Tag Archives: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion

The Top Eight Quotes Spoken by Presidents

The Presidents of the United States have been in office during the successful years and the difficult times.  There are websites devoted to the men who served in the office and what words they have spoken while occupying the position.  The following are the most intriguing quotes from these men and what I think they wanted to say to the American people.  This post is a subjective exercise.  I am listing the ones that impress me.

 

Seal of the President of the United States Esp...

1.”Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder. “
George Washington

He was pointing out that most men have a price.  When someone is prepared to give the highest bounty you have asked, few men or women can say “no.”   The historical record is littered with people who have compromised their integrity for money, power and influence.  Most have paid a price of some kind in either loss of reputations, loss of wealth or loss of freedom and sometimes all three.

 
2. “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. “
Gerald Ford

This is perfect quote that demonstrates how government can take on a human dynamic.  A government that is big enough to provide you with everything you need or desire can also use power to take those things away and then some.  Most communist or socialist governments try to provide their citizens what they need but in exchange the society is  forced to relinquish freedoms, like free press, free movement within boundaries, rights to privacy and slanted judgments within the judicial system.
3. “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. “
Harry S Truman

Every program manager and leader in America should have this hanging on the wall somewhere.  If one person decides that their ego is above a certain goal, then accomplishing a goal just got that much more difficult.  The tough part is getting a team to “buy in” to that idea.  It is fine to deliver kudos and credit afterwards.  That is what capitalism is all about.  However, if you want to get somewhere fast, then build a team with one thought in mind and that is delivering an excellent product on time and within budget. Today’s congress, state and local governments should take a lesson from this.
4. “As man draws nearer to the stars, why should he not also draw nearer to his neighbors?”
Lyndon Johnson

Despite President Johnson’s intentions it seems that technology has pulled us away from each other.  He is right.  Just because we have all of this technology for our benefit doesn’t mean we as American’s can’t take time to get to know neighbors at home or strangers on the subway. He also might be speaking about getting to know America’s neighbors in the world, as in making an effort to know other countries cultures.

 
5. “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. “
Ronald Reagan

President Reagan nailed it.  Democracy in action may have its faults but it is the most effective and successful form of government produced by people.  There are many forms of democracy but any shade of it is much more effective than an autocracy, theocracy, monarchy or oligarchy.

 
 6.”The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

This piece of wisdom is perfect for today’s political climate.  Extremes are where nothing ever gets done.  There has to be some compromise so people can move forward and not let their goals end up stalled in a ditch somewhere.  It’s easy to be inflexible.  It is much more difficult to find common ground with your ideological opposite.

7. “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. “
Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you want capitalism and democracy, you have to make it work.  As the late, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal used to say “All politics is local.”  A politician can deliver and distribute many loft ideas about how government should operate.  To most people striving to make a living and take care of their families, the measure of success is:  Do I have a JOB?  How much am I paying for gas? Can I afford groceries this month?  Can I live comfortably and can I retire?   If you don’t have these, then you have people willing to change the system to something else, like a dictatorship.

8. “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. “
John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy had one trait that makes great leaders, “A can do spirit.”   He was saying, what we destroy we can rebuild.  What we break, we can fix.  What problems we create, we can solve.  Everything that is around us was built, engineered, and invented by man.  So with this in mind, he states, that man can solve these problems through the continuing ingenuity of man.

Honorable Mention

 9. “People ask the difference in a leader and a boss. The leader leads and the boss drives. “
Teddy Roosevelt

President Roosevelt states here that real leaders motivate people.  A boss drives or “works” his people through fear or intimidation.  Leading and motivating people will get you to your goal a lot sooner.  This, of course, is a lot more difficult to put into practice. Some people learn it, some just have it, and others never learn the lesson.

What quote do you like?  Leave a suggestion and tell me why?