t turn around without falling over him,’ she said. ‘If I went to dinner with another man, he would tip the waiters to get a table next to mine, where he would sit alone and stare at me.”

They were reunited in London in November 1948 at the Royal Command Film ¬Performance at the Odeon, Leicester Square, at which both actors appeared on stage.

“Ronnie seemed heartbroken and bitterly hurt,” said Roc. “His wife had told him: ‘You’re a bore! Get out! I want a divorce.’ He was so damaged that often he was drinking and not able to perform sexually. He spent a lot of time at my London flat in Hallam Street, and  repeatedly asked me to marry him.’

But Roc by then had become engaged to André Thomas, a French lighting cameraman, who was to become her second husband in 1949.

Reagan began a brief affair with Patricia Neal, his co-star in the film ‘The Hasty Heart..’ In 1952, he married actress Nancy Davis.

Roc had an affair with Anthony Steel, which resulted in a son. Her husband Thomas accepted the boy as his, but suffered a stroke in 1956 and died at the age of 45. She married Viennese millionaire Walter Reif in 1964.

A few weeks after Reagan won the Presidential election in 1980, Roc made a return to the London stage, appearing before Princess Margaret at the National Theatre in Night Of 100 Stars, to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of ¬British Actors’ Equity.

Until the end of her life, on December 30, 2003, Roc displayed a photograph of Reagan and herself, looking deep into each other’s eyes, in the living room of her Swiss home.  She referred to him affectionately as “The Pres.”
He died five months after her at 93.

‘I think maybe I saved his life,’ she said in 1996. ‘And, you know, I would have made rather a good First Lady, wouldn’t I?’