Veterans Day: How World War I Changed The Meaning Of "the Glamour Of Battle"

Pershings_Crusaders_WWI_posterMilitary glamour is among the most ancient forms. From Achilles, David, and Alexander through knights, samurai, admirals, and airmen, warriors have been icons of masculine glamour, exemplifying courage, prowess, and patriotic significance.

In the half century leading up to the end of World War I, warfare was also one of the first contexts in which English speakers used the term glamour in its modern metaphorical sense. (The word originally meant a literal magic spell that made people see things that weren't there.)

“Military heroes who give up their lives in the flush and excitement and glamour of battle,” opined a U.S. congressman in 1885, “are sustained in the discharge of duty by the rush and conflict of physical forces, the hope of earthly glory and renown.” A 1917 handbook on army paperwork was “dedicated to the man behind the desk, the man who, being away from the din and glamor of battle, is usually denied popular favor, yet who clothes, feeds, pays, shelters, transports, and otherwise looks after the man behind the gun.” (Whether in warfare or business, logistics is the quintessential “unglamorous” but critical support activity.)

European nations began World War I with a glamorous vision of war, only to be psychologically shattered by the realities of the trenches. The experience changed the way people referred to the "glamour of battle," treating it no longer as a positive quality but as a dangerous illusion. In 1919, the British painter Paul Nash wrote that the purpose of The Menin Road, his bleak portrait of a desolate and blasted landscape, was “to rob war of the last shred of glory[,] the last shine of glamour.” Briefly conscripted in 1916, D. H. Lawrence lamented “this terrible glamour of camaraderie, which is the glamour of Homer and of all militarism.” An American writing in 1921 asked fellow veterans of the Great War, “Are you going to tell your children the truth about what you endured, or gild your reminiscences with glamour that will make them want to have a merry war experience of their own?” In the 1920s, pacifism, not battle, became glamorous.

In her ground-breaking 1939 book America at the Movies, Margaret Thorp recounted one example of the era's glamorous pacifism:

Deanna Durbin is a pacifist. She showed a reporter her school history book with a paragraph which she had underlined with red pencil. “It was Nicholas Murray Butler’s estimate that for the money spent on the World War every family in ten countries could have had a $2,500 house, $1,000 worth of furniture, several acres of land [and so on]. ‘Isn’t it dreadful?’ said Deanna. ‘Not so much the money, as the millions of people killed.’” Ten years ago such a statement would not have added to the glamour of a youthful star, but at least it is safely away from present conflicts.

Within a few years, Durbin was a favorite of British troops and reportedly of Winston Churchill as well. Just as World War I punctured the glamour of battle, the Nazi advance largely did away with the glamour of pacifism.

[Most of this text, except for discussion of Deanna Durbin and the glamour of pacifism, is taken from chapter one of my new book The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion. Pershing's Crusaders poster from Library of Congress.]

Giant Hats And Artificial Grace

Gibson Girl hat pin detailAlthough I love hats, I rarely wear them, partly because they're overly warm for Southern California and partly because when you need them most they have an annoying habit of blowing off. I always wondered what people did about sudden gusts in the days when hats were more common--especially at the turn of the 20th century, when women's hats were huge.  I always assumed that the answer lay, as this detail from a Charles Dana Gibson illustration suggests, in large hat pins that firmly attached the latest styles to the period's similarly oversized hairdos.

But it turns out the real answer lies in another characteristic of the Gibson Girl: her existence not in real life but in pen and ink. The styles of the past look graceful because we know them from glamorous still images, in which a perfect moment has been captured and refined.

As this video from 1903 shows, in the real past, people did what they do today: They grabbed their hats and held them down, sometimes without success. The past wasn't more graceful than the present. The flaws have just been edited out.

How Convenient Jetways Helped Kill Airline Glamour

Marilyn Monroe disembarking with little cowboy

Contrary to popular belief, the glamour of air travel didn't disappear with the crowded planes brought on by deregulation and cheaper prices. It started dissipating in the late 1960s, with the coming of jumbo jets and terrorist hijackings. “In the popular imagination,” writes architectural historian Alastair Gordon in his excellent book Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure, “air travel was now equated with boredom and disaster.”

