John F. Kennedy often dyed the gray out of his hair and changed his shirt up to three times a day. In his newest book, Dr. Burton Peretti, author of The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, provides insight into the influence that image and Hollywood has had, and continues to have, on politics.
Earlier this month, about twenty students, faculty members and residents of the community gathered in Warner Hall at Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) to hear Dr. Peretti speak about his newest book. The Leading Man is an informative book about the “dizzying array of connections” between American presidents and Hollwood cinema. Peretti, A history and non-Western cultures professor at WestConn, used a Power Point in his presentation, which included a variety of photos showing various presidents and the way they turned their position into a “highly theatrical office.”
Peretti explained that the value in a president’s image can be traced back to our nation’s original leader, George Washington. Washington often wore lavish clothing, rode in a high quality carriage, and threw extravagant parties in order to achieve public appeal. As Hollywood cinema developed, the American people created fantasies and ideals based on the celebrities they saw in the movies. The public began to visualize the president as one of these celebrities, and soon the role of the President became intertwined with the ideas of Hollywood; both provided ordinary people with something to idolize.
Peretti received his bachelor’s degree at Pomona College in Claremont, California and both his master’s and PhD at the University of California at Berkeley. He has also had experience working on television shows such as the documentary-style geneaology program “Who Do You Think You Are?” on NBC.
When asked by audience member Colleen Kennedy about who he hoped to reach with his book, Peretti answered “Anyone interested in the subject. I write at a level that many can understand while still trying to make it complex and interesting.”
Peretti also expressed that writing in an accessible way has been challenging for him due to a natural dense style.
“I want to get all my information in there,” he said.
Perretti’s presentation combined information with an element of humor, which was well received by the audience. All were able to understand his argument and leave with new ideas about the cinematic element of the American presidency.
For more information on Dr. Peretti and his book, visit burtonperetti.com.
This article was originally published in The Echo.