Monday, October 27, 2008

When Did Presidents Start Smiling? - Part 2

Searching the archives of Presidential images in the continuing quest to find the first consistent portraiture of a "smiling" Commander-in-Chief . . .

Part 2
Woodrow Wilson

President Wilson is the bitterest looking President of the Twentieth Century. Maybe the bitterest looking president ever. If Charles Dickens had written a story about a grumpy president, he would look like Wilson. Notice the famous photo of Wilson at his desk in the Oval Office. He seems perturbed. We've interrupted him while he is busy signing the Treaty of Versailles. Or maybe he was busy calling up folks and asking them to join the League of Nations. That would make anyone bitter.

Personally, it reminds me of being called into the principal's office. I feel like a freckle-faced ruffian who's been caught shooting spitwads on the bus. I can imagine Principal Wilson saying, "What do you have to say for yourself you unrepentant scalawag? Tell me why I should not give you a thrashing young man!"

"Forgive me guv'nor," says I, "'twas just a 'armless spitwad! 'Twern't like I shot the Archduke Ferdinand or 'nuffin."

Yet, there is another side of Woody. He becomes a rather jaunty fellow out on the campaign trail. He's sporting a big grin. This urged me to search for more pictures of Wilson and I think I have found a common thread in quite a many Smilin' Wilson images: Wilson smiles when he's wearing a top hat.

All it takes is the top hat and he magically becomes the cheeriest president we've ever known. Maybe Frosty the Snowman's magic top came from Wilson? That magic hat changes Woodrow the Woodman into Woody the Ritzy Prez! The clue is in the song: "There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found, for when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around."

He does look like he's about to dance, don't you think? He looks like the singing frog from the Warner Bros. cartoon. "Hello my baby! Hello my darlin'!"

However, upon further research, I found that in a few instances other hats also make the Woodster smile a mile. Here he is at a baseball game. Maybe he's just smiling because he's enjoying America's favorite past time? Maybe he found a lick and stick tatoo in his box of Cracker Jack? But notice that he is wearing a hat that isn't top. I suppose it was considered bad form to wear a top hat to a baseball game.

His official portraiture is too grim and serious for him to be considered the first Smiling Prez. After all, he is the World War I leader of the U.S. That's not the sort of thing to smile about. But Wilson does seem to understand that when one is campaigning it is good to smile for the camera! We're getting closer.
The quest will continue . . .

When Did Presidents Start Smiling?

I have a ruler in my desk that features the portraits of all the Presidents of the USA. The Presidents of the late 20th century seem to be much happier than the grim-faced leaders of previous decades. Not really sure why since there seems to be as many worries now as then. This casual observation made me wonder "At what point in history did Presidents start smiling?"

I cannot fix a watershed moment when Presidential portraiture seems to lose it gravitas and devolve into a class yearbook. On my ruler, there's a noticeable change from LBJ with his hound dog visage to Nixon's toothy grin so large that he seems to be losing a set of false choppers. This is not the moment though as there are definite smilers predating LBJ.

I realize that other factors are at work such as the style of portraiture and the nature of early photographs that required long exposure. The state of dental care may have had something to with it. Who really wants to see Washington's (wooden?) teeth?

Of course, the picture used for each president can make a difference. My promotional ruler from Workmen's Insurance Group cannot be considered the official cannon of Presidential portraits. So, I have decided to search in the field like an archaeologist. I have been looking for the earliest appearance of a Presidential smile. Smiles should not be confused with their genetic cousins the "smirk" or "grimace." Likewise, one must be careful not to confuse a posed smile with a candid moment of laughter.

For instance, there is this photo of Teddy Roosevelt that has become the quintessential image of TR. It is the template for caricatures and clip art of Teddy. Yet, this photo is uncommon. It's an unguarded moment. Probably taken after someone told Ol' Ted a knee-slapping joke about how many Spaniards it takes to screw in a light bulb. (Wait, did they have light bulbs then?) This photo is not the "pose for the camera portraiture" similar to modern portraits of Presidents. TR is much more serious in his official state sanctioned White House photos.

I will rule out Teddy, but perhaps TR is a benchmark for the quest. There is very scant eveidence of a smiling Commander-in-Chief before TR. Certainly not in the official portraiture. (Although the case can be made that James Buchanan is smirking. He is the only bachelor president, but I don't know if that has any relevance.) Tracking the history from TR takes us into the 20th century and we can narrow the range to the early half of the 20th century since Nixon and Reagan are always smiling and all the others have followed suit. So, who among the 20th century Presidents is the first smiler?

William Howard Taft

What about Taft? He's fat so he ought to be jolly, right? That is the stereotype, yes? If he was jolly, he kept it off-camera. It's hard to tell if Taft is even smirking with his handlebar mustache in the way. He is the last President to sport facial hair by the way - unless you count eyebrows as facial hair.

I can understand why Taft may not have been so jolly. He probably did not feel too much like smiling after getting stuck in the bathtub of the White House. No, Taft doesn't really smile but he makes us smile. For example, before weighing in as President, Taft weighed in as Governor of the Philippines at a healthy fighting weight of 350 lbs. One day he sent a telegraph (that's a form of early email) to Secretary of State Elihu Root, "Rode forty miles on horseback today; feeling fine." Root wired back, "Glad you are feeling fine; how is the horse?" I love it that the Secretary of State has a sense of humor.

The search will continue . . . .

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why I'm Not Worried

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." (Jesus, Matt. 6)

How secure are your securities? So how is your money and commodities? Are you using them, or are they using you? Are you weary of being a consumer consumed with worry? Are you tired of anxiously running after all these things? Then take a walk . . .

Just go outside and walk around and you will see the world that God runs. Maybe there are some blooming of flowers nearby, or maybe you will see the master’s artistry in the fall colors – colors that inspire the great fashion houses. You will have to pay thousands of dollars for designer clothing. The trees pay nothing for God’s care.

Go outside and walk around and you will see birds building their houses and collecting food. You and I may ring up a hefty bill for lunch and get anxious if the meal isn’t ready in fifteen minutes. But the birds pay nothing for God’s care.

And God isn't exhausted after taking care of birds, trees, flowers. He know what you need. He knows better than Obama or McCain or Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. He knows what you need because he knows you. Do you know him?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.