This slide show on “Glamour in the Skies” reminded me of another change--this one a technological improvement--that eroded airline glamour around the same time: the disappearance of the staircase in favor of safer, more weatherproof indoor jet bridges.

If you're a traveler, you'd much rather walk directly into the terminal on a more-or-less level jet bridge. But the old stairs set the traveler apart from the crowds on the ground. They created a dramatic sense of arrival and departure. And they made for lots of glamorous photographs.

Nowadays, we still occasionally see such glamorous images of people set apart from the normal life that includes occasional jet travel. Some, like the star of Fergie's "Glamorous" video, are going up and down the steps of private jets. So, in a sense, are the others. But their private jets are publicly owned.

Obama arriving airplane stairs

[Marilyn Monroe and her small "bodyguard" courtesy of Everett Collection and used with permission. We paid to use this photo, so don't you steal it. President Obama arriving in Ankara, Turkey, by Pete Souza and courtesy of White House Flickr stream.]

Margaine Lacroix On Eccentric Fashion

Poiret1912In a 1912 New York Times article bylined Margaine Lacroix, the designer who only four years earlier had shocked Paris with her sexy dresses opined on the question, "Do Women Like Eccentric Clothes?" She argued that they do not. "Now, as ever, the woman of society does not wear bizarre clothes," she wrote.

You will say, are not the great Parisian houses, or at any rate a number of them, turning out numbers of extraordinary eccentricity? You are quite right. They are. And to that I can only reply that those models are created but not worn...

[T]he eccentric models one sees belong to the same order of things as those strange and beautiful birds one hears about in tropical countries. Glittering and beautiful with all the colors of the rainbow they die in a day or, in other words, they are exported. Then, stripped of their peculiarly bewildering eccentrities, they are modified to form the new fashion.

These daring gowns suggest new ideas, evoke new fashions, but in their entirety no woman of good taste accepts them. If an actress wears them, perhaps, occasionally, she does so only on the stage. I speak, of course, of the actresses who stand high, not of those aspirants to fame who do not care how they are remarked if only they are noticed.

Sounds like many a contemporary runway show, not to mention the Grammys.

Margaine Lacroix worked within--and celebrated--the then-fashionable curvy silhouette. "Would it be rational to suppose that women would cover up that hard-earned grace with eccentriticies that could not show it to advantage," she wrote. "In short, the silhouette--that is what women want to-day, and they put it above all else, certainly far above the bizarre."

Although his name never appears, the essay is clearly an attack on Paul Poiret, whose designs that year included his lampshade dress, this waistless, "rectilinear" dress, and this concoction made from what look like left-over curtains. She disliked "the rage for color combinations," another Poiret trope, prefering white. And she definitely wasn't a fan of the hobble skirt:

Are we in our narrow skirts less free than our grandmothers in crinoline? Unless we stupidly exaggerate the skirt we are indeed much freer, and exaggeration, as I have said, the woman of taste avoids scrupulously.

In short, the women of taste in general do not care for the bizarre, and if caprice drives some of them to it they quickly weary and come back to the rule that a lady does not like to be stared at.

Poiret's eccentricity and flamboyance gave him a place in fashion history, eclipsing the once-famous Margaine Lacroix. But it was Coco Chanel, with a simplicity that would have been strange to both of them, who sensed where fashion and culture were really headed.

[1912 Poiret design courtesy of Wikicommons.]

Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix: The Path-Breaking Designer You've Never Heard Of

In honor of International Women's Day, on Friday Racked posted a tribute to "Six Groundbreaking Women Designers Who Changed Fashion," rounding up the usual suspects from Coco Chanel to Miuccia Prada.

