ORSON WELLES’ ALMANAC: On President Roosevelt’s Fourth Inauguration
Thanks to the efforts of writer and researcher Peter Giordano, Wellesnet will be able to offer up an ongoing series of Orson Welles rare Almanac columns that appeared in the pages of The New York Post, beginning in January of 1945.
As noted recently, Welles was a great friend of The New York Post's regular entertainment columnist, Leonard Lyons, and Welles first column at the Post was actually written by Welles when he was subbing for the vacationing Lyons.
In that debut column, Welles rhetorically asked his readers: "What is it that makes a man want to write for the newspapers? ...All too often my public appearances have had more to thank presumption than equipment, so don't ask me why I think I can write a column. Compare me, if you will, to my foolish and finny cousin the salmon, who toils and labors upstream against the most fearful odds, only to lay his little eggs."
Of course, this was a favorite device of Welles, pretending he had no special talent or reason to be doing something that he was actually eminently qualified to tackle.
In his first column, Welles talks about the fourth inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and uses it as a springboard to recall past Presidential inaugurations, giving them movie like-descriptions, almost as if he were writing scenes for a script, even to the point of providing the soundtrack for George Washington's voice!
ORSON WELLES ALMANAC
By Orson Welles - January 22, 1945
Our Astrology Department says that this is a good day for those born under all signs, and for planting all things that grow above ground.
Byron was born today, and so was D. W. Griffith, the greatest of all motion picture directors. Twenty-eight years ago today Woodrow Wilson told the Senate that it was necessary for the American government “in the days to come to lay afresh and upon a new plan the foundations of peace among the nations. It is inconceivable,” said he, “that the people of the United States should play no part in that great enterprise. Is the present war,” he asked, “a struggle for a just and secure peace, or only for a new balance of power? There must be not only a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace …These are American principles, American policies, and they are also the principles of mankind and must prevail.”
The day before yesterday was the forty-sixth inauguration of the American Presidency. The whole affair was as simple as anybody can remember. If you’ve been married more than twice, you like your wedding to be small and quiet. I think that’s how the President felt about this inauguration. He played his part in the ritual like a veteran bridegroom. I was there, and I got the impression that this fourth term was his favorite wife.
The inauguration of a president really is a kind of betrothal—with promises to love, honor and obey. I always feel like crying at weddings, and that’s how I felt Saturday.
This oath taking is democracy’s most solemn occasion. It fills the watcher with an awesome sense of history, the President’s hand on the Bible, marking a boundary between the future and the past. I found myself thinking of the presidents who’ve gone before—the great and good and ordinary, the well remembered, the men almost forgotten.
…in his portraits George Washington looks the perfect figure of poise, but his voice shook so that the men could scarcely hear it. That first inauguration was in New York, on an open balcony overlooking Wall Street.
…They named the new capital “Washington,” and Jefferson took office there. It was little more than a frontier crossroads in those days, a clearing in the wilderness. There was a mile of swamp between the capitol and the White House, and Pennsylvania Avenue was nothing but a stretch of dirty mud. John Adams has been driven to the ceremony in a gilded coach drawn by six white horses, but Jefferson walked quietly from his lodgings to the Capitol to take his oath.
Enter Andy Jackson
…Then there was Andy Jackson, the first President from the West. He was the idol of the backwoods, and from the wildest country, from the depths of our American forest, the common man came crowding into Washington to cheer Old Hickory. The common man trooped after the new President to the executive mansion. He muddied up the carpets and stood on the chairs, he broke furniture and yanked the draperies from the walls. Mighty tubs of punch had to be set up on the White House lawn to lure the common man outside …That was his day and he didn’t care who knew it.
…And Lincoln’s inauguration, the first one—with Stephen Douglas taking Abe’s old stove pipe hat and holding it during the President’s address …And four years after that (the President four years older) “with malice toward none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”
…Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson …And in our easy memories, Coolidge and Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.
The Biggest Job
The last of these came into office when the fundamental propositions of the government he had been called to lead were held in bitter doubt. Today, when the propositions of the Atlantic Charter seem questioned, when there are many who challenge the moral existence of the United Nations and the possibility of “an organized common peace,” what Franklin Roosevelt told us twelve years ago is worth remembering: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
I think the man who said that is man enough for America’s biggest job, which is the biggest job in history.