This is a followup book to "The Residence; Inside the Private World of the White House." Same/similar interview subjects as the last book-- 200+ of them, former staff people, friends and family members, with a few actual first ladies chiming in (Rosalynn Carter and the Bushes), and there’s even letters between the first ladies. Modern first ladies of course translates “from Jackie Kennedy on.” It’s a very gossipy book in its own way, showing both good and bad sides of all the ladies. You find out who doesn’t like who and how everyone deal with staff--that kind of thing. This book was published before Nancy’s death, and while Hillary’s campaign was going on. (And just so you know, Nancy thought Trump was silly.)
Just to clarify who likes and who hates who...
Friendships: Jackie and Hillary; Jackie and Lady Bird to some extent, though this book claims only Hillary really got on with Jackie; Jackie and Nancy; Lady Bird and Betty; Barbara and Lady Bird.
Enemies: Nancy and everyone, especially. Barbara and Betty; Hillary and Michelle; Hillary and Barbara; Clintons and Carters.
First Lady Mini-Quote Corner:
- Betty Ford: "You are constitutionally required to be perfect."
- Rosalynn Carter: "I have learned that you can do anything you want to."
- Michelle Obama calls the white house "a really nice prison." Man, does she ever hate it. (Think about her 'built by slaves" speech recently.)
- Hillary Clinton: "There is no way in the world to figure out what it's like to live here."
- Tony Fratto, former deputy press secretary: "None of them are perfectly cast for the job, or at least what our expectations of the job are."
- Anonymous son of a White House butler: "The first lady can pick up the telephone and change your life."
- Rosalynn Carter: "I'm not sure we would call the relationship among first ladies a sisterhood. About the only time we are ever together is when a new presidential library is established or for a funeral."
- Nancy Reagan: “When I was in the White House I built a wall around myself. That’s the only way I could exist.”
General First Lady facts:
- Usually First and Second Ladies barely even had any contact.
- There’s usually East Wing (First Lady’s office) vs. West Wing wars.
And now for specific First Lady moment roundups!
Jackie Kennedy Moments:
- "Jackie Kennedy had always felt like "the worst liability" to her husband: she was too rich, she was too beautiful, she had an almost comically breathy voice, and she was often pregnant during the height of his campaigning, so she could not join him." Also, she had a sister who LITERALLY married a prince. "I'm sorry for you that I'm such a dud," she told him. Your definition of “dud” is a LOT different than ours, honey.
- She would leave Jack hand-drawn cartoons and impersonate world leaders to cheer him up.
- She once brought in Grace Kelly to meet him when he was at the hospital and had her dress up as his nurse. It took him a few minutes to figure it out.
- She ignored his cheating, her father did that and she was used to it. She said her life without Jack would have all been a wasteland. (Ouch.)
- Jackie and Lady Bird and their husbands sound like they generally got along.
- During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jackie said she’d die on the lawn with her kids if the nukes came, like every other American. Damn.
After Jackie literally saw her husband’s skull come off, she was so traumatized she refused to go to the White House for years until the Nixon administration. Lady Bird felt bad about that.
- Jackie had a conflicted relationship with cameras--sometimes didn't want the kids to be photographed, sometimes she did. The famous shot of John-John under the desk came about because the president permitted it while she was out of town--she was pissed. She relented after her husband’s death.
- Reading about her grief and consulting with a priest about why did this happen is heartbreaking to read. "If you want to know what my religious convictions are now, they are: to keep busy and to keep healthy so that you can do all you should for your children. And to get to bed very early at night so you don't have time to think."
- Mamie Eisenhower was mean to Jackie--she wouldn't arrange for Jackie to have her White House tour until after she'd had a C-section. Jackie’s Secret Service agent requested that Jackie get a wheelchair and have a pusher ready for her. Mamie was all, “Oh, dear, I wanted to take her around alone” and said to have a wheelchair ready but not be made available unless Jackie asked for it. (I wonder if Jackie knew she had the option.) She then proceeded to take Jackie around on a walking tour of over an hour and 30 rooms long, exhausting Jackie. When asked about the situation, Jackie lied and said there was a wheelchair available, but she chose to walk. Later when she found out what happened, she said she was too scared of Mrs. Eisenhower to ask. I don’t care how hot, young, and cool Jackie is or how pissy you were about the election--if you’ve also given birth yourself, you should know better than to be that mean!
Lady Bird Johnson Moments:
- Lady Bird "had an escape valve, some secret little room inside her mind that she could adjourn to when things got tense," said J.B West, chief usher.
- Quote from her: "My husband comes first, the girls second, and I will be satisfied with what's left." Social secretary Bess Abell said: "Her priority was always him. Those two girls, they could take care of themselves." Ouch, I say.
- LBJ proposed to her the day after they met! They got married less than 3 months later, they wrote more than 90 letters in that time, and he finally showed up on her doorstep with a $2.50 ring refusing to leave until she said yes.
- This sounds incredibly romantic (albeit pushy) until you find out that he treated her like crap--y’know, cheating, public humiliation. Oh yeah, and she was rich and used her inheritance to get him elected (gee, I wonder why the push) and gave up her career for him. He called her “the brains and money in this family,” which certainly sounds true.
- Another fun LBJ moment that should have been in the last book: he was on the phone so much he had a phone line installed under a tree at home.
- Lady Bird learned to not change the decor when she replaced a mantle of Jackie’s.
Nixon Lady Moments:
- "Pat Nixon was the ultimate political wife, with decades of training, and that may have been her problem." She got called "Plastic Pat." She personally wrote and signed all letters and did well when traveling to China.
