tv First Ladies in Documentaries Dramas CSPAN June 12, 2022 7:00am-8:01am EDT
i'm giving please be as director of programmed exhibitions and community partnerships for the massachusetts historical society. for anyone who may be joining mhs for the first time. we are the first historical society in america dating back to 1791. we hold a remarkable collection of manuscripts that tools close to 14 million pages and includes everything from the diary of john winthrop describing the arbella and harbor in england about to set sail and found the massachusetts bay colony to reflections on the covid pandemic made by local school children in the last year. we make our research materials available to the public for free and host a wide variety of programs in seminars exploring all aspects of american history.
there are only able to make our collections and programs available to the public. thanks to the support of our members and donors if you enjoy our programs. we hope you'll return for future events, and we hope you'll consider donating to support the work of mhs. tonight we have a great program that will explore two television explorations of first ladies in american history. the current showtime series the first lady and the 2023-24 c-span series first lady is influence an image. we're joined by fantastic group of people to discuss these programs talking about the showtimes series the first lady our creator and executive producer aaron cooley and showrunner and executive producer kathy schulman. aaron cooley is a graduate of yale's theater studies program. he served as a head of development for director control schumacher for more than a decade while also writing screenplays and teleplays for companies such as lionsgate mgm winkler films and winkler films. and television aaron has created.
a scripted show for mtd served as a staff writer at netflix and is now preparing a limited series with director kevin mcdonald kathy schulman is also a young graduate. she's an academy award-winning producer. she has produced numerous tvs and movies and her credits include crash the box office hit bad moms the future five feet away and the hit comedy film other hood. she is the president and ceo of welly entertainment philbin television production company committed to producing content that appeals to diverse audiences with an emphasis on women and girls exploring the c-span series first ladies influence an image. we are joined by mark farkas mark is a graduate of the college of william and mary. he was the executive producer of the entire series first ladies ranging from martha, washington to michelle obama his earlier work includes being the producer of the peabody award-winning series american presidents life portraits. he has also worked on
documentaries taking viewers inside the white house the us capitol the supreme court and the us senate he has traveled to war zones and interact in afghanistan stand for c-span documentaries. are finally our conversation will be moderated by catherine algor. catherine is the president of the massachusetts historical society a position. she has held since 2017 prior coming to prior to coming to mhs. she was the director of education at the huntington library in california and a professor of history and uc presidential chair at the university of california, riverside. she attended not holyoke college and received her phd from the yale university disappears to be a very yale heavy evening tonight, and she has also worked as a historical advisor to both of these first ladies series. so without further ado, i'd ask a catherine and kathy schulman and erin cooley to join us to get this program started. as the president of massachusetts historical society, i would be remiss if i
didn't mention that we are the pository of the papers of two first. ladies abigail adams and louisa catherine johnson adams, so it seems very fitting to have you here in our virtual room and aaron and kathy before we get started. i understand you have a little something to show us. we do go ahead and play it. how do you really feel about being first lady? in four years. i don't want to look back and think what did i become living in the house? it's my great news the first lady of the united states. oh still got it. never lost it. the first lady has to be a special kind of woman. i can't help you back seat driving. they want to turn me into a black martha stewart. i will pick my team choose my
causes understood. he knew what you were getting into. you kept your political dreams a secret for me. i'll be here for you. but i am going to be myself. my hands are tied. don't push me off. i am your wife. not one of your girlfriends. you are the husband of wife who has a mind and a life of her own. they think i should keep my mouth shut. mystery i'm just a girls i couldn't bear to watch you destroy yourself. i have done everything i was supposed to do the world is always gonna judge us. they can kick me out. but they can't make me somebody
i'm not. wow, you guys i have to say i saw i've seen the episodes so i you know, i got chills. so just seeing the trailer great. so listen as a creative force here, i have to ask you aaron. how did this project get started because it really started with your writing. yes. uh in a way a version of it did but couldn't have gotten to where that is without kathy. but where the original germ started. i mean it was one of those symbiotic hollywood things i think were two of us me and kathy in the same town. we're kind of thinking the same thing without realizing it but what i was doing on in 2016 i had just added a new baby girl, and i you know had struggled
