8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter

2012-37 END Young Mr. Lincoln H

The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history.

For Lincoln, which had a surprise sneak preview Oct. 8 at the New York Film Festival, Steven Spielberg has Daniel Day-Lewis in the starring role; in 1939, John Ford chose Henry Fonda. Starring in Young Mr. Lincoln -- still one of the most iconic portrayals of the 16th president -- was a turning point in the actor's career. It was the first time Fonda, then 34, had worked with Ford, then 45. The pair eventually did nine movies together, but the relationship didn't start smoothly. Fonda considered Lincoln "a god" and wasn't convinced he could pull off the role even after a successful screen test with a false nose and wart. Ford, who used profanity liberally, reacted by saying, "What the f-- is all this shit about you not wanting to play this part?" He then pointed out that the pressure would be less as the film was about Lincoln as a struggling lawyer and not the president in the midst of the Civil War. Ford's concept was "to give the feeling that even as a young man, you could sense there was going to be something great about the man." Despite his hesitation, Fonda nailed the role. The Hollywood Reporter's review said the actor's "transformation is so realistic as to nullify even a momentary hesitancy over accepting him for what he appears to be." Ford and Fonda made their next two films together, Drums Along the Mohawk and 1940's The Grapes of Wrath, which would bring Ford his second Oscar for directing and Fonda his first nomination as best actor. Although he became one of Hollywood's great actors (he was given the sixth AFI Life Achievement Award in 1978), Fonda didn't win an Oscar until 1981's On Golden Pond.