Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Fourth, and George Washington

Independence Day Weekend is upon us.  I just rebuilt the gas barbecue, so I am ready.  A three day weekend and a pool party is all you need...well, almost all you need, to have a great time.  For people reading this blog, you also need some great, patriotic movies!

I thought it would be fun to look at the range of actors who have portrayed George Washington (1732 - 1799) in film and on TV.  I was right, it was fun and the variety is staggering.

About 110 years after George passed away, he shows up for the first time in the 1909 Vitagraph silent film, Washington Under the British Flag with Joseph Kilgour (1863 - 1933) in the title role.  Kilgour played Washington about five times in silent films. 

In 1917 we see William Beery (1879 - 1949) playing Washington in The Spirit of '76.  William was Wallace Beery's brother.  The final silent film that included the Father of our County was The Flag: A Story Inspired by the Tradition of Betsy Ross (1927).  Here we find the biggest star of the silent era, Francis X. Bushman (1883 - 1966) as George.  I believe the title was probably longer than the film.

A dozen films later and we are in 1940 and the release of Holiday Highlights.  This was a comedy compilation of short vignettes of history.  Mel Blanc (1908 - 1989) plays George chopping down a cherry tree.  Of course, Blanc is most famous as his vocal counterparts, Bugs Bunny and many other Warner Brothers cartoon voices.  I am not sure he could be elected president, though.

"You Are There" was a popular historical television series in the 1950s.  In the 1955 episode, "Washington's Farewell to his Officers," E. G. Marshall (1914 - 1998) takes the president's role. 

In 1970 Lorne Greene (1915 - 1987) is Washington in "Swing Out, Sweet Land" an all star TV show starring John Wayne.  That cast is interesting, with Lucille Ball as the Voice of The Statue of Liberty, Jack Benny as the man who finds the silver dollar, and Dan Blocker as the indian who sold Manhattan.  Look for "John Wayne's Trubute to America" as the DVD release title.

Here are a few more TV Washingtons:
Will Geer on "Bewitched"
Pat Hingle on "NET Playhouse" episode "Trail of Tears"
Rene Aberjonois also on "NET Playhouse" in "Portrait of the Hero as a Young Man"
Jim Henson on "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence"  (Huh?)
Richard Basehart on "Hallmark Hall of Fame" episode "Valley Forge"
Peter Graves in "The Rebels"
Kelsey Grammer on "Biography" in the Benedict Arnold episode

The list keeps going, with Walter Cronkite, Brian Dennehy, Anthony Hopkins and Jack Black, all playing GW at some time.  That's quite a mix!

David Morse plays a credible Washington in the HBO bio-series, "John Adams" starring Paul Giamatti.  Well worth seeing if you are the least bit interested in American history.

It's up to you to decide who is the best Washington on screen.  Which is the best performance, or the most historically accurate?  Hard to say.  My guess is that the newer productions, like "John Adams" may be fairly accurate, given the current trend to do research rather than just make entertainment.  I happen to agree with that philosophy.

There are 132 titles on IMDb with a George Washington character, from 1909 to 2009.  I am sure more are to come.  And they will just keep getting better. 

OK...Let The Holiday Weekend Commence!  Enjoy yourself and be careful with those fireworks.  I may take a short drive over to Valley Forge National Historical Park.  It's right near my home, and the dog loves it!


  1. Lorne Greene was George Washington?! Just like Raymond Massey taking on Abe Lincoln, it seems Canadians make the best Americans.

    TCM has "The Flag" scheduled for early Monday morning. Bushman sounds like excellent casting.

    Happy 4th to you!

  2. The range of actors was amazing. I should put toghether a gallery of all the actor's faces against George's portrait. I doubt any of them had wooden teeth.

    Have a great weekend, Caftan!


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