writing little things that never got made and i really wanted to write something. for my daughter. i loved writing about politics. i wanted to write something about women in politics and in 2016. everyone was talking about hillary clinton. might be the first female president and i had heard always heard this history joke about edith wilson woodrow wilson's wife being the first female president because legend has it he may have gone into a coma she may have you know taken over for him. um, and so i wrote this really fun irreverent spec script about her and but it said on the last page this would this is meant to be an anthology series about different first ladies. it would be a different one every season. it was really when the script my manager brad kaplan gave it to kathy and she told me you know, i've i've been thinking of doing
a show about first ladies and maybe we can work together, but she really pushed us starting in this first meeting. we had in january of 2017. so that's how long these things take for anyone out there who's an aspiring tv or film creator have patience. um from our first meeting she was you know, pushing on who are you know, how can we how can we update it? how can we make it more contemporary? maybe how can we do first ladies that have a built-in bigger audience than than mrs. wilson, how can we think about bigger themes? she had just started this great company. she has that i'll let her talk about but that that wanted to do, you know female forward stories and she really pushed me to look at it as a great opportunity to tell a story that way which was what i wanted to do for my daughter and my wife but but maybe didn't realize that or know how to do it on and
and we kind of started from there and start really was a team effort, but i have to give kathy credit for the idea of the three first ladies interweaving them. we went through at least 15 different combinations. it was like it was like, you know basketball team with x's and o's on the whiteboard. we had different photos of different first. ladies. what are the what are the three that fit together the best thematically which we can talk about as we get further into the hour, but um, and you know, we had different forces who were coming on board the show maybe pushing us to towards certain first ladies that they thought were more famous or whatever, but we really thought these three we ended up with we picked because they had so many similarities. they also had some differences, but they really were we wanted to start with three very heroic women that that found their voices in the white house and
that did did a lot with the office. you know that the interesting thing about first lady is they don't have a budget and they are are just they don't have anything they're supposed to do. so those who do something with it should really be celebrated because it's totally voluntary in a way. and so that was that's kind of the germ of the beginning of the writing process kathy saw this through all the way through that trailer and post-production. and so she she should talk about her experience on this. yeah, kathy. what is your memory of the process and how and maybe even talk about a little bit about the choices that you made in your in your football team of first ladies? was a basketball team he was talking about. oh, sorry. yeah. i know. i know it was like i was like, how did a sports reference make it? it's it's way into a first lady scott can't help myself anyway. no, but i am yeah, definitely the story was exactly as aaron told it and you know, but but two other things that happened
to me concurrently with meaning aaron and reading his edith wilson script one was that i was very close with, you know, biola davis and she did a mean impersonation of michelle obama as a matter of fact, she could do it impersonation of both michelle obama and barack obama and we had, you know, oftentimes discuss it if anyone could ever play michelle it would be her and i had been very inspired by a movie. i saw that natalie portman started called jackie, you know about jackie kennedy right? there had been one little aspect of that movie that really inspired me and it was when she showed a press corps for the very first time the east wing which had been completely, you know off limits obviously and as she you know brought this press corps through the east wing for the first time. she pointed out, you know, eleanor put this here and edith put this there and ladybird had her portrait here or whatever. it was and in that moment. it was like, oh my god, what if these walls could talk? you know, like what did they actually experience in this building and you know with a little bit of research that it
hadn't changed much except for in decor. you know, i literally thought wow all these people like slept with presidents here. i mean not to be vulgar, but that was literally like went through my mind. like what happened pillow talk is where it's at, right like what did what really went on and then i thought what if we shifted the lens that were so used to in american history of at least as i learned it as i think it's oftentimes taught through a very, you know, sort of male facing lens and and paternalistic, you know lens. i wanted to sort of say well, what about the wives and families that were there because i know that all decisions that are made in life are like the result of what happens with those closest to you and wanted to explore personal story on the on that basis. so so that's kind of let us to try this idea of intersecting things and also just to to point out the march of time and where it's similar and where it's different, you know, that's so interesting as a historical society. obviously, you know that what do we learn from history? it's sort of how we repeat things, you know, and and how trends you know start to to
