Video Article

All the President's Movies

The White House theater -- The inside scoop on the Commander in Chief's personal screening room

We've all seen politicians in movies, but how do politicians see movies? If you're Bill Clinton, you see them in the comfort of your own Executive Mansion — in the White House screening room.

Although the Clintons have occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue little more than three months, they've already seen nearly 20 films in the so-called ''family theater,'' including A Few Good Men, Howards End, Groundhog Day, Leap of Faith, and Lorenzo's Oil. (The President-elect saw The Distinguished Gentleman in Little Rock during the transition.) Clinton's political party notwithstanding, this theatrical perk is understandably undemocratic: Only the First Family and invited guests are allowed to use the screening room. The films are provided by the Motion Picture Association of America. (The MPAA says it has a policy against commenting on this relationship with the White House.)

American Presidents have been bringing Hollywood home for half a century. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in the first-floor screening room when he ordered the construction of the East Wing in 1942. Its 54 seats were upgraded from folding chairs to tiers of standard cushioned theater seats in 1981 (noted film buff Ronald Reagan's first year in office); the Clintons usually sit in the front row, which boasts four wider armchairs with footstools. The screen itself measures 7 1/2 feet by 4 feet, but for special occasion — such as the Super Bowl or when the Clintons want to use their VCR — a 54-inch TV is brought in.

All in all, the presidential moviegoing experience isn't that different from yours or mine. The Clintons, says a White House spokesman, have ''no typical [cinematic] eating habits,'' but they do consume popcorn on ''special'' occasions. Wonder if they splurge for Bon Bons when Boris comes over.

Originally posted Apr 30, 1993 Published in issue #168 Apr 30, 1993 Order article reprints
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