Over the summer I was invited to appear on a Smithsonian Channel television show called America’s Hidden Stories. The subject? Whether or not young George Washington had a romantic affair with Mary Philipse (later Mary Philipse Morris), a New York heiress whose family owned an incredible amount of property on the Hudson river. I happily accepted.
On December 4, 1783, an emotional George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental army, stood before his officers in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern in New York. “With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you,” Washington toasted, as his eyes scanned the room. “I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable. I cannot come to each of you but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.”
“What do you do with a film degree? Sit around and watch movies all day?” As a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where I earned an M.A. in cinema studies, I’ve heard my share of these questions from people I meet. They may have a point; although my cinema studies degree has helped me develop my research and writing skills, it’s hard to justify how this degree directly applies to my job at The Washington Papers. When I say I’m a documentary editor, I don’t mean that I edit documentary films! So, I’m going to approach this blog post from a different angle (with a little help from my psychology degree), and show how George Washington shares attributes with classic film star Cary Grant.
Is Hamilton an academic, perfectly accurate historical interpretation? Of course not. But what it does do is use catchy tunes—and primary sources—to make history accessible and entertaining to a new generation of Americans. And after recently attending a performance of the show, these documentary editors wholeheartedly agree.
In Making History‘s first episode, Dan and Chris (Yassir Lester) climb into a duffel bag and time-travel to Lexington on April 21, 1775, two days after the American Revolution should have started. The rebellion has been delayed because Paul Revere is too depressed and angry to make his famous ride.
Samuel Roukin is used to strangers coming up to him and saying, “I hate you.” And he loves it. Roukin has portrayed the villainous John Graves Simcoe on the AMC television series Turn: Washington’s Spies for three seasons, and the British officer is a character fans love to hate. “My job is to humanize,” says Roukin. “That means it’s working.”
A history enthusiast myself, I wondered how historically accurate the musical is, and how much in the historical record it dramatizes for the sake of entertainment. As a research specialist at the Washington Papers, I was particularly interested in how the musical portrays the relationship between Washington and Hamilton. It seemed to me that Miranda had accurately captured the mutual respect, trust, and loyalty of the two, while being cautious about depicting their friendship more informally.
Ian Kahn knows George Washington. For three seasons, he has played the General on the AMC television series Turn: Washington’s Spies. An accomplished stage actor, Kahn has also appeared on Dawson’s Creek and Sex and the City. Washington Papers editors Kim Curtis and Lynn Price recently spoke with Kahn about his work on Turn, what this season holds in store, and what George Washington means to him.
Silent film director D.W. Griffith may be best known for his narratively and technologically groundbreaking but controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. However, his filmography also includes a little-seen movie called America: Or Love and Sacrifice (1924) that is worth looking at as well.
Associate Editor William M. Ferraro will soon be featured as an historical contributor in a documentary about James Monroe’s farm home Monroe Hill. As the film prepares to be debuted at the Virginia Film Festival, Ferraro sat down to answer questions about his experience in being a part of the documentary.