Americans usually celebrate the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy on President's Day. But rarely are the less stellar commanders in chief ever mentioned, such as William Henry Harrison -- who caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and died in 1841 after less than a month in office -- or James Buchanan, the bachelor president who is considered by many scholars to be one of the worst leaders of the free world.
President's Day is special this year because of the election in November. As voters are wondering who will be the next occupant of the White House -- with either Sen. John McCain, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama the likely pick -- Hollywood is also getting into the presidential mode.
HBO is unveiling its latest miniseries, " John Adams," in March with Paul Giamatti ("Sideways") playing the second U.S. president. Liam Neeson is said to be taking on the role of "Lincoln" later this year for director Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are scheduled to reunite for "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt."
So in this election year, it's also time to look back at the various actors who have played presidents over the decades. Here's a look at some facts, odd trivia and bizarre casting choices on the big and small screens.
Oscar-worthy campaigns: Though no actor has won an Oscar playing a president, four actors have been nominated:
Raymond Massey for 1940's "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" -- he lost the Oscar to Jimmy Stewart for "The Philadelphia Story."
Alexander Knox for his dreadfully dull turn as Woodrow Wilson in 1944's "Wilson" -- he lost out to Bing Crosby for "Going My Way."
James Whitmore as Harry S. Truman in his 1975 one-man show, "Give 'em Hell Harry!" -- he lost to Jack Nicholson for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
And Anthony Hopkins scored two nods: One for best actor as Richard Nixon in 1995's "Nixon" -- he lost his bid for the Oscar to Nicolas Cage for "Leaving Las Vegas" -- and best supporting actor as John Quincy Adams in 1997's "Amistad." He lost to Robin Williams for "Good Will Hunting." (Williams also has played a Teddy Roosevelt wax figure in the 2006 comedy hit "Night at the Museum.")
Presidential turns: Ronald Reagan is our country's only actor turned president. During his 30-year film career, though, he never actually played a president. But some presidential wannabes have shown up in movies: Republican front-runner McCain appeared as himself in the ribald 2005 comedy "Wedding Crashers" and, according to the Internet Movie Database, played an uncredited "office staffer" in a 2006 episode of "24." Fred Thompson, who has already left the Republican race, did get to play a Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant, in HBO's 2007 movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." And while he was president, Bill Clinton made a cameo as himself in the 1997 CBS movie "A Child's Wish," with John Ritter, which revolved around the Family and Medical Leave Act he had signed into law the year before.
Gotta sing! "1776" won the Tony for best musical back in 1969. The big-screen version of this tuneful look at the Founding Fathers and the signing of the Declaration of Independence was released in 1972. William Daniels from "St. Elsewhere" played John Adams and Ken Howard from "Crossing Jordan" played the young Thomas Jefferson. Daniels would play Adams again in the 1979 miniseries "The Rebels," lend his voice as the president in the 1994 documentary "The American Revolution" and play his son, John Quincy Adams, in the 1976 miniseries "The Adams Chronicles."
Try, try again: Edward Herrmann was so memorable as FDR in the 1976 miniseries "Eleanor & Franklin" and 1977's "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years" that he also played the four-term prez in the 1982 big-screen version of the hit musical "Annie."
Making a career out of it: Massey reprised the role of Lincoln in a 1950 TV version of "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," as well as the 1956 TV drama "The Day Lincoln Was Shot" and in the 1962 film "How the West Was Won."
Jason Robards provided the voice of Honest Abe in the 1992 documentary "Lincoln" and played the 16th president in 1991's "The Perfect Tribute" and in a 1964 telecast of "Abe Lincoln in Illinois."
David Odgen Stiers took on the role of FDR twice, in 1987's "J. Edgar Hoover" and 1989's "Day One," while Robert Vaughn played the president in 1982's "FDR: That Man in the White House" and 1986's "Murrow."
Charlton Heston played Old Hickory -- Andrew Jackson -- in the 1953 romantic drama "The President's Lady" and in the 1958 adventure "The Buccaneer."
Joseph Crenhan made a career out of playing Grant in several westerns, including 1939's " Union Pacific," 1941's "They Died With Their Boots On" and 1948's "Silver River." Timothy Bottoms had a bit of a career resurgence playing George W. Bush in the 2001 comedy series "That's My Bush!," the 2002 comedy "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" and the 2003 drama "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis."
And Ralph Bellamy played Roosevelt in the 1960 classic film "Sunrise at Campobello" as well as in the 1983 miniseries "The Winds of War" and the 1988 sequel, "War and Remembrance."
.Repeat business: Some actors are so believable in their presidential roles they often end up playing more than one president. Sam Waterston starred in the 1997 miniseries "Thomas Jefferson" and lent his voice as Jefferson in the 1997 documentary "Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery." He also played the title role in the 1988 miniseries "Lincoln" and was Teddy Roosevelt in the 1982 miniseries "Freedom to Speak."
Bob Gunton has played Nixon in 1997's "Elvis Meets Nixon," Woodrow Wilson in 2004's "Iron Jawed Angels" and FDR in 1995's "Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long." Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook played Lincoln in the 1985-86 miniseries "North and South" and "North and South Book II" and John Adams in 1984's "George Washington."
And Rip Torn played Grant in the 1982 miniseries "The Blue and the Gray," Ronald Reagan in 1982's "Airplane II: The Sequel" and Nixon in 1979's "Blind Ambition."
Strange casting choices: Rob Lowe as president James Madison? Or how about the voice of Don Imus as 17th president Andrew Johnson in "The American President"? Or Walter Matthau also playing Johnson in a 1965 episode of "Profiles in Courage"?
But perhaps the strangest casting was rough-and-tumble bad boy Nick Nolte looking so out of place in a powered wig as Thomas Jefferson in the dismal 1995 Merchant-Ivory production "Jefferson in Paris."
From here to obscurity: Even some of the more obscure presidents have been memorialized on celluloid: Martin Van Buren was played by Nigel Hawthorne in "Amistad," and William Henry Harrison was played by David Clennon in 1995's "Tecumseh: The Last Warrior."
James Knox Polk was played by Noble Willingham in 1986's "Dream West." Zachary Taylor was portrayed by James Gammon in 1999's "One Man's Hero," and George Kennedy played Warren G. Harding in 1979's "Backstairs at the White House."
Hail to the chiefs, as played by . . .
Hollywood has chosen many U.S. presidents over the years
'Nixon' (Sidney Baldwin / Cinergi Productions)
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.