Assume the Position 201 with Mr. Wuhl (2007 TV Short)
Robert Wuhl: The story I'm gonna tell you about today is about our most exclusive country club: our Chief Executives. Talk about members only. In 218 years, only forty-two of them and I've gotta say, for a country that's built on diversity
[references picture of all 42 presidents]
Robert Wuhl: not a whole hell of a lot of it up there, is there? In fact, the only diversity is see up there is facial hair. That's it. First fifteen presidents before Lincoln: no facial hair. Next seven out of eight: facial hair. And the only reason Andrew Johnson doesn't have any is because Lincoln got shot and he didn't have time to grow a beard. Now, in my lifetime, there have been ten different presidents: some good, some not-so-good, all of them clean-shaven and none of them could get rid of Castro. His secret? Facial hair!
Robert Wuhl: In 1852, little-known rich-kid senator, Franklin Pierce, wakes up one morning and says, "You know, I'm clean-shaven, I'm gonna run for president." However, he's got obstacles and his two rivals for the Democratic nomination are Stephen Douglas who stood an imposing 4'6", and James Buchanan, a lifelong bachelor who many thought led an alternative lifestyle. Okay, this is not the toughest competition in the world, right? This is like beating Mini-Me and Lance Bass.
Robert Wuhl: Okay, so Pierce gets the nomination, but still, nationally, he's not very well-known. So he's got to get out the word, and how do you get out the word? The same way you do now: you got to use the media. But what is media back then in 1852? There's no radio, there's no TV, there's no webcast, there's no podcast, there's no OutKast. No, what you have is books. Books are everything. So he puts out a book, but the question is: okay, it's one thing to put out a book, it's another thing to get people to read it. It all comes down to who's telling the story. Who's telling Pierce's story? None other than this old college drinking buddy by the name of Nathaniel Hawthorne. That's his college buddy; only the biggest pop-culture figure of his time, right? He has just written back-to-back bestsellers. First: "The Scarlet Letter", a love triangle about adultery, it's sort of the original "Grey's Anatomy". Then he follows that with "The House of the Seven Gables". That's the original romantic haunted house story. It's sort of a cross between "The Notebook" and "Saw". So Hawthorne's now two-for-two. He's like JT following "Cry Me a River" with "SexyBack".
Robert Wuhl: Everybody wants to know, "What's Hawthorne gonna write next? What story is Hawthorne gonna tell next?" And what story is he gonna tell next? Well, he's gonna tell the story of his good buddy, Franklin Pierce. Now think about this: Hawthorne putting his brand of somebody's biography would be like Tom Clancy writing "That Hunt for Mitt Romney" or J.K. Rowling writing "Denny Kucinich and a Cold Day in Hell", but the fact is millions of people would read those books and millions of people read Hawthorne's "The Life of Franklin Pierce" and this is what we would call today "based on a true story."
Robert Wuhl: Now, when we hear the term "based on a true story", we generally don't think about books, do we? We usually think about it in movies. For example, this movie: "A Beautiful Mind". It told the inspiring story of mathematician John Nash who went from schizophrenia to the Nobel Prize into the arms of the woman he loved. The end. Now, the filmmakers did leave out a few details of Nash's life. They left out the fact that John Nash fathered a child out of wedlock and was a deadbeat dad. They left out the fact that John Nash, when delusional, went on anti-Semitic rants that would have made Mel Gibson go, "Holy fuck!" And they left out the fact that previously, John Nash had unusual interest in men away from the arms of the woman he loved. Leaving out these details changes the story a little bit, doesn't it? I mean, this would be life making "O.J.": he went from junior college to the Heisman Trophy in the arms of the woman he loved. The end.
Robert Wuhl: Oscar Wilde once said, "Anyone can make history, but it takes a great man to write it." And Hawthorne's a pretty great writer. Neglecting the fact that Franklin Pierce is a pro-slavery, raging alcoholic, he paints him as America's savior, a cross between Mother Teresa and James Bond. In August, Howthorne's book comes out, in August, and because of this book, by November, this little-known dark horse candidate carries twenty-seven of the thirty-one states in the country and becomes our 14th President of the United States, based on a true story. And you know what happens? Pierce really sucks. As Shakespeare wrote, "he doth really suck!" How bad was Franklin Pierce? Because of his pro-slavery actions, he did more than any other single individual to hasten the outbreak of the Civil War. How bad was Franklin Pierce? To this day, he remains the only incumbent president in our history not to get his *own party's* nomination for a second term. How does he respond? Pierce later gets drunk, gets on a horse and drives over a woman, becoming the first president with a DUI. But you know the funny thing? We got through it. See, that's the thing about Americans. We're tough, we're resilient; we'll get through it. Which bring me to my next point:
[shows a picture of George W. Bush]
Robert Wuhl: we'll get through it.
Robert Wuhl: We've had some really lousy leaders in this country. In fact, I'm going to assume the position that lousy leaders are as American and apple pie. And staring with Aaron Burr. In just our third presidential election, Aaron Burr actually tied Thomas Jefferson in the Electoral College and only became vice president because his old nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, used his influence to elect Jefferson. Burr, a less-than-gracious loser responds by shooting Alexander Hamilton. Thereby becoming our first vice president to shoot somebody.
Robert Wuhl: William Henry Harrison, hero of the Mexican War, on his inauguration day, March 4, 1841, it's raining, it's freezing, it's windy, but Mr. Macho War-Hero doesn't want anybody to thing he's a pussy, so he stands and gives his inauguration address without a hat, without a coat, without his gloves. Well, didn't your mother ever tell you if you didn't cover up, you'd catch pneumonia? Well, guess what? He catches pneumonia. March 4: he's making history. April 4: he *is* history. One month. One month! His administration last less than Lindsey Lohan's last rehab.
Robert Wuhl: Then there was Millard Fillmore. He put the "I" in anti-immigration. He not only wanted to keep any more Irish Catholics from entering the country, he wants to kick out the ones that are already here. Then there was Warren G. Harding. How bad was this guy? He once actually lost the White House china in a poker game.
Robert Wuhl: Which brings me to Calvin Coolidge, who, on a summer vacation in 1927, goes fishing in South Dakota and catches so many fish in South Dakota that he decides to stay for three months! Three months the president stays away. Washington's at a standstill; Cal's catchin' fish. Now, just prior to this, America has suffered its greatest natural disaster. The Mississippi River overflows, flooding six states. Cal's catchin' fish. But the real story isn't just that Cal's catchin' fish, it's why he's catching so many fish. Because unbeknownst to Cal, South Dakota state officials have chicken-wired the lake and every night are restocking it with thousands of fish. Why? Because they need Cal to fall in love with South Dakota. Why? Because the need to generate income in South Dakota. Why? Because South Dakota is in the middle of East Bumfuck, America. There's only eight people living there per square mile! That's only eight more people living there than there are on Mars! They need tourism dollars and they need Cal's help to finance their new tourist attraction. And what is their new tourist attraction.
[shows picture of a pre-carved Mt. Rushmore]
Robert Wuhl: That mountain. They need tourism dollars, so they create Mt. Rushmore. Mt. Rushmore was totally created as a tourist trap and you know what? It works.
Robert Wuhl: My point is, although Calvin Coolidge may have been hoodwinked into paying for Mt. Rushmore, without his help, it never gets made, which only goes to prove that no matter how lousy a leader one may be, you got to give props where props are due. So regardless of what you think of Dubya's legacy, you got to give him the following: first, he can throw strikes. He is the best ever at throwing out the first pitch. And secondly, he is his mother's son and by that, by the way, I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Barbara Bush. In fact, I'll have you know that back in the day
[shows a picture of a young Barbara]
Robert Wuhl: Barbara Bush is a little bit of a hottie. No, I say he is his mother's son because before she was Barbara Bush, she was born Barbara Pierce and she is a direct descendant of none other than old fuck-up himself, Franklin Pierce, which brings up full-circle and explains how things got to where we are today. And you know way? We'll get through it *AGAIN*! Why? Because lousy leaders are as American as apple pie!
