Dozens of news organizations signed a formal complaint in November 2013 criticizing the White House for restricting photojournalist access to certain presidential events. The White House under President Barack Obama often classifies events as “private” and closes them to the media, instead using its own photographers to issue “official” photos. In a way, it’s hard to blame these aides for wanting to carefully control the president’s image, in an era when anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can instantly circulate an unflattering photo worldwide. Still, it makes you wonder if some of the following historic presidential photos would get past the White House censors today. Some of these were taken during the presidential term, but a few pre- and post-presidency photos were so classic we just had to include them.
10. Young Lauren Bacall Joins Harry Truman For Risqué Photo
This photo made headlines worldwide in early 1945. That’s 20-year-old actress Lauren Bacall lounging atop a piano as Vice President Harry Truman plays a tune at a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C. Bacall’s PR agent, Charlie Enfield — the head of publicity for Warner Bros. — thought this would be a good idea. The photo didn’t hurt either of their careers; Truman would assume the presidency in a matter of weeks following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the then-unknown Bacall went on to a successful career as an actress. (Photo: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)
9. President Coolidge Channels His Inner Cowboy
That would be President Calvin Coolidge (right center) dressed in full cowboy regalia for a photo session. The 30th president had a great affinity for the American West. This photo was taken as the president vacationed in South Dakota for several months (!) in 1927. Yes, his pants really do say “CAL.” And according to several accounts, he wore this outfit at every available opportunity while in South Dakota that summer. (Photo: Library of Congress)
8. President Carter Lowers the Boom on His Wrestling Hero
President Jimmy Carter puts his wrestling hero, Mr. Wrestling II, in a headlock in this undated photo. Mr. Wrestling II — real name: John Walker — was a wrestling legend in the Southeast in the 1970s. Carter became such a fan, he even invited Mr. Wrestling II to his presidential inauguration in 1977. The wrestler declined because the Secret Service required he remove his mask; he did not want to reveal his secret identity. (Photo: Fair use)
7. President Taft’s Famous Girth Strains Water Buffalo
It’s unlikely that American voters today would choose a president as obese as William Howard Taft. Standing just under 6 feet tall, Taft’s weight peaked at around 340 pounds. Here, his belly is unmistakable as he rides a water buffalo during his stint as governor-general of the Phillippines in 1903, a few years before he moved into the White House.
6. President Ford Takes a Dip
Photographers line up for a shot as President Gerald Ford shows off the new White House swimming pool in 1975. Ford, a former college football star, was renowned for his athletic ability. (Photo: Ford Library)
5. Theodore Roosevelt, Hunter
There may never be another president with such a unique background as Theodore Roosevelt. He was a noted soldier, ornithologist, conservationist, author and the police chief of New York City. He also tried his hand at ranching, and was a prolific big-game hunter. Here, Roosevelt poses for an 1885 studio portrait in his hunting outfit, with his rifle and a Tiffany hunting knife. (Photo: Library of Congress)
4. President Harding Goes Golfing
President Warren Harding wore a blinding all-white outfit on this golf outing in New Hampshire in 1921. This does not look like a favorable lie. (Photo: Public Domain)
3. Oldest Existing Photo of a President Sold For 50 Cents
Taken in 1843, this image of John Quincy Adams is regarded as the oldest existing photo of a U.S. president, although there’s a catch — Adams had been out of office 14 years at the time. The photo has a strange history; according to WhiteHouseHistory.org, a college student stumbled across this image at an Atlanta antique store in the early 1960s, where he purchased it for 50 cents. It is now archived at the Smithsonian Institution. President William Henry Harrison had actually been photographed in office two years earlier, but that photo has apparently been lost — although who knows, it may one day surface in an antique store junk bin.
2. Young George H.W. Bush Meets Babe Ruth
No photo gallery of unusual presidential images would be complete without this gem. Here, the captain of the Yale baseball team, George H.W. Bush, greets the legendary Babe Ruth before a Yale game in 1946.
1. President Nixon Welcomes Elvis at the White House
It doesn’t get any stranger than this. Elvis Presley initiated this Dec. 21, 1970 meeting, writing a six-page, handwritten note to President Richard Nixon and delivering it to a White House security guard. In the note, the singer requested the president appoint him as a “Federal Agent at-Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, so he could help fight illegal drug problems. No such position existed, but no matter; President Nixon, well aware of how valuable an asset Elvis could be in influencing public opinion on drug use, agreed to meet the singer. The two met later that day, where the singer gave the president a most unusual gift — a Colt .45 pistol (and yes, Secret Service agents confiscated the weapon before Elvis met Nixon). Elvis requested the meeting be kept secret, but the Washington Post published the story a year later. Almost a half-century later, that surreal meeting still evokes wonder; according to Smithsonian.com, those Elvis/Nixon photos are the most requested images in the National Archives collection.
One More: 20th Century President Watches Lincoln’s Funeral Procession
This is a great image to be almost 150 years old, and the story behind it is even more remarkable. This is a photo of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession passing Broadway and Union Square in New York City in 1865. In the 1940s, as a photojournalist named Stefan Lorant compiled the book, Lincoln, a Picture Story of his Life, he discovered that the house to the left of the image belonged to the grandfather of future U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. At upper left you can see two small heads sticking out of the second-floor window. Lorant tracked down Roosevelt’s widow — who had witnessed the funeral procession herself as a little girl — and she confirmed that both 6-year-old Teddy and his brother, Elliott, had viewed the events from that window. Here’s a link to TheodoreRooseveltCenter.org where you can zoom in on the young future president. (Photo: Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site)