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Short Film, March 7, 1908

Washington at Valley Forge

This short produced by the Kalem silent film Company is considered to be the oldest film ever produced that depicts George Washington. The film details Washington's time at Valley Forge. It is considered lost and very little is known about the production. Gene Gauntier, a popular film actress of the early 1900s, was in the cast. 

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Short Film, 1909 July 3

Washington Under the American Flag

This film, released three days after Washington Under the British Flag with the same cast and crew, depicts Washington during and after the war for American independence. The final title card of the film states, "The fame of Washington stands apart from every other in history. His name by all revered forms a universal tie of brotherhood." Both films in the series received critical appeal, however were not widely popular. The two films would have both been screened in nickelodeons, vaudeville shows, and small movie theaters.

 

 

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In this the part of Washington is taken by an actor of international fame and who bore the honors of the part to perfection. Even in the minutest details it is evident that the Vitagraph Company has spread itself to make this film historically accurate and pictorially perfect.”

The Moving Picture World on Washington Under the British Flag, June 26, 1909
Film, February 21, 1924

America

Pioneer of modern film techniques D.W. Griffith directed this film, which drew large audiences but was disliked by critics and the public alike for being slow and unfocused. Washington, played by Aurthur Dewey, is shown only a handful of times, as the film focuses on a fictional family's involvement in the Revolutionary War. During one scene, Washington becomes irate, an event which a title card explains as having been rare for the general. He is shown infrequently and given very little character development.

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Short Film, May 20, 1939

Sons of Liberty

Montagu Love plays General Washington in this colorful short film. The film won an Oscar in 1940 for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel). Washington is depicted as having an absolute resolve as well as remarkable leadership skills.

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Film, March 5, 1942

The Remarkable Andrew

In this comedic film, a man is faced with a difficult moral decision. While attempting to settle on a solution, he is visited by the greats of American history. George Washington, played by Sons of Liberty (1939) actor Montagu Love, emphasizes to Andrew that heroism was not something he sought, but rather something found in the service of what was right. He also laughs off the "I cannot tell a lie" myth and encourages Andrew to utilize white lies when absolutely necessary, describing them as "truths with a little twist." The film was met with middling reviews. The Los Angeles Times called Love’s performance notable, but also stated that the film’s intended parallel between past and present was "more than a little vague."

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Film, February 8, 1961

La Fayette

In this French-made, American film, the Marquis de Lafayette's exploits during the American War of Independence are detailed. Lafayette's time as Major-General under George Washington's command illuminate Washington's relationship with Lafayette, one shown to have been close and personal. Washington, played by Howard St. John, is tough and patriotic, however also shows off a jolly, fatherly side. Despite boasting famous directors Orson Welles and Vittorio De Sica as supporting characters, the film was not popular in America.

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TV Episode, February 19, 1972

Bewitched- "George Washington Zapped Here"

George Washington, played by Will Geer, is accidentally summoned to the present in this episode of the popular sitcom. Once arrived, he wanders out and attempts to inspire true democracy within park visitors in line with his worry that modern Americans no longer participate enough in the government. He ends up getting arrested for public speaking without a permit, but in the subsequent episode, is freed and returns to the past. Geer plays Washington as even-tempered despite the shocks of the 20th century. The episode aired in season eight, which received poor ratings, as the show's popularity was dwindling. 

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TV Movie, May 14, 1979

The Rebels

Based on the historical novel The Rebels by John Jakes, this film is the second in a three-part series called The Kent Family Chronicles. The TV movie has a four hour running time and was not aired on as many channels as was its predecessor, The Bastard. George Washington is portrayed by popular television and film actor Peter Graves. Though only briefly featured, Washington is depicted as a powerful, intimidating general. 

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Miniseries, April, 1984

George Washington

Based on the biography Washington: the Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, this TV miniseries is considered to be the most comprehensive screen representation of George Washington's life ever produced. The New York Times praised it saying, "Trying to depict the past as accurately as possible, the production does not go out of its way to suggest parallels with the present.” It was aired on CBS and received popular acclaim, being nominated for six Primetime Emmys. In the series, Washington is portrayed by Barry Bostwick. Some of the series was filmed at Mount Vernon!

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available on DVD
Miniseries, September 21, 1986

George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation

The sequel to the 1984 miniseries George Washington, The Forging of a Nation recounts Washington's life from the end of the Revolutionary War to the end of his life. The sequel was praised for its historical accuracy but criticized for at times being overdramatic. The New York Times criticized it for "pouncing on every opportunity to enliven the proceedings." Stemming from this, some details about Washington, including an interest in younger women near the end of his life, were added in with a mind for artistic flair rather than accuracy. Learn more about Washington and love here. The shorter series opened to less fanfare than did its predecessor and was less popular due in part to its sluggish pace. 

