Michelle Wasn't the First First Lady To Take Part in Oscars

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 25 2013 1:45 PM

Michelle Obama Wasn't the First First Lady To Take Part in the Oscars. So Who Was?

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Michelle Obama seen on screen at last night's Oscars awards show

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

You could almost hear the collective groan from certain corners of the Internet last night when Michelle Obama made her surprise appearance during the Oscars telecast to announce Argo as the year's Best Picture. Given that, it's probably worth reminding everyone that—regardless of what you thought about her specific performance—her presence on screen wasn't the first time a first lady has taken part in the Hollywood extravaganza.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

That honor—as far as my Internet sleuthing can find—goes to Laura Bush, who participated in this taped "What Do the Movies Mean to You?" segment for the 74th Academy Awards in 2002. (She shows up at around the 2:15 mark.)

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At least two presidents have also gotten in on the Oscars fun. The first was FDR, who delivered a radio address from the White House during the 13th Academy Awards. Here's how the Los Angeles Times recapped his remarks at the time:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the 13th Academy Awards ceremony, addressing the nation and the crowd at the Biltmore Hotel in a six-minute direct-radio-line speech from the White House. Roosevelt was the first president to participate in the Academy Awards. He declined a special invitation to Los Angeles because of the world's political climate but made the most of his time as the opening act, chatting about the Lend-Lease Act and thanking Hollywood for raising money for defense and promoting the "American way of life" in its movies.

Ronald Reagan also taped his own video message for the 53rd Academy Awards in 1981 (which, you may remember, were actually postponed 24 hours in the wake of an assassination attempt on his life). I'm having a hard time finding an archived write-up of his intro, but here's how the New York Times previewed it a few weeks ahead of the show:

[N]ow that Mr. Reagan has moved on to another profession, he's been invited to appear on the Academy Awards program on March 30. The President will remain in the White House and tape a brief greeting to the audience at the Oscar ceremonies, and his words will be televised early in the awards show.
''President Reagan was once a member of our industry and it seemed fitting for him to join us,'' said Norman Jewison, producer of this year's show.

So while Michelle's surprise appearance was the first time a president or first lady was ever given the honors of opening an envelope and announcing the winner, she certainly wasn't the first to get in on the Oscars action.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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