'The Post': 16 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations

8:30 AM 12/22/2017

by Courtney Idasetima

Steven Spielberg's film, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, follows the events that led to the 1971 decision to publish the 'Pentagon Papers' in The Washington Post.

The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, is based on a true story that explores the decision of The Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katharine Graham's efforts to publish stories on the Pentagon Papers, classified documents that revealed a secret history of decision-making during the Vietnam War in 1971.

The case, which went before the Supreme Court, is considered a triumph for freedom of the press, as justices voted against restraining the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

Before The Post hits theaters Friday, read more about the cast, who they played and how the actors prepared for their roles.

  • Kay Graham, portrayed by Meryl Streep

    Katharine (Kay) Graham was a publisher at The Washington Post and chairman of The Washington Post Co.

    She was born in New York City on June 16, 1917, and graduated from the University of Chicago.

    Before transforming the paper into what it is today, Graham, daughter of former Post owner Eugene Meyer, was a socialite. Her father had given her husband, Philip L. Graham, control of the paper when he died. Graham's husband committed suicide, leaving the paper with his wife, who, at the time, just saw the publication as something to hold on to for her children, but she wound up doing so much more.

    One of her first significant actions was picking Ben Bradlee to be managing editor of the Post in 1965 and then executive editor in 1968. She, in concert with Bradlee, made the decision to print stories about the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Despite being told by lawyers to hold off on posting the stories, Graham made the decision to publish.

    She is remembered as a powerful female leader in the journalism field. She was a Pulitzer Prize winner and the country's first female news publisher.

    On July 17, 2001, she died at age 84 in Boise, Idaho, after suffering a head injury due to a fall on a sidewalk, after which she was hospitalized and never regained consciousness.

    Oscar winner Meryl Streep plays Graham in the film, working alongside Tom Hanks on the big screen for the first time.

    For her performance, Streep is nominated for a Golden Globe award in the best actress in a drama category.

  • Ben Bradlee, portrayed by Tom Hanks

    Ben Bradlee was the executive editor of The Washington Post who led the newsroom for 26 years. He is remembered for transforming the paper into what it is today, reporting on topics like the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandal and President John F. Kennedy. One of his most notable decisions in his role, and the subject of this movie, was his decision, made with then-publisher Kay Graham, to publish stories based on information from the Pentagon Papers.

    The Post had done months of research based on top-secret documents to disclose the information to the public about the Pentagon Papers, but The New York Times was enjoined by a federal court from printing more after the paper released its first story on the scandal. Former editor Daniel Ellsberg gave the information to The Washington Post, and its staff worked through obstacles to get the stories to the public. The lawyers they contacted were opposed to representing them. Despite that, the editors still published the information. Days after the publication went to post, the Supreme Court ruled that the newspapers could not be prevented from printing information on the Pentagon Papers.

    Bradlee resigned July 31, 1991, but continued to be remembered for his work and services. In 2007, he was awarded Legion d'honneur, France's highest decoration. In 2013, he was praised by President Barack Obama for the work he did during his time at The Washington Post, including the Pentagon Papers stories, as well as the Watergate stories, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    On Oct. 21, 2014, at the age of 93, Bradlee died in his Washington, D.C., home from natural causes.

    After portraying Capt. Chesley Sullenberger in 2016's Sully, Hanks took another stab at playing a real-life person, as Ben Bradlee, in The Post.

    During The Hollywood Reporter's Actors Roundtable, Hanks said, "I was competing with Jason Robards because he played Ben Bradlee [and won an Oscar for the 1976 movie All the President's Men]. He owns that role. And I was actually given permission to forget about it by Bradlee himself. I watched all the video I could of him, and he gave quite a number of interviews and talked about" — he breaks into Bradlee's voice — "'Well, ya know, they made that movie, and every day someone comes up and says, "Well, ya don't look like Jason Robards!" There's been a lot of Hamlets, a lot of Richard IIIs, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a lot of Ben Bradlees."'

    For his performance, Hanks is nominated for a Golden Globe in the best actor in a motion picture drama category.

  • Tony Bradlee, portrayed by Sarah Paulson

    Antoinette “Tony” Bradlee, played by Sarah Paulson, was the second wife of Ben Bradlee. The couple met in 1954 while Tony was on a European trip with her sister and Bradlee had been the chief European correspondent for Newsweek. The couple divorced in the mid-1970s.

