5 Presidents Who Don’t Deserve a Movie
Not every Commander-in-Chief deserves the Lincoln treatment.
Not every Commander-in-Chief deserves the Lincoln treatment.
William Henry Harrison, 1841-1841
Anyone adapting the life story of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, would really have trouble making him a sympathetic character. He became prominent during the Indian Wars mostly for being an expert Indian slaughterer, which, back in 1811, was sadly still a legit way to get famous. In 1840, Harrison ran for president on a campaign of pure lies and deception: The wealthy, aristocratic Harrison portrayed himself as a hard-drinking everyman who resided in a log cabin, while portraying his opponent, Martin VanBuren, as a privileged snob. The truth of the matter is that Harrison grew up on a luxurious estate in Virginia, while VanBuren grew up poor and actually had resided in a log cabin. After winning a landslide election, Harrison gave the longest inauguration speech of any president ever – almost two hours long – during a cold, rainy day in March, without wearing a coat or hat. He caught pneumonia and was dead a month later. Of course, this was all after he had a bunch of kids with one of his slaves and sold most of them. “Not a nice guy” is what we’re saying here.
John Tyler, 1841-1845
John Tyler was a guy who could never get any respect, which is less surprising when you learn that he grew up as a sickly boy with chronic diarrhea. As he got older, he ended up fighting with his fellow Democrats so much that he ditched them for the Whig party. He then went on to be the first vice president to assume the presidency after the death of a president, and as a result, no one felt he deserved the job, resulting in his being given the nickname “His Accidency”. Even a White House livery driver made fun of him: When Tyler complained about having a secondhand carriage, the driver reminded him that he was only a “Secondhand President” (sick burn!)
Tyler never helped his situation, though – he was elected to the vice presidency as a Whig, but when he became president, he abandoned the Whig platform and was promptly kicked out of the party. He turned back to the Democrats, but they didn’t want him either. Tyler’s response? Making like a kindergartner who couldn’t get picked for soccer and throwing a temper tantrum, before vowing to start his own party. Even after promising to be, like, total BFF’s with anyone who joined his new party, no one joined, so Tyler quickly gave up on that venture and remained an independent for the rest of his presidency. Toward the end of his life, Tyler earned himself a brand new nickname, “Traitor Tyler” – he was the only president to join the confederacy and even served in their government. John Tyler went his whole life without anybody really wanting him around, so it’s hard to imagine audiences would go and see a John Tyler movie now.
Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
Another Indian-killing slave owner, “Old Rough and Ready” Zachary Taylor was a prominent general during the Mexican War (the one where America started a war with Mexico for no reason and then stole half their country). By the time the election of 1848 rolled around, Taylor was a politically independent figure: In fact, he was so independent that he had never actually voted in his life. When he assumed office in 1849, the country was deeply divided over slavery – Taylor’s political inexperience showed and he was able to do very little to help. He died just 16 months after his inauguration after attending a party where he ate a big bowl of cherries and some milk. Apparently, the general who had survived three wars couldn’t handle this hearty meal and got sick and died from it. His exact cause of death is still unknown – some historians theorize he was assassinated, but in 1991 Taylor was dug up (at that point he was much more “Rough” than “Ready”) to perform an autopsy and there was no poison found in his system. So it seems that even 140 years after his death, we still couldn’t find anything interesting to say about this man.
Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
Millard Fillmore hated just about everyone. He hated Democrats, he hated Abe Lincoln, he hated Indians, and despite his funny-sounding name, Millard Fillmore really, really hated immigrants. The only thing we know he did like was slaves, on which subject his policy was basically, “the more, the merrier”, helping to expand slavery into the western territories. He was originally trained as a tailor, but the young Fillmore wasn’t content spewing his hatred to men as he measured their crotches – no, Fillmore had big dreams, and he wanted all of America to know who he hated. He entered politics and was elected as vice president in 1848. When Zachary Taylor died, Fillmore took over and was able to share his racism and vitriol with the whole country.
One of his most notorious achievements was signing the Fugitive Slave Act, a particularly nasty bill that said if a slave flees to a free state, the free state must then return the slave to his master. This pro-slavery stance divided the Whig party, and they decided not to back him for reelection. Later on, he became a prominent figure in the Know-Nothing Party, whose platform was essentially that they hated Irish people and… yeah, that’s about it. In 1856, he ran for president as a Know-Nothing and lost, and for some reason this political party never quite caught on. It could be all of the seething hatred in their campaign speeches, the fact that they burned a church and tarred-and-feathered a priest, or simply that “Know Nothing” didn’t have quite the catchy ring to it that “Democrat” or “Republican” have. It’s pretty much guaranteed that a Fillmore film would flop as badly as the actual president did.
William Howard Taft, 1909-1913
President Taft’s single claim to fame is that he was America’s fattest president. While he was in office, Taft was just an all-around mediocre guy: He had a moderate foreign policy, moderate domestic policies and a moderate record of accomplishment. The only thing not moderate about Taft was his appetite: Weighing in at over 300 pounds, Taft was notorious for burping and farting around the White House. During a particularly embarrassing episode, Taft got stuck in the White House bathtub and a bunch of aids had to rub down his giant nude body with butter in order to get him out. In spite of the 24-hour food service, Taft spent his four years in office completely miserable: He never wanted the job in the first place, having been bullied into it by his domineering wife. Once he rose to power, he hated the responsibility and was angered by the scrutiny he received from the press. He irritated many of his constituents, who believed he abandoned the Progressive platform he ran on, and especially displeased former president Theodore Roosevelt, who had promoted Taft in 1908 but then rebuked him and ran against him in 1912. Taft lost the next election, which was just fine with him. Though a failure as president, Taft did go on to be a successful Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but then they don’t make movies about Supreme Court justices, do they?
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