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Dancing
The president (Michael Douglas) dances with his date (Annette Bening).
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'The American President'

By Matt Slovick
WashingtonPost.com Staff

Imagine Bill Clinton as a single president with an impeccable professional and personal life. Okay, maybe that's too much to ask. Imagine a boomer-aged president who's handsome, intelligent and popular. He's also a widower and is raising a teenage daughter on his own. But he suddenly reminds you of Gary Hart when he pops up in newspapers and on TV with an attractive young woman.

Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) has an approval rating of 63. He meets a big-gun lobbyist for an environmental bill, Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), and the "lonely widower" is immediately smitten. Sydney is also attracted to him and gets caught up in the presidential scene.

This comedy peeks at what it would be like to date and be the President of the United States -- he has trouble doing simple things like personally sending flowers. And from the woman's side, you're dating the Most Powerful Man in the World and sometimes you can't get a moment alone without a camera, photographer or White House staff member nearby. You think regular men are bad? This one calls an evening short because he has to give the order to bomb Libya and breaks a date because he has to avert a major airline strike.

But America isn't in love with the First Couple. When the Republican presidential candidate (Richard Dreyfuss) starts attacking their characters, Shepherd's approval rating plummets to 41.


Post Stories: Read reviews from the Style and Weekend sections. Also, read David Broder's editorial about using a film to profess a liberal message or a feature on presidents and marriage.


Washington Sites: Of course, the president lives in the White House. Director Rob Reiner keeps reminding us, showing a full shot of the White House 10 times (five at night); Capitol; Washington Monument; Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., NW (the GDC building where Sydney Ellen Wade worked); Greenworks Florist, Willard Hotel, 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (Carmen's House of Flowers).


Not the White House: According to a number of people in the White House press office, no actual filming took place inside the president's home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. However, director Rob Reiner did make a few visits. Thus, the China Room (or Dish Room), Oval office, the press room and other White House scenes are replicas.


It Is Washington: Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox) mentions getting a steak at Sam and Harry's, which is at 1200 19th St. NW; the couple watch a TV report on WJLA-TV (Ch. 7); the report mentions the president's physical exam at Bethesda Medical Hospital; Sydney Ellen Wade talks about her frustration with DuPont Circle traffic (although in the film she was coming from Capitol Hill to the White House and wouldn't go by way of DuPont Circle); the president gives Wade the actual number to the White House switchboard, 456-1414; a photo of the president dancing with Wade is shown in the Washington Times; it seems as though the vice president does not exist.


The Washington Post: After the president and Wade dance at a state dinner at the White House, we see their photo in the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today -- but not The Post. Of course, these pages are pure fantasy. Virginia Rodriguez, director of public relations for The Washington Post, said that when The Post is used in a film, it must be an actual front page. "We treasure our credibility more than our publicity," Rodriguez said.


Who Are Those Guys: The film's opening scene includes a few portraits of past presidents. Those presidents in order are Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, William Howard Taft, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Washington. You also see images of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt in other items.


Presidents on Screen: Browse a sampling of movies from the past decade that have the President of the United States as a character.


It Couldn't Happen: The president had trouble personally buying roses for Wade. In one of the last scenes he hands her long-stem roses. She asks him how he finally managed "to get a woman flowers and be president at the same time?" His answer, "Well, it turns out I've got a Rose Garden." In the timeline of the movie, this took place in January, when no roses would bloom in the Rose Garden.


Not Quite Correct: The president tells Sydney that she is nervous about having sex with him because of who he is. He tells her that the first ladies weren't nervous having sex with the President of the United States in the White House because they had had sex with the man before he was president. Actually, three presidents got married while in office: John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson, who both became widowers while president, and Grover Cleveland, who took the oath of office as a bachelor.