    Bradlee was born in New York on Jan. 15, 1924, to a politically active family. She graduated from Vassar College in 1945.

    On Nov. 9, 2011, Bradlee, 87, died at the Ingleside at Rock Creek retirement community in Washington, D.C. According to her daughter, Rosamond Casey, she had dementia.

  • Ben Bagdikian, portrayed by Bob Odenkirk

    Ben Bagdikian was a journalist with a key role in the publication of the Pentagon Papers for The Post. He went undercover to collect the physical papers from Daniel Ellsberg in Boston. When he arrived, the suitcases he brought could not contain all the documents, so he had to fill cardboard boxes as well. He was the person who delivered the papers to the home of then-editor Ben Bradlee.

    In 1972, he became The Post's second ombudsman. In addition to his involvement with the Pentagon Papers, Bagdikian led an investigation for The Washington Post about the conditions of prisons in the United States. He went to great lengths to uncover the story with a first-person account, going undercover by portraying a murderer for six days to get the most accurate information.

    Bagdikian was born Jan. 30, 1920, in a town then known as Marash in present-day Turkey. His family immigrated to the United States when he was young and settled in Massachusetts. He graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., in 1941, and started working at a newspaper in Springfield, Mass. He worked in New York and was a faculty member and dean of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. 

    Bagdikian died in his home in Berkeley at the age of 96 on March 11, 2016.

    Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk portrays Bagdikian in the movie.

  • Fritz Beebe, portrayed by Tracy Letts

    Frederick "Fritz" Beebe, portrayed by Tracy Letts, was the chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co. A lawyer by trade, he entered the newspaper industry at age 47. He got exposure to The Post through working for the family of Eugene Meyer, handling estate planning and corporate legal matters.

    When Eugene Meyer and Graham's husband died, Beebe and Kay Graham had control of the company. Graham believed that Beebe brought a "breadth of vision that included editorial as well as business judgment" to the company.

    He died of complications from cancer at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York on May 1, 1973, at age 59.

  • Robert McNamara, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood

    Robert McNamara was one of the most influential defense secretaries of the 20th century. He served during the terms of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, from 1961 to 1968, and oversaw hundreds of military missions, thousands of nuclear weapons and billions of dollars in military spending and foreign arms sales.

    He believed that the Vietnam War was futile and had a big part in compiling top-secret information on the war in documents known as the Pentagon Papers, which later were published in The Washington Post. 

    McNamara was born June 9, 1916, in San Francisco. He is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley. Before becoming the eighth secretary of defense, he worked at Harvard Business School, Waterhouse & Co. and Ford Motor Co.

    He died at age 93 on July 6, 2009, after struggling with health problems.

    Bruce Greenwood plays McNamara in the film.

  • Meg Greenfield, portrayed by Carrie Coon

    Meg Greenfield, born Mary Ellen Greenfield — the name Meg was derived from her initials — was born Dec. 27, 1930, in Seattle. Greenfield graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in Massachusetts. She was the editor of The Washington Post's editorial page. Her career as a reporter, editorialist and influential opinion maker spanned four decades.

    Like others at The Post at the time, she was involved in publishing stories about the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal.  

    She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and was presented with honorary degrees from Princeton University, Smith College, Williams College, Wesleyan College and Georgetown University.

    Greenfield showed her loyalty and commitment to The Post, continuing to work even as she battled lung cancer. She published her last column March 15, 1999, and died May 13 of that year.

    Tony Award-nominee Carrie Coon plays Meg Greenfield in the film.

  • Daniel Ellsberg, portrayed by Matthew Rhys

    A native of Chicago and a graduate of Harvard University, Daniel Ellsberg is a lecturer, writer and activist. Ellsberg was employed by the RAND Corporation, a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer. He had a major role in the disclosure of the top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, now known as the Pentagon Papers.

    In 1969, Ellsberg photocopied the 7,000-page study and gave it to the Senate foreign relations committee. In 1971, he went a step further and distributed the information to The New York Times, The Washington Post and 17 other newspapers.

    He went to trial, on 12 felony counts, facing a possible sentence of 115 years, but that was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him. This led to the convictions of multiple White House aides.

    The Americans actor Matthew Rhys plays Daniel Ellsberg in the movie.