Margaine LaCroix Sylphide dresses 1908

Left off the Racked list, because she's largely been forgotten, was the pioneering pre-World War I designer Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix, known in her day simply as Margaine-Lacroix. Susie Ralph, a British fashion historian, is engaged in a one-woman crusade to restore this once-prominent designer to her rightful place in history. Here, introducing an exhibit on Margaine-Lacroix, she explains how the designer's skintight, corsetless designs shocked Paris in 1908:

Margaine Lacroix gown 1908In 1908 Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix sent three mannequins to the Longchamp race-course clad in her form-revealing robes-tanagréennes. These corsetless dresses caused a sensation among Paris’ fashionable crowd - a riot according to some newspaper reports. Worn without corsets and slit to the knee on one side over the most transparent of underskirts, their impact on the fashion world was instantaneous and resulted in major press coverage not only in Paris but around the world. In today's parlance the style immediately "went viral"....It was Margaine-Lacroix’s daring vision that brought to an end the ideal of the rigidly corseted hour-glass figure, and ushered in the new, slim twentieth century silhouette. 

Although worn without corsets, Margaine-Lacroix's dresses were anything but baggy. They were cut and seamed to give the wearer va-va-va-voom curves. “For Mae West,” wrote Colette in a 1938 essay on the star, “the age of vice is not 1900 but 1907 or ’08: the era of giant hats made popular by Lantelme, the clinging dresses of Margaine-Lacroix.”

For all their raciness, Margaine-Lacroix's designs captured the imaginations of mainstream critics like Mrs. Jack May of the British weekly The Bystander. “From no single aspect does this elegance offend the eye, the exquisite simplicity of the silhouette affording the absolute relief and pleasure,” she wrote of the dress to the right. “Carried out in the delicate green of a young sapling leaf, the harmony undisturbed, save for a great butterfly motif worked in padded relief in Egyptian colourings, few women would be ale to resist the claims of so persuasive a possession.”

For more on Margaine-Lacroix, watch Susie Ralph's lecture here (the intro is in Italian, but the lecture is in English).

Makeover Week: Eddie Senz, Blunt-Talking Makeover Artist And Patriot

Eddie Senz at work in Hollywood 1944When Mademoiselle  ran the first before-and-after beauty feature in 1936, the magazine enlisted Paramount Studios makeup artist Eddie Senz to transform Barbara Phillips, a nurse who described herself as “homely as a hedgehog,” into something resembling a Hollywood star. He was not tactful. “Your face is too narrow and—er—well your neck’s too long,” he told Phillips. He was even blunter with the anonymous subjects he transformed for the regular column Mademoiselle started after the makeover was a huge hit. “Once a young woman built on these lines would have been described as pleasingly plump,” he wrote in one column. “But let’s be realistic and point out that she’s short, fat, stocky, and missing in attractive feminine curves.”

For all his lack of tact, Senz did know how to change people’s looks. While at Paramount, he so dramatically transformed Frances Farmer that, her biographer Peter Shelley writes, “she did not recognize the person who looked back at her from the mirror.”

Toward the end of World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the CIA) enlisted Senz to suggest how Hitler might disguise himself, by changing or shaving his hair (and mustache, of course), growing a beard, or wearing glasses. Although supposedly unknown until a Der Spiegel report in the 1990s, Senz’s work was actually reported, with concept photos, by The New York Times in October 1944. Senz told Victor Schiff, who wrote the story, that the hardest challenge would be to hide Hitler’s piercing eyes, “the most remarkable I have ever seen.”

Senz’s sense of patriotic duty extended to nearly pro bono hair styling in the 1960s. When LBJ became president, biographer Randall B. Woods writes, Johnson told a “dumbfounded” Senz, “I’m a poor man and I don’t make much money, but I've got a wife and a couple of daughters, and four or five people that run around with me, and I like the way you make the look....This is your country and I want to see what you want to do about it.” A compliant Senz accepted transportation costs and a $100 bill to style the hair of the three Johnson women and a bunch of secretaries.

Although billed as a Hollywood makeup artist, for most of his career Senz made his living through savvy publicity that drew clients to his New York salon. (Here are his 1940 “beauty tips for office girls.”) He took a simultaneously bossy and skeptical approach to beauty standards.

“Beauty is all a matter of concept,” he told New York Times reporter Joan Cook in 1961. “In this country, beauty generally means an oval, Nordic sort of face. We’ve been brainwashed to think our standards are the only standards. Who are we to think we have a priority on beauty knowledge?”

Confronted with a client, however, that relativism disappeared, often along with the client’s eyebrows.“For many of my customers,” he told Cook, “my work consists of mentally superimposing the ideal face on top of theirs and then adding or taking away until the illusion of similarity has been achieved.”

Don't forget to enter our special Makeover Week giveaway of IntésivEye eye-makeup remover pads. Details at the post below.

[Photo of Eddie Senz at work in Hollywood for sale on Irish Ebay.] 

What The Smart Red Cross Volunteer Of 1939 Wore: The Hope Diamond

Red Cross volunteer wearing Hope Diamond 1939As part of my book research, I've been going through every issue of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar from selected years between 1929 and 1974. Although I'm looking for specific imagery, I've found a lot of interesting other items in the process, including this 1939 Vogue photo of Evalyn Walsh McLean packing kits to send French soldiers. ("Each kit is packed with comforts: sweater, shirt, gloves, handkerchief, socks, pipe, tobacco, cigarettes, soap, towel, and chocolates.") To see a larger version, click on the photo.

The Leading Man: Hollywood And The Presidential Image, Featuring FDR As "a Virtuoso Of Deceptive Public Performance"

The Leading Man by Burton PerettiIn the third of our excerpts from  The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, historian Burton Peretti looks at FDR as the consummate public performer. You can read the first two excerpts here and here.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal qualities and story helped to invest the diverse relationship between Hollywood and the White House with a special resonance. This resonance in particular would enhance the figure of the president in certain cinematic terms—in other words, in terms that reflected the publicizing of heroic male figures in mass culture. As the theater provided Lincoln with emotional and philosophical guides to leadership, movies provided FDR with a mirror in which he could perceive and evaluate the deeper meanings of his life and his presidency. The fundamental reason for this deep bond lay in Roosevelt’s unprecedented employment of performance (as dramatic artists understood the word) in service to his presidency.

While Lincoln mined Shakespeare to enrich the music and the tragic weight of his prose and pondered melodramas (as well as Shakespearean tragedy) to elucidate his career-long fascination with tyranny and its consequences, Roosevelt, in keeping with his times, strove for a lighter touch. Through his effective use of radio in the Fireside Chats, he built on his cousin Theodore’s efforts to transform political speech from orotund Victorian practice to casual conversation suited to the age of mass media. He consciously confined the vocabulary of the Chats to about a thousand of the most common words, and always broadcast to a small group of guests in the Oval Office to create the feeling of an actual conversation.

To be sure, Roosevelt proved equally effective, especially during election campaigns, at booming and occasionally portentous oratory before huge crowds, but here too he showed his mastery of the microphone, adjusting his voice to the space and its echo and providing a novel new variety of temperaments, extending to effective uses of humor. Through his skilled introduction of light and humorous speaking qualities to presidential oratory, as well as the general buoyancy of many of his public appearances, Roosevelt conveyed his appreciation for comic acting and monology, in the style of Will Rogers and similar performers of the time.

The president’s most important performance by far was the deception with which he masked his physical disability. While every citizen knew about Roosevelt’s bout with polio, which afflicted him below the waist in 1921, almost none of them ever saw it literally paralyze him. In public the president walked, stood, smiled, and confidently led the nation. FDR was brazen enough in his first inaugural address to characterize fear as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” apparently unworried that his passing reference to paralysis might diminish his own image at the very moment he was attaining power.

