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Depiction of Abraham Lincoln in Birth of a Nation, 1915

Courtesy of Movie Still Archives

The presidency has been an element of feature films from the beginning, although movies depicting actual presidents have rarely been box-office successes. Early silent classics included Lincoln, the Lover (1914) and The Birth of a Nation (1915). Some films have sought to glorify--Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda, Sunrise at Campobello, PT 109; others explored the ambiguity of the office--Seven Days in May, Nixon, and Dr. Strangelove. More recent movies, like Air Force One, Deep Impact, and The American President, turned the president into an action hero, a romantic leading man, or a symbol of all that is right--or wrong--in America.

Television has treated the executive office with less reverence. In the early years, programs like Producer's Showcase and Philco Playhouse began to examine the American political system. By the 1970s, several depictions of the presidency attempted to demystify and to explain, including Eleanor and Franklin, Collision Course, and The Missiles of October. More recently, NBC's The West Wing tried to both entertain and educate its viewers about life in a working White House. And Saturday Night Live has lampooned the presidency for more than two decades. Today's shows strive for a better-rounded, less heroic picture of the president.

Harrison Ford as president in Air Force One, a 1997 movie about a heroic chief executive who singlehandedly defeats terrorists highjacking the presidential airplane.

Courtesy of Movie Still Archives

Polly Bergen as president in Kisses For My President. This 1964 Warner Brothers feature stars Bergen as the first woman to serve as president, and Fred MacMurray as her husband. Bergen is so overwhelmed by the strains of the job that, when she discovers she is pregnant, she happily resigns. Kisses for My President clearly reflects many of the attitudes that shaped women's lives in the early 1960s.

Courtesy of Movie Still Archives

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