Jefferson ever ready for his close-up
With last night's conclusion of the HBO miniseries John Adams, so ended the latest on-screen portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. This time around, British actor Stephen Dillane (best known to American audiences for portraying Virginia Woolf's husband in 2002's The Hours) donned the red wig to play the aloof, enigmatic Jefferson, to Paul Giamatti's driven, blunt Adams.
That got the Hook thinking, which other actors have attempted to play Shadwell's favorite son? Of course, there was Nick Nolte's much-panned turn in 1995's Jefferson in Paris which focused on his extra-marital affair with slave Sally Hemings. The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert was puzzled by the performance, of which he wrote, "The Jefferson in this movie is such a remote figure that you wonder, by the movie's end, if he actually knew he was having sex at the time."
While Nolte's portrait is the most well-known in recent history, an IMDB search reveals 80 other portrayals on screens big and small of our third president. Notables over the years include:
-The feel-good, patriotic Jefferson is a role many a well-known actor has taken on over the years such as Kevin Kline in 2003's Freedom: A History of Us, Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, son of George C. Scott) in 1997's Liberty! The American Revolution, and even comedian Ben Stiller in the 2002 children's cartoon series Liberty's Kids Est. 1776.
-The 1997 miniseries Thomas Jefferson found Law & Order's Sam Waterston playing the title role, a part he would reprise later that year in Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Waterston has proven a versatile faux-commander-in-chief over the years, as he has also portrayed Abraham Lincoln in addition to two fictitious American presidents. Waterston brought his Jeffersonian experience to bear when he was the keynote speaker last year's July 4 naturalization ceremony at Monticello.
-You may best know Ken Howard as coach Ken Reeves from the 1970s basketball drama series, The White Shadow. However, he too, has pulled off the rare feat of twice playing Jefferson. The first time was in the 1972 Hollywood adaptation of the Broadway musical 1776, in which he played Tom opposite Blythe Danner's Martha. (Ironically, it was Danner's daughter Gwyneth Paltrow who would play Martha's daughter Patsy in Jefferson in Paris.) Howard grew his auburn locks out again four years later in the short film Independence.
-Once he had already played Moses in The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston decided to play Jefferson as a man bent on letting his people go in the 1965 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, The Patriots. Perhaps he was cast because he already had experience playing America's chief executive, as in 1953's The President's Lady playing Andrew Jackson, and as the voice of Franklin Roosevelt in 1965's F.D.R. Unfortunately, available copies of The Patriots are few and far between, so the Hook has no way of knowing if, after his years as president, returning home to find Monticello in disarray Heston's Jefferson screamed, a la Planet of the Apes, "You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! G**d*** you all to hell!"