  • Lally Graham Weymouth, portrayed by Alison Brie

    Elizabeth "Lally" Graham Weymouth is a journalist and member of the Graham family, which had an 81-year run with The Washington Post. Weymouth has served as the senior associate editor of The Washington Post since 1986. Before her time at the Post, she served as a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times and also worked as a freelance writer for New York magazine, Esquire and other publications.

    GLOW star Alison Brie plays the role of Kay Graham's daughter in the film.

  • Roger Clark, portrayed by Jesse Plemons

    Roger Clark, played by Jesse Plemons, was a senior litigator and partner at the Washington law firm of Rogers & Wells. His career, which spanned almost 40 years, included newspaper cases and cases involving white-collar crime, among others. He acted as counsel for The Washington Post in 1971.

    Clark worked on a team of lawyers who at first advised editors of The Washington Post either not to publish stories based on the study or to wait until final resolution of the injunction against The New York Times, which published an article on the papers and went to court before the Post. Despite the advice, the editors published the articles, and Clark defended the Post's position against U.S. government petitions for an injunction.

    Clark was born in Chicago. He attended the University of Arizona and the University of Illinois, where he received a law degree in 1958. Following law school, he worked in Washington as a trial lawyer. He was also an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University from 1961-68. 

    He died April 12, 1997, from pancreatic cancer in a hospice of Methodist Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Howard Simons, portrayed by David Cross

    Howard Simons was a managing editor of The Washington Post, a position he held for 13 years. He helped direct the Post's investigation of the 1972 Watergate scandal.

    The Albany, N.Y., native held a bachelor of arts degree from Union College in Schenectady and a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

    Simons served during the Korean War and became a science reporter in Washington for numerous news organizations. In 1961, he became a science writer for The Washington Post. In 1966, he became the assistant managing editor of the publication and in 1971 became the managing editor.

    His next endeavor was the role of curator for the Nieman Foundation. The foundation sponsors a prestigious sabbatical program in which mid-career journalists are given a year of study at Harvard University. He maintained this position until May 1989, a month before he died, on June 13, 1989, in a hospice of Methodist Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla.

    David Cross plays Simons in the film.

  • Anthony “Tony” Essaye, portrayed by Zach Woods

    Tony Essaye is a lawyer who represented The Washington Post.

    Silicon Valley star Zach Woods plays Essaye in the film.

  • Philip Geyelin, portrayed by Pat Healy

    Philip Geyelin was the editorial page editor of The Washington Post who presided over the page during the era of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. He is notable for his hires on the paper, which include Meg Greenfield, who succeeded him as editorial page editor, and his work in moving the editorial policy against the war in Vietnam, which led him to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1970.

    The Pennsylvania native graduated from Yale University in just three years. He enlisted in the war before jumping into a career in journalism. He worked for the Washington bureau of the Associated Press and then at The Wall Street Journal, where he served as bureau chief in Paris and London and reported from Vietnam in 1966, before getting hired by Post publisher Katharine Graham in 1967. He moved up in the ranks and became the editorial page editor of the publication, a position he held from 1968-79.

    Geyelin was close friends with both Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham. He died Jan. 9, 2004, of a heart attack at his home in Washington. He was survived by his wife and four children.

    Pat Healy plays Philip Geyelin in the film.

  • Abe Rosenthal, portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg

    Abe Rosenthal was a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent who became the executive editor of The New York Times. He spent most of his 60-year career at the Times. When in charge, he led the paper's global news operations through 17 years of record growth, directing coverage of major news stories that included the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal.

    Rosenthal died May 10, 2006, in Manhattan at age 84, two weeks after suffering a stroke.

    Michael Stuhlbarg portrays Abe Rosenthal in the film.

  • Judith Martin, portrayed by Jessie Mueller

    Judith Martin, commonly known by her pen name, Ms. Manners, is a journalist and author. Since the 1970s, she has written a column about etiquette printed in newspapers worldwide.

    Broadway star Jessie Mueller makes her feature film debut as Judith Martin.

  • Don Graham, portrayed by Stark Sands

    The son of Katharine Graham and Phil Graham, Don Graham is the chairman of Graham Holdings Co., formerly known as The Washington Post Co.. He is the brother of Lally Weymouth.

    Stark Sands portrays Don Graham in the film.