February 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 2
Why, that’s George Billings.
George Billings? Certainly, in Al and Ray Rockett’s long-forgotten silent epic Abraham Lincoln in 1924. The gaunt, familiar form of Lincoln has been a stock dramatic figure ever since May of 1861, when a political potboiler called Abe’s Saturday; or Washington Sixty Days Hence opened at Boston’s Mobile Theater.
No one seems to know how many times Lincoln has appeared on stage or screen over the intervening years. No one has counted how many rails he has split, or tears he has shed over Ann Rutledge; how many times he has said good-by to Springfield, or freed the slaves, or just waited, docile, for John Wilkes Booth to slip up behind him. The number must be staggering.
Distinguished writers like John Drinkwater, Robert E. Sherwood, and James Agee have mounted full-scale dramatic lives of Lincoln. But more often he has been used as a sentimental walk-on—letting Shirley Temple perch on his lap, perhaps, as he did in The Littlest Rebel (1935), or admonishing Jimmy Stewart to write to his worried mother in Of Human Hearts (1938).
On the facing page are six actors who have played Lincoln over the last century, plus one genuine portrait of the great man himself. Can you tell which one it is, as well as who’s who beneath the grease paint? Answers appear below.