Robert Wuhl: The croissant was introduced into what country?
Robert Wuhl: Correct! Austria! To celebrate their victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna, Austrian bakers decided to create a pastry in the shape of the crescent of the Ottoman flag. Crescent, croissant. Crescent, croissant. And, in fact, the croissant does not arrive in France until a hundred years later when it's brought over by a sixteen-year-old Austrian princess by the name of Kirsten Dunst.
[a picture of Britney Spears is on the screen]
Robert Wuhl: Now I'm sure that many of you dismiss Miss Spears as some exhibitionist, club-hopping bimbo. But not me. No, I got Britney's back because, as my father used to say, "Judge slowly."
[a clip from "Ekstase" is shown]
Robert Wuhl: Behind me, this is the first nude scene in motion picture history. In the 1933 Czech film "Ekstase", twenty-year-old Hedy Lemarr shocks the world by becoming the first woman to bare her breasts on camera, thus becoming the original Girl Gone Wild. Her outrageous behavior makes her an international film star and a pop-culture icon. Who once said "Any woman can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid." But early in 1941, shortly after World War II begins, Hedy is out partying. Concerned about the Nazis jamming Allied radio signals, Hedy takes out a cocktail napkin and on the back of it, draws up a plan that will become known a frequency hopping. This is a way to make jamming radio signals impossible.
[shows diagram of Lamarr's patented technique]
Robert Wuhl: This is Hedy's actual patent for frequency hopping. And this isn't a handbag or a cosmetics line she's putting her name on, right? This is impressive stuff. So who many thought was an exhibitionist, club-hopping bimbo of her time invents a revolutionary defense system that has been used in everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to Wi-Fi to cell phones. Well, "stand still and look stupid" my ass! Which brings me back to my girl, Britney. And once again, I say judge slowly, because in the future, we may well learn that Britney went into that car with underwear on and the reason they came off may someday change history.
[show a picture of pink panties with a diagram labeled "Cancer Cure"]
Robert Wuhl: In the first half of the 20th Century, the most popular woman in the country was Eleanor Roosevelt. However, you may be surprised to know that the second most popular woman in America was this woman.
[shows a picture of Betty Crocker]
Robert Wuhl: Anybody know who she is? That is Betty Crocker. The spokeswoman for Gold Medal Flour and Bisquick, she was *the* media superstar of the first half of the 20th Century. How big was Betty Crocker? In a country one-third the population that it is now, her weekly radio shows drew the same-size audience as "American Idol". Betty Crocker got 4000 letters a day. A day, I get ten e-mail, I'm wigging out. She was the woman that American women turned to and trusted. But then, in 1945, in a shocking exposé, Betty Crocker is outed. "Fortune" magazine reveals that, no, she's not gay... she's not straight. They reveal that Betty Crocker is not *real*! America is shocked to find out that Betty Crocker is a fictional character created by General Mills, who, by the way, is not a real general. People were crushed. I mean, this would be like finding out that Oprah is CGI.
Robert Wuhl: [singing] There was a Baskin and a Robbin, a Ben and a Jerry, but no Häagen, no Dazs, no Queen of the Dairy! Dr. Scholl made us walk, Jack Daniel made us crawl, there is a Paul Newman and there was a Mrs. Paul! There was a Pontiac, a Cadillac, a Buick and an Olds, a Dodge and a Chevrolet, a Royce and a Rolls! There was a Dr. Pepper, there ain't no Mr. Pibb, but Pepperidge Farm and Maxwell House were once somebody's crib. I'm only gonna do one more and then I'll say goodbye and that's Marie Callender, who made the motherfucking pie!