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The Presidential Easter Eggs of “How to Fail”

What job more exemplifies success (and perhaps ultimate failure too) than the U.S. Presidency?

Filmmakers sometimes like to have a little fun and add "easter eggs" for their most astute fans to discover.  I, likewise, decided it would be cool to subtly sneak a reference to all 44 presidents within HOW TO FAIL's 372 pages and see if any one caught on.  Unfortunately, edits led to a few references ultimately being nixed and only 35 presidents ended up being represented in the final work (36 if we count Grover Cleveland's non-consecutive terms).

(Bolded presidents actually appear in the book.  Other presidents are mentioned how they appeared in previous drafts.)

George Washington - In Chapter 2 while arguing with Keith about dentistry being "overrated," Stu notes that when he becomes a Hollywood success:  “They'll cap my teeth. Fill my facehole with a bunch of big, fake chompers. Like Ben Affleck or Hilary Duff. Gorgeous and pricey mouth Chiclets that’ll make Gary Busey, Mr. Ed, and George Washington’s teeth look subtle by comparison.”

John Adams -- Stu dreams of his "How to Fail" life becoming the stuff of legend, with a Hollywood producer one day telling him:  "We'll do How to Fail: The Major Motion Picture and a How to Fail HBO miniseries which will be bigger than that suckfest John Adams one..." (Chapter 13)

Thomas Jefferson -- "People love to overrate those that fail in the class president who dies in a car wreck who was certain to be the next Thomas Jefferson." (Footchapter 6-B)

James Madison -- Both Madison Avenue and Madison Square Garden are mentioned in the book in a fairly cheap reference to Presidente Numero Tres.

James Monroe -- The happy hour bar Stu and his ex-girlfriend Ash loved to drink at is called J. Monroe's. (Chapter 6)

John Quincy Adams --  In the "I've Never Been Happier" deleted scene, Stu speculates on how his life could have turned out if he'd taken the road of most successes.  He wonders if he'd have become more conservative John Quincy Adams, the kind of prude that doesn't even appreciate a woman's shorn pubic hair.

Andrew Jackson -- Though both Michael and Phil Jackson are mentioned in "How to Fail," Andrew Jackson does not appear in the book.  In earlier drafts, Stu occasionally referred to $20 bills as "Andrew Jacksons" until I realized that made him appear very douchey.

Martin Van Buren -- Ash's best friend, struggling actress Patricia, works at Times Square novelty restaurant First Ladies where she serves food while dressed like Martin's wife Hannah Van Buren. (Chapter 6)

William Henry Harrison -- (see below)

John Tyler -- Stu reflects on all the useless shit he learned in high school:  "We read The Great Gatsby and learned about derivatives and the Doppler effect and 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too...'"  "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" being an influential Whig Party campaign song praising the William Henry Harrison/Tyler presidential ticket, while denigrating opponent Van Buren. (Footchapter 6-B)

James K. Polk -- When Stu visits his highly successful screenwriting pal Wesley out in Los Angeles, they go to a cheesy Hollywood Boulevard nightclub.  Stu hates it, but Wesley digs the quasi-celebrity scene:  “Jesse Owens' great-grandkids party here. And that chick over there is related to James K. Polk.”  (Chapter 11)

Zachary Taylor -- At Stu's job interview in Chapter 13, his potential future boss notes that he needs to talk to his company's "big wigs" though not, he joke, "the big Whigs like Zachary Taylor."

Millard Fillmore --  In earlier drafts, Chapter 13's job interview took place at the Millard Fillmore office building, a made-up building in midtown Manhattan.

Franklin Pierce -- Stu's successful friend Danny does banking work for the Franklin Pierce firm.  Also a nod to "American Psycho"'s Patrick Bateman who does similar mergers and acquisitions for Pierce & Pierce.

James Buchanan -- Stu doesn't care a lick about his own sordid past, noting that it hardly matters:  "You didn't have to be good at anything to be a politician. You only had to be good at getting elected.  Taft was obese, Buchanan was a closeted friend of Dorothy, JFK was a philanderer, Nixon cursed heavily, Bush drank, Obama did coke."  (Footchapter 6-B)

Abraham Lincoln -- Mentioned as "Honest Abe" in an anecdote about Ulysses S. Grant (see below)

Andrew Johnson --  Stu notes that Ash's former and future boyfriend Trevor enjoys some hipster activities as "playing kickball in Park Slope, drinking kombucha at neo-beatnik coffee houses, showing off his dilettante harmonica skills at The Hole in the Wall Tavern in Harlem, and ranting in Union Square about there not having been a truly small-D democratic president since Andrew Johnson." (Chapter 6)

Ulysses S. Grant -- Stu notes that he'd always dreamed of being a legendary drinker like "Your Humphrey Bogarts, Babe Ruths, Jackie Gleasons, and your U.S. Grant who, legend claims, was once accused by President Lincoln's advisers of being a drunkard, to which Honest Abe replied, 'I wish you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel to my other generals.'" (Footchapter 6-B)

Rutherford B. Hayes -- A strong advocate of not shaving himself, Stu considers Hayes to be in the top 1% of beard growers alongside Kenny Rogers, Ice Cube, and Sean Connery.  (Chapter 2)

James A. Garfield -- Keith's beloved cat is named James A. Garfield.

Chester Arthur -- "E-commerce came about so we'd never have to go into a bookstore and talk to the bookish nerds to acquire that well-regarded biography on Chester A. Arthur."  (Footchapter 12)

Grover Cleveland -- Stu is obsessed with knowledge, garnering most of it by relentlessly reading Wikipedia entries:  "I was so well-versed on so many topics. I read books and watched important films. If I didn't know about something, I read the Wikipedia entry on the subject. I hadn't known what subprime loans were. So I read the entry. Or, why Grover Cleveland was our 22nd and 24th president. So I read the entry. (He got screwed in the 1888 election.)"  (Chapter 2)

Benjamin Harrison --  In earlier drafts, Stu goes on a rant about how he eschews paper money (in favor of a debit card) and absolutely detests coinage, especially those of a low denomination:  "The penny's so worthless it doesn't deserve to have a great president on it.  Naw, it should have some presidential clown like Benji Harrison or Johnny Tyler."

William McKinley -- When Stu moves into the Ola Dubh building on the Upper West Side he finds himself living amongst people old enough "to answer 'where they were' when Czolgosz shot McKinley" referencing the 1901 assassination of the president.  (Chapter 8 )

Theodore Roosevelt -- In Part II when Stu works on improving his health by becoming a jogger, noting he's even thinking about running a half-marathon, his friend Keith wonders which:  "The Yonkers Fun Run? The Battery Park Classic? I've thought about doing the Teddy Roosevelt Road Race myself.”  (Footchapter 13-B)

William Howard Taft -- Stu's thoughts on perspective and how even being a president would have sucked back in the day: "I mean, if you or I was forced to live the exact same life that, say, President William Howard Taft lived back during his term, we would probably kill ourselves. He was the most famous man in America, probably one of the richest, most successful, and most coddled of his time, yet we would find his life utterly repugnant. No indoor plumbing, no cable television, no fast food, no porn. We would rather be a bum in the 2000s than Taft. Than probably every single president up to, oh, I don't know, JFK? Carter?! The internet wasn't even high-speed as recent as Clinton's second term."  (Chapter 3)

Woodrow Wilson -- In Footchapter 5-B "How to Live With Fucked Up Neighbors," Stu notes that his next-door neighbor looks just like a Dominican Woodrow Wilson, dubbing him "Maderow Wilson."

Warren G. Harding --  In earlier drafts of Chapter 2, after Stu discusses his theory of the "Catch 23," worrying that the Joseph Heller estate might sue him, he notes:  "I don't need any more lawsuits pending against me after that little kerfuffle I got into with the Warren G. Harding estate regarding the Teapot Dome Scandal."  Not funny.  Lame.  Nixed.

*Calvin Coolidge -- While a long ago drugged obsessed roommate of Stu's is named Calvin, old "Silent Cal" never actually appeared in ANY draft of "How to Fail."  That was to be my joke and he was to be the only president that didn't appear.  I was going to even give a prize to the first nerd who discovered this and emailed me.  Alas.

