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Wilson Speaks

A recording of Woodrow Wilson from the 2012 campaign.

 

 

 

Ah, how our technology changes our perceptions of public figures.  Until the internet this type of recording was not widely available.  My perception of how Woodrow Wilson sounded was shaped five decades ago by the portrayal by Alexander Knox of Woodrow Wilson in the film Wilson (1944).  Go here to view that movie.  Where it is so easy now, with the internet, to hear the actual historical figure since the advent of recordings, films will have less ability to shape the perception of a historical figure.  Of course when the original film was released 74 years ago, quite a few people in the audiences would have heard Wilson through recordings or in person.  Now those people are all gone while the film remains, a memorial to Wilson as film director Daryl F. Zanuck, a fan of Wilson, intended it to be, but perhaps less of a memorial as time, and technology, march on.

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

5 Comments

  1. He and his wife reportedly despised his vp, Thomas Marshall. I’m wagering it was because they were innocent of humor and Marshall was not.

    So many years in academe and so many years in New Jersey gave him that twee speaking voice. I’ve had people near and dear to me of the older generation who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley. They had intense twangs. This native of Staunton, Va. had not a trace of a Southern accent.

  2. I’d always imagined him sounding like E.G. Marshall, for some reason.

    TR had a surprisingly high-pitched voice, with some patrician inflection. Coolidge sounded like the old coot in the Pepperidge Farm commercials. I suspect the advent of radio broadcasting gave an advantage to better voices.

  3. “He and his wife reportedly despised his vp, Thomas Marshall. I’m wagering it was because they were innocent of humor and Marshall was not.”

    That was definitely one factor. Marshall was an extremely interesting and able politician who, like most Veeps, regretted taking the office. Early in his life he overcame alcoholism with the help of his wife who locked him in their home for two weeks to dry out. He and his wife informally adopted in 1917 a baby boy born ill to a poor family unable to care for him. They cared for and loved the boy until his death at age four which devastated both of them. Marshall was prevented by Wilson’s wife and staff, and by Wilson himself, from meeting with Wilson after Wilson’s stroke until Wilson’s final day in office. Marshall’s best known comment:

    Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.

    Upon hearing the death of President Teddy Roosevelt, as quoted in F.D.R. : 1905-1928‎ (1947) by Elliott Roosevelt, p. 449.

    The best comment on Marshall:

    An unfriendly fairy godmother presented him with a keen sense of humor. Nothing is more fatal in politics.

    –Colonel Edward M. House, adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.

  4. Marshall was prevented by Wilson’s wife and staff, and by Wilson himself, from meeting with Wilson after Wilson’s stroke until Wilson’s final day in office. Marshall’s best known comment:

    The conduct of the Wilsons (and their enablers) was completely irresponsible. It took Congress 50 years to come up with an architecture to address presidential disability and when they did they created a structure that only works when the President is willing to acknowledge he is disabled and turn the reins over to someone else, something Wilson was unwilling to do.

    Marshall was an extremely interesting and able politician who, like most Veeps, regretted taking the office.

    Since the time of John Adams the uselessness of the semi-elective vice-presidency has been remarked upon, but no one ever thinks to abolish the office. It’s replicated in all but a few state governments as well. It’s one indication, among many others, that convention trumps functionality in our political architecture.

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