Notwithstanding Oliver Cromwell’s plea to “Paint me as I am, warts and all!,” early Hollywood awarded acting honors to a near-dozen respectful, even adoring bio-pics. Arliss turned the moody, depressive Disraeli into a matchmaking Dutch uncle. Charles Laughton went cute, not cruel, as Henry VIII. Paul Muni sidestepped Louis Pasteur’s alleged data tampering, just as James Cagney’s George M. Cohan in 1942 ignored the opposition to Actors’ Equity that earned Cohan actors’ enmity.
Honoring real-life subjects virtually dried up for the next 40 years, with the rare exceptions going easy on the likes of George Patton, Thomas More, Fanny Brice and Annie Sullivan. (Who