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This issue of White House History explores the White House’s involvement in film since the technical invention swept the nation starting in the early twentieth century. One of the first major motion pictures screened at the White House was D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. Elise Kirk looks at the story of this controversial film about the South during Reconstruction, exploring the film’s marriage of drama to music, and the great scandal it brought when film fan President Woodrow Wilson screened it in the East Room of the White House in 1915. Since then, portraying the residence has become quite a feat, especially for set decorator Diane Lederman, who discusses the challenges behind recreating decades of White House decor for the recent film Lee Daniel’s The Butler. The National Portrait Gallery’s cultural historian Amy Henderson examines the presidents as “primetime figures” within the context of media culture. Ron Keller takes a look at the history of roughly 100 years of moviemaking in which U.S. presidents and first ladies have been portrayed as heroes and villains, as lessons in political power, as subjects of our fascination, and as common humans who happen to reside in a prominent house with a famous address. Also included in this richly illustrated issue are a look at how traditional White House invitation lists evolved to include celebrity guests; a photo essay on Hollywood Visits to the White House; and reflections by White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin on the portrayal of the Secret Service on the silver screen.
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