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Video Game, June 25, 1993

Day of the Tentacle

This game's plot follows characters Bernard Bernoulli, Hoagie and Laverne as they attempt to stop the evil Purple Tentacle from taking over the world. George Washington and his contemporaries are funny sources of historical wise-cracks. The game was well liked by the computer magazine "Compute!," which praised it as "an adventure the entire family will enjoy playing together." 

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Video Game, March 18, 1994

Liberty or Death

This strategy game allows the player to play for the rebels under George Washington or the British under Lord Cornwallis. Part of Koei's Historical Simulation Series, the game is aimed at presenting all the difficulties of running an army, including managing moral. Gamepro magazine praised the game for historical accuracy but noted, "Despite the more familiar history, Liberty or Death is still probably foreign fare for most gamers. The huge amount of detail makes these absorbing simulations an acquired taste."

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TV Episode, February 18, 1996

Lisa the Iconoclast

In this episode, Lisa Simpson seeks to discover the truth about Springfield's founder. In her search, she discovers evidence of bad blood between the founder and George Washington, voiced by Dan Castellaneta. One scene features Washington getting into a fistfight with the provoking founder. In tandem with Lisa's discovery, the ghost of George Washington visits Lisa and commends her for exposing the founder's true nature. The episode was well-received by audiences.

 

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TV Episodes, September 17 & 25, 1998

Histeria!- "The American Revolution Parts l/ll"

In this educational children's show produced by Warner Bros. Animation, key battles of the American Revolution are detailed quickly. George Washington, voiced by Maurice LaMarche, is a silly character who narrates the events leading up to the rebellion. Though Histeria suffered from low ratings for the extent of its run, it stood out as the most explicitly educational program which met new FCC requirements for educational content for children. 

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TV Movie, January 10, 2000

The Crossing

Jeff Daniels portrays George Washington in this Emmy-nominated television film produced by A&E. The film depicts Washington's daring cross of the Delaware River. The film won a Peabody Award for excellence and is considered mostly historically accurate. People magazine noted that Daniels played Washington as "fallible, sometimes irritable, and only too aware that his daring plan to attack the fearsome Hessian force at Trenton, N.J., might be recorded as the rebellion's last gasp."

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TV Series, 2002-2003

Liberty's Kids: Est. 1776

This historical fiction television series was originally broadcast on PBS Kids. It is based on the adventures of young people living during the major events of the Revolutionary War. Many historical greats make appearances, including a stately and powerful George Washington, voiced by Michael Santo. The show featured many famous actors including Ben Stiller, Billy Crystal, and Walter Cronkite. It was widely popular and well-grounded in extensive research. 

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TV Movie, January 13, 2003

Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor

This television movie puts together the stories of America's founding father George Washington, played by Kelsey Grammer, and Benedict Arnold, played by Aidan Quinn, America's most notorious traitor. Though focused on Arnold, the movie shines a light on Washington's role in Arnold's treasonous turn. Washington is shown as having been trusting of Arnold to a fault. The special was distributed in part for use in classrooms however was criticized for taking artistic liberties regarding Arnold's character.

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TV Episode, January 26, 2007

Masters of Horror- "The Washingtonians"

Within this Emmy-awarded horror series, "The Washingtonians" tells the story of a man who uncovers a letter. The letter reveals that George Washington was a cannibal and that historians have tried to cover up the truth. The man's family then encounters a reenactment group dedicated to upholding Washington's cannibalistic eating habits.

*Warning: the attached video may not be suitable for young viewers

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streaming available
Miniseries, March 2008

John Adams

George Washington, portrayed by David Morse, is featured in this American miniseries, about the life of John Adams. John Adams by David McCullough was the inspiration for the series which aired on HBO. The biopic received widespread critical and popular acclaim and awards, including thirteen Emmy awards, more than any other miniseries in history. Mount Vernon's George Washington impersonator Dean Malissa noted Morse's performance, saying, "...it is the closest to what my research has revealed him to be. He portrayed Washington as a reticent leader, uncomfortable with a great deal of what was thrust upon him. He portrayed him with a stoicism and an arms-length demeanor that he displayed to all around him with the exception of those in his inner, and closest, circle."

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Commercial, June 12, 2010

Dodge Challenger Ad "Freedom"

This tongue-in-cheek commercial aired during the 2010 World Cup during the match between the USA and England. The timing of the commercial's release was criticized as insensitive, as it was aired during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

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Video Game, February 2012

Assassin's Creed III

The fifth installment of the Assassin's Creed series is set in the 18th century, before, during and after the American Revolution from 1754 to 1783. The game was massively popular, selling more than 12 million copies worldwide and being nominated for six awards in the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards. A downloadable addition to the game, Assassin's Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington, George Washington has gone mad with unlimited power. He has foregone the presidency to instead rule as tyrannical king. In this alternate world, lead character Connor must defeat Washington and win freedom. Carol Cadou, Senior Vice President at Mount Vernon, said of the game, "I would love for people to focus on exactly the incredible choice Washington made to relinquish power... he is almost so good he becomes bland. Even if he's depicted in a negative way, it gives us an opportunity to explore."

