PERFORMING ARTS

The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image

. 2012. 344p. 978-0-81355-404-4. 29.95.
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Since the days of George Washington, U.S. presidents have tried to use the media for their own image making with varying success. By the time of Theodore Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House, the movie industry had also found uses for the presidency as an aid to storytelling. Many chief executives have been portrayed in cinema, most often but by no means always as benign symbols of America. Peretti (history, Western Connecticut State Univ.; Lift Every Voice: The History of African American Music) necessarily devotes most of the book to the years following 1929 when presidents could be heard as well as seen, and he uses the 14 presidents from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama to explore how the movies changed perceptions of the office and the individuals who filled it. The culmination of this cross-pollination probably came with the election of former movie actor Ronald Reagan to the presidency.
VERDICT Peretti’s writing rises above many Hollywood-centered books by viewing the industry from an historian’s perspective, albeit sometimes ponderously. It should appeal to knowledgeable general readers and serious film buffs.

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