create realities and how do we break certain patterns and that required us, you know marching across a lot of time really fast and in episode one, i mean in season one, you know, we we cover a hundred and ten years of american history briefly through these intersections as far as picking the three ladies it started with viola playing, you know, michelle obama. and you know in thinking about well, what what defined michelle obama's time in the white house, you know, it's everything having to do with racism anti-racism segregation desegregation everything having to do with those issues as the first black family. which led us right back to eleanor, of course where where those conversations begin? and she was really the first modern first lady. so you want to start there, you know, she walked in and said i need an office. well, what for how about i work, you know, and it was it was you know that let us to her and then in talking, you know looking into eleanor really, you know, in addition to, you know, early conversations and and kicking, you know, the ball forward on desegregation, you know, all of her work about women's voices, you know was so crucial which leads us straight to betty
because betty. you know many times over, you know, she's so interesting. she's barely there but everything she does is with enormous impact. she's never ever frightened always courageous to do and talk about anything and in a row she ends up talking about, you know women in psychiatry and then women's health breast cancer. era, you know women drug alcohol all these things so it started to be a very natural triumvironment of three to talk about in season one because as aaron said we wanted to really make the season thematically unified around the idea of voice sublimation of voice recovery of voice use of voice. that's great. well, listen before we bring mark in to talk about his project understand you have a little um a little clip maybe that gives us a quick and dirty look at the job of first lady, please. gavin can we set that up? and then you are yeah. thank you eleanor, aren't you
supposed to be with the retire first lady? we're on our way. we make sure that he reads this. yes, of course. what is it? it's my suggestions for cabinet appointment with female ones. where are we with speech not as far as we would be where they're not 40 other things to do. what's more important in the? speed we'll get to it. let me see. a draft of it i can cancel the first lady can't cancel that like and hold her she could. it's important that he leaves with a cold hard truth add some hope to it, but he needs to state the facts plain and simple. there are 30 million americans out of work and they don't want to be pandered to couldn't agree more left to his own devices franklin always heirs on the side of optimism that we need to strike. the balance is our earl in the car have been outside for over an hour. oh, yes entirely unnecessary. i'm going to walk you're not walking. i'm certainly out. this is our hoover is waiting. we really need to go.
yes, let's not be the way when can we talk about the speech we will get to it this afternoon. well, i'm all booked up this afternoon. yeah somewhere. oh, i see. i'm good enough to get him here, but not good enough to keep going you. angel to worry about your own good, so he's finally decided on my job in the administration. yes first lady. that's not a job louis. that's my circumstance. shall we tommy i need some fresh air? boy, that could be the tagline to this whole series. i need some fresh air. let's bring mark in mark. how are you? my friend? so you are on mute. so if you'll just unmute yourself, that would be great.
okay, so mark had a very good hi, mark so mark because he works for a different has a different had a different mission you started off with a very ambitious project. could you tell us a little bit about it? yes, instead of taking three on i know you all will do a lot more by the end of your series. we took on 45 of them in 2013 and 2014 from martha, washington to michelle obama each week doing a biography of each one of the first ladies talking with over 50 historians about the lives and we called it firstly influence an image because i see in the showtime series. it's really it is about their private lives living in the fishbowl. it's about their influence on the president and it's all about the image that they give out to the to the public which is so many times important for the president as well. and so those two sides of the first ladies are what we got
into and i'm gonna concentrate a little bit on the three that they show time was talking about as well. but before i do anything else i want to let some of the first ladies from our series do a little bit of talking for themselves so trailer for season two, we split it up into two from martha washington all the way up to either roosevelt and then season two was a modern first lady. so this is a trailer for season two. if we turn away from the needs of others, we align ourselves with those forces which are bringing about this suffering. the white house is a bully pulpit and you ought to take advantage of it obesity in this country is nothing short of a public health crisis. i think i just had little antennas that went up and told me when somebody had their own agenda. there's so much influence in officer be just ashamed of
wasted. i think they serve as a window on the past to what was going on with american women. she becomes the chief component. she's really in a way the only one in the world. he can trust many of the women. who were first ladies they were writers a lot of them were writers journalists. they wrote books. they are in many cases quite frankly more interesting as human beings. then their husbands if only because they are not. first and foremost defined and consequently limited by political ambition edith roosevelt is really one of the unsung heroines. when you go to the white house today? it's really edith roosevelt's white house. during this statement you a little breathless and it was too much looking down and i think it was a little too fast. not enough change of faith. that's a gray market you made people love lyndon. johnson said, yes, ma'am, too,
or yes, sir to and you know for us all these first ladies to me are were incredibly impressive there their husbands equals and we had the opportunity to interview a number of them all the living first ladies as part of the series and got a real sense of the the community and sorority of them and sometimes not there's some first ladies that just did not get along with other living first ladies and some that really do barbara bush and the bushes love bill clinton. it may not have loved the carters as much so it's a it was a you know a real challenge for us, but also fascinating looking into a role that the first man is first gentleman is going to take at some point. i hope soon. so it's interesting. it's so beautiful. yeah, you had to do all of the first ladies so you didn't get to pick and choose like like aaron and kathy did but you also have this problem. i think if i remember correctly maybe at one point the idea was to do a first lady a week. but then you found yourself you
and susan at the time hampered by the lack of material about some first ladies, especially, you know, the ones in the 1800s. there were some in the first half of the series that were a little bit tougher. i mean thomas jefferson wasn't married when he was in the white house. now james buchanan was a was a bachelor and so he had his daughter do the work. so there were some that we combined a couple of first people who played the role of first lady in the show and weren't the official first lady and i know we talked about eleanor roosevelt being the first official first lady who defined the role, but i think katherine you might also say that valley madison may have been the one who started it all i might say that yeah. but yeah, so it was a so those were difficult but once we got into the 20th century into the film and television era, you know, the hardest thing was actually to do a single program on, you know, something like eleanor roosevelt. i'll start out with a clip from
her. she says so many firsts one of the interesting things when you watch this clip what we'll just play it and i'll talk with you. it's interesting about it after we play it but go ahead and roll that cookie great. thank you. ladies and gentleman i'm speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history. the cabinet is convening and the leaders in congress are meeting with the president. state department and army and navy officials have been with the president all afternoon. in fact, the japanese ambassador was talking to the president at the very time that japan's airships were bombing our citizens in a way and the philippines and sinking one of our transports loaded with lumber on its way to a way. by tomorrow morning, the members of congress will have a full report and be ready for action. no, so to me, there's remarkable that the first lady is speaking to the nation before the
president speaks to the nation. and it speaks to eleanor roosevelt. i think showtime made the absolutely right choices with their with their first ladies. but how many first did she have the first first lady to hold press conferences and you think about what that did for female journalists, you know, lorena hickok who i knows dealt with in the series that former journalists of goes out and documents the new deal for the fdr administration so many first for eleanor roosevelt and but fascinating woman she was yeah, we definitely make a meal of that of that moment that the discussion to you know, the conversation she had with franklin that led to her making that, you know, first address to the american people that you just showed. you know, that that becomes an a good piece of an entire episode for us. yeah. yeah, and wonder how you chose the i mean seriously with us with eleanor we had so much archival material or trip to the pacific and all of her radio programs and then you think
about you know, and her lifetime she writes over 8,000 articles. i mean, she's like the first blogger frankly that you yeah, he had a column called my day. yeah. yeah in mark, you know, i'm i wanted to you you have a few more things to show us, but i wonder if you think about this. what's interesting about your project the ones susan and you spearheaded it did you talked about seasons? it took quite a long time to get through all 45. and what was the public reaction to that the to the programs and did it change over those two years? well, we found that you know, frankly. we'd won the peabody award for doing american presidents and what but every program we dealt with the first lady and so that seems to take up, you know, we were taking viewer calls and and input from the from the public and just as much of their interest was in the first lady as it was in the president. so, you know, and we also said you know what we've done a lot of series on i'm sorry. that white guys or live like
that. i mean it's time to really take a look at women's history. and that's what we had, you know advisors like you catherine and other female and other male historians to take a look at the role of first lady so we knew it was really time to do something and it was popular and you know, frankly, this is the book that susan swain wrote. that's a really it's a fantastic book. it's fantastic read with all the it's it's curated with all the historians who spoke in the series who really, you know, give you the inside scoop on each one of these first ladies and so it's been popular replayed it and you know, it's time not only with a women but it's time to tell the whole story of the country. so do you have some more film clips you'd like to share? well since you since many ford comes up next and in the lineup with showtime, we've got a clip of betty ford and this clip is very interesting. she is addressing the nation instead of gerald ford on the concession speech to jimmy carter. so let's play that let me call on the real spokesman for the