 

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TV Series, 2013-2017

Sleepy Hollow

Washington, portrayed by Mark Campbell and Louis Herthum, shows off his supernatural side in this episodic drama that aired on Fox. In the show, Washington is portrayed as having been involved with the supernatural during the Revolution. Based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the show puts George Washington at the center of the Sleepy Hollow world. The show was popular in its first few seasons but lost viewership in the final two due to cast changes. George Washington is spoken of more often than he is physically portrayed, and is painted as a secretive individual.

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Video, June 30, 2014

Epic Rap Battles of History- "George Washington vs William Wallace"

This Emmy-nominated, wildly popular series includes an episode in which George Washington, played by Peter Shukoff, rap-battles William Wallace, played by Lloyd Ahlquist. Though Washington taunts Wallace for his violent death, Wallace focuses on Washington's slave-owning practices and "blousy outfit." Depictions of Washington like this, which put him into a modern context, show a recent effort to make the past more interesting and to make those within it more human. The episode currently has over 37 million views on Youtube.

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Watch on Youtube - warning: contains bad language
TV Series, 2014-2017

Turn: Washington's Spies

This popular AMC series details the Culper spy ring that operated during the American Revolution and Washington's leadership of the group. Washington is portrayed by Ian Kahn as stately but secretly insecure at times. As the series progresses towards its end, Washington becomes more self-assured. The show has received praise from the New York Times for not "dumbing down" history, and for giving life to "some of the messier parts of a period that is too often starched and oversimplified by schoolbooks and politicians." The first season was awarded the 2014 Media & Entertainment Award by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

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Miniseries, January 25, 2015

Sons of Liberty

This historical fiction miniseries aired on the History channel and received mixed reviews. Praised by most critics as entertaining, the series attracted much criticism for its historical inaccuracies despite the History Channel's emphasis that the series was made "to capture the spirit of the time, convey the personalities of the main characters, and focus on real events that have shaped our past." The AV Club noted that Washington, played by Irish actor Jason O'Mara, has an "action-hero swagger."

 

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TV Episode, 2016 November 29

Drunk History- "Hamilton"

Washington is featured in many episodes of this series, produced by Funny or Die and Comedy Central. This particular episode, starring Hamilton: An American Musical creator, Lin Manuel-Miranda, details Alexander Hamilton and his relationship with Washington, depicted by Bokeem Woodbine. Following the popularity of Hamilton: An American Musical, there has been a resurgence of an interest in the relationship shared by the two figures.

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Watch a Clip on comedy central
TV Episode, December 12, 2016

Timeless- "The Capture of Benedict Arnold"

Damian O'Hare depicts George Washington as irritable and unsympathetic in this episode of this NBC series. Washington is visited by time travelers seeking to find Benedict Arnold at the moment of his betrayal. Once the travelers find Arnold, he explains that Washington's unfaithfulness drove him to betrayal. The episode received critical and popular praise for putting a new twist on an old story. 

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Commercial, April 2017

Pedigree

This commercial was produced for Pedigree as part of its "Feed the Good" campaign. It shows the story of General Howe's dog during the American Revolution and how Washington, played by Bart McCarthy, responded to the situation. Washington was known for having a soft spot for dogs. The commercial was praised for bringing to life a sweet, true story from the American Revolution. 

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Future Represention

George Washington as portrayed by Dean Malissa at Mount Vernon

George Washington as portrayed by Dean Malissa at Mount Vernon

On-screen portrayals of Washington help us to connect with the past in a way that once was not possible. We see a living, breathing Washington within his world or ours. To see him in this way is to learn more about him. Representations that perpetuate myths about Washington’s life serve to lengthen the lives of the stories that hang on the coattails of his legacy.

In the words of Dean Malissa, Mount Vernon's official historical portrayer of the first president, Washington “lacks the sizzle that Hollywood wants. He didn't cheat; he acted prudently. By the standards of some in Hollywood, that's boring."

To liven Washington, artistic liberties are taken by writers, producers, and directors. When the focus of a production shifts away from preserving history according to the facts and towards what is entertaining, a blurred line is crossed. To the extent that on-screen representations ignite an interest in history and therein a desire to learn more about a given subject, stretching the truth can be useful. If on-screen representations ignite a desire to learn more about a given subject, stretching the truth can be useful. However, if a portrayal changes the history for the sake of perpetuating myths, then it does a disservice to the truth of the real event or person.

