American Presidential Inaugurations

Hear the stories behind American Presidential Inaugurations from The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

By Andreas FeiningerLIFE Photo Collection


Since 1997, the Television Academy Foundation’s The Interviews: An Oral History of Television (formerly the Archive of American Television) has been conducting in-depth, videotaped oral history interviews with television professionals, including actors, writers, editors, and journalists. These interviews explore the lives and careers of the interviewees, and often touch on important historical moments and movements.

Gathered here are stories from interviewees who covered presidential inaugurations for news outlets and who directed, produced, or designed inaugural galas. Their stories are supplemented with images from LIFE's photo collection.

Don Mischer on producing presidential inaugurationsThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Producer/director Don Mischer shares what he has learned over the years producing presidential inaugurations:

"Your goal is always to try and bring the country together. Almost always you have just ended a political fight that had very, very negative aspects to it, a lot of rancor and hostility and all that. But you always want to kind of bring these sides together. Let's reaffirm the fact that we're all Americans and whether we voted for this president or not, let's come together and go forward positively and make our country better."

Watch Don Mischer’s full interview where he tells stories from his career producing events from the Emmy Awards to Superbowl Halftime shows.

Robert Trout on FDR's first inaugurationThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Correspondent Robert Trout, nicknamed "the iron man of radio," talks about FDR’s first inauguration in 1933, making special note of the hope President Roosevelt gave to people in the midst of the Depression:

"Outgoing President Hoover looking so glum and President Roosevelt looking so happy drove down the avenue together in an open car to the Capitol...[President Roosevelt] looked as if he were having the time of his life...and as more than one person has said, the whole thing turned around right then and there, right in the avenue, right that day, at the inaugural parade."

Watch Robert Trout’s full interview, which spans his full career from introducing FDR’s fireside chats to covering the turbulent events of the 1960’s.

Inauguration (1961-01-20) by Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

William Klages on lighting the JFK inaugural galaThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Lighting designer William Klages recalls his work on President Kennedy’s inaugural gala, including working with Frank Sinatra who produced the event. Though a success, the evening did not exactly turn out as they had planned:

"Of course we all know what happened: there was a big snow storm and nobody came. There was a half-inch of snow in Washington D.C., which completely killed the city, and they had about two-hundred people in the Washington audience."

Watch William Klages' full interview, which spans his career starting in the early days of television.

James Wall on a mishap during Eric Sevareid's coverage of an inaugurationThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Stage manager/performer James Wall tells the story of a mishap that occurred in a temporary studio on a rainy day during Eric Sevareid’s broadcast of a presidential inauguration:

"We put this piece of plastic up and Eric is talking, and all of the sudden, I look at Eric and I saw boom, a drop of water hit his nose. I looked up and this plastic has filled and there's a huge bubble of water right where this drip is. Now, what do you do? Because this is live, this is don't have take two."

Watch James Wall’s full interview, which spans his career from acting and stage-managing on Broadway to being a stage manager for news programs and his work on Captain Kangaroo.

Marty Pasetta on directing Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan's inaugural specialsThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Director/producer Marty Pasetta reflects on directing both President Carter’s and President Reagan’s inaugural specials, making note of the goal of the event:

"There's so many people from the Presidential committee there, they're going to make sure that there's not going to be anything that's going to be done wrong either. Because you're not there to embarrass somebody. You're there to celebrate. You always have to keep that in mind."

Watch Marty Pasetta's full interview where he discusses his career achievements including directing The Academy Awards and the special Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii.

Roosevelt Inauguration A-1-2 Spectators In Rain 3-5 John And Mrs Roosevelt Pushing Through Crowd B-1-2 Spectators In Rain 3-5 President In Reviewing Stand (1937-01) by Unknown PhotographerLIFE Photo Collection

Robert Trout on FDR's second inaugurationThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Correspondent Robert Trout discusses FDR’s second inauguration in 1937, which was the nation’s first in January and, unfortunately, an extremely rainy day. Trout recalls a moment he witnessed on the platform before the ceremony began:

"Mrs. Roosevelt came in and sat down on the first row. Most of the chairs were empty. All the people who fought so hard for invitations didn’t come, it was too, too wet. She had a little bouquet of violets and she put them down on the seat next her and they were promptly washed away and floated down past me. I made a dive for them and missed. They were going too fast."

Watch Robert Trout’s full interview, which spans his full career from introducing FDR’s fireside chats to covering the turbulent events of the 1960’s.

Danette Herman on working on inaugural galasThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Talent executive Danette Herman discusses the many presidential inaugural galas she has worked on:

“I did [Jimmy Carter's], which was the first actual television show that had been done from the Kennedy Center. I did the inaugural gala for Ronald Reagan, the one that Frank Sinatra produced, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush ‘41’ that Don Mischer produced. And Bill Clinton’s first one that Gary Smith produced."

Watch Danette Herman's full interview, where she discusses the many specials she’s worked on throughout her career from The Kennedy Center Honors to the Emmy Awards.

John Shaffner on speaking to Hillary Clinton the night before Bill's inaugurationThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Production designer John Shaffner describes a moment he shared with Hillary Clinton backstage at an event the night before Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, which Shaffner designed. At first, Shaffner was left speechless:

"So I'm standing here and there's Hillary. And there's nobody else there. And the singer's going on out there on the stage and I looked at her and I have no idea what to say to Hillary Clinton."

Watch John Shaffner’s full interview to hear the stories of his career in television art direction from designing for Star Search to The Big Bang Theory.

George Schlatter on producing George W. Bush's first inaugurationThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Producer George Schlatter tells the story of how he came to produce George W. Bush’s first inauguration in 2001 and the cultural clashes that occurred between the staff of the conservative president-elect and the much more liberal Schlatter:

"I said, 'Excuse me, but we're in the city with the largest black population anywhere in the United States, and I do not see one person of color here. And we may be three or four miles away from the nearest Jew. So the next time I come back here, I'd love to see like three or four brothers and a half a dozen yarmulkes.' The kid next to me says, 'Mr. Schlatter, how do you spell yarmulke?' And I said, 'This is going to be tough.’”

Watch George Schlatter's full interview, where he discusses producing programs from The Judy Garland Show to George W. Bush’s Inauguration Special in 2001.

Credits: Story

The Television Academy Foundation's The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Jenni Matz, Director
Adrienne Faillace, Producer
Jenna Hymes, Manager, Exhibit curator, Video editor
Nora Bates, Production Coordinator
John Dalton, Cataloguer

Additional video editing by the Pop Culture Passionistas, sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, who have made a career based on their love of pop culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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