Newhart’s Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue

By Erin Carlson Mast

Just as there are countless scholarly books and articles about President Lincoln, there are numerous parodies involving the 16th President.  One of the classic (and G-rated) spoofs staring “Lincoln” is Bob Newhart’s Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue, recorded in 1960, which begins with the question, “What would politics have been like during the Civil War if it involved the public relations and advertising machines of today?  The 7 minute long performance (listen to the first minute or two if nothing else) is set on the eve of the Gettysburg Address, as Lincoln and his PR consultant discuss everything from his image to how to respond to Grant’s drinking.

Of course the election of 1860 had its own version of a campaign machine, Lincoln his advisers, and there were plenty of comments about Lincoln’s appearance during and after the election.  Still, it’s fun to hear Newhart’s “What if?” which grafts the PR culture of 1960 to people and events 100 years earlier.  

Ms. Erin Mast is Curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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