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D.W. Griffith’s landmark film will never live down its glorification of the Klu Klux Klan, but the scene of Lincoln’s assassination, filmed within living memory of some who knew Lincoln, seems almost like a newsreel.
Newly minted lawyer Abe — skeptical of his own intelligence but resolutely affixed in his moral firmament — defends two brothers accused of murder. The scene where our hero talks down a lynch mob could be a textbook lesson for crisis counselors everywhere.
20th Century Fox/Everett Collection
Massey got his Lincoln nailed down on Broadway in Robert E. Sherwood’s play, then brought him to the screen in this adaptation. For decades, when people thought of Lincoln, it was Massey they envisioned. He returned in a cameo as Abe in the 1962 Cinerama epic, How the West Was Won.
Perhaps the most handsome of screen Lincolns, Robards reintroduced Sherwood’s play to the nation in this Hallmark Hall of Fame production (and got an Emmy nod). Nearly 30 years later, Robards returned to TV as a war-wearied Abe, writing the Gettysburg Address, in The Perfect Tribute.
The man who immortalized Mark Twain sometimes seems to have been born a century too late, so of course he’s a perfect Lincoln. Holbrook won an Emmy playing Abe in the 1974 TV miniseries based on Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biography. He played him again in North and South, Books I and II, in 1985 and 1986.
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
He played towering figures like King David, Captain Ahab and General Douglas MacArthur, so it was just a matter of time before long, lanky Peck got his turn as the 16th president in this TV miniseries.
CBS / Photofest
Waterson is one long drink of water, and he puts his physique to good use here. This TV bio is noteworthy for the way it takes time to explore Abe’s relationship with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, played by another famous Mary T: Mary Tyler Moore.
"Be excellent to each other," Lincoln exhorts a late '80s high school assembly, thus ensuring a passing history grade for our time-traveling heroes. Tall, gaunt Barron also played Abe on the TV shows Get a Life, Out of This World and Love, American Style.
Well, this is as revisionist as it gets, but after a century of watching movie Abes pensively stroll across the screen, hands clasped behind their backs, there’s a certain release in watching the 16th president kick bloodsucker butt.
20th Century Fox/Everett Collection
Few actors have managed to capture, as Day-Lewis does, a Lincoln uncomfortable in his own skin, betrayed by his own physical frailties, struggling to raise his reedy voice above the din of a nation tearing itself apart.
Courtesy Dreamworks Studios
Steven Spielberg is the latest director to place Abraham Lincoln on the screen. According to reports, he asked that release of the film wait until the U.S. presidential election was over, lest anyone claim that he was pointing fingers or taking sides. Our Lincoln portraits above span nearly 100 years, from Joseph Henabery in Birth of a Nation to Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Daniel Day-Lewis as just plain Lincoln. Who's your favorite?
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