erik lundegaard

Why's FDR Hanging with the Three Stooges? Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Screen Portrayals of U.S. Presidents, and Didn't Ask

For Washington and Lincoln it was a silent short (“Washington Under the British Flag” and “His First Commission,” respectively). For Grover Cleveland, it was a James Cagney/Humphrey Bogart western (“The Oklahoma Kid”). JFK got an episode of a forgotten TV show, “Navy Log,” LBJ got “Batman: The Movie,” and FDR, believe it or not, got the Three Stooges.

These are the first moments our presidents have been portrayed on screen. Per IMDb.com.

Some surprising revelations. Herbert Hoover (1929-33) was never portrayed on screen until 1979's “Backstairs at the White House,” a mini-series attempting to combine “Upstairs Downstairs” with “Roots.” Then there's James Buchanan (1957-61), who has been portrayed only once, voicework by David Gergen, in the 2000 PBS documentary “The American President.” At least he had John Updike watching his back.

More recent presidents, of course, are first spoofed on television, generally “Saturday Night Live,” which has given us our first screen portraits, or caricatures, of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The British series “Spitting Image” beat them to George H.W. Bush, while “The 1/2 News Hour” beat them to Barack Obama.

Speaking of the Bushes: IMDb.com needs to fix its algorithms, since it includes obvious H.W. characters (a 1990 “Golden Girls” episode, voiced by Harry Shearer, for example) under W.'s character page. The site also includes the “Richard Nixon” thug in Godard's “Made in U.S.A.” on Nixon's character page. I've tried to adjust the numbers accordingly but take these numbers with a grain of salt. Treat them, in other words, as you would campaign promises.

Oh yes, and in case you were wondering, Lincoln wins. By a longshot.

Here are our 44 presidents in order of first cinematic appearance:

  President Port. First Appearance First Actor
1 George Washington  154 Washington Under the British Flag (1909) Joseph Kilgour
2 John Adams  54 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Harry Linson
3 Thomas Jefferson  125 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Marc McDermott
4 James Madison  27 Old Louisiana (1937) Ramsay Hill
5 James Monroe  11 The Beautiful Mrs. Reynolds (1918) Charles Brandt
6 John Quincy Adams  8 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Robert Emmett Tansey
7 Andrew Jackson  47 My Own United States (1918) F.C. Earle
8 Martin Van Buren  4 The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) Charles Trowbridge
9 William Henry Harrison  7 Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942) Douglass Dumbrille
11 James K. Polk  8 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Edwin Stanley
12 Zachary Taylor  8 The Fall of Blackhawk (1912) George Cole
13 Millard Fillmore  4 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Millard Vincent
14 Franklin Pierce  2 The Great Moment (1944) Porter Hall
15 James Buchanan  1 The American President (2000) David Gergen (voice)
16 Abraham Lincoln  327 His First Commisson (1911) Charles Brabin
17 Andrew Johnson  6 In the Days of Buffalo Bill (1922) Harry Myers
18 Ulysses S. Grant  94 The Battle of Shiloh (1913) John Smiley
19 Rutherford B. Hayes  7 The Flag of Humanity (1940) Joe King
20 James A. Garfield  7 The Night Riders (1939) Francis Sayles
21 Chester A. Arthur  3 Silver Dollar (1932) Emmett Corrigan
22 Grover Cleveland  9 The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Stuart Holmes
23 Benjamin Harrison  2 Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) Roy Gordon
25 William McKinley  11 A Message to Garcia (1936) John Carradine
26 Theodore Roosevelt  86 Why America Will Win (1917) W.E. Whittle
27 William Howard Taft  5 The Winds of Kitty Hawk (TV) (1978) Ross Durfee
28 Woodrow Wilson  31 The Sons of a Soldier (1913) Frederick Truesdell
29 Warren G. Harding  5 The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond (TV) (1975) Harry Dean Stanton
30 Calvin Coolidge  5 The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) Ed Flanders
31 Herbert Hoover  8 “Backstairs at the White House” (1979) Larry Gates
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt  97 Cash and Carry (1937) Al Richardson
33 Harry S. Truman  34 The Beginning or The End (1947) Art Baker
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower  37 The Long Gray Line (1955) Harry Carey, Jr.
35 John F. Kennedy  86 “Navy Log” (1957) John Baer
36 Lyndon B. Johnson  32 Batman: The Movie (1966) Van Johnson (voice)
37 Richard Nixon  81 Eulogy for RFK (1968) Marty Rednor
38 Gerald Ford  15 “Saturday Night Live” (1975) Chevy Chase
39 Jimmy Carter  23 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Dan Aykroyd
40 Ronald Reagan  46 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Chevy Chase
41 George H. W. Bush  27 “Spitting Image” (1986) John Glover
42 Bill Clinton  74 “Saturday Night Live” (1992) Phil Hartman
43 George W. Bush  112 “Saturday Night Live” (2000) Will Ferrell
44 Barack Obama 80 “The 1/2 News Hour” (2007) Ron Butler

