There’s something in the air this President’s Day. Call it Millard Fillmania. You’ve probably all seen the recent car commercial offering a soap-on-a-rope effigy of the forgotten statesman touted to be the first to take a bath in the White House. (This oft-repeated “fact” was actually a sly hoax perpetrated by H.L. Mencken, by the way). Then there’s John Blumenthal’s oddball romance, Millard Filmore, Mon Amour, which tells of a deeply neurotic millionaire working on a massive biography of the man. In addition to being a close runner-up among eye-catching presidential titles to Lydia Millet’s George Bush: Dark Prince of Love, it surely has one of the most improbable subject headings in history: Fillmore, Millard, 1800-1874 — Influence — Fiction. But the real tipping point for the Millard Fillmore revival has to be George Pendle’s delightfully daft The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President. Taking Mencken’s antic impulse and running with it, Pendle brings forth little-known aspects of our nation’s 13th president, such as his piratical origins, his minstrel show days, his curious disguise during the battle for the Alamo, and his invention of the T-Shirt, all culled from Fillmore’s recently rediscovered “napkin doodles.” Not since Forrest Gump has one man done so much for an ungrateful world. And surely it isn’t just my being a librarian that has me in stitches over the index, with its helpful entries for “Clothes – eating of, 7-8. -refusal to wear, 14. Commas 1-243. Conclusions – jumped to, 34. – leapt to, 189.” etc. No worries: the library still has plenty of real books about Millard for kids doing reports on him. And those presidential napkin doodles? We have those, too.
A quick update for President’s Day: Fillmore Fever continues to sweep the nation. Check out this cool Waiting-for-Guffmanesque Millard Fillmore Musical, The Accidental President, on Youtube, including such numbers as No One Will Remember Me, How Lonesome This World Is, Out There, and my personal favorite, It Has to Have a Window Seat!