Sarah Kerr

Sarah Kerr is a writer, and former culture editor at The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Abe, Daniel ... and Henry

Before Daniel Day-Lewis played Lincoln, another actor's portrayal was legendary. On Henry Fonda's forgotten greatness.

(Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)
When early trailers were posted online for Lincoln , the new biopic from Steven Spielberg, the consensus was that star Daniel Day-Lewis, known for the research he pours into perfectionist transformations, was finding his way into character through the voice. Day-Lewis as Lincoln sounded nasal, deliberate, a bit pleading, and surprisingly high-pitched. In instant homage, Jimmy Fallon took a clip from the trailer—the president, urging a group of black-clad 19th-century men sitting around a table to make a change “now, now, NOW!”—and redubbed it as Pee-wee Herman. Compare Day-Lewis’s alien timbre to the ease of Henry Fonda, finding one of his first great film roles in director John Ford’s research-free Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). Fonda played the future president during a fictionalized period in his youth, when he grew from a bumpkin into a knowing Illinois lawyer on his way to being a visionary. Fonda’s natural voice was low and slow, a somber yet...