Wednesday, August 24, 2016

David Haven Blake's "Liking Ike"

David Blake has written extensively on the history of fame. He is the author of Walt Whitman and the Culture of Celebrity (Yale, 2006) and the co-editor of Walt Whitman, Where the Future Becomes Present (Iowa, 2008).

Here Blake dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising, and the Rise of Celebrity Politics:
Liking Ike centers on the personalities who helped promote Dwight Eisenhower’s campaigns for the presidency and his own ambivalence about the new worlds of television, advertising, and celebrity. The story lies in the remarkable set of characters, which makes casting especially fun:

Dwight Eisenhower – A general so conflicted about politics that he wants to be drafted to the Republican nomination rather than enter the race himself. Wary of the publicity machine and celebrities who campaign on his behalf, he nonetheless adjusts to the expectations of his Madison Avenue advisers. Intoxicated by the magical power of television, they boast that they want to “merchandise” Ike’s warm smile and personality. Ed Harris

Helen Hayes – “The first lady of American theater,” a former Democrat who became an ardent Eisenhower supporter and GOP activist. Dramatic and glamorous, she regularly politicizes American motherhood on the campaign trail and in her films. Meryl Streep

Jimmy Stewart – Reedy and self-effacing, a man who rarely talks about the combat missions he flew in World War II. A devout Republican who remains popular with Democratic presidents: Truman said that if he had a son, he’d want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart. Tom Hanks

Bruce Barton – Head of the advertising agency BBDO; the son of a minister, a former Republican congressman, and the author of a book on Jesus’s use of advertising techniques (yup!). By 1952, his best professional days had passed him by; conservative and clubby, he thinks he is closer to Eisenhower than he is. Kevin Spacey

Sigurd Larmon – Head of the advertising agency Young & Rubicam; a man revered by his employees. A frequent guest at Ike’s “stag” weekends of fishing, golf, and bridge, he is reluctant to become identified with a single political party. Eisenhower asks him to head up the U.S. Information Service, and he declines. Mark Rylance

Preston Wood – A younger man with a consuming interest in radio and television technology. At Young & Rubicam, he figures out how to use stars in Ike’s campaign. The agency puts him backstage during Hayes’ TV appearances for Ike. Wood will eventually write for such TV gems as The Addams Family and Quincy. A savvy director could tell the story from Wood’s point of view. Jonah Hill

The subplot to Liking Ike revolves around the Democrats’ own form of celebrity politics and the oddly erotic attachment that movie stars had for their presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson.

Adlai Stevenson –eloquent, intellectual, known for the hole in the sole of his shoe, the Illinois governor loathed Madison Avenue and did not own a TV. He thought campaigns should be moving seminars that educated the American people, but the divorced Stevenson inspired unusual passion among the actresses who supported him. Adrien Brody

Lauren Bacall – the glamorous Bacall was deeply attracted to Stevenson and convinced her husband, Humphrey Bogart, to switch his allegiance from Ike. Stevenson “completely shook me up,” Bacall recalled, and after Bogart’s death, gossip columnists wondered if they were a couple. Jessica Chastain

Mercedes McCambridge – an Oscar-winning actress who counted herself among Stevenson’s “seraglio” (or, harem) of women. Her psychological dependence on Stevenson carried her through alcoholism, depression, and a declining career. She and Bacall barely acknowledged each other. Morena Baccaria

Reggie Schuebel –a single woman in her mid-50s, dedicated to her pioneering work in the male-dominated world of broadcast advertising; known for her stylish shoes, mentorship of women, and trademark sign-off on all professional correspondence – “Love and Kisses, Reggie.” Janeane Garofalo
Visit David Haven Blake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue