Magazine article The New Yorker

Spitting Image

Magazine article The New Yorker

Spitting Image

Article excerpt

Spitting Image

Alec Baldwin

Jim Warlick was peering into a dark tractor-trailer parked in an airplane hangar in northeast Georgia. Inside was a four-thousand-pound Oval Office, broken down into pieces--doorways, windows, curved walls--along with its attendant furniture: two sofas, several chairs, the Resolute desk, lamps, china, and a replica of Frederic Remington's bronze sculpture "The Bronco Buster," beloved by Ronald Reagan. Also, multiple photomurals re-creating the view outside the real Oval Office's windows in every season.

"The office is to scale, down to the inch," Warlick said, shining a flashlight on the assemblage, which he owns. "Twenty-nine by thirty-six feet. Takes about six people to handle it."

Warlick, who is sixty-five, owns a company called American Presidential Experience, which traffics in authentic and fake political artifacts. He grew up in North Carolina, halfway between Asheville and Charlotte, and still lives in the area. "I worked in precinct politics as a kid," he said. "I used to leaflet cars for campaigns. We were Democrats. I loved John Kennedy. I spent my life working against Jesse Helms. But I had to make a buck." In 1980, he drove all night to the Republican National Convention, in Detroit, to sell Reagan buttons: "I stood on the street with my little blue jacket, my tie, and my board with my buttons. I made more money that week than I did in a year working for my congressman."

Warlick opened a memorabilia shop, called Political Americana--the first of six--in D.C.'s Union Station, in 1989. "Bill Clinton used to come by," Warlick said. "He'd buy all my Truman buttons. Hillary used to buy buttons for him, too." Warlick produced and distributed buttons, posters, and stickers for the Clinton campaign in 1992 and 1996. In 2001, he began buying political artifacts: First Lady gowns; a limousine that J.F.K. used in Fort Worth, Texas; Air Force One replicas; and an Oval Office built by Warner Bros.

American Presidential Experience brings such artifacts to the masses. Warlick has acquired or built five Oval Offices in the past couple of decades; the last one he commissioned cost him sixty thousand dollars. Three or four times a year, he rents one out, for around thirty thousand dollars a week. Recent and upcoming engagements include a Finnish TV ad for furniture, a TLC show called "Little People, Big World," and the San Diego County Fair. …

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