Reel Presidents: From JFK to Millard Fillmore

Given Daniel Day Lewis’s heralded performance and the stellar work of a bevy of character actors, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln will undoubtedly sweep the acting categories during this awards season. The fanfare surrounding the film reminded me that Honest Abe has been the president most often depicted on film, and it prompted me to investigate other cinematic depictions of iconic presidents. The result is a two-part series, Reel Presidents. Next week I will focus exclusively on celluloid Lincolns, including the axe-wielding action hero in one of my favorite movies of the year, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer. This week, I offer a run-down of other movie presidents and the actors who played them.

Not surprisingly, those presidents who steered our country through traumatic or nation-defining events have become icons onscreen—Lincoln, JFK, FDR. It is not unusual for biopics or briefer interpretations of these presidents to appear at times of national crisis, though that is not the only time iconic presidents show up in movies.  In 1942, at the beginning of WWII, Franklin Roosevelt, played by Jack Young, must have been an inspiring presence for a wartime audience in Yankee Doodle Dandy as he tells George M. Cohan, “Today, we are all soldiers. We are all on the front.” However, Jack Young’s Roosevelt is more of an impersonation than an interpretation. He is filmed only from behind or in an over-the-shoulder shot, while vocal impressionist Art Gilmore provided the nasal voice and patrician accent of Roosevelt. Apparently, the filmmakers did not want to risk offending Americans by having an actor interpret a living president on the screen. The New York Times complimented the film’s handling of the situation, calling out “Captain Jack Young’s tastefully restrained and surprisingly realistic impersonation of the President.”

GEORGE M. COHAN, PLAYED BY CAGNEY, TELLS HIS STORY TO FDR, WHO IS BARELY SHOWN IN THE FILM.

Young made something of a career with his impersonation of FDR, appearing in uncredited cameos throughout the war years, specifically in films directed by Michael Curtiz. Young shows up briefly as FDR in Mission to Moscow (1943) and This Is the Army (1943), while his voice is used in Edge of Darkness (1943) and Action in the North Atlantic (1943).

After the war, Roosevelt does not show up as a character again until the end of the 1950s, perhaps because he was so closely associated with the Depression and WWII. In 1958, film producer Dory Schary wrote a Tony-Award-winning play titled Sunrise at Campobello about Roosevelt’s struggle with polio during the 1920s. The play was turned into a film in 1960. Polio had been the scourge of the 20th century, with every parent fearing the summer months when polio epidemics became expected events.  So, it’s no accident that the long-running play and well-received film occurred on the heels of the development of a polio vaccine. The first vaccine was developed in 1950 and was used throughout the 1950s in Africa and Eastern Europe. Developed by Jonas Salk, the second vaccine was announced in 1955 and administered through shots. Albert Sabin then perfected an oral vaccine that was selected in 1958 by U.S. Institutes of Health to be the primary vaccine to eradicate polio. The story of FDR’s struggle to overcome the disease in Sunrise at Campobello was timely, reminding viewers that the disease could affect anyone, even a future president. It also served as a testament to the fortitude of an American leader who did not let polio interfere with his duty.

FDR, PLAYED BY RALPH BELLAMY, IS THE VICTIM OF POLIO, A DISEASE ON EVERYONE’S RADAR IN THE 1950s.

In the post-Watergate period, after a president shattered the public trust and resigned  in disgrace, several biopics about Roosevelt, a president who inspired trust by holding the country together during two tumultuous events, were  released. Edward Herrmann starred as FDR in Franklin and Eleanor (1976) and Franklin and Eleanor: The White House Years (1977) then reprised the role for a cameo in the musical Annie. In 1979, Jason Robards starred in FDR: The Last Year. Dan O’Herlihy appears as FDR in MacArthur, the biopic of the controversial and cantankerous general. Recently, a comedy drama about Franklin Roosevelt has been making the rounds of the festival circuit. Hyde Park on Hudson is a British film directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill; Morning Glory) about the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth to FDR’s country estate in New York. The storyline focuses on both FDR the president, who hopes to bolster American support for England on the eve of WWII, and FDR the private man, who grows closer to distant cousin Margaret Suckley during the course of events. In a surprising bit of casting, Bill Murray stars as Roosevelt. Sadly, given the pathetic state of distribution and exhibition, in which distributors and cineplex theaters prefer to tie up three or four screens with the latest blockbuster rather than devote one to a low-budget indie, Hyde Park on Hudson may not open in a theater near me.