From the time he contracted polio FDR spent virtually waking hour of his life battling the image of the invalid, first to restart and to advance his political career and then, as president, to project the traditional image of the national leader—a Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt “running” for office and “marching” the people forward. In the age of movies, this expectation was heightened. As the art historian Sally Stein has observed, “today’s mass media intensifies the popular impulse to scrutinize the bodies of leaders and would-be leaders for signs of the[ir] abilities.” Even in the electronic age, while “absolute monarchs may sit . . . politicians dependent on popular mandate are expected to demonstrate quite literally their ‘good standing’ by rising to present themselves to their constituents.”

For Roosevelt, confronting such expectations was an unyielding physical and psychological challenge. His campaign led him to acquire a spa in Warm Springs, Georgia; experiment with quack medical remedies; devise steel leg braces and paint them black so that they would not be detected against his socks; and feign walking, falling forward while a strong man grasped his arm.

He even assumed the traditional leader’s pose by mounting a horse during his campaign in 1928 for the governorship of New York. Since his legs could not grip the horse’s flanks, this was a dangerous stunt; a slight movement by the animal likely would have thrown him to the ground. These efforts were only part of his ordeal, though. As one biographer, H. W. Brands, has put it, FDR

had determined, not long after contracting polio, that he would deny its effects on his life and dreams. The sheer physical effort of standing in his braces, of staggering forward, step by lurching step, of smiling through the sweat and the clenched hands gripping the lectern for dear life, would have exhausted anyone. But the emotional effort was at least as great. He couldn’t show his anger at his lost athleticism, his vanished virility, his physical dependence on others. He couldn’t be discouraged or despondent….The result of all this was that the actor never left the stage.
Even during times of relaxation such as his “children’s hours”—afternoon cocktails usually in the company of his adoring female secretaries and cousins —FDR projected an air of insouciance and buoyancy, mixing drinks while seated behind the liquor cart. In the dark first days of his administration, as the financial system hung in the balance, his adviser Raymond Moley found him to be almost unreal, “unmoved” by turmoil as if he “had no nerves at all.” Earlier, at the inaugural ceremony, the pioneering motion picture actress Lillian Gish—who was perhaps uniquely qualified to render evaluations of an individual’s “star quality”—marveled at Roosevelt, exclaiming that the new president seemed “to have been dipped in phosphorus.”

Coupled with this, as Brands perceptively notes, was the fact that Roosevelt was by nature a devious and misleading personality. “He had been emotionally isolated since boyhood. His close relationships had always been with persons not his equal. He had no close friends as a boy or young man, no one at Groton or Harvard in whom he genuinely confided.” Decades before he fell to polio, he enjoyed fooling people with verbal misdirection and his befogging brand of charm. Voters heard the young FDR boast about achievements that were entirely the work of others; election opponents, lulled into complacency by his genteel demeanor, learned only later of his ruthless campaign plotting and dealmaking; and he betrayed Eleanor by conducting an affair with Lucy Mercer, her own secretary. Eleanor’s uncle Theodore, as Booker T. Washington and many others noted, had seemed totally lacking in deviousness, possessing a “straightforward indiscretion, [a] frankness to the point of rudeness.” His cousin Franklin’s demeanor could not have been more different.

Part of the difference was due to changing times. In the decades after Theodore’s death, the advertising and public relations industries asserted that individuals (as well as corporations) must wear a carefully constructed public face in order to succeed, and the motivational speaker Dale Carnegie sold millions of books advising ambitious young men to mask their mundane, everyday selves in job interviews or in business transactions. In an era that celebrated public deception for the benefit of advancement, FDR was a truly representative man. His Herculean efforts to mask his paralysis and his despair made him a virtuoso of deceptive public performance.

As president, manipulating allies and foes alike, Roosevelt kept the goals of the New Deal multiple and often contradictory, so that he might preserve maximum political flexibility. He admiringly called himself “the juggler,” but some of his machinations also held a cruel edge. More than most presidents, as the biographer Conrad Black put it, “Roosevelt punished his enemies.” Stung by the opposition to the New Deal of Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, FDR led a relentless effort to convict Annenberg for income tax evasion and sentence him to maximum time. Roosevelt ignored petitions on Annenberg’s behalf from Jack Warner, the movie comedian Eddie Cantor, and many others, and the publisher remained in federal prison until shortly before his death.

