Celebration – President’s Day (Part Two)

A good way to celebrate President’s Day is by watching some great movies about presidents.  Two of our favorite presidential movies are about fictional presidents, “My Fellow Americans” and “The American President”.  Here is a suggestion to make President’s Day a special evening: order a pizza, make a salad and enjoy a delicious dinner with the family, then get comfortable on the sofa and watch the movies.  Please be advised: both these movies are rated PG-13 and might not be suitable for younger children.

To continue with the theme of fictional presidents, one of our favorite television series is “The West Wing”.  This show is so well written and the dialog is fast-paced and we also enjoy the balance of comedy and drama; it keeps the series fun and exciting.  I know you can’t watch all 154 episodes in one night, but this is one of those television series that is worth watching again!

My Fellow Americans

This 1996 comedy movie is about two fictional ex-presidents, President Russell Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and President Matt Douglas (James Garner).  These two former rivals of opposite political parties are drawn into a scandal by the current President William Haney (Dan Aykroyd).  Presidents Kramer and Douglas become reluctant allies on a desperate search for evidence to establish their innocence in the “Olympia” scandal and they narrowly escape into the Appalachian Mountains as they are pursued by government agents.  These reluctant allies are on a desperate search for evidence to establish their innocence in the “Olympia” scandal. Surprisingly, as these two former presidents travel through Middle America; they meet illegal immigrants, a homeless family and they even find themselves marching in a gay pride parade.  Wait for the plot twist near the end of the movie and the fun ending to the movie.   Supporting cast includes John Heard as the bumbling Vice President Ted Matthews, Wilford Brimley, Lauren Bacall, Sela Ward, Everett McGill and Bradley Whitford.

My Fellow Americans Trivia

  • The title of the film comes from the common phrase used as a traditional opening of presidential speeches.
  • The movie was originally supposed to be a Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon movie.  Unfortunately due to illness, Matthau was replaced with James Garner instead.  For this reason the film was unofficially known on set as “Grumpy Old Presidents”
  • Some memorable lines for the movie:
    “Hail to the chief, he’s the chief and he needs hailing. He is the chief, so everybody hail like crazy…”
    “Well, as usual, the Republican comes up with a plan while the Democrat just aimlessly wanders in the woods”

The American President

This 1995 romantic-comedy movie is directed by Rob Reiner (he also directed “The Princess Bride”) and written by Aaron Sorkin (he created “the West Wing” television series.  In this movie fictional President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a widower with a young daughter who is preparing for his upcoming re-election.  Based on his high approval rating and on the advice of his chief of staff A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen), they attempt to pass a controversial crime control bill before the State of the Union Address.  Meanwhile, President Shepherd meets an environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) who has recently moved to Washington D.C. who has her own agenda to get legislation passed regarding reduced carbon dioxide emissions.  Spontaneously President Shepherd invites her to attend the upcoming State Dinner for the President of France.  A romance soon develops and causes problems when a political rival Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) uncovers some damaging information about Sydney’s past and tries to derail President Shepherd’s re-election plans.  The movie ends with the State of the Union Address.

The American President Trivia

  • Originally Robert Redford was cast as the President but he was replaced when he had a falling out with the director, Rob Reiner.  Also at one point, Emma Thompson was considered for the role of Sydney.
  • Michael J. Fox, who plays Lewis Rothschild an assistant to President Shepherd, based his character on George Stephanopoulos.  Stephanopoulos was the communications director during the 1992 Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, when Clinton was elected Stephanopoulos became the White House Communications Director, then a Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy before he left in 1996.

The West Wing television series

“The West Wing” television series ran for seven seasons on NBC from September 1999 to May 2006.  The show takes place during the administration of the fictional President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and centers on daily work of the West Wing of the White House which is where the Oval Office of the President is located and also the offices of the presidential senior staff.  “The West Wing” ensemble cast centers on the President, the First Lady Abigal Bartlet (Stockard Channing), Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Communications Director Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff), Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) and Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Alison Janney).  Numerous secondary characters appeared throughout the show’s seven seasons.  Generally the storylines involved the main characters with some advancing into other positions in the fictional presidential staff, some characters left and other characters where added over the course of the series.  During the series final two seasons, the plots involved both the final years of President Bartlet’s presidency and the campaign and primary elections for the next president.

“The West Wing” received critical acclaim and many entertainment awards.  What kept the show interesting were the fast paced, humorous scripts filled with intense dialog brilliantly written by Aaron Sorkin.  The show developed a technique known as the “walk and talk”.  These scenes generally involved long conversations started between characters as they are walking from one location to another with various characters joining or leaving the conversation as they move through the halls of the West Wing.

The West Wing Trivia

  • The series was supposed to center on the presidential senior staff with the fictional President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) originally scheduled to appear in only four episodes per season but after the pilot was filmed it was determined that he was needed as a permanent character.
  • Martin Sheen had an injury to his arm when he was born and has a very unusual way of putting on his jacket and this unique style was incorporated into the character of President Bartlet.
  • A portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican President, traditionally is hung in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House during a Republican administration.  During a Democratic administration a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt, a Democratic President, hangs in the room.  In the Roosevelt Room of President Bartlet’s White House both portraits are used.
  • During the first season, reporter Danny Kincannon brings C.J. a live goldfish in a bowl.  The goldfish/bowl became a permanent part of C.J. office and whenever it appears in later episodes, the decoration in the goldfish’s bowl changes to match the theme of the episode.
  • Sadly, actor John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, died from a heart attack in December 2005, about a year after his character experienced a nearly fatal heart attack on the show. The cast and crew were devastated and a brief memorial message from Martin Sheen was broadcast before the episode “Running Mates”, which was the first new episode that aired after Spencer’s death. The loss of the character of Leo McGarry was addressed in the episode “Election Day”.