Cattle Queen of Montana

“Cattle Queen of Montana” was a film that Ronald Reagan and Barbara Stanwyck both really enjoyed making – they got on well together and were friends

Ronald Reagan and Barbara Stanwyck only starred in one film together, the 1954 Western “Cattle Queen of Montana.”

Maybe not a great film but it looked good on the enormous Cinemascope screen with it’s wonderful location filming  

“Cattle Queen of Montana” tells the story of Sierra Nevada Jones (Barbara Stanwyck) who along with her father leaves Texas for Montana. As a family, they have inherited a large portion of the land, and they wish to continue to raise cattle.

Sierra ends up fighting both the Indians and Tom McCord, a local man who uses some of the Indian tribe in a bid to to steal the land from Sierra. 

Enter Farrell (Ronald Reagan), a man who appears to be a hired gun for McCord. Farrell and Sierra encounter each other at the beginning of the film, when she is bathing in a lake. Farrell warns her about the Indian tribe.

Their paths cross many times, especially when McCord offers Farrell a bounty to kill Sierra. It turns out that Farrell is not what he seems to be – he is a U.S. Cavalry agent sent to investigate the issues between McCord and the Indians. 

Predictably, a romance between Farrell and Sierra develops, especially since they end up sharing the same opinion about McCord.

Farrell and Sierra get rid of McCord and his gang, and they ride off into the sunset, knowing that the land will stay with Sierra, and peace with the Indians has been achieved.

Both Ronald Reagan and Barbara Stanwyck had fond memories of working on the film. In his autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me?, Reagan reflected on the “scenic Glacier National Park” and Barbara Stanwyck’s absolute professionalism. “Somehow working outdoors,” he wrote, , “amid beautiful scenery and much of the time on horseback never has seemed like work to me. It’s like getting paid for playing cowboys and Indians.” 

Ronald Reagan admired Barbara Stanwyck’s acting ability and her stamina. She took her work very seriously, and expected others to do the same.

In a letter he later wrote to a friend, Ronald Reagan wrote, “She [Stanwyck] is a professional. Her only intolerance is of those who won’t take our profession seriously, and who come to work without their lines learned or who are late and careless in their work.

Barbara is ready every day exactly on time, her lines learned perfectly for each day’s shooting, prepared to undergo whatever has to be done to make the scene better for the audience who will eventually see the film.”

Much like Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck loved the open land and took any opportunity she could to act in Westerns. What comes through clearly  in “Cattle Queen of Montana” is Reagan and Stanwyck’s enjoyment of the job they were doing. 

Barbara Stanwyck’s friendship with both Reagans (Stanwyck and Nancy Reagan had also starred together in a 1949 film, “East Side, West Side”) continued well into Reagan’s presidency.

She had replied to a letter that he had written to her after she had won a particular accolade and the letter began formally, addressing Reagan as “Mr. President,” but she couldn’t help adding in a postscript: “Ronnie—If I had known during the filming of ‘Cattle Queen’ that you were going to be President of our country I would have given you first billing!!”

Ronald Regan replied to her and reaffirmed the joy that their friendship brought to him and Nancy, and their support of her accomplishments and well-deserved honors. In his typical humorous way, Reagan couldn’t resist adding a less formal note: “Incidentally, I appreciate your willingness to give me top billing in the picture but it might have set me back–RR as …..?” 

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