Ambassador Joseph Kennedy had done FDR no favors by blatantly claiming that Great Britain—the country in which he was stationed—was doomed to fall to Hitler, but Roosevelt’s bizarre and utterly insincere audiences with Kennedy during his visit home in November 1940, in which he lavished praise and sympathy on the diplomat, seemed designed only to make his imminent firing all the more brutal. As in Annenberg’s case, the movie industry played a supporting role in Kennedy’s fall. Speaking at a luncheon in Hollywood given in his honor by studio chiefs, the ambassador made his most strident isolationist comments to date, praising Hitler’s regime in front of dozens of Jewish producers and directors. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. reported Kennedy’s comments to the White House, and the president summoned Kennedy to his home in Hyde Park. Moments after he greeted the ambassador, FDR seethed to Eleanor, “I never want to see that son of a bitch again as long as I live!” brusquely ordering her to take him to the train station.

Such deviousness and cruelty, of course, are not uncommon in the annals of politics and leadership, and more than most leaders, Franklin Roosevelt might be excused for utilizing such means to achieve noble ends. Nevertheless, if we observe his tactics in tandem with his campaign to hide his paralysis and with his sensitivity to the power of mass media, such as radio and motion pictures, we sense that FDR was building new connections among the presidential image, political tactics, and the growing cultural appetite for celebrity.

It is particularly notable that while Roosevelt and his inner circle worked to hide his paralysis, they also relied upon his audiences—the press and the electorate—to willingly suspend their disbelief, to play along with the ruse that FDR really could walk and “stand for office” like any other strong leader. As Sally Stein notes, the public conspired with FDR to cover up his actual physical condition, engaging in “a collaborative process of dealing with the president’s lack of conventional signs of mastery.” In late 1932, when an article in Time magazine made a passing reference to the president-elect’s “shriveled legs,” hundreds of readers wrote indignant letters, and the magazine refrained from using such language again. It is difficult to quantify the impact of the public’s desire to protect Roosevelt’s image and to help him maintain the illusion of conventional physical strength. Although he faced some of the most adverse political and social challenges in American history, across an unprecedented three full terms and four election campaigns, the illusion persisted.

Text from The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, by Burton W. Peretti, Rutgers University Press 2012 and used with permission. This is the third in a series. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

[First clip is from the 1933 Universal film The Fighting President, which is available in full on C-Span's site here.]

The Leading Man: Hollywood And The Presidential Image, Featuring FDR And The Rage For Movie Presidents

The Leading Man by Burton Peretti

In the second of our excerpts from  The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, historian Burton Peretti looks at how the relationship between the White House and movie stars intensified during Franklin Roosevelt's administration, leading to high-profile movie-star appearances and to more movies about past, present, and imaginary presidents. (Unlike Steven Spielberg, who held his new Lincoln movie until after the election, Hollywood during FDR's administration had no qualms about mixing past and present politics.)

The Great Depression and World War II intensified the escapist power of the movies and the voters’ tendency to search for idealized, cinematic, heroic traits in their elected leaders.

It is striking how much more visible Hollywood became in the Roosevelt White House. Movie stars, familiar to Americans from their appearances on theater screens, began to show up regularly at the White House during the Roosevelt administration. The main impetus was an annual event on behalf of a charitable organization founded by the president, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (which later renamed itself after one of its fundraising efforts, the March of Dimes). While the public never received a clear account from the press of the extent of Roosevelt’s handicap, they were aware of his illness, and the novelty of having a president afflicted by polio intensified press coverage of the disease and efforts directed toward its prevention and cure.

