The title of the 1950 thriller “Shadow of the Wall” refers to the mysterious image of a murderess caught in the act by her victim’s step-daughter. Traumatized by what she witnessed, the young girl — played by child actress Gigi Perreau — is sent to a psychiatrist to help her come to terms with the horror she witnessed and in an attempt to extract enough information from her to solve the crime. The part of the psychiatrist was one of the earlier and most substantial roles to date for 20-something Nancy Davis. The former actress, who died yesterday at the age of 94, is of course, better remembered by her married name: Nancy Reagan.
MSNBC got in touch with Perreau and asked her to share some childhood memories of working with the starlet before she left Hollywood for a life as first lady.
How would you compare the Nancy Reagan the world came to know with the actress who you spent time with on set?
She was the same woman — an actress who was smart enough to accomplish her dreams once she met [Ronald Reagan] and used her acting skills to be exactly what he needed as a partner and wife.
What’s your clearest memory of working with Nancy Davis?
Skipping hand in hand down the streets of MGM towards the commissary at lunch time, singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”
This being her first major role, had you been familiar with her prior to being cast in the film?
I hadn’t met her before the film … I also loved the others in the film — Ann Sothern and Zachary Scott — and we all got along beautifully. It was fun later on in life to realize that I had billing above the title, and that the “newcomer,” Nancy Davis was a featured player, who of course went on to become the first lady!
The two of you shared several scenes together. Was your on screen chemistry something the two of you had to work at?
The chemistry between us was very natural, since I was the child she was trying to help and she was “my friend.”
You were very young at the time. How well were you able to get to know her off camera?
When I wasn’t in school on the set, we got to chat and she liked my mother very much. (My mother is now 98, and when told of Nancy’s passing said, “Oh, that’s way too young!”)
Did you have any contact with her after she left Hollywood?
I saw Nancy socially, once at lunch when [Ronald] Reagan was governor of California. I arranged a lunch for her step-daughter, Maureen, one of my best friends, and Nancy and I at the marina. She was so pleased to see me again, as a grown up, and we had a wonderful two-hour lunch. When the bus boy, in his eagerness to please, accidentally spilled coffee on her lap, she was so gracious and assured him that it was all right. What I learned that afternoon that would surprise many I am sure, is that she was compassionate, and understanding, and could handle a difficult situation with grace.
I have a wonderful photo of her — “To Gigi, who can take me out to the ballgame anytime … Love, Nancy Davis.”
This interview has been edited for clarity.