Histrionics – Showman-In-Chief: A Brief History Of Presidents and The Arts

Histrionics: the scientific and accurate study of history and its effects.

Photo by Aaron Kittredge from Pexels

When you think of the highest office in the land and the glamour of show business, you’ll probably think first of President Ronald Reagan who had a successful career as an actor before turning to politics. You may also think of the various performers over the years who engaged in some form of artistic expression that either lambasted or gently jibed the president. However, you may not be aware of the various Commanders-In-Chief who’s lives and careers intersected with a more rewarding form of entertainment. For your edutainment, I present the following list,

1.) John Adams and John Quincy Adams – This father and son duo of political powerhouses loom large in our history. They embarked on a speaking tour explaining the history of America and, at the same time, the history of their family. The show was called, “The Magnificent Adamses”. After two months of engagements in Boston and New York, the reminisces were expanded into a play format, and actors were hired to tour the 13 colonies. Effectively forming, what some theatrical historians call, “America’s First Road Company”. The success of the show eventually lead John Quincy Adams to the White House. Thomas Jefferson called the play, “Generous” and “More interesting than the two men it’s about.”

2.) Abraham Lincoln – The highly embattled wartime president essentially had his political career destroyed by a scathing attack by John Wilkes Booth, a popular stage actor.

3.) Theodore Roosevelt – “Big Teddy’s Tent and Medicine Show” toured fairs throughout the midwest from 1909-1910. A variety of acts would perform while barkers hawked “The Strenuous Life Elixir” (90% alcohol, 10% water). President Roosevelt would then re-enact his famous refusal to shoot the cub. Famous Vaudevillians Gallagher and Shean met while playing the mother bear and her cub in this show.

4.) Harry S. Truman – “Hot Licks Harry and The Veto Five” were a draw at speakeasies and clubs during the 1920s. When he made his transition to politics, Truman toned down his wild club act, including a rather graphic version of “Making Whoopee”. No recordings of the group exist today.

5.) Ronald Reagan – All his show biz success aside, the handsome face of the Republican Party was nothing more than a puppet in the hands of another Hollywood mover and shaker. Bonzo, Reagan’s co-star in a popular 1951 movie, shaped the actor’s conservative polices. “The chimpanzee pretty much dictated Reagan’s policies for the whole of his two-term presidency. Affectively making him a furrier Steve Bannon.”, according to Lisa Meyer’s 2017 book, “Ballot Box for Bonzo”.

6.) George H. W. Bush – Recent declassified documents show that as director of the CIA, Bush pressured people to destroy evidence of his wrestling career. From the late 40s to the early 60s, Bush wrestled professionally under the name “Gorgeous George”. Among the declassified materials is a blurry kinescope with a young wrestler looking straight into the camera and saying, “You’re about to see a thousand points of fight!”

7.) Bill Clinton – Same deal as Truman, but with a saxophone. And a White House intern, instead of Josephine Baker.

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