Presidents and Marriage:

  • John Tyler (term 1841-45) was the first president to marry while in office. His first wife, Letitia Christian, died in the White House in 1842. Julia Gardiner became the First Lady on June 26, 1844. Julia, at 24, was 30 years younger than Tyler.
  • Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) also got married while president. Ellen Louise Axson Wilson died Aug. 6, 1914, at age 54. Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, a widow, on Dec. 18, 1915.
  • When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, he had been a widower for 19 years. His wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, died in 1782. Jefferson reportedly dated while president. Jefferson's grandson, James, was the first child born in the White House.
  • Andrew Jackson's (1829-37) wife, Rachel Donelson Jackson, died three months before he took office and was buried in the dress she planned to wear to the inauguration. They married in 1791, but discovered she had never been legally divorced from her first husband. After the divorce was finalized, the Jacksons were remarried in 1794.
  • Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) also entered the White House a widower. Hannah Hoes Van Buren died in 1819.
  • Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) served his presidency a widower. His wife, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, died in 1880. A year later, Arthur became president after the assassination of James A. Garfield.
  • The wife of Millard Fillmore (1851-53), Abigail Powers Fillmore, died during the last year of his presidency.
  • Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897) became president as a bachelor, but married Frances Folsom in 1886. He was 48; she was 21. He is the only president to be married in the White House. He was the first president to have a child born in the White House (1893).
  • James Buchanan (1857-61) was the nation's only bachelor president.
  • Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was the only president to have been divorced.


    Memorable Scenes:

  • The first time Sydney Ellen Wade meets President Andrew Shepherd. Wade is having a meeting with the chief of staff, A.J. MacInerney. The president enters just as Wade finishes a sentence with, "Then your boss is the Chief Executive of Fantasyland." The president responds, "Let's take him out back and beat the s--- out of him."
  • The president decides to call Wade and ask her to be his date at a state dinner. She thinks it's a friend doing an imitation and tells the president he has a "nice ass." Shepherd tells her to call 456-1414 and ask for the president.
  • At the dinner at the White House, the president and Sydney take the dance floor alone in the huge ballroom in front of 200 guests.
  • The president's final speech in the film when he finally attacks the character of the Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Runsom.


    Memorable Lines:

  • "Did you know that the city planners, when they sat down to design Washington, D.C., their intention was to build a city that would intimidate and humble foreign heads of state? It's true. The White House is the single greatest home-court advantage in the modern world": President Andrew Shepherd to Sydney Ellen Wade in the Oval Office, where they talk for the first time.
  • "Sydney, this is just dinner. We're not going to be doing espionage or anything": President Shepherd to Wade on the phone after he asked her to join him for dinner at the White House.
  • The two have a military escort as they approach the East Room of the White House for the state dinner with the new French president and about 200 guests.
    President Shepherd: "Do I date a lot? No. How about you?"
    Sydney Ellen Wade: "Well, lately I seem to be going on a lot of first dates."
    Shepherd: "Good, then you're experienced at this."
    Wade: "Yeah, you can ask me anything."
    Shepherd: "Well, how are we doing so far?"
    Wade: "It's hard to say at this point. So far its just your typical first-date stuff."
    Shepherd: "Damn, and I want to be different from the other guys."
  • Sydney tells her sister she doesn't think it's a good idea to be dating the president.
    Beth Wade: "Sydney, the man is the Leader of the Free World, he's brilliant, he's funny, he's handsome, he's an above-average dancer. Isn't it possible our standards are just a tad high?"
  • President Shepherd tells Sydney that she's probably too nervous to be intimate with him because he is the president. He's explaining his plan to slow down when she comes out of the bathroom wearing just a shirt:
    Shepherd: "Perhaps I didn't properly explain the fundamentals of the slow-down plan."


    Rating: PG-13 for a few bad words.
    Release Date: 1995 (by Columbia).
    Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
    Director: Rob Reiner.
    Cast: Michael Douglas (President Andrew Shepherd); Annette Bening (Sydney Ellen Wade); Richard Dreyfuss (Sen. Bob Rumson); Martin Sheen (A.J. MacInerney); Michael J. Fox (Lewis Rothschild); John Mahoney (Leo Solomon); David Paymer (Leon Kodak); Anna Deavere Smith (Robin McCall); Wendie Malick (Susan Sloan); Samantha Mathis (Janie Basdin); Nina Siemaszko (Beth Wade); Shawna Waldron (Lucy Shepherd); Gail Strickland (Esther MacInerney).
    Oscar Nomination: Marc Shaiman, best original musical or comedy score.

  • © 1997 The Washington Post Company

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