family the president asked me to tell you. that he telephone president elect carter a short time ago and congratulated on his victory. the president also wants to thank all those thousands. of people who worked so hard on his behalf. and the millions who supported him with their vote. it's been the greatest honor. of my husband's life to have served his fellow americans during two of most difficult years in our history. doll americans to join him and giving your united support to
press and elect carter as he prepares to assume his new responsibilities. that's such an interesting clip the way the camera shifts over to him while she's talking. captures in a way everything about the ford that is just it's an amazing american family story teenagers in the white house a president and first lady who are who maybe he aspired to it, but maybe not and a wife and an incredible first lady as kathy said who's came out, you know spoke about breast cancer, which is overboken subject during that time talked about her, you know reviews on abortion on 60 minutes which were not the president's and really one of the reasons i picked that clip was because you know, how much how the good that she did after she got out the white house i challenge any president to say
that they did as much as she did after after getting out of the white house with the betty ford rehabilitation betty ford clinic and in that speech her. problem with addiction goes all the way back to the 60s when she has a husband on the road all the time. she has arthritis. she starts taking painkillers and admittedly as some showtime. peace they have this intervention for these program. we talked with steve ford the son about that intervention and it was just a it really really think emotionally draining and hard thing for her and everyone to go through but it really is a window into a lot of american families. yeah very much of their time. how is that to handle aaron and kathy to handle those sort of controversial topics, maybe not so controversial now like going to a psychiatrist or but certainly the alcohol and i thought by the way the depiction of it was very sort of period accurate. it was a very different time in
a very different attitude toward alcohol. go ahead. yeah. no, i mean just for the writing part that i can speak of and kathy can talk more about the fabulous performance by michelle pfeiffer, but you know for the writing we just we i devoured one advantage of starting at six years ago was we on all these first ladies we devoured i'm really betty ford and and michelle obama. i'm confident. we read every book written about them eleanor roosevelt there might be too many there's hundreds of thousands of pages. but with with betty ford, we read the two books. she read she wrote and you know various others written by journalists. we read jerry zone autobiography. and so you really get a sense of of what's true and then you just try to make sure the holes you have to fill in that they're emotionally true, um to to what we know we know those people
believed and and what they're thinking at the time and this is ford. so honest in especially your second book or first books written really before she was public with her addiction. she kind of just reveals it at the end the second book really she try to inspire other people who had addiction issues and so she's so honest in it and and that made it more possible for us to be truthful to her truth. yeah. yeah, and i think we you know, like it's interesting that that clip that you just showed mark. you know, we are we obviously feature that moment, you know as well in the show, but what we really focus on is what happened before and after first of all, jerry lost his voice on the camp trail, which is why she speaks for him, you know, and and when she does she was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at that moment and so susan ford's, you know reaction to what happened that night watching her mother and that the pace of her speech and how she
was speaking, you know really is in many ways the beginning of our story trajectory into the intervention which happens, you know later, but but you know, we focused on trying to analyze these moments that happened in sort of persona moments that happened in the public and then went behind the scenes to say what was really going on there with the family and what were the events leading up to it and after it and so that we could get into what is ultimately very i think loving portrait of betty's work with the betty ford center, which is where we you know end in terms of her particular trajectory in the series and the amazing amazing in the amount of life lives that she's probably saved is like you said mark, you know the level of that a complement of that accomplishment and in terms of what she was able to do for drug and alcohol rehabilitation specifically for women and girls is remarkable. so that's kind of where we land with that. and then actually you you got it. that's the reason i picked the
clip was a twofold one was the specialist of import, but two was the speech speech was slurred in them. that's right. yeah, so yes window into as you know window into everything you yeah, and i think it's so interesting that you just showed, you know the same moment we focus on with our camera, which is when it moves away from her to jerry and you actually mentioned it catherine, you know moving to jerry and to to susan that was our focus, you know, right like what were they thinking, you know in this moment and you can see susan kind of goes dark there, you know like and she really was the you know in many ways the ringleader of all the intervention activities. yeah, right. okay, mark. i know you've got a you've got one more for us again. you got two clips and i have olivia play them back to back because they're both short. they're both michelle obama great. wonderful. you come into this house and there is so much to do.