When looking towards future representations, museums and historians alike hope to see more in-depth research and less reliance on the more easily accessible untruths of Washington’s life and the time during which he served our country. To best portray George Washington, he must be portrayed honestly, with his failures, his successes, and everything in between.

Sources

Scheuer, P. K. (1942, February 27). Remarkable Event Told at Paramount. Los Angeles Times, p. 10. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Buchwald, A. (1961, July 1). La Fayette We Are, Etc.. The Washington Post, Times Herald, p. D9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Morris, J. A. (2015, October 9). This Is America, Charlie Brown:The Birth of the Constitution. Retrieved from http://charliebrownspecials.blogspot.com/2015/10/this-is-america-charlie-brownthe-birth.html

(1924, May 4). Griffith Spectacle Goes Into Another Week’s Engagement. The Washington Post, p. AA3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Alden, J. R. (1984, August 5). Beyond the Cherry Tree: George Washington. The New York Times, p. BR9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Shales, T. (1984, April 8). America’s Good Soldier: CBS’ Epic Production of ‘George Washington’. The Washington Post, p. H1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

O’Conner, J. J. (1984, April 8). ‘George Washington’ Breathes Life Into an Icon: TV VIEW. New York Times, p. H27. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Carter, B. (1986, September 21). CBS is Playing Down ‘George Washington’ Miniseries. The Sun, p. 1T. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Gerber, D. (1987). George Washington: The Forging of a Nation. Journal of American History, vol. 74 (3), p. 1109.

Shales, T. (1986, September 20). Stirrings of the New Season: George Washington, Ellen Burstyn, ‘Heart of City’ Top the Weekends ‘Forging of a Nation.’ The Washington Post, p.H1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

O’Conner, J. J. (1986, September 21). A Faithful if Unlively, Portrait of Washington: TV View. New York Times, p. H27. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Minton, L. (1988, October 16). What’s Up This Week. The Sun, p. AZ16. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Solomon, C. (1988, October 21). Good Grief! The ‘Peanuts’ Gang and the Pilgrims Are a Poor Match. Los Angeles Times, p. D34. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Caryn, J. (1988, October 21). Peanuts become Pilgrims. New York Times, p. C36. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Walnum, C. (1993, October). Day of the Tentacle. Compute. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

May, Scott A. (1993, December). Reviews: Day of the Tentacle. Compute. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

(1994, May). Liberty or Death. GamePro, issue 058, p. 120. Robertson, V. (1998, September 1). Warner Bros.’ Histeria!. Kidscreen.

Robertson, V. (1997, November 1). Kids’ WB! Comes of Age. Kidscreen. Haman, A. (2001, April 1). FCC Rules up Educational Programming Levels. Kidscreen.

Mifflin, L. (1996, December 2). Broadcasters and Producers Make Time for Children. New York Times.

Kelleher, T. (2000, January 29). Picks & Pans: Tube. People. EBSCOhost.

(2002, August 30). Pursuit of life, liberty and kids; An Animated Series on the Revolution Series on the Revolution Debuts on PBS with a Star-Studded Cast. The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Rose, M. M. (2002, September 1). A Revolution for DIC, PBS. Hollywood Reporter. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Smith, d. N. (2003, January, 10). Review: Benedict Arnold Reborn. Wall Street Journal. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Puma, S. (2010, June, 17). Dodge World Cup Ad Misses the Mark with British Redcoat vs. America Patriot Humor. Triple Pundit.

Barakat, M. (2012, October 30). Founding Father Featured in Popular New Video Game. Spartanburg Harald Journal. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Stanley, A. (2014, April 4). A Petticoat as Spy Signal. New York Times.

Eichel, M. (2015, January 23). Sons of Liberty has fun on the Battlefield. AV Club.

(2015, January 26). Five big myths about Samuel Adams in the History Channel series. Constitution Center.

Coggan, D. (2016, December 13). Timeless recap: Season 1, Episode 10. Entertainment Weekly.

Lorre, R. M. (2016, December 12). Timeless Recap: Spies Like Us. Vulture.

Stokes, M. (2013). American history through Hollywood film: From the Revolution to the 1960s.

Media Credits

Kalem Company, Warner Brothers & Warner Brothers Animation, D.W. Griffith Productions, Paramount Pictures, Comacico, ABC, Universal, CBS, LucasArts, Koei, Fox, A&E, PBS, Showtime, HBO, Dodge, Ubisoft, Epic Rap Battles of History, AMC, History Channel, Comedy Central, NBC, Pedigree

George Washington – first American president, commander of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, and gentleman planter.

Learn more about the many varied roles that George Washington excelled in and tremendous legacy that he left for America and the World.

Key Facts about George Washington
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