Herbert Hoover -- In earlier drafts of Chapter 11, Hollywood producer Mark Gordon notes that the "DON'T BE AN ARTIST" sign on his desk is his version of "The Buck Stop Here."  Though he makes an egregious error in claiming that buck sign was on Herbert Hoover's desk when it was, actually, of course, on Truman's.

Franklin D. Roosevelt --  Stu notes that The Great Depression look bearable:  "Those Depression-era movies never looked too bad to me. A lot of waiting on soup lines and drinking potato vodka while leaning against a building. I could handle that. Except for all of FDR's radio chats interrupting my favorite shows."  (Chapter 4)

Harry S Truman --  In earlier drafts, Stu constantly mocks politicians that roll up the sleeves of their dress shirts when they're out and about with blue collar folks trying to be "of the people."  Stu notes:  "Do you really think Truman was doing that shit [rolling up his shirt sleeves] during his whistlestops?!"

Dwight D. Eisenhower -- Ash's best friend, struggling actress Patricia, works at Times Square novelty restaurant First Ladies where one time bartender Mamie Eisenhower makes Stu a terrific cocktail.  (Chapter 6)

John F. Kennedy -- JFK is mentioned three times in the book, both as a notable philanderer and airport.  His brother Robert Kennedy is mentioned in the second line of the entire book:

They say some men see things that are and say, “Why?” Robert Kennedy dreamed things that never were and said, “Why not?” Well, I see my life unfolding and I just say, “Why me?”

Lyndon B. Johnson -- Stu notes that the famous quote “Those that don't recall history are doomed to repeat it" has been incorrectly attributed to LBJ among others.  (Footchapter 6-B)

Richard Nixon --  Stu figures it was harder for Adam to not prematurely ejaculate with Eve being that he couldn't turn his mind to things like "baseball and walking the dog and Richard Nixon naked."  (Footchapter 6-B)

Gerald Ford -- Stu wonders if books will one day be written completely in emoticons, figuring  :O 😀 😛 :X 🙁 could eventually be an entire chapter from some new Gerald Ford biography, Swell Guy.  (Epilogue)

Jimmy Carter -- (see Taft)

Ronald Reagan -- Stu dreams of one day meeting his mysterious nemesis, film producer Mark Gordon, figuring him to have "a luscious head of Ronald Reagan hair even though he must be fifty-eight or so."  (Chapter 11)

George Bush --To appease his father, Stu makes the most over-the-top resume ever which includes "undergrad degrees from Princeton and Oxford, law school at Harvard, medical school at Columbia, business school at NYU, drama school at Yale. Personal recommendations from Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush, Coach K, and Ringo Starr."  (Chapter 12)

Bill Clinton -- In Chapter 6, Stu chastises himself for having such marriage-phobia issues when people such as Dennis Rodman, Kurt Cobain, and Bill Clinton were able to handle the institution.  Hillary Clinton is also mentioned in "How to Fail," most notably when Stu and his Lesbian Wingman go searching for chicks at Hill's presidential announcement party, meeting Brandi there.

George W. Bush -- From Chapter 3:  "Being middle class is the worst for a failure. If you're an upper class failure, your parents' wealth, connections, and pure unadulterated nepotism can still allow you to end up on top (see: Bush, George W.) or, at least, enjoying the good life of promiscuous sex and substance abuse (see: any of the twenty-first century reality show retards whose fathers worked their asses off at legit professions [attorney, hotelier, gold medalist, etc] so that their children could go to Hollywood clubs every night to do coke and fuck each other [see: Kardashian, Kim; Hilton, Paris; Jenner, Brody; et al])."

Barack Obama -- Mentioned countless times throughout the book (Stu notes of Ash's once and future boyfriend Trevor that he's "the kind of guy who still wears an Obama pin even though the election has been over for nearly a year, still so proud that he voted for the man."), the book was supposed to actually finish with this quote from our esteemed current president:

“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition.  It asks too little of yourself.  And it will leave you unfulfilled.”

Help make me some unfulfilled, unambitious bucks by buying "How to Fail:  The Self-Hurt Guide."


The How to Fail Literary Bar Crawl


How to Make God Hate You

The Failure Intervention

"Fuck Yous"


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