In case you haven’t heard the 2016 elections are two days away. Hopefully that means the onslaught of negativity (to be kind) is nearly over (although I know better). That said the coming week is likely to be difficult so I thought I’d take my mind off current happenings and dedicate a post to our government. Or, rather a fictitious government made up of classic movie characters. What follows is a list of all of the top cabinet positions matched with the movie character I think could do the job.
The U.S. Cabinet was established in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President and it includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments listed below in order of succession following the presidential notation. You’ll note I’ve also included a few other important cabinet-level positions at the end, which are not officially part of the cabinet. (Whitehouse.gov) To clarify, the cabinet I am referring to has nothing to do with a piece of furniture wherein you place items for storage.
Before you proceed you should know I set a few rules for myself in choosing the characters for these positions. For instance, I stayed away from real people depicted in film, tried for a diverse administration, ignored nationality and excluded cartoon characters and superheroes. I also made it a point to ignore most main characters in Frank Capra movies – the Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smiths – because they’re such obvious choices to illustrate the values many of us hold dear. I wanted my choices to be a little more creative for variety’s sake, but also take each seriously. So, with all of that in mind…here’s my administration…
The President is both the head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. What I want in a president is reliability and relatability. The President should be knowledgeable, driven, sensitive to the needs of all people and willing to fight for equality. For those reasons I’m inclined to select someone who knows how to succeed, but who is also in touch with the least among us. Godfrey, the titular character in Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936) is such a man.
Godfrey is introduced to us as a derelict who ends up the butler of a spoiled, rich family. However, as we learn Godfrey is a highly educated man who was born rich, but is down on his luck. Being among those many of us would deem less than ourselves, Godfrey comes to admire his fellow hobos and abhor the useless flaunting of wealth. Godfrey’s intelligence and wisdom prepare him for the presidency as far as making difficult decisions go. More importantly, however, is the fact that he has lived as a poor man, which allows for the notion that anyone is able to make the American dream a reality and perhaps even that the presidency can be achieved by anyone who’s qualified.
Vice President: Stella
The only duty the U.S. Constitution assigns the Vice President is to act as presiding officer of the Senate. But the Vice President also serves as ceremonial assistant to the President and is an important part of the President’s administration.
For the second most powerful job in the world I go with Stella, the nurse in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In truth, however, this would apply to any role played by Thelma Ritter. Who wouldn’t want this salt of the Earth beacon of righteousness to represent us?
Stella is loyal, she can be relied on when the going gets tough and she certainly doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She also has no problem at all speaking her mind and we can envision her doing so to any leader anywhere. The prospect of Stella presiding over the senate and sitting behind Godfrey during his State of the Union addresses rolling her eyes as the opposition fails to clap is priceless. Like her commander-in-chief, Stella’s integrity and wisdom are admirable. She knows people, she knows we are a race of peeping toms and recognizes the value of hard work and long relationships. And for maximum effect we all can relate to her. While you may think Stella has no experience in leadership or no knowledge of policy I think she’d have no trouble at all catching up and with the perfect cabinet such as I have assembled she’d lead us admirably and make us all proud.
Secretary of State: Jean Passepartout
The Department of State is responsible for developing foreign policy, advancing freedom, and creating a secure and beneficial world for Americans and the international community. Who better to do this than Jean Passepartout, a character conceived in Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days who was brought to life by Mario Moreno aka Cantinflas in the 1956 Best Picture winner of the same name.
Passepartout is a French valet, but I know he is fluent in Spanish and numerous other languages. He is a public servant and an adventurer with extensive travel experience and knowledge of a multitude of cultures. Aside from those types of attributes, however, Passepartout knows how to fly a balloon, which means that U. S. taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for his extensive travel. Or not as much in any case. Given that he would spend so much time in the air Passepartout is also likely to hold clean air initiatives dear.
Secretary of the Treasury: Jean Harrington
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s goal is to collect revenue, produce money and formulate economic policy. I’m not advocating crooked business deals with my choice for this position, but strong women are needed and in order to keep our economy growing we need someone who can come up with innovative ideas. That’s why I’m going with Jean Harrington aka The Lady Eve from Preston Sturges‘ 1941 movie of the same name.
Ms. Harrington is the shadiest character I’m including on this list, but I want to make the point that her talents are unique and can be used for the benefit of us all. But I’m not making excuses. The fact is that just like the actress who portrays her, Harrington exemplifies strength and character in the face of adversity. While The Lady Eve has a proclivity for the con, she is also a woman to be admired – a woman who does things her way when she wants to – a woman not governed by customs and conventions – a woman who takes command using all of the wiles at her disposal and in the process turns traditional roles on their head. I can’t imagine even the staunchest financial advisors resisting Ms. Harrington’s ideas and economic policies. We need innovators who defy convention for the sake of progress and Jean Harrington’s the woman who can do it.
Jean Harrington is played by Barbara Stanwyck.
Secretary of Defense: Rick Blaine
The Secretary of Defense provides the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of the United States. What’s important to me with reference to defense is a leader who exemplifies strength, but advocates for peace. In other words I want a pacifist who would consider war only as a last resort.
“I stick my neck out for nobody.” Oh, but he does. “I’m the only “cause” I’m interested in.” Not true, as we see in the end. Through his numerous iterations of how he lives his life unencumbered by man or cause, we get the impression that he is detached and on the fence about what’s going on around him, a man with no convictions. But Rick Blaine from Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca is anything but spineless and selfish. Moreover he doesn’t brag. Rick does his patriotic duty in meaningful ways and is secure enough to stand for what are not necessarily populist views.
Rick seems, at the onset of Casablanca, little more than a fair cynic. But as the story progresses we are made privy to numerous acts of loyalty showing he is as sensitive as he is hard-nosed. A complicated man, Rick Blaine’s apparent detachment and lack of interest is the reason people feel they can trust him. I’m one of those who thinks he’s the ideal man to be entrusted with the security of our country. The greater good will always be paramount under his leadership.
Rick Blaine is played by Humphrey Bogart.
Attorney General: Amanda Bonner
The Department of Justice enforces the law and defends the interests of the United States according to the Law. In addition the Justice Department aims to prevent and control crime as well as seeks just punishment for criminals.
When I think about the “just” in justice it’s Atticus Finch that comes to mind. I think that would be the clear-cut character for most movie fans, which is why I decided to go another route and give Amanda Bonner the Attorney General position instead. Mrs. Bonner is one of the main characters in George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib (1941). Amanda defends a woman accused of trying to kill her husband and is successful in doing so against her own husband who is the prosecuting attorney. The reason for choosing Amanda for this most important position is not because she wins the case, but rather because in doing so she defies gender stereotypes and makes a brilliant case for equality. Without getting into the details of Adam’s Rib suffice it to say that Amanda Bonner is more than qualified to handle the difficulties associated with legal issues in our country during a time of deep divisions.
Amanda Bonner is played by Katharine Hepburn.
Secretary of the Interior: George Bailey
The Department of the Interior is responsible for protecting and providing access to the nation’s natural and cultural heritage. I thought long and hard about which position would be a match for George Bailey because I admire him so. I decided on Secretary of the Interior because he’s a natural fit to promote Americana in all its cultural diversity.
George has big dreams when we first meet him. Those dreams mean his getting out of Bedford Falls, traveling the world and gaining insight to broader views. The thing is that everything George thought he could gain on the outside is within him and within the community of people whose lives he touches.
We get to know George Bailey well and we know his family, his dreams, his heart. And, as far as hearts go, his is a huge one. By the age of twelve George had saved two lives – directly as it’s impossible to know how many others through those two – his brother Harry’s and his first boss’, Mr. Gower. George had made sacrifices for his family as a young man, he’d pushed back his dreams because people needed him elsewhere. He chose, and fate followed – the greater good. He gave up all he owned so that others could have a decent life. George’s is a wonderful life and as such he’d be the perfect advocate for all our country has to offer, to promote her beauty and promise.
Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Joad
The Department of Agriculture formulates policy on farming, food, and natural resources. It also maintains food safety and combats hunger worldwide. Tom Joad gets this position because his vision is for everyone everywhere.
“I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”
Tom Joad is played by Henry Fonda in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
Secretary of Commerce: Homer Smith
The mission of the Department of Commerce is to foster, serve and promote the nation’s economic development.
Homer Smith in Frank Nelson’s Lilies of the Field is a handyman/jack-of-all-trades who – thanks to fate – ends up on a farm building a chapel for a group of German nuns. To me Homer Smith exemplifies how America became an economic power – by hard work, confidence, self-reliance and perseverance. In some ways we need to return to that and have someone in a position of authority who recognizes the value of manual labor. There is beauty in simplicity and deep satisfaction in hard work. I think Mr. Smith is a role model who would do quite well in reminding us that while technological progress is important we also need to foster labor on our path forward. Further, I believe in leadership from the ground up, not from a distant perch looking down.
Homer Smith is played by Sidney Poitier.
Secretary of Labor: A Factory Worker
The Department of Labor is responsible for assuring safety in the workplace, fair pay and unemployment insurance benefits. In Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) The Little Tramp is A Factory Worker – or the embodiment of why all of these things are needed. Having lived through the indignities of unresolved or unattended labor issues I think he’d be especially keen on offering insight into these matters.
A Factory Worker is played by Charlie Chaplin.
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Mary Poppins
The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible to protect the health of all Americans and to provide essential human services to all, especially those who are least able to help themselves. I could have easily chosen one of the many doctors who have made a positive impact in theatrical stories, but decided I wanted someone who could not only help cure, but also empower. For the entire package I turn to Mary Poppins from the classic Disney movie directed by Robert Stevenson.
Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. She could simply appear when needed. She’s tough and demanding, which means she wouldn’t just help people, but would teach them to help themselves. And she would do so with rosie cheeks, a cheery disposition and great wit and wisdom. Mary Poppins has the ability to diffuse difficult situations without effort and could carry every human service needed in her carpet bag. Of course her magical powers are a plus, but I’m just as impressed with her common sense, which is what many seem to lack these days.
Mary Poppins is played by Julie Andrews.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Juror # 8
The goal of The Department of Housing and Urban Development is to increase home ownership, support community development, and increase access to affordable housing. This leadership position for this department would be a great fit for George Bailey, but even the likes of him can’t handle two major posts in one administration. That’s why I turn to Juror # 8 to lead the housing charge.
Mr. Davis aka Juror # 8 is an architect with enough spine to convince 11 peers as to a man’s innocence when all seemingly points to his guilt. Juror # 8’s sense of fairness, his ability to look at the big picture, his unwavering faith in humankind makes him the perfect candidate for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Although I imagine the intricacies of the responsibilities here are overwhelming I have full confidence that Juror # 8 would not miss a beat. He’d look at every single detail so as to ensure community development efforts are fair to everyone. For instance I don’t think Juror # 8 would ever approve homes for older people to be built with long hallways.
Secretary of Transportation: Zachary Garber
The mission of the Department of Transportation is to ensure a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system. The perfect man for the job is Police Lt. Zachary Garber who is not only well-versed in law enforcement, but who has experience dealing with terrorists in the transit system.
Four armed men calling themselves Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey and Mr. Brown board the 6 train in New York. They capture hostages and demand $1 million for their release. Zachary Garber, a New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant, happens to be at the right place at the right time and forces the resolution of the crime. Garber is your typical brash New Yorker, which may cause some friction on this administration, but his experience in ensuring the safety of the world’s largest and busiest transit system cannot be overlooked. We need this guy.
Walter Matthau plays Police Lt. Zachary Garber in Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974).
