SPRINGFIELD – So far, no actor has won an Oscar for playing Abraham Lincoln. But plenty have filled the role in the movies, a Springfield historian said Tuesday.
Lincoln, who has “more more books written about him than any other figure in American history,” is also a popular film character, said Bryon Andreasen, a research historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois’ capital city. He spoke Tuesday at Lincoln Land Community College as part of the festivities surrounding the observance of the 16th president’s 204th birthday. Depictions of Lincoln vary widely – from the ludicrous, as in “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies,” to the saccharine, as in “The Littlest Rebel,” where Lincoln pardons Shirley Temple’s father.
Sometimes, Lincoln’s depiction is not at all accurate, Andreasen said, as when D.W. Griffith made Lincoln sound pro-South in the 1915 classic, “The Birth of a Nation.“
But Andreasen overall is pleased by the recent “Lincoln” movie by director Steven Spielberg.
“By Hollywood standards, the Spielberg movie is about as good as a historian could hope,” Andreasen said.
He said while some individual scenes are not accurate – such as a “brilliant” scene discussing a compass and slavery – “the spirit and ideas behind the scene were historically authentic.”
Andreasen commended Spielberg and his screenwriters for taking a challenging focus – “the usually untold story about the 13th Amendment and the last few weeks of Lincoln’s life.”
“When movie makers bring an icon like this to the screen, they take a great risk because we all have preconceived notions,” Andreasen said. They also have a “great responsibility because it’s the Lincoln that we see in popular culture, in the movies, that the public equates with the historical Lincoln.”
A wide variety of actors have played Lincoln in movies and on television, including Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Gregory Peck, Sam Waterston and Kris Kristofferson.
One, Raymond Massey, was nominated in 1940 for best actor for his role in “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” but did not win an Oscar.
Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays Lincoln in the Spielberg movie, also has been nominated for best actor. The winner will be named on Feb. 24.
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