FDR, the sitting president

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Laura Linney and Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson
  • Laura Linney and Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray takes another swipe at Oscar glory this weekend with Hyde Park on Hudson, playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My review is embargoed until Thursday, but I notice that the odds-on favorite for best actor at this point is Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, with Murray coming in 16th. Though Roosevelt is often ranked just under Lincoln among our greatest presidents, he hasn't had nearly as good a movie career as Abe, probably because he's confined to a wheelchair when all the action goes down. I'm not holding my breath for "Franklin Roosevelt: Vampire Hunter."

Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson in Sunrise at Campobello (1960)
  • Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson in Sunrise at Campobello (1960)
According to the Internet Movie Database, FDR was five years into his presidency before he appeared as a movie character (imagine such respect now). At first he was played by voice actors: Art Gilmore in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and Jack Young in This Is the Army (1943), and both men in Action in the North Atlantic (1943). But FDR didn't get a real screen treatment until 1960, when producer Dore Schary filmed his successful Broadway play Sunrise at Campobello with Ralph Bellamy in the lead. That movie was the first one to address FDR's physical disability, and it set the pattern for most Roosevelt movies to follow: when he isn't being used as historical window dressing (Jon Voight in Pearl Harbor, Edward Herrmann in Annie), he's likely to be struggling with his paralysis (not just Bellamy but also Kenneth Branagh in the TV movie Warm Springs).

The best thing about playing Roosevelt for an actor is that it tends to be a repeat gig. Bellamy came back to play FDR again on the TV miniseries The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1989). Hermann got the Annie gig after acclaimed performances on TV in Eleanor and Franklin (1976) and its sequel, Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (1977). Robert Vaughn starred in the TV adaptation of Schary's one-man show FDR: That Man in the White House (1982) and then reprised the role of FDR in the TV biopic Murrow (1986). Bill Murray probably doesn't need money, so I'm guessing this will be his only appearance as Roosevelt. But there's a great movie to be made about a man waking up every day to discover he's the 32nd president.


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