“I was struck at how similar the 1920 election was and how it contained so many parallels to the current political environment,” Matthau told Variety.
Matthau, son of the late Walter Matthau, has optioned David Pietrusza’s book “1920: The Year of the Six Presidents” through his Matthau Company. He noted that the series would run concurrently with the 100-year anniversary of the 1920 election.
“1920 is considered the first modern election and one of the most dramatic,” Matthau said. “Six once and future presidents — Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt — jockeyed for the White House. Amazing characters, amazing roles for actors.”
Harding, a Republican Senator from Ohio, defeated Democratic Governor James M. Cox of Ohio in the election, which took place two years after the end of World War I and two months after the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Harding’s running mate was Coolidge, who succeeded Harding after the latter died in 1923. Cox’s running mate was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Wilson had been seeking a third term but could not win the nomination due to the rise of isolationism. Teddy Roosevelt had been a frontrunner for the Republican nomination but died in 1919. Hoover also sought the Republican nomination.
During the election, Republicans outspent Democrats by 4 to 1, as voters witnessed the first extensive newsreel coverage. Pietruzsa’s book contends that America had become an urban nation as automobiles, mass production, chain stores, and easy credit transformed the economy with voters dealing with the Red Scare, jailed dissidents, and Prohibition, which had begun in 1920.
“In 1920, the big issues were terrorism, woman’s rights as they voted for the first time, anti-immigrant hysteria, isolationism, manipulation of a new form of media called radio to swing the election, and a President who was elected by appealing to ‘small town America,’ ‘normalcy’ and ‘anti-intellectualism’ but who surrounded himself with crooked cronies and a 17-year-old mistress,” Matthau said.
Matthau closed the TV rights deal with Pietrusza’s reps on July 13 and is at the early stages of seeking actors and a director. He admits that he’s been inspired by the success with his friend Jay Roach and his HBO political series political dramas “Recount” (2008), “Game Change” (2012) and “All the Way” (2016). Matthau and Roach both graduated in the 1986 USC School of Cinema-Television.
Matthau’s directing credits include “Freaky Deaky,” based upon Elmore Leonard’s book and which starred Christian Slater and Crispin Glover; and “The Grass Harp,” with a cast that included his father, Piper Laurie, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Mary Steenburgen, Nell Carter, and Edward Furlong. He made his feature directorial debut at age 24 with the comedy “Doin Time on Planet Earth” and is in post-production on “The Book of Leah,” starring Armand Assante.
(Pictured: Charlie Matthau, left, and his wife Ashley L. Anderson)