- Pat and her social secretary Lucy Winchester once pranked DAR members by putting a blowup doll in the bathtub. Pat also collected swatted flies for Lucy to pass on to her daughter's pet frogs and toads.
- Like LBJ and Lady Bird, Richard Nixon fell in love with Pat at first sight and proposed on the day they met--but she didn’t say yes for two years. "He was so infatuated that he even occasionally drove her to Los Angeles to meet other men for dates just so that he could spend time with her in the car. Her letters to him were friendly and decidedly unromantic. She began one 1938 letter with "Hi-ho, Hi-ho! How does it go?” (I can’t even with that.) Sadly, later he treated her like crap.
- Pat Nixon had a stroke after reading "The Final Days" by Woodward and Bernstein, saying she was a heavy drinker in a loveless marriage." Ouch.
- Poor Julie Nixon was always the peacekeeper/daddy’s defender. She had to miss her college graduation due to protests against her father.
Betty Ford Moments:
- In 1976 Ford's advisors wanted him to tell his wife to tone it down. He was all, her office is right down the hall, if you want her to tone it down, YOU tell her. They didn't. Hah.
- Betty being so public about her problems made the general public love her, and her book sold more than her husband’s. Gerald was all, "When the final tally is taken, her contributions to our country will be bigger than mine."
- Unlike her predecessors, Betty got up the nerve to replace Jackie’s Revolutionary War battle scene antique wallpaper because "it's really very difficult to sit there eating and watching all these people shooting each other and bleeding." Hear, hear.
- There is a photo of Betty standing and posing on the Cabinet Room table in this book. I love it. Before she moved out, she said she’d always wanted to do that. The photo was restricted in the archives for 20 years before being published, and Ford about fell off his chair when he saw it.
- Ford pardoned Nixon, thinking about the long-term ramifications for the nation if Watergate dragged on. He knew it would cost him support and possibly the next election. Betty was against him doing that and blamed Nixon for ruining her husband’s chances.
Carter Lady Moments:
Okay, oddly enough I don't have any Rosalynn moments listed as standing out to me, but...
- Amy Carter grew up as a politician's kid who entertained herself, and scandalized reporters when she brought a book to a state dinner--because she was allowed to bring books to political speeches while growing up. She very nearly brought a book to the inauguration until someone fished it out of her pocket. GIRL AFTER MY OWN HEART.
Reagan Lady Moments:
- Patti Davis didn't get on with her mother: said her parents shut the kids out, mother was physically abusive and father was emotionally distant. Reagan's kids with Jane Wyman were shut out by Nancy too. Yikes.
- As previously mentioned, Nancy was a hard to please nitpicker.
- After Reagan got shot, Nancy would insist that he nap a lot, and if she found him at his desk she’d say, “Horizontal. I want you horizontal.” That became a running joke around the West Wing.
Barbara Bush Moments:
- Fun for the Bushes: they had to deal with a winning Dubya and a losing Jeb at the same time.
- Barbara and Marilyn Quayle did not get along.
- "Short of ax murder, I think she could get away with anything. She's so benign." --Sheila Tate on Barbara
- "Barbara worships her husband and puts his needs above her own every time. George Herbert Walker Bush's brother Jonathan said of the Bushes' courtship: "She was wild about him. And for George, if anyone wants to be wild about him, it's fine with him."
- Barbara and Hillary are enemies, but their husbands get along now. Bill only goes to visit the Bushes when Hillary is busy.
- "If a grandchild showed up to visit without reading material, Barbara marched him or her down to the White House library to pick out a book.” I give props for that.
Hillary Clinton Moments:
- Hillary's the only First Lady to run for office. People are surprised she wants back into the White House after all she went through.
- Since Bill is not exactly Mr. Organization, she’d probably hire a social secretary to do the dinner menus and flowers (or have Chelsea fill in) and just send him on special missions.
- Hillary loves Eleanor Roosevelt and during her time in office, would have imaginary conversations with her along the lines of "WWED?"
- You probably already heard about this in a speech this year, but Bill and Hillary met in the Yale Law Library when he was staring at her. She got up, walked over to him and said if they were both going to keep staring at each other, they might as well know each other’s names. You go, girl.
- She knew he wanted to be president early on, she graduated with him a year later instead of staying with her own class, and yet he had to propose three times before she said yes because she was afraid of losing her identity in his personality. Yeah, think about that one for awhile as you read the next bit.
- Hillary got a lot of crap for keeping her last name of Rodham. Bill was fine with it and she’d tell people she just loved her daddy so much. Alas, this book seems to imply that Bill lost an election in 1980 because of her name. The next time he ran, she became “Mrs. Bill Clinton” and got a make over. We’re told she took back her “Rodham” in the White House, but “she never legally changed her name from Hillary Rodham.”
- When Hillary had to visit sick kids, she said she had to not cry because that would only make it worse for them.
Laura Bush Moments:
- "When Laura Bush had a request, everyone ran."
- She was nitpicking, prim and proper.
- "Rein it in, bubba," she'd say, I can guess to who.
- Supposedly she was at her best when the cameras were not on.
Michelle Obama Moments:
- Michelle is hard on staff--she seems to have a lot of turnover.She’s had four socials secretaries and gets annoyed if people promise things in her name without consulting her (that’s reasonable).
- Everyone but Michelle seems to have enjoyed some aspects of being first lady. She can't wait to get out.
- Michelle: "I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God's plan for me." She's a realist, and frustrated that she can't have a career.
- Michelle doesn’t like Hillary and kind of looks down her nose at her, so I bet THAT’s fun right now.
Anyway, this is a fun, gossipy read, with a mix of nice and nasty to it. Four stars.