  And here they are as ranked by how often they've been portrayed on screen. Interestingly, W. beats FDR. But U.S. Grant is ahead of Teddy Roosevelt? I guess the Civil War helps:

  President Port. First Appearance First Actor
16 Abraham Lincoln  327 His First Commisson (1911) Charles Brabin
1 George Washington  154 Washington Under the British Flag (1909) Joseph Kilgour
3 Thomas Jefferson  125 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Marc McDermott
43 George W. Bush  112 “Saturday Night Live” (2000) Will Ferrell
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt  97 Cash and Carry (1937) Al Richardson
18 Ulysses S. Grant  94 The Battle of Shiloh (1913) John Smiley
26 Theodore Roosevelt  86 Why America Will Win (1917) W.E. Whittle
35 John F. Kennedy  86 “Navy Log” (1957) John Baer
37 Richard Nixon  81 Eulogy for RFK (1968) Marty Rednor
44 Barack Obama 80 “The 1/2 News Hour” (2007) Ron Butler
42 Bill Clinton  74 “Saturday Night Live” (1992) Phil Hartman
2 John Adams  54 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Harry Linson
7 Andrew Jackson  47 My Own United States (1918) F.C. Earle
40 Ronald Reagan  46 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Chevy Chase
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower  37 The Long Gray Line (1955) Harry Carey, Jr.
33 Harry S. Truman  34 The Beginning or The End (1947) Art Baker
36 Lyndon B. Johnson  32 Batman: The Movie (1966) Van Johnson (voice)
28 Woodrow Wilson  31 The Sons of a Soldier (1913) Frederick Truesdell
4 James Madison  27 Old Louisiana (1937) Ramsay Hill
41 George H. W. Bush  27 “Spitting Image” (1986) John Glover
39 Jimmy Carter  23 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Dan Aykroyd
38 Gerald Ford  15 “Saturday Night Live” (1975) Chevy Chase
5 James Monroe  11 The Beautiful Mrs. Reynolds (1918) Charles Brandt
25 William McKinley  11 A Message to Garcia (1936) John Carradine
22 Grover Cleveland  9 The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Stuart Holmes
6 John Quincy Adams  8 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Robert Emmett Tansey
11 James K. Polk  8 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Edwin Stanley
12 Zachary Taylor  8 The Fall of Blackhawk (1912) George Cole
31 Herbert Hoover  8 “Backstairs at the White House” (1979) Larry Gates
9 William Henry Harrison  7 Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942) Douglass Dumbrille
19 Rutherford B. Hayes  7 The Flag of Humanity (1940) Joe King
20 James A. Garfield  7 The Night Riders (1939) Francis Sayles
17 Andrew Johnson  6 In the Days of Buffalo Bill (1922) Harry Myers
27 William Howard Taft  5 The Winds of Kitty Hawk (TV) (1978) Ross Durfee
29 Warren G. Harding  5 The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond (TV) (1975) Harry Dean Stanton
30 Calvin Coolidge  5 The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) Ed Flanders
8 Martin Van Buren  4 The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) Charles Trowbridge
13 Millard Fillmore  4 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Millard Vincent
21 Chester A. Arthur  3 Silver Dollar (1932) Emmett Corrigan
14 Franklin Pierce  2 The Great Moment (1944) Porter Hall
23 Benjamin Harrison  2 Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) Roy Gordon
15 James Buchanan  1 The American President (2000) David Gergen (voice)

FDR and the Three Stooges

FDR: “As for you gentlemen, I find it possible to extend to you exective clemency.”
Curly: “No, please not that.”

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Posted at 11:02 AM on Mon. Feb 18, 2013 in category Movies  

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