Obama Is Not The First President To Meddle In Movies

Mar 9, 2012
Originally published on March 21, 2012 12:04 pm

Now comes word that President Obama pitched a movie idea to Hollywood big shot Harvey Weinstein, the Times of London recently reported. "The president sent me a book the other day and said, 'Why don't you make this into a movie?' " Weinstein said. "It was a spy novel. I sent him an email back saying he was the most overqualified book scout I've ever had."

Strange as it may seem, Obama is not the first White House habitue to dabble in the cinematic arts. Here are a few other top-tier politicos who poked around the movie biz.

In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt casually suggested the plot of a mystery story to Fulton Oursler, editor of Liberty, a weekly magazine. Oursler turned the idea over to a cadre of writers, and the story was published in installments. The stories were then published as a book and in 1936, Republic Pictures released a film — loosely based on Roosevelt's idea — called The President's Mystery.

"We do not have any documentation as to what the president thought about the movie," says Kirsten Carter, archivist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library near Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "Nor was he involved in the production." But Roosevelt did receive $9,000 from the magazine and about $70 in royalties for the book, Carter says, all of which was donated to the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which treated polio sufferers.

In 1923, Carter says, Roosevelt wrote a "scenario" — not a full screenplay — based on the life of naval hero John Paul Jones, his favorite historical figure. Roosevelt concocted various scenes from Jones' life and snippets of dialogue based on historic quotations. He exchanged letters with Paramount Pictures representatives, including bigwig Eugene Zukor. "From the correspondence," Carter says, "it appears that the scenario was sent to Paramount for consideration, but nothing further happened, and the manuscript was returned to FDR."

President Harry Truman was deeply involved in — and even named — the 1947 movie The Beginning or the End, according to Greg Mitchell, author of Atomic Cover-Up. Writing for The Nation in a 2011 post, Mitchell reports that Truman and Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, were given creative control of the script. "Indeed, the MGM film emerged," Mitchell writes, "after many revisions as a Hollywood version of the official Hiroshima narrative: The bomb was absolutely necessary to end the war and save American lives."

As senior adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove made a visit to Hollywood in 2001 to talk in a closed meeting to movie executives about how Hollywood could help in the war effort. At the time, Newsday quoted a White House spokesman saying, "The administration will share with studio executives the themes we're communicating at home and abroad of patriotism, tolerance and courage."

And, of course, there was President Ronald Reagan. He was more than a meddler in the movie industry; he was a maker and a shaker. He appeared in more than 50 films during his pre-presidential screen career. And, according to the Internet Movie Database, produced one movie and played piano in another.

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