Even Bill Clinton presented at the Golden Globes.
And in 2002 ,Laura Bush appeared in a short Oscars documentary called “What Do Movies Mean To You?”
But this was bigger and bolder. Obama was reading alongside entertainers, leading to the inevitable question: Is America ready for a first lady as entertainer?
Obama was approached by those overseeing the Academy Awards, which celebrated some Washington-based films this year, to be a presenter, the White House said. According to Hollywood trade publications, Academy President Hawk Koch said the plan came from film producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein and his daughter, Lily. According to other reports, Weinstein was not the originator of the idea but did facilitate the appearance. The first lady immediately said yes, Koch told the Hollywood Reporter.
Weinstein, an Obama campaign supporter who raised millions of dollars, joined Koch and the show’s producers two weeks ago at a meeting with the first lady’s staff to hammer out details. They kept her appearance a secret and exulted after it came off. (Getting Michelle Obama as the show-closer for what amounts to the Hollywood community’s annual convention was a major coup for Weinstein, a gifted impresario legendary for his skill mounting sophisticated PR campaigns designed to raise a movie’s profile or ingratiate its stars with Academy voters.)
The timing was perfect for the White House, noted McBride. President Obama and the first lady were hosting the nation’s governors for dinner Sunday night, so the first lady was dressed up, and the service members were already on hand.
Obama’s appearance could boost the nation’s movie industry and provide a way to say thank you to big-money Democratic donors in Hollywood, McBride said.
But Elizabeth Mehren, a professor of journalism at Boston University who covered first ladies from Nancy Reagan to Hillary Rodham Clinton, viewed the appearance in more personal terms for Obama. “She had to repackage herself as not being the angry Harvard law graduate,” Mehren said. “She had to become Betty Crocker. But now she occupies a pedestal of her own.”
Pedestal or not, the first lady caught some flak for the transcontinental appearance.
Television critics panned it as part of a disjointed Oscar ceremony and said she risked overexposure. Republicans tweeted their displeasure.
Conservative commentator Tammy Bruce wrote: “GAH!!! Michelle Obama?! Just when I thought there was something they wouldn’t be on!! GAH!!!!!!”
Obama, who usually goes to bed early, seemed pleased a day later about the appearance. In remarks to the National Governors Association on Monday, she said, “If you noticed, I stayed up a little bit later . . . a little bit longer than I had anticipated, but it was well worth it.”
On Wednesday, Obama will be back on message, joining Ray in Clinton, Miss., “to highlight the new healthy school lunches that are now being served across the nation,” the White House said. That visit, which is part of the third anniversary tour for the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity, will be broadcast later on Ray’s show.
Amy Argetsinger and Alice Crites contributed to this report.
This article has been changed to reflect that President Ronald Reagan made a video cameo at the Academy Awards in 1981, not 1980.