there's so much coming at you that there's no time to think or reflect. hi everyone. we are here digging up soil because we're about to plant a garden. i won't be satisfied nor will my husband until every single veteran and military spouse who wants a job has one at the end of the day. my most important title is still mom and chief. but what we've learned over this year. is that hope is making a comeback. it is making a comeback and let me tell you something for the first time in my adult lifetime. i'm really proud of my country and not just because the rock is done. well, but because i think people are hungry for change. and i have been desperate to see our country moving in that
direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration. and disappointment. i've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues and it's made me proud. now you forget how powerful that was. yes. you got a lot of flag for that. i picked both those because actually thought that i'm kathleen aaron might be able to talk about how they sort of. the challenges they had obviously one just playing michelle obama who's an icon in overself showed all the things of the first lady has to do the power of her ability to make speech and then the issues that first ladies get themselves into that that one in wisconsin about, you know, being proud to be proud of america. there was a lot of behind the scenes fighting that went on between east wing and the west wing with that that sort of got handled after that. you didn't see michelle obama doing as much of that out of the campaign trail maybe a little bit more coordinated messaging but so, you know, it's it's the
they're very very strong personalities and they've got their own minds to think about and say what they want to as well, but it's it's fine line as you know, what what an antico it seems so antiquated now that people were so negative about that and now today, you know, i know our kids in schools are having their eyes open more to the fact that this country's history isn't so squeaky clean and that we maybe shouldn't always be proud of our country and i feel like her saying that was so was was so advanced and so kind of forward thinking now that i hear it again. yeah, and it was said was such you know, good intention. but yeah, it got turned totally, you know on its head between, you know, dive deep into in the series and you know, she's essentially called an angry black woman. for i mean she's actually called an angry black woman, you know for for saying those words which becomes a total spin out, you know ending in a magazine cover with her, you know. rest is a terrorist and you
know, we we focus on ours on the emotional devastation of that you know, she's having to face like you said, you know the the reactions to her actions and intentions as being you know there she was there to, you know support her husband on the trail, you know, and and then it turns completely dark for both of them, but then more as importantly what does it do to her as a human being and it was enormously difficult. for her to we believe, you know for her to crawl back out of that and get active again, which she did but you know to to be so deeply blamed for something that as aaron said in this moment is so completely obvious to so many americans that it's hard to understand how to love your own country if you don't happen to be white and male and middle-aged, you know, and and that's really what she was dealing with. yeah, and i have to say you know. creating a show about someone who's lived the experience of
michelle obama on i was terrified to i you know, i think at first i told kathy i you know, i don't think i'm the right guy to work on the show to write this show. but what i realized on what we what we realized about the process of television, my job originally was just help write a story that sells the show and then when we wrote the show, it would actually be a whole team of different diverse voices with different perspectives and we have so many great different voices and different people with different perspectives that run the whole gamut of america in the world on our writing staff and and that's something that i'm that i'm really proud of and and excited about with our show. yeah that particular, you know episode worked on by black women and black men was really a fun one, too. you know deep dive into and when i say fun i meant fund in terms
of any creative way. yeah creative as a creative challenge. i didn't mean like the situation was grotesque, but but the but the process of trying to drill down into that. i mean she thought she came off stage because in the room, it was such a gigantically positive reaction and she came off to like her whole team getting texts and things that things were blowing up in the media or ready over what she said and it took them a minute to even figure out what the heck had happened and it was it was the if you if you're proud of your country for the first time you never were before it was that extra sense that she didn't actually say but that is was that you know implied and then the chaos that that created for another year in her life, at least if not more. and mark when you did that episode she was first lady. yes, she was it's a second term. yeah. yes. she's currently yeah. she was and i just want to say also catherine you mentioned a couple times susan swain was a host of the program and obviously worked closely with
