Arthur Meiselman

Hillary In The Movies

Polly Bergen was an actress and singer who launched her fame with The Helen Morgan Story (1957) on Playhouse 90, the premiere 90-minute drama series in the still young adventure of television. It was 73 minutes long with only 17 minutes of advertising, a far cry from today's half&half on network TV. And it was live, no tape, no "fix it in the mix."

segue...To give you an idea of the power of a live dramatic presentation, Reginald Rose's Tragedy In A Temporary Town (1956, directed by Sidney Lumet) portrayed an incident in a migrant workers camp—a young girl has a forbidden fling with a Puerto Rican boy and is forced to falsely accuse him of rape. A gang of white workers hunt him down, hang him by his heels and begin beating him viciously with sticks and bats. Another worker, who refused to get involved, finally commits himself and attacks the mob. Played by Lloyd Bridges (Jeff Bridges' father), the actor was carried away beyond the script and added his own emotional lines at the end including the verboten vulgarity, the word "hell". In 1956, for white, middle-class American television audiences, this was an obscene intrusion into their living rooms. It caused a firestorm, flooding the network with thousands of landline telephone calls and telegrams ('tweren't no twitter in those days!). Coast-to-coast rebukes hounded the network's advertisers. There was even an attempt to revoke the network's license, and a bill in Congress to shut them down. That was the 1950's. Can't say "hell" on television, folks, not when it's live! Video tape and the hi-tech little wonder, the seven-second delay, took care of that little problem.

Polly Bergen's "Helen" was directed by George Roy Hill (of "The Sting" and "Butch Cassidy" fame) and written by Paul Monash, a top-flight television writer. In the 1960's, as the studio system collapsed, Hollywood mined television for its abundant talent just as it had done with the theatre in the 1930's. How the wheel turns. Today, television, especially cable television, mines Hollywood.

unsegue... In 1964, after the success of her "Helen" performance and its record album, Bergen starred in a dud, Kisses For My President, along with Fred MacMurray and Eli Wallach. She played the first Woman President, the first breaker of that glass ceiling, and she was fancifully and aptly named "Leslie McCloud".

It was a weak-tea comedy that focused as much if not more on the President's husband than it did on Mrs. McCloud. It had to be a comedy because in 1964 the idea of a Woman President of the United States of America, e pluribus unum, was as unimaginable and threatening as the idea of a woman's vote was only decades earlier.

It bombed at the box-office because it opened less than a year after JFK was assassinated—presidential comedies didn't sit well with a still grieving and unnerved public. And it wasn't helped by a frothy script with flaccid direction. It was, of course, nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design. She, Lady Pres, had to dress Madison Avenue pretty!

New York Times' Bosley Crowther (the reigning newspaper movie critic of his time) wrote:

"...all that one can say is that we hope the first woman to become President brings along a more amusing husband than Mr. MacMurray."

A prophetic hope now about to come true.

Digging it out of the dustbin of forgotten movies, Kisses For My President  has a couple of prescient takeaways that have zoomed into the post-production of Hillary Clinton. For one, President McCloud is attacked with the stern doubt that she can’t "lead" men, that men will respect and follow her. Fox News, the most malevolent avatar for malicious propaganda since that Nazi sweetheart Joseph Goebbels, has continuously raised this issue. Fox's star woman talk-show host, Megyn Kelly, the one with the hygiene fetish, leveled the question at four-star General John Allen. Something like, "Do you think American soldiers will accept her, a woman, as their Commander-In-Chief?" He calmly and firmly dismissed the issue.  And that's all that Hillary need do.

The second little legacy from the movie is the amusing label for the President's husband, "The First Laddie".

I think I heard someone say that at the DNC, didn’t I?

Maybe it was Bill.

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Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4. He also directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms.
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©2016 Arthur Meiselman
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August 2016

Volume 17, Issue 3

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