Secretary of Energy: Paul Sycamore
The Department of energy advances the national, economic, and energy security of the country. In addition this department promotes scientific and technological advancement. The last part of the major duties of the Secretary of Energy is why I chose Paul Sycamore, patriarch (in name only) of the eccentric Sycamores in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You (1938).
If you remember, Mr. Sycamore spends most of his time on his inventions – of firecrackers – in the family’s basement. While I admit this hardly counts as an extraordinary advancement I think it shows Sycamore has a proclivity toward innovation and, indeed, would promote any and all experiments that would either further our country on the technology end or invent new forms of entertainment. Mr. Sycamore has also fostered an open environment in his own home, which can be viewed as a microcosm of our country and the important role the arts and individuality plays if we are to move forward as a nation.
Paul Sycamore is played by Samuel S. Hinds (who also raised George Bailey, by the way).
Due to obvious connections to “technological advances” I initially chose Hedy Lamarr for Secretary of Energy. My doing so, however, would have broken the “characters only” rule. If there is a character Lamarr played in a movie that would fit this job in any way let me know. I couldn’t come up with one. However, I’m quite satisfied with Mr. Sycamore in this position and think the rest of the country will be as well.
Secretary of Education: Miss Crabtree
Among its duties, the Department of Education is responsible for fostering excellence and equal access by establishing policies on federal aid, etc. There are several memorable movie teachers I could’ve gone with to lead the efforts of the Department of Education, but I chose Miss Crabtree from the Our Gang shorts (or as they were also known, The Little Rascals).
Miss Crabtree is another salt-of-the-Earth type. Not only does she have the patience of Job, she also kids from both sides of the tracks making her a role model in many ways. Miss Crabtree handles all sorts of sticky situations and pranks with grace and dignity and shows the world consistently that all kids are worthy of time and attention. This teacher also exemplifies the idea that poverty doesn’t have to mean lower quality, that where there’s a will there’s a way and that we must dedicate proper resources to allow kids from all corners of the country the same opportunities to learn. I think Miss Crabtree is an excellent advocate for kids everywhere and education in general.
Miss Crabtree was played by June Marlowe. Incidentally, while I was perusing Marlowe’s filmography I was quite surprised to see she only appeared in a handful of Our Gang shorts. My memories of watching her as Miss Crabtree are so vivid I could’ve sworn she was in many of those shorts. In any case, that only means she made quite the impression.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Homer Parrish
The Department of Veterans Affairs cares for the nation’s veterans in all manner of ways. From disability issues to education and pensions to supervising national cemeteries, this department ensures the proper handling of all of it. As such I think Homer Parrish is the perfect candidate to oversee the whole operation. Homer knows first hand how difficult it can be to re-assimilate into “regular” society after a war. He knows the psychological, emotional and physical adjustments many veterans have to deal with and how to guide family members on dealing with those difficulties as well.
Secretary of Homeland Security: Ellen Ripley
The main job of the Department of Homeland security is two-pronged. First, it must protect the country and second, it must ensure we are prepared to respond to any and all disasters. Only Ellen Ripley has destroyed aggressive alien lifeforms repeatedly. Only Ellen Ripley is up to this task. Nothing more need be said.
The positions and characters I’ve just described should give you a good sense of what kind of country I would like to live in. I hope you enjoyed perusing my administration as much as I did putting it together. Before I get to the final few positions for which I simply name names let me know who you’d pick to run your classic movie country using the guidelines I describe above.
Positions considered to be Cabinet level, but which are not part of the Cabinet.
White House Chief of Staff:
Ida Corwin from Michael Curtiz’ Mildred Pierce (1945)
Director of the Office of Management and Budget:
Benjamin Dingle from George Stevens’ The More the Merrier (1943)
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency:
Calamity Jane from David Butler’s Calamity Jane (1953)
Iranov, Buljanov and Kopalsky from Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka (1939)
Ambassador to the United Nations:
Mammy from Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939)
Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:
Barton Keyes from Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944)
Administrator of the Small Business Administration:
Mildred Pierce from Michael Curtiz’ Mildred Pierce (1945)