As a result, in late January 1934 a small gathering of movie celebrities at a Washington hotel, hosted by the performer and humorist Will Rogers, celebrated Roosevelt’s birthday for the purpose of raising money for polio research. Hollywood publicists then concocted a plan to transport a larger group of well-known movie performers to Washington every year, beginning in 1935, in conjunction with the president’s birthday. The performers lunched at the White House with the First Lady and attended a variety of fundraising affairs around the capital. With the exception of young Ginger Rogers’s invitation in 1936 to witness the delivery of a Fireside Chat in the Oval Office, none of the participating actors met the president himself. FDR instead attended annual birthday dinners, which were held the same evenings as the movie stars’ lunches but were attended only by government officials. From 1935 to 1937, when Roosevelt was at the height of his popularity, the annual Washington birthday event inspired similar events on the same night in other cities, to raise money for the fight against polio.

Owing to such Hollywood–White House contacts, Alan Schroeder argues, “it was Franklin Roosevelt who first perceived the power of association waiting to be harnessed in Hollywood stars.” This power of association was a deeply emotional bond connecting Roosevelt, his family, and more liberal members of his administration with their most fervent supporters in the movie industry. During Roosevelt’s terms, the unwritten but long-standing American taboo that barred star performers from partisan activism was often breached.

Hollywood’s increasingly central role in American political culture was also evident in the first significant depictions of U.S. presidents—fictional and real ones—in sound films. Not coincidentally, these depictions first appeared during the depths of the Depression, at the precise time the nation looked to Roosevelt for leadership. D. W. Griffith had presented Washington and Lincoln as supporting characters in his silent historical epics, and his first talking film was a Lincoln biography, but before 1932 Hollywood avoided depicting real or imagined presidents; politics, in the main, was not considered dramatic. The Depression steadily altered this view in a number of the popular arts, as exemplified by the groundbreaking musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (1931).

In Hollywood it was, perhaps not surprisingly, William Randolph Hearst who produced the first, fevered cinematic portrayal of the presidency. Gabriel over the White House (1932) has long fascinated critics and historians with its story about a weak president who is transformed by a blow to the head into a bold, quasi-dictatorial leader. Walter Huston (who had portrayed Lincoln for Griffith two years earlier) enacts Hearst’s own thwarted fantasy of a populist leader unbound by legalistic restrictions, free to confront the Great Depression and the threat of organized crime with paramilitary squads and government by decree.

As the Great Depression eased later in the decade, presidents in movies were portrayed in a more sentimental fashion. The avalanche of Lincoln lore, unleashed in the wake of Carl Sandburg’s very popular biography, epitomized the back-to-the-land sentimentality of the New Deal era. It was manifested in Hollywood in the late 1930s films Abe Lincoln in Illinois (from the play by Robert E. Sherwood, soon to become FDR’s speechwriter) and Young Mr. Lincoln, as well as Frank McGlynn Sr.’s supporting appearances as Lincoln in many films. More generally, the leading director Frank Capra developed a passion for contrasting homespun, Lincolnesque American goodness with ruthless corporate power in a series of celebrated films. The most overtly political of Capra’s films, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), was vaguely based on the story of Senator Burton Wheeler, who before his isolationist heyday had arrived in Washington from the Montana farmlands as progressive young crusader. Yet, as Michael Rogin and Kathleen Moran have shown, Mr. Smith muddled its political messages and obscured its ideology so completely that Capra—possibly by design—leaves the audience with only a vague yet powerful sense of pride in the little man. (Capra’s last political film, Meet John Doe [1941], is more pessimistic but equally opaque in its political orientation.)

Finally, there was FDR himself, whose representations in 1930s studio films still startle viewers today. The first FDR movie “appearance” occurred in the 1933 musical extravaganza Footlight Parade, in which the Broadway impresario James Cagney’s closing stage show “Shanghai Lil” evolves unexpectedly into a patriotic celebration of the New Deal (and the National Recovery Administration in particular). An audience onstage holds up cards to produce a large image of the president’s face, as martial band music explodes on the soundtrack. The scene is often considered an illustration of the fervent support of FDR by the brothers Warner, well known as the leading Democrats in Hollywood.

Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox was another Roosevelt supporter, as was the director John Ford, and it was undoubtedly these men who ensured that the resettlement camp director in California in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)—the virtual savior of the Joad family, welcoming them smilingly to the clean and friendly camp at the end of their cross-country ordeal—resembles an ambulant FDR, down to his grin and eyeglasses. In wartime, Warners and Cagney revisited Roosevelt in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), an award-winning biography of the entertainer George M. Cohan, which begins with Cohan (played by Cagney) visiting the Oval Office and receiving warm praise from President Roosevelt (portrayed once again by a lookalike, but only shown reverently from the back). [Watch the scene here.] Zanuck then gambled the Fox studio’s assets on an expensive film biography of FDR’s mentor Woodrow Wilson, which explicitly endorsed the internationalism at the heart of American policy during World War II. These films collectively represented the apex of Hollywood’s favorable depiction of a sitting president and his goals.

Text from The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, by Burton W. Peretti, Rutgers University Press 2012 and used with permission. This is the second in a series. Read part 1 here.

Partisan Style: 18th-Century Version

Hogarth patching detailIn the contemporary U.S., we tend to think of our age as hyperpartisan--all that vitriol flowing from the blue team onto the red team and back again. You can't even eat fried chicken sandwiches, buy out-of-stock china patterns, shop at Whole Foods, watch HBO, or read Vogue without making a political statement. Just mulling the political implications of American Apparel leggings has occupied many a column inch. Can't you just enjoy yourself?

That is, it turns out, an old question.

The English essayist Joseph Addison asked it in 1711 after a frustrating night at the opera, when all the pretty ladies seemed to have politics on their mind. Instead of congregating in the front--the better to put on a show for their male admirers--they arrayed themselves according to partisan allegiances: Whigs on the right, Tories on the left, and a dwindling number of "neutrals" in the middle.

Hogarth's Rake's Progress patched prostitutesThe ladies' left-right symbolism (reversing today's left and right just as Americans reverse the European conventions of blue and red) didn't stop with seating charts. It extended to artificial beauty marks, like the ones Hogarth depicted on prostitutes in Marriage à la Mode (top) and A Rake's Progress (above), which were the height of fashion. The patches began as a way to cover the effects of smallpox or syphillis, but eventually became simply a style--with political meaning. Whigs patched on the right, Tories on the left.

Writing in his infuential daily newspaper The Spectator, Addison mocked this partisan patching, noting that the intersection of style and symbolism could create confusion.

whatever may be the Motives of a few fantastical Coquets, who do not Patch for the Publick Good so much as for their own private Advantage, it is certain, that there are several Women of Honour who patch out of Principle, and with an Eye to the Interest of their Country. Nay, I am informed that some of them adhere so stedfastly to their Party, and are so far from sacrificing their Zeal for the Publick to their Passion for any particular Person, that in a late Draught of Marriage-Articles a Lady has stipulated with her Husband, That, whatever his Opinions are, she shall be at liberty to Patch on which Side she pleases.

I must here take notice, that Rosalinda, a famous Whig Partizan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful Mole on the Tory Part of her Forehead; which being very conspicuous, has occasioned many Mistakes, and given an Handle to her Enemies to misrepresent her Face, as tho' it had Revolted from the Whig Interest. But, whatever this natural Patch may seem to intimate, it is well known that her Notions of Government are still the same. This unlucky Mole, however, has mis-led several Coxcombs; and like the hanging out of false Colours, made some of them converse with Rosalinda in what they thought the Spirit of her Party, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected Fire, that has sunk them all at once. If Rosalinda is unfortunate in her Mole, Nigranilla is as unhappy in a Pimple, which forces her, against her Inclinations, to Patch on the Whig Side.

Like the self-professed vegetarian who turned out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, some former critics converted to patching once it was turned to partisan use. Wrote Addison, "I am told that many virtuous Matrons, who formerly have been taught to believe that this artificial Spotting of the Face was unlawful, are now reconciled by a Zeal for their Cause, to what they could not be prompted by a Concern for their Beauty."

Style is not glamour, however, nor vice versa. The real glamour in this story is what Addison sought at the theater: an escape from partisanship into a world of beauty.