Poor Millard Fillmore. He's been a running gag for years. Among the crop of generally undistinguished mid-19th-century presidents who served between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, Fillmore is often considered, if not the worst, then certainly the most colorless, of all chief executives. George Pendle's new book, The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President, only adds to Fillmore's perceptual woes. In this lampoon of formal presidential biographies, Pendle claims to have been spurred on by the discovery in Africa of never-before-seen Fillmore journals, including letters and napkin doodles. (Did paper napkins exist in 1850? Did doodling?) Pendle hits all the general chronological marks of Fillmore's life, but he fabricates the particulars in wildly imaginative fashion, complete with copious, addlepated footnotes that affirm the book's comic intent.

Good ol' Millard: He puts in an appearance at the Alamo (but dressed in drag, thus avoiding all those murderous Mexicans); he duels with Old Hickory (it never really happened); he proves to be an unheralded inventor (no way); and he also attends Ford's Theatre with Honest Abe as a bonneted stand-in for the First Lady (and picks up John Wilkes Booth's derringer and hands it back to the assassin).

To the very end, Pendle's Fillmore is a figure of whimsy, on the day of his death having great difficulty doing his favorite animal impersonations, being forced to confine himself to cows and sheep. The Remarkable Millard Fillmore is esoteric stuff, but recommended highly for history buffs or those steeped in Fillmoriana (an ever-growing precious few).

comments powered by Disqus