The Leading Role

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By Sridhar Pappu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007

There's a moment in "Back to the Future" when Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly shows up at the home of Dr. Emmett Brown, whose DeLorean time machine has rocketed McFly from 1985 to 1955. Wary of McFly's story, Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, says, "Tell me, Future Boy, who's president in the United States in 1985?"

When McFly responds, "Ronald Reagan," Brown goes on a rant.

"Ronald Reagan? The actor?" he screams as he tries to run away from McFly. "Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the first lady! And Jack Benny, the secretary of the Treasury."

Finally, everyone's favorite whacked-out scientist says, "I've had enough practical jokes for one evening. Good night, Future Boy!"

Well, it's morning again in America. With Fred Thompson deciding to read for the part of Republican presidential nominee, we thought we'd see how the pickup-driving former senator and "Law & Order" star stacked up against others who used their SAG cards to gain political favor.

Helen Gahagan Douglas

ROLES: Okay, there's only one. Despite being a presence on Broadway during the 1920s, her lone appearance on the screen came in the 1935 movie "She," in which she played the master of a lost city. Her performance is said to have inspired the depiction of the evil queen in the animated "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

OFFICE WON: Served three terms in the House, representing that promised land for actors -- California.

POLITICAL LEGACY: Helping spread the use of "Tricky Dick" in reference to Nixon while unsuccessfully running against him in the 1950 Senate race.

George Murphy

ROLES: A career supporting actor, he's probably best remembered dancing with July Garland in the 1942 movie "For Me and My Gal." The very poor man's Fred Astaire also had an appearance in the Shirley Temple classic "Little Miss Broadway."

OFFICE WON: Murphy was a senator from California from 1965 to 1971.

POLITICAL LEGACY: One could argue that it was Murphy who -- for better or worse -- gave us Dutch, who gave us the Governator. A song-and-dance man in the very literal sense, Murphy used his role as president of the Screen Actors Guild to build a power base before becoming chairman of the California Republican State Central Committee.

Ronald Reagan

ROLES: You saw this one coming like a fastball from a Nats starting pitcher. Of course there's "Knute Rockne All American," where Reagan plays the legendary George Gipp, whose on-screen death inspired a thousand bad speeches from high school football coaches. But we prefer his portrayal of Prof. Peter Boyd in "Bedtime for Bonzo."


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