The new re-election campaign film Davis Guggenheim has produced for President Obama prompted Tevi Troy to look back at the history of celebrities and presidential politics. He documents his findings for the Washingtonian.

The track record of such celebrity-backed projects in presidential politics is mixed.

In 1852, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography for his Bowdoin classmate Franklin Pierce. Hawthorne was most famous for writing The Scarlet Letter, and his style was better suited to a depressing look at Puritanism than to an upbeat work of campaign salesmanship. In the preface, Hawthorne noted that “this biography is so far sanctioned by General Pierce, as it comprises a generally correct narrative of the principal events of his life, the author does not understand him as thereby necessarily indorsing [sic] all the sentiments put forth by himself in the progress of the work.” Yawn.

Another celebrity candidate-helper was Lew Wallace, author of the epic 1880 bestseller Ben-Hur, who served as a Union general in the Civil War and wrote a biography of his friend Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

The Harrison campaign bio led to rumors that Wallace was being considered for a Cabinet post–whispers that not only turned out to be untrue but that also reopened old wounds about Wallace’s poor leadership at the battle of Shiloh. …

… In 1992, the celebrity campaign product entered a new era with a film about Bill Clinton, The Man From Hope. Produced by Clinton’s Arkansas friends Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, it told of Clinton’s journey from a broken home to the governorship of Arkansas and the Democratic presidential nomination. The movie played a key role in establishing the Clinton campaign narrative, but that golden touch wasn’t transferable: Bloodworth-Thomason’s 2003 film, American Son, did little to boost the fledgling campaign of another Arkansan, General Wesley Clark.