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Presidents on Film

Rumor has it we’re in the midst of a Presidential election season, and now seems an opportune time to share some films either about Presidents or produced for political campaigns. William McKinley (1897-1901) was the first to appear on film, but by far our largest single collection devoted to one President is the 381 titles in the Theodore Roosevelt Association Collection. You can see many of those movies at Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the first President Roosevelt (1901-1909) was such a popular subject for filmmakers—the man was irresistibly photogenic and intuitively understood the power of the image—but it is notable that we have so little film on his next five successors: William Howard Taft (1909-1913), Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), Warren G. Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), and Herbert Hoover (1929-1933). On the other hand, Theodore’s cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) is well documented in our holdings.

All these Presidents are celebrated in March of the Presidents, a short released by Paramount Pictures in late 1935. “Celebrate” is an accurate description of the film’s tone and is especially striking in light of today’s, shall we say, less sunny political discourse.

One note about our 16mm print, which comes from the J. Fred and Leslie W. MacDonald Collection; although it’s a Paramount release, you’ll see that there’s a credit for U.M. & M. TV Corp. followed by an “Adolph Zukor Presents” title card. Paramount sold its pre-1951 short subjects library to U.M. & M. in 1955 for $3.5 million, the primary draw being cartoons starring the likes of Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. U.M. & M. wanted them for the television market and Paramount—still fighting a losing battle against the new medium—didn’t want its logo to appear on these films if they were going to be broadcast. The only vestige of Paramount provenance is Zukor, who founded the company in 1912.

March of the Presidents (Paramount, 1935)

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