SNL's all-time top 10 presidential portrayals
By ED BARK
The late Gerald Ford just happened to be president when Saturday Night Live came crashing onto the scene in October 1975.
So it wasn't his fault that Chevy Chase became famous by portraying him as a dense bumbler/stumbler. Ford took it all in stride and even taped an opening for a 1976 show hosted by his press secretary, Ron Nessen. Some argue, though, that Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, combined with the merciless lampooning on SNL, were enough to cost him the presidency in a very close election with Democrat Jimmy Carter.
We'll never really know how big a role SNL played in Ford's defeat. But we do know that impressions of presidents and presidential candidates continue to play key roles on a show that's now spanned six administrations.
Chase, for one, never bothered trying to look like Ford. Nor did Dan Aykroyd in his mockeries of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. The surviving half of The Blues Brothers even wore a mustache at times.
Perhaps the least-remembered impression came from Randy Quaid, who gamely tried to do Ronald Reagan during his lone SNL season (1985-86). Fellow cast member Terry Sweeney fared better as Nancy Reagan.
As Ford's sendoff unfolds in several stages, here's a Top 10 countdown of SNL's presidential sendups. Losing candidates are fair game, too.
10. Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis -- He makes the cut based on a single lasting impression. In a 1988 presidential debate sketch, Lovitz's deadpan reaction to a George Bush non-answer put the campaign in a crystal clear light. "I can't believe I'm losin' to this guy," said "The Duke" after a noisy hydraulic lift gave him an embarrassing boost at his podium.
9. Dan Aykroyd as Jimmy Carter -- He had the goofy grin down to a science, gifting viewers with a foolproof sight gag that regularly redeemed whatever had been written for him. Honorable mention: Aykroyd's Bob Dole, in which his scowl closed the deal.
8. Norm Macdonald as Bob Dole -- A classic Real World sketch had a trigger-tempered Dole booting roommates out of his cherished chair and also chastizing them for eating his peanut butter. Big Mac also scored with a Dole Halloween sketch in which he reluctantly dispensed candy.
7. Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford -- Mostly it was history-making. But imagine if Darrell Hammond had done Ford without as many pratfalls and with ample makeup.
6. Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan -- Remember the time Hartman played the Great Communicator as an all-business, clandestine world mastermind who hated the idea of putting on an act for your basic Oval Office photo op? It's still an all-timer.
5. Darrell Hammond as Al Gore -- His condescending, stiff-as-a-board demeanor in a "lock box" sketch later was shown to the real-life candidate in hopes of making him see what others had seen during Gore's first TV faceoff with George W. Bush. Hysterical from start to finish.
4. (tie) Hartman and Hammond as Bill Clinton -- Darrell looked more the part and better-nailed the sing-song voice inflections. But Hartman had the funnier sketch when he overloaded himself with junk food during a Clinton campaign stop at McDonald's.
3. Dana Carvey as George Bush Sr. -- Wouldn't be prudent to put him anywhere but near the top. Carvey's exaggerated hand mannerisms and wimpified voice fully captured a very difficult president to imitate.
2. Will Ferrell as George W. Bush -- Say no more than "strategery." Then add a letter-perfect smirk and a reliably befuddled demeanor. Daddy Bush was an SNL tour de force, but Dubya topped 'im.
1. Dana Carvey as Ross Perot -- His world class sendup of the pontificating Texas billionaire clicked like a bourbon 'n' branch toast at the Cattleman's Ball. Carvey had it all -- the makeup, the deep-fried voice patterns, the cock-o'-the walk body language. A highways and byways sketch co-starring Hartman as dazed running mate James Stockdale is still a five-star hoot and howl. Carvey met his perfect match, and knew exactly what to do with him.