By Jueseppi B.
The Obama’s and invited guest enjoying the Presidential home theater in The East Wing. The first couple and guests try out 3D effects during the Super Bowl broadcast in 2009 (White House - Pete Souza)
From Electronic House:
February 15, 2013 | by Grant Clauser
White House East Wing Home Theater
On President’s Day it’s common to honor this nation’s leaders by staying home from school or maybe partaking in some Lincoln-inspired one-day sales.
I’m sure being president is a hard job, so he needs to unwind in the evening too. Lucky for him, the job comes with a home theater, and has for many decades. Several sources note that while the first movie was shown in the White House in 1915, the theater wasn’t actually built until 1942. President Dwight Eisenhower is said to have watched over 200 movies in the room. President Ronald Reagan’s favorite movie for the room was The Sound of Music. According to Tevi Troy, former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, President Bill Clinton was a fan of Fight Club and American Beauty.
Here’s a pictorial tour of the official White House Family Theater. You’ll notice that the décor has changed significantly over the years as technology improved and presidential tastes changed. We’re sure the theater has been guests to dignitaries of all kinds. Even Hollywood celebrities such as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have enjoyed the room. The theater is used for much more than just watching Walking Dead on Sunday evenings. Some official functions take place there; guests are entertained and major speeches are rehearsed. Maybe the family also get together to play Call of Duty.
Take Presidents’ Day tour inside President Barack Obama’s White House home theater.
1948: The White House Family Theater in 1948 when Harry Truman was president. Notice how theater seats have changed.
Family Theater 1958: First Lady Eisenhower enjoys the theater with grand kids. Notice the ashtrays. The White House is a non-smoking building now.
Family-theater-reagan: President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan possibly watching The Sound of Music again.
Family-theater-bush: President George W. Bush practicing a speech in the Family Theater.
Family Theater: This is what the theater looked like around 2000. Most home theater experts would complain about the white walls, ceiling and seats.
Laura Bush White House Theater: First Lady Laura Bush hosting a group of students in the White House theater.
President Clinton and Ron Howard: President Clinton hosting Ron Howard and other guests in the Family Theater.
Family-theater-2008: According to the photographer, the president sits in the third seat. Note that the ashtrays are gone.
Michelle Obama in Theater: The First Lady hosting guests in the Family Theater.
President Obama: The President hosts Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg at the Family Theater.
The first lady hosts a movie viewing in 2009 (Time)
There are many more photos available here at the White House Theater site on The White House Blog
Unfortunately we don’t know what equipment is actually installed in the theater—that’s confidential information. What’s on the president’s DVR? Does the White House have a Kaleidescape? Are they an Xbox360 or PS3 family? Extra butter on their popcorn? We do know that the While House Family Theater includes a 3D projector and that it includes seats for 42 people. Everything else is a state secret.
Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He’s done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He’s also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.
Another Western, Mr. President?
The family theater was converted from a long cloakroom in 1942 when the current East Wing building was constructed. It overlooks the sculpture garden that Hillary Clinton established. It has about 40 well-upholstered seats, set behind four big armchairs originally installed by Dwight Eisenhower. For many years, the decor was dominated by white curtains with a red floral design, but in 2004, it got a makeover in red.
The room is occasionally used to rehearse major speeches, like the State of the Union address each January, but much more often it is where the first family can indulge in one of the luxuries of the job—a movie of their choice screened at any time of day and night for themselves and their guests, often sent direct from Hollywood before its release.
When the first East Wing was built in 1902, this part of the gallery was used as a cloakroom for the many coats and hats of guests visiting the mansion. Guests would proceed into the ground floor of the Residence and assemble in what are today the Library (ladies’ parlor) and Vermeil Room (gentlemen’s parlor) before the event officially began.
The first film to be shown inside the White House was The Birth of a Nation, a racist epic that celebrates the Ku Klux Klan as America’s saviors. Woodrow Wilson screened it in 1915 (probably in the second floor Central Hall), in part to repay a political debt to southern supporters, and such choices have tainted his place in American history ever since.
Dwight Eisenhower was obsessed with westerns. White House projectionist Paul Fischer’s handwritten log showed he watched more than 200 of them in the course of his two terms. One of his particular favorites was the Gary Cooper film High Noon, but he would watch almost anything about cowboys—except any film starring Robert Mitchum, after the actor was charged with marijuana possession. Fischer said that Ike liked Mitchum films until Mitchum got in trouble with drugs. After that Fischer would sometimes try to sneak Mitchum films in the lineup, but as soon as Ike saw Mitchum was in it, the president would get up and walk out.
Because of his chronic back pain, John Kennedy’s aides installed his favorite rocking chair in the middle of the front row. Later on, he had an orthopedic bed set up in the cinema, so he could watch propped up on pillows.
Lyndon Johnson was not much of a film fan. He had one favorite movie and he watched it more than a dozen times, sometimes on consecutive nights. It was a 10-minute homage to himself, sonorously narrated by Gregory Peck and made on the orders of the White House staff to introduce the new president to a skeptical public after Kennedy’s assassination.
Richard Nixon saw most of his movies with the same person, his golfing and drinking buddy, Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, who came to the White House theatre 150 times according to Fischer’s logs. Their favorites, alongside Patton, were old-fashioned escapist musicals such as the ultra-patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy, with James Cagney.
Starting with All the President’s Men - about the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought him to office—Jimmy Carter held 480 screenings at the White House over four years, one every three nights on average, and more films than Reagan watched in his two terms. The devout Baptist started off insisting that only family films be shown, but eventually relented and became the first president to watch an X-rated film at the family theater: Midnight Cowboy.
Ronald Reagan watched very few films at the White House. He and Nancy watched most of their movies on their weekends at Camp David, preferring Jimmy Stewart movies, High Noon (the president’s favorite), and, on special occasions such as the president’s birthday, his own films.
Bill Clinton also loved High Noon, but his taste in movies mirrored the style of his presidency. It ranged from the earnest and complex—Schindler’s List and American Beauty were among his favorites—to simple and earthy, like the Naked Gun movies.
George Bush is a fan of the Austin Powers series and has been known to raise his little finger to his lips in imitation of the characters Dr Evil and Mini-Me. Since the September 11 attacks, however, his viewing has become more somber. In early 2002, after the worst of the fighting was over in Afghanistan and plans were being hatched to invade Iraq, President Bush watched more war movies, like We Were Soldiers, about Vietnam, and Ridley Scott’s soldier’s-eye view of Mogadishu in 1993, Black Hawk Down. In 2006, he screened United 93, about the 9/11 attacks.
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