her on this and i hired a very very actually female staff to produce the programs and each one of the shows was represented. i don't want people think that you know me. i have all the answers on first lady says i don't but i finally fascinating topic and i'm i do look forward to the day where we have a first gentleman because it's you know, one of the things that laura bush talked about in our interview with her was okay. well one of when you have that role reversal, are they going to be critics, you know critique for their clothes. are they gonna get a salary? what's gonna happen? are they gonna be forced to quit their career like yeah michelle obama what right? yeah. so these are you know, this is a societal issues that what we'll see but you know, it's great topic. i love that this. first lady study persists. thanks to people like you all because it's really actually a funny category of analysis. so one could argue that the presidents like from george, washington to a very disparate
group of people. yes. they're male. yes, they're white but as far as like their religion or their backgrounds or region of the country, they're all over the place, but they all have something in common. with the possible exception of warren harding thing and gerald ford, they all decided they wanted to be president at some point. i mean that and that intention is what links them together, but of course for these ladies up to this point now ladies, they don't have that. i mean there's this great moment where in in the showtime series where they're fighting and we saw a little bit. he says you you know what you were in for well in the scene she says no i didn't because nobody marries a guy. and says this guy's got to be president with the possible exception of hillary clinton. was what she thought you marry
either a politician or a taylor or some guy in business or something and then you find yourself as you say have eleanor roosevelt saying this is my circumstance. so it's so they're an interesting group of people because nothing really intentionally links them except they're all find themselves in this position. i think you know, i think i'm sorry. i was just say the one thing that sort of connected all of them for us was this look at where women's were were women's history was at that point, right? they they may not have that in common, but they represented that point throughout the series for us. so at united them and this was like there tend to be unified in their pursuits of social activism. i mean, it's really interesting and i think probably as a result of the fact that the men are involved in politics all day every day in the west wing, you know, they do have the ability to get out and and go understand the people and and and work on you know, social activism in
various different ways and most of them do at one point or another, you know, get involved with that and also they're able to like get around the country which we're able to do too like we didn't get stuck in the east wing, you know, because they they move around a lot, but i think it's interesting for us. we found it sort of funny that in our first season. nobody really wanted to be there. i mean betty was kicking and screaming, you know against going there. you know, michelle was sure they're all gonna you know end up murdered would fairly so and thank god nothing horrible happen, you know eleanor, i think if she wanted to be there at all it was as president certainly not as somebody's wife. and so, you know, i think it's like it's interesting that in our very first season like we didn't even have anyone who ever wanted to be there. let alone the fact that you know, they end up there and like you said catherine you sort of show up and i think it's really interesting and and unifying too that they tend to be you know, these these are interesting men who marry interesting women with lots of agency and then you the kind of lose it the minute that they're asked to walk through that threshold right they walk in and then somebody says, you know, like start organizing some parties and pick a porcelain,
you know, or china pattern and and that's so tricky you really are told stand behind and then they have to find their way, you know, and i think that's where they start to see the similarities because most of them do you know find agency. yeah. yeah. no, but i always i'm sorry. no, i was just gonna say what i always found fascinating on about because we looked at their whole lives and we they just aired an episode about them as young women before they meet their husbands and what i always found fascinating about eleanor and michelle a similarity is that there was a period in their marriages were they were the breadwinner where they were more success? yeah, then their husbands i mean barack was her intern and in until his book was being reprinted after the dnc speech in 2004 before that. she was making a lot more money than he was and of course eleanor kept the idea of the roosevelt's alive during the years that fdr was on the shelf
trying to try to learn walk in public again. that's a great point. listen. we're very conscious of time. we've got oh about 14 minutes left, and love you all out there to get. on it. i already have some questions but give me your questions folks and let me start with actually. suggestion for you all um, and we will not charge you for this good advice. we have an anonymous attendee who says that given that the first lady tells three stories in an episode instead of a splitting them up and separate arcs are attendee suggests a future season. and i've totally support this one. for example, i would like to see one with dolly madison helen taft and hillary clinton. and/or one with mary lincoln edith wilson and nancy reagan. so that is that is just free advice. i don't know if you get my notepad. yeah, they're great ideas secretary the second ones easy to see.
um, yeah. i mean, it's it's interesting. yeah, we will we will design additional seasons on the basis of theme. so what that's what we're looking for ways to connect them, you know