Being an election year, it’s appropriate that 2012 has been a presidential year in Hollywood, too. The season would be remarkable for Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln alone, but this weekend, Bill Murray tackled an equally iconic American president, playing Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression, was re-elected an unprecedented three times, and prepared the nation for World War II and successfully waged it – all the while being crippled by polio and anchored to a wheelchair.
Although FDR was famously charming, he was equally manipulative, a trait that Hyde Park director Roger Michell knew required the perfect actor to properly tell his story. “I needed someone with his sense of mischief and charm and sort of humanity, [in order to] forgive some of the things that he does in the film and some of the things that FDR did in real life,” Michell told EW in September. “I don’t think the film would’ve worked without Bill.”
Murray’s version of the president is extremely magnetic, but he’s hardly a saint. He disarms the visiting King of England with precision flattery, and his relationship with distant cousin and close confidante, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), reveals not only his vulnerability but his selfishness, his narcissism, and his outright deceitfulness. “Can you imagine being asked to play FDR?” said Linney. “I just couldn’t get over how brave Bill was. What an intimidating thing to take on. Because he’s playing an icon.”
An icon that Hollywood has often portrayed in more glowing superficial terms, focusing on Roosevelt’s optimism, determination, and charisma and relying heavily on caricature – the pince-nez glasses and cigarette holder, the clipped Transatlantic accent – to capture his essence. Click below to see some examples, from Ralph Bellamy to Kenneth Branagh.
Since winning a Tony for his role as FDR in Sunrise at Campobello, Bellamy made a mini-career for himself playing Roosevelt, beginning with a 1960 screen adaptation. He went on to reprise the role in 1980’s TV miniseries like The Winds of War.
Several character actors, including David Ogden Stiers, played FDR on multiple occasions, but Stephen Roberts spent the most time in the wheelchair, starring as Roosevelt in 1967’s First to Fight and four TV movies. Alas, there are no video samples online.
Edward Herrmann played FDR in two TV movies, but most moviegoers probably remember his cameo in Annie even more.
Jon Voight portrayed Roosevelt at his most heroic, in the dark days after Pearl Harbor.
And, of course, there’s this NSFW re-imagining of the bad-ass prez.