Alone With the President
by John Strausbaugh, Elast Books, 184 pages, $16.95 soft cover. CODE: BIT-1
Who’d make the better President: someone with intelligence, humility, character, a vision for the country, and a grasp of current issues, or someone who can look dignified and presidential even when the BeeGees have their arms around him? In Alone with the President John Strausbaugh presents the argument for the latter.
The idea for this book could hardly be more simple: Run a variety of photos of American Presidents posing with celebrities, from 1960 to 1988, along with a stylish text discussing how Presidents and the nature of celebrity have changed. The black-and-white photographs that Strausbaugh has dug up are often hilarious. From the smirking Jerry Lewis practically strangling one of his “kids” with faux affection as he greets JFK to the Carpenters’ Stepford gazes with Richard Nixon or to the perplexing nontalent Marty Allen doing “the bump” with Betty Ford, the pictures are a kitschy trip down Memory Lane. Fashion victims and pop-culture has-beens abound.
What is surprising here is Strausbaugh’s text. He has written thoughtful, well-researched essays on the nature of politics and American celebrity, dealing with six Presidents individually. He starts with John F. Kennedy, the first who really blurred the line between power and glamour, then works chronologically through to Ronald Reagan, where celebrity and the Presidency became one.