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The Leading Role

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."

OFFICE(S) WON: Onetime Democrat Reagan first won the governorship of California as a Republican before serving two terms as president, from 1981 to 1989.

POLITICAL LEGACY: Yeah, like we're really walking into this minefield. Let's just say that during his presidency we saw the advent of parachute pants, the greatest sitcom ever made ("Punky Brewster") and the best pop album ever -- Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Arnold Schwarzenegger

ROLES: Where do we start? "The Terminator"? "Conan the Barbarian"? "Conan the Destroyer"? We prefer his starring part in "Twins" as Danny DeVito's brother. A short guy and a muscular marvel sharing the same mom and wearing matching suits? Get me Reitman!

OFFICE WON: Schwarzenegger, perhaps the only Republican to marry a Kennedy, first came to office after defeating Gray Davis in a 2003 recall election and was reelected in 2006.

POLITICAL LEGACY: During the 2007 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, he was one of the few people Rich Little impersonated who were actually alive.

Sonny Bono

ROLES: Well, Sonny Bono. As a man who gave hope to millions of height-challenged men, he and then-wife Cher brought humor and song into our lives with their variety show. But it's his heroic effort in "Battle of the Network Stars II" in 1977 that inspired millions.

OFFICE WON: Republican member of the California delegation in the House.

POLITICAL LEGACY: The passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 that prolonged the terms of U.S. copyrights by 20 years. Somewhere Walt Disney is still smiling.

Clint Eastwood

ROLES: Like Arnold and Reagan, there's a lot to list. Do you go with any of his portrayals in spaghetti westerns? Or how about Dirty Harry? Or would you prefer the more mature Eastwood playing the tortured William "Bill" Munny in "Unforgiven"? Or Hilary Swank's trainer in "Million Dollar Baby"?

OFFICE WON: The 1986 mayoral election in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

POLITICAL LEGACY: Earned his Republican bona fides by repealing restrictions against -- get this -- selling ice-cream cones.

Fred Grandy

ROLES: Gopher from "The Love Boat." Come aboard, we're expecting you!

OFFICE WON: U.S. representative from Iowa.

POLITICAL LEGACY: A Republican, he sponsored a bill that turned over the bar at all political events to Ted Lange? Yes, we're drawing a blank.

Ben Jones

ROLES: Cooter, the mechanic on "The Dukes of Hazzard."

OFFICE WON: U.S. representative from Georgia.

POLITICAL LEGACY: Wait, the mechanic from "Dukes of Hazzard" was elected as a Democrat to Congress?

Jesse Ventura

ROLES: Besides being "The Body," Ventura appeared with Schwarzenegger in "Predator," "The Running Man" and "Batman & Robin."

OFFICE WON: In 1998, running under the Reform Party banner, he won the governorship of Minnesota.

POLITICAL LEGACY: Fulfilling the dreams of every little boy chugging protein shakes that he can someday be both a professional wrestler and an elected official. You there at the GNC, pick up your social studies book! It's time to get to work.

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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