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Surprising Films Screened at the White House

Movie Talk

By and large when it comes to screening films in the White House theater, presidents for the most part play to their type-casting: George W. Bush watched a lot of war films including "Black Hawk Down." The Obamas have shown historical dramas including Jackie Robinson biopic "42," and that film about living and working inside the White House itself, "The Butler."

But presidents have also shown some unexpected tastes when it comes to their movie night choices.

"Mademoiselle C" (2013) — First Lady Michelle Obama plans to watch this documentary about former Paris Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, reported this week. The film, which will be screened privately at the White House, tracks Roitfeld as she launches a new magazine. Hey, maybe Mrs. Obama is thinking of following in another first lady's footsteps: Remember, Jacqueline Kennedy went into publishing after her White House days.

"Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997) — George W. Bush has been known to do a Dr. Evil impersonation by raising his little finger to his lips. Yes, the former president was a fan of the "Austin Powers" series which he screened during his time there.

"The Apostle" (1997) — This could go down as the most awkward screening in White House history. The first family screened "The Apostle," about an adulterous preacher, with guests including Farrah Fawcett and the film's star, Robert Duvall. And oh yeah, they watched it the Saturday after the Monica Lewinsky story broke. It is said the Lewinsky story was the elephant in the room. According to Peter Baker's book "The Breach," Hilary Clinton cleared the air by saying "Another quiet day at the White House."

"Midnight Cowboy" (1969) — Jimmy Carter was a huge cinephile, watching as many films as he could at the White House, even this X-rated, Academy Award-winning drama about a male prostitute in the big city.

"Sound of Music" (1965) — One of Ronald Reagan's most beloved films, it was also his excuse for not doing his presidential homework. He replied to an inquiring chief of staff James Baker with, "Well, Jim, 'The Sound of Music' was on last night." (It has also been reported that In 1985, five-year-old Chelsea Clinton referenced the film musical in a letter to Reagan before Reagan’s controversial visit to a German cemetery where Nazis were buried: "Dear Mr. President: I have seen 'The Sound of Music.' The Nazis don't look like nice people. Please don't go to their cemetery.")

Title Unknown (some time after 1963) — Lyndon B. Johnson didn't watch a whole lot of movies at the White House. But there was one he screened several times: A 10-minute documentary about … wait for it … himself. The White House ordered the film be made, designed to make LBJ look good to skeptical Americans following JFK's assassination. Best part: It was narrated by Gregory Peck!

"From Russia with Love" (1963) — John F. Kennedy screened this James Bond film the night before he was killed. Before his death, the late president noted his fondness for Ian Fleming books, listing "Goldfinger" as one of his favorites. Sadly, he died before the film version came out in 1964.

"High Noon" (1952) — Dwight D. Eisenhower screened more than 200 Westerns during his two terms in office. One of his favorites (also a fave of Bill Clinton's): the Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly classic about a marshal who alone must face a deadly enemy. Incidentally, when another Western movie star, Robert Mitchum, would appear onscreen, Eisenhower would get up and walk out. You see, "Ike" disapproved of Mitchum's marijuana use (he did time for possession after a 1948 arrest).

"Birth of a Nation" (1915) — This controversial film, while a classic in the history of big screen storytelling is often criticized for its comically distorted, racist take on post-Civil War Reconstruction, was regrettably the very first film shown inside the White House. Woodrow Wilson, and his place in history, remains forever tarnished because of it.

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