CHARLTON HESTON LOOKS THE PART OF ANDREW JACKSON IN ‘THE PRESIDENT’S LADY’ AND ‘THE BUCCANEER.’

I was surprised at the number of films over the years that have featured Andrew Jackson, whose image as a Tennessee frontiersman reflected a pioneering toughness while his role in the Battle of New Orleans branded him a popular hero. Nicknamed Old Hickory, he was considered a man of the common folk who prized democracy as defined by frontier politics. The character of Andrew Jackson appears in a variety of films throughout the Golden Age, including historical romances involving his scandalous affairs. In The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Lionel Barrymore played a cantankerous, avuncular Jackson opposite Joan Crawford as disreputable Margaret (“Peggy”) Eaton, who had Jackson’s ear in the White House after Jackson’s beloved wife Rachel died. Though Barrymore had a lock on playing cranky, crotchety characters, he lacked the outdoorsy quality of a man born and bred on the frontier. Still, he managed to reprise his role in Lone Star, a 1952 adventure tale starring Clark Gable as a Texan sent west by Jackson to assist Sam Houston’s bid for Texas statehood.

BILL MURRAY AS FDR IN ‘HYDE PARK ON HUDSON’

In contrast to Barrymore, Charlton Heston was the perfect actor to play Jackson. Tall and lean, the square-jawed Heston looked like a rugged frontiersman. Like Barrymore, he played the seventh president twice. The President’s Lady (1953) recounts Jackson’s relationship with his wife Rachel. In the early 1790s, Jackson married divorcee Rachel Donelson Robards, which was something to talk about in the 18th century, but their situation turned downright scandalous when it was discovered the divorce was not finalized before their marriage. Later, her marital history became campaign fodder when the real-life Jackson ran for office. Heston returned to the role for The Buccaneer, which is my favorite slice of Old Hickory history. The Buccaneer tells the story of pirate Jean Lafite who teamed with General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans to defeat the British. Not only does Heston suit the role but who wouldn’t want a president who is not above cavorting with dashing pirates?

BRIAN DONLEVY AS JACKSON IN ‘THE REMARKABLE ANDREW.’

And, then there is The Remarkable Andrew, a 1942 comedy fantasy starring Brian Donlevy as Andrew Jackson’s ghost. I have not seen this particular film, but apparently, Jackson descends from heaven to help Andrew Long, played by a young William Holden, fight political corruption.  He feels compelled to help Long because of a promise he made to the young man’s ancestor, who saved Jackson’s life at the Battle of New Orleans.  The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo from his 1941 novel of the same name, which supposedly advocates the isolationist policy of discouraging America’s involvement in Europe’s troubles and war. Given Trumbo’s leftist politics and the fact that he was blacklisted for so many years, I wonder if that is why this film has been largely forgotten. While the isolationist subtext would be interesting given the release date, I am more interested in seeing how the film makes use of the ghosts of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, John Marshall, and Jesse James to help Long fight political corruption.

FOUR OF THE MANY ACTORS WHO HAVE PLAYED JFK, INCLUDING GREENWOOD IN ‘THIRTEEN DAYS,’ DEVANE IN ‘THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER,’ ‘JAMES FRANCISCUS IN “JACQUELINE BOUVIER KENNEDY,’ AND MARTIN SHEEN IN ‘KENNEDY.’

After Lincoln, John Kennedy is likely the American president most often portrayed, particularly on the small screen. So many mini-series and made-for-TV movies have been produced about the Kennedy saga that they constitute a subgenre. The majority of them are romantic melodramas focusing on his troubled marriage and extramarital dalliances, which was information revealed long after the assassination. His betrayal of Jackie, who was so strong and stoic after her husband was murdered in the national spotlight, is replayed over and over in these substandard mini-series. It is as though American can’t quite reconcile Kennedy the heroic leader who steered the country through the most dangerous days of the Cold War with JFK the wily womanizer who dallied with movie stars and mob queens. The exception is the made-for-TV drama The Missiles of October, starring William Devane as the strong-willed JFK who managed to get America through the Cuban Missile Crisis.

WASHINGTON WAS REPRESENTED REPEATEDLY IN SILENT FILMS, BUT HE DROPPED OFF IN POPULARITY IN THE SOUND ERA. JOSEPH KILGOUR PLAYED WASHINGTON IN FOUR SILENT FILMS.

I prefer the big-screen Kennedy, who is most often portrayed as a heroic leader. For example, PT 109 (1963) is a mostly fictionalized account of JFK’s WWII ordeal as a PT boat captain whose crew is stranded after their ship is attacked by the Japanese. My favorite Kennedy film, however, is Thirteen Days, director Roger Donaldson’s drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis. A behind-the-scenes look, the film is shot mostly in close-ups to capture the intimacy and clandestine conversation among the characters—JFK, RFK, and advisor Kenny O’Donnell. Unsung actor Bruce Greenwood stars as JFK, with the much-maligned Kevin Costner holding his own as O’Donnell. For me, the most touching scene chronicles the mission of Captain William Ecker, a US Navy pilot who led a low-level reconnaissance flight over Cuba to take photos to prove that Soviet missile bases existed there. Christopher Lawford, JFK and RFK’s real-life nephew, portrays Ecker. Lawford had long since moved on from acting to pursue a career in public service, but he agreed to appear in this film in what must have been an homage to his uncles.

NIGEL HAWTHORNE AS MARTIN VAN BUREN IN ‘AMISTAD.’

Besides the iconic (JFK, FDR, Lincoln, Washington) and the notorious (Nixon, George W. Bush), there are dozens of presidents who sleep in the shadows of history. Are there any cinematic representations of these presidents whose names are remembered only on game shows?  I was surprised to discover  there were. Martin Van Buren, who was blamed for the Depression of 1837 but helped execute Jacksonian Democracy, a style of democracy aimed at the common man, appears as a character in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. William Henry Harrison, who served only one month in office before dying of pneumonia, is represented in three films, Tecumseh (1972), Brave Warrior (1952), and Tecumseh (1994). Ironically, all of them are versions of the story of legendary Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh, who repeatedly opposed the U.S., particularly during the War of 1812. Franklin Pierce, who ran for president under the slogan “We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!,” is a character in 1944’s The Great Moment, which tells the story of the dentist who discovered ether as a painkiller. “Polked” by the way, refers to President James K. Polk’s win in 1844. Zachary Taylor, who was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready,” proved not to be so when he died in office after serving just over a year.  He can be found in two movies, Rebellion (1938) and One Man’s Hero (1999) as the military leader of the American forces during the Mexican-American War.

Finally, Millard Fillmore, who assumed the office of president after Zachary Taylor died, and whose name became synonymous with dullness after repeated jokes on the old Tonight Show, is a character in The Monroe Doctrine, a two-reel short that chronicles the impact of the doctrine in American foreign policy. Unbelievably, Millard Fillmore was portrayed by an actor named Millard Vincent.

0 Response Reel Presidents: From JFK to Millard Fillmore
Posted By Heidi : November 26, 2012 1:18 pm

Tom Sellek as Ike in Countdown to D Day (TV movie, but I am mentioning it anyway) is one of my favorites. I was horrified when I heard he was going to play Ike, one of my favorites. But I think he did a fantastic job. I really liked the casting, and thought it gave a fairly entertaining look at the days leading up to the invasion.

Posted By Heidi : November 26, 2012 1:18 pm

Tom Sellek as Ike in Countdown to D Day (TV movie, but I am mentioning it anyway) is one of my favorites. I was horrified when I heard he was going to play Ike, one of my favorites. But I think he did a fantastic job. I really liked the casting, and thought it gave a fairly entertaining look at the days leading up to the invasion.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 26, 2012 1:25 pm

Heidi: I have not seen that film, but I vaguely remember it. Sometimes unusual casting is just the trick to elevate material.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 26, 2012 1:25 pm

Heidi: I have not seen that film, but I vaguely remember it. Sometimes unusual casting is just the trick to elevate material.

Posted By michaelgloversmith : November 26, 2012 1:57 pm

Fascinating post full of valuable info. I’m amazed at how many titles you’ve listed that I’ve never heard of. The Missiles of October sounds particularly interesting because I’m a William Devane fan.

I look forward to your thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That’s a film I wanted to see but ended up missing due to the dismal reviews. I should’ve known better and gone anyway.

Posted By michaelgloversmith : November 26, 2012 1:57 pm

Fascinating post full of valuable info. I’m amazed at how many titles you’ve listed that I’ve never heard of. The Missiles of October sounds particularly interesting because I’m a William Devane fan.

I look forward to your thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That’s a film I wanted to see but ended up missing due to the dismal reviews. I should’ve known better and gone anyway.

Posted By Lauren : November 26, 2012 2:07 pm

Great post! Also, Andrew Jackson has been memorialized in musical form: Bailiwick, a Chicago theater company, just did the off-Broadway hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. It was awesome.

Posted By Lauren : November 26, 2012 2:07 pm

Great post! Also, Andrew Jackson has been memorialized in musical form: Bailiwick, a Chicago theater company, just did the off-Broadway hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. It was awesome.

Posted By Doug : November 26, 2012 2:52 pm

Susan, an interesting post, and I will be looking for both Lincoln and A.L.V.K..
You know the old movie bit where a painting representing an earlier ancestor will actually be a portrait of the actor playing a role in the present day?
One of my childhood friends was a direct line descendant of Franklin Pierce; they had his picture on the wall in their house, and my friend’s father looked EXACTLY like him, as if he had posed for the picture himself.
I love IMDB for checking my memory of films-President George Bush Sr. is indeed represented in that opus: “Naked Gun 2.5, The Smell Of Fear”.

Posted By Doug : November 26, 2012 2:52 pm

Susan, an interesting post, and I will be looking for both Lincoln and A.L.V.K..
You know the old movie bit where a painting representing an earlier ancestor will actually be a portrait of the actor playing a role in the present day?
One of my childhood friends was a direct line descendant of Franklin Pierce; they had his picture on the wall in their house, and my friend’s father looked EXACTLY like him, as if he had posed for the picture himself.
I love IMDB for checking my memory of films-President George Bush Sr. is indeed represented in that opus: “Naked Gun 2.5, The Smell Of Fear”.

Posted By robbushblog : November 26, 2012 3:27 pm

Why is George W. Bush notorious? He is coupled with Nixon for being notorious?

Nixon was portrayed in Oliver Stone’s Nixon and in the comedy Dick, which is surprisingly funny.

Jefferson was portrayed in 1776 by Ken Howard and by Nick Nolte in Merchant/Ivory’s Jefferson in Paris. I do not recommend the latter.

John Quincy Adams was also portrayed in Amistad, by Anthony Hopkins. His father was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the successful John Adams miniseries for HBO.

Andrew Jackson was also portrayed by Johnny Cash in the 80′s Wonderful World Of Disney presentation of Davy Crockett. It wasn’t as successful as the original.

So there are just a few I remember.

Posted By robbushblog : November 26, 2012 3:27 pm

Why is George W. Bush notorious? He is coupled with Nixon for being notorious?

Nixon was portrayed in Oliver Stone’s Nixon and in the comedy Dick, which is surprisingly funny.

Jefferson was portrayed in 1776 by Ken Howard and by Nick Nolte in Merchant/Ivory’s Jefferson in Paris. I do not recommend the latter.

John Quincy Adams was also portrayed in Amistad, by Anthony Hopkins. His father was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the successful John Adams miniseries for HBO.

Andrew Jackson was also portrayed by Johnny Cash in the 80′s Wonderful World Of Disney presentation of Davy Crockett. It wasn’t as successful as the original.

So there are just a few I remember.

Posted By swac44 : November 26, 2012 5:10 pm

Another TV movie, but one that crams in a lot of Presidents, is 1979′s Backstairs at the White House, which covered eight administrations from the point of view of the staff who served there. So you get Victor Buono as William Howard Taft, George Kennedy as Warren G. Harding, Ed Flanders as Calvin Coolidge, Larry Gates as Herbert Hoover, John Anderson (Elder Hammond in Ride the High Country) as FDR, Harry Morgan as Harry S. Truman and Andrew Duggan (Seven Days in May, The Incredible Mr. Limpet) as DDE.

Apparently no Woodrow Wilson (although both of his wives make appearances, played by Claire Bloom and Kim Hunter), but hey, he got his own movie all to himself in 1944, with Alexander Knox.

I haven’t seen it since it aired, but I recall it was an entertaining history lesson, probably inspired to some extent by the success of Roots, with major roles for Louis Gossett Jr. and Leslie Uggams. It was the first I’d ever heard of the Teapot Dome Scandal, which taught me that the hubbub around Watergate was really nothing new.

Posted By swac44 : November 26, 2012 5:10 pm

Another TV movie, but one that crams in a lot of Presidents, is 1979′s Backstairs at the White House, which covered eight administrations from the point of view of the staff who served there. So you get Victor Buono as William Howard Taft, George Kennedy as Warren G. Harding, Ed Flanders as Calvin Coolidge, Larry Gates as Herbert Hoover, John Anderson (Elder Hammond in Ride the High Country) as FDR, Harry Morgan as Harry S. Truman and Andrew Duggan (Seven Days in May, The Incredible Mr. Limpet) as DDE.

Apparently no Woodrow Wilson (although both of his wives make appearances, played by Claire Bloom and Kim Hunter), but hey, he got his own movie all to himself in 1944, with Alexander Knox.

I haven’t seen it since it aired, but I recall it was an entertaining history lesson, probably inspired to some extent by the success of Roots, with major roles for Louis Gossett Jr. and Leslie Uggams. It was the first I’d ever heard of the Teapot Dome Scandal, which taught me that the hubbub around Watergate was really nothing new.

Posted By swac44 : November 26, 2012 5:16 pm

Oops, I guess Robert Vaughn played Wilson in Backstairs at the White House, but for some reason the IMDb doesn’t include him in the cast.

Haven’t seen the Fox film Wilson, but given my interest in the First World War, and a love of ’40s Technicolor, I should try and track it down, or hope it shows up on TCM one of these days.

Posted By swac44 : November 26, 2012 5:16 pm

Oops, I guess Robert Vaughn played Wilson in Backstairs at the White House, but for some reason the IMDb doesn’t include him in the cast.

Haven’t seen the Fox film Wilson, but given my interest in the First World War, and a love of ’40s Technicolor, I should try and track it down, or hope it shows up on TCM one of these days.

Posted By David : November 26, 2012 7:42 pm

Interesting post.
One interesting take on JFK was by actor Andrew Robinson, in the New Twilight Zone, in the ’80′s. In the episode Profile In Silver he plays JFK, when a time travelling historian arrives from the future on the fateful day in Dallas.

Posted By David : November 26, 2012 7:42 pm

Interesting post.
One interesting take on JFK was by actor Andrew Robinson, in the New Twilight Zone, in the ’80′s. In the episode Profile In Silver he plays JFK, when a time travelling historian arrives from the future on the fateful day in Dallas.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : November 26, 2012 8:01 pm

James Franciscus also played a fictionalized version of JFK in The Greek Tycoon.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : November 26, 2012 8:01 pm

James Franciscus also played a fictionalized version of JFK in The Greek Tycoon.

Posted By DBenson : November 26, 2012 9:24 pm

JFK also turned up on the British sitcom “Red Dwarf.” Allowing a rare moment of poignancy, a time-travel episode had JFK learning about his upcoming assassination — and what would become of his legacy if he lived.

“Call Me Madam”, with Ethel Merman as a top Washington hostess, had a gag where an unseen pianist — presumably Harry Truman — starts to play.

In the 60′s “Batman” movie, a presumed LBJ is seen back to camera in a tall-backed executive chair with a couple of basset hounds close at hand. The young-sounding voice was Van Williams, who was playing “The Green Hornet” in the sister series to “Batman.” Texas-born Williams provided his own accent.

One of the Pink Panthers had a clumsy president obviously modeled on the popular image of Gerald Ford.

Finally, Bob Hope’s “Monsieur Beaucaire” ended in a pre-revolutionary American barber shop. One of the customers is George Washington, who casually mentions that Jefferson and the boys are up to something and he might take a look-see.

Posted By DBenson : November 26, 2012 9:24 pm

JFK also turned up on the British sitcom “Red Dwarf.” Allowing a rare moment of poignancy, a time-travel episode had JFK learning about his upcoming assassination — and what would become of his legacy if he lived.

“Call Me Madam”, with Ethel Merman as a top Washington hostess, had a gag where an unseen pianist — presumably Harry Truman — starts to play.

In the 60′s “Batman” movie, a presumed LBJ is seen back to camera in a tall-backed executive chair with a couple of basset hounds close at hand. The young-sounding voice was Van Williams, who was playing “The Green Hornet” in the sister series to “Batman.” Texas-born Williams provided his own accent.

One of the Pink Panthers had a clumsy president obviously modeled on the popular image of Gerald Ford.

Finally, Bob Hope’s “Monsieur Beaucaire” ended in a pre-revolutionary American barber shop. One of the customers is George Washington, who casually mentions that Jefferson and the boys are up to something and he might take a look-see.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 26, 2012 10:51 pm

I love my readers! Such good examples of movie presidents. And, I really wanted to include a section on Teddy Roosevelt but I ran out of steam. I remember Brian Keith making a stellar Teddy in The Wind and the Lion.

Swac44: I remember Backstairs at the White House; it was a terrific mini-series.

Robbush: George W. Bush is not a notorious person but his presidency was notorious.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 26, 2012 10:51 pm

I love my readers! Such good examples of movie presidents. And, I really wanted to include a section on Teddy Roosevelt but I ran out of steam. I remember Brian Keith making a stellar Teddy in The Wind and the Lion.

Swac44: I remember Backstairs at the White House; it was a terrific mini-series.

Robbush: George W. Bush is not a notorious person but his presidency was notorious.

Posted By robbushblog : November 26, 2012 11:56 pm

As was Clinton’s? He was impeached.

Posted By robbushblog : November 26, 2012 11:56 pm

As was Clinton’s? He was impeached.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 27, 2012 12:11 am

Robbush: True, but he has not been depicted in a film as himself like Nixon and George W.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 27, 2012 12:11 am

Robbush: True, but he has not been depicted in a film as himself like Nixon and George W.

Posted By robbushblog : November 27, 2012 12:58 am

True, although Primary Colors was only slightly fictionalized.

Posted By robbushblog : November 27, 2012 12:58 am

True, although Primary Colors was only slightly fictionalized.

Posted By Jenni : November 27, 2012 1:13 am

I remember Charleton Heston portraying Andrew Jackson and I believe, Susan Hayward as his wife Rachel. There was a scandal about their marriage, as it occurred possibly before her first marriage had been legally dissolved. Mrs. Jackson thought her first marriage had been made null and void before she married Andrew. It’s a movie in color, good acting, but sad, as the hue and cry over the marriage “incident” was too much for Rachel and she didn’t live to be First Lady after her husband was elected.
The movie Wilson, starring Alexander Knox, airs now and then on TCM as that’s where I’ve seen it. David Morse did an outstanding job as George Washington in the miniseries based on the book John Adams, that Paul Giamatti was mentioned in above. My hands down favorite portrayal of Lincoln is Raymond Massey’s and Ruth Gordon as his wife.

Posted By Jenni : November 27, 2012 1:13 am

I remember Charleton Heston portraying Andrew Jackson and I believe, Susan Hayward as his wife Rachel. There was a scandal about their marriage, as it occurred possibly before her first marriage had been legally dissolved. Mrs. Jackson thought her first marriage had been made null and void before she married Andrew. It’s a movie in color, good acting, but sad, as the hue and cry over the marriage “incident” was too much for Rachel and she didn’t live to be First Lady after her husband was elected.
The movie Wilson, starring Alexander Knox, airs now and then on TCM as that’s where I’ve seen it. David Morse did an outstanding job as George Washington in the miniseries based on the book John Adams, that Paul Giamatti was mentioned in above. My hands down favorite portrayal of Lincoln is Raymond Massey’s and Ruth Gordon as his wife.

Posted By Doug : November 27, 2012 3:34 am

As we’re playing ‘Spot the President’, with archival footage probably not counting (sorry,Forrest Gump) I’ll open with Donald Moffat as LBJ in “The Right Stuff”. He’s only a Senator when shown, but JFK was only a Naval officer in “PT-109″. Moffat has a great scene where LBJ wants John Glenn’s wife to appear on TV, but she suffers from a nervous stutter. She and the other wives and the astronauts band together and tell LBJ to pound sand.
Hilarious LBJ tantrum ensues.

Posted By Doug : November 27, 2012 3:34 am

As we’re playing ‘Spot the President’, with archival footage probably not counting (sorry,Forrest Gump) I’ll open with Donald Moffat as LBJ in “The Right Stuff”. He’s only a Senator when shown, but JFK was only a Naval officer in “PT-109″. Moffat has a great scene where LBJ wants John Glenn’s wife to appear on TV, but she suffers from a nervous stutter. She and the other wives and the astronauts band together and tell LBJ to pound sand.
Hilarious LBJ tantrum ensues.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 27, 2012 3:49 am

Doug: I love the depiction of LBJ in THE RIGHT STUFF. I actually like LBJ as a president, and I enjoy seeing him in all incarnations.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 27, 2012 3:49 am

Doug: I love the depiction of LBJ in THE RIGHT STUFF. I actually like LBJ as a president, and I enjoy seeing him in all incarnations.

Posted By Dan Day, Jr. : November 27, 2012 4:19 pm

Brian Keith, of course, played TR in “The Wind and the Lion”, but he also played William McKinley in the TV Movie “Rough Riders”, also directed by John Milius. Keith has to be the only actor to play a President, and the President who succeeded him.

Posted By Dan Day, Jr. : November 27, 2012 4:19 pm

Brian Keith, of course, played TR in “The Wind and the Lion”, but he also played William McKinley in the TV Movie “Rough Riders”, also directed by John Milius. Keith has to be the only actor to play a President, and the President who succeeded him.

Posted By swac44 : November 27, 2012 6:17 pm

TCM has a double dose of cinematic William McKinley on Wednesday, Dec. 5 with This Is My Affair (1937), with Robert Taylor going undercover in a gang of robbers on the president’s (Frank Conroy) orders, and A Message to Garcia (1936), set during the Spanish-American War, with McKinley played by Dell Henderson, but with John Carradine’s voice. Coincidentally, both films are also part of an evening of Barbara Stanwyck titles.

Posted By swac44 : November 27, 2012 6:17 pm

TCM has a double dose of cinematic William McKinley on Wednesday, Dec. 5 with This Is My Affair (1937), with Robert Taylor going undercover in a gang of robbers on the president’s (Frank Conroy) orders, and A Message to Garcia (1936), set during the Spanish-American War, with McKinley played by Dell Henderson, but with John Carradine’s voice. Coincidentally, both films are also part of an evening of Barbara Stanwyck titles.

Posted By Kingrat : November 27, 2012 6:56 pm

Susan, thanks for reminding us what a fine film THIRTEEN DAYS was. Unfortunately, it did not find an audience when it was released. I share your admiration for Bruce Greenwood. I’d enjoyed him as a soap opera hunk/villain on KNOTS LANDING, then discovered that his grieving fathers in THE SWEET HEREAFTER and EXOTICA (one middle-class, one blue-collar) and his JFK in THIRTEEN DAYS showed that he had serious acting chops.

Ed Begley’s president in THE BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN is clearly intended as a caricature of LBJ.

Posted By Kingrat : November 27, 2012 6:56 pm

Susan, thanks for reminding us what a fine film THIRTEEN DAYS was. Unfortunately, it did not find an audience when it was released. I share your admiration for Bruce Greenwood. I’d enjoyed him as a soap opera hunk/villain on KNOTS LANDING, then discovered that his grieving fathers in THE SWEET HEREAFTER and EXOTICA (one middle-class, one blue-collar) and his JFK in THIRTEEN DAYS showed that he had serious acting chops.

Ed Begley’s president in THE BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN is clearly intended as a caricature of LBJ.

Posted By Medusa : December 1, 2012 11:58 am

As a great fan of all Presidents, starting with Lincoln at the top and from there outward, I love this post! TV is so full of Presidential portrayals that’s is exhausting to list them all — there is certainly a book in this if there isn’t one already. Just to mention one, Barry Bostwick’s George Washington miniseries is coming available on DVD soon, if not already.

Like DBenson above, I recommend that “Red Dwarf” episode to JFK aficionados as a beautiful example of how only the British could make something as devastating as the Kennedy assassination into a genuinely hilarious and yet heartfelt TV episode. It’s perfect in every way. It’s on Netflix, I believe. “Tikka to Ride” Season 7.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the frequent appearances of President Grant as played by Roy Engel in one of my all-time favorite TV series “The Wild Wild West”.

So many Presidents to enjoy! Can’t wait for your Lincoln array — I especially love that he lives on not only as a historical figure in his own time but as a personality who can be transported to modern times and be used as a lovable and often hilarious character. His humor is what makes utterly authentic and appealing.

Great post, Suzi!

Posted By Medusa : December 1, 2012 11:58 am

As a great fan of all Presidents, starting with Lincoln at the top and from there outward, I love this post! TV is so full of Presidential portrayals that’s is exhausting to list them all — there is certainly a book in this if there isn’t one already. Just to mention one, Barry Bostwick’s George Washington miniseries is coming available on DVD soon, if not already.

Like DBenson above, I recommend that “Red Dwarf” episode to JFK aficionados as a beautiful example of how only the British could make something as devastating as the Kennedy assassination into a genuinely hilarious and yet heartfelt TV episode. It’s perfect in every way. It’s on Netflix, I believe. “Tikka to Ride” Season 7.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the frequent appearances of President Grant as played by Roy Engel in one of my all-time favorite TV series “The Wild Wild West”.

So many Presidents to enjoy! Can’t wait for your Lincoln array — I especially love that he lives on not only as a historical figure in his own time but as a personality who can be transported to modern times and be used as a lovable and often hilarious character. His humor is what makes utterly authentic and appealing.

Great post, Suzi!

Posted By Lamar : December 3, 2012 4:22 pm

Henry Grace, a MGM set decorator from the mid forties to the late sixties, greatly resembled Eisenhower and played him in “The Longest Day.”

Posted By Lamar : December 3, 2012 4:22 pm

Henry Grace, a MGM set decorator from the mid forties to the late sixties, greatly resembled Eisenhower and played him in “The Longest Day.”

Posted By Yousif : December 9, 2012 3:14 am

FDR was able to win reelection by posmiring to keep the boys home. He did not run on his economic accomplishments. Sadly, the history books credit the new deal with bringing prosperity to the U.S. Sad because the facts were different as reflected in unemployment rates through the 1930s above 15 percent and regularly in the 20 to 25 percent range. Credit WWII.

Posted By Yousif : December 9, 2012 3:14 am

FDR was able to win reelection by posmiring to keep the boys home. He did not run on his economic accomplishments. Sadly, the history books credit the new deal with bringing prosperity to the U.S. Sad because the facts were different as reflected in unemployment rates through the 1930s above 15 percent and regularly in the 20 to 25 percent range. Credit WWII.

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Posted By Anonymous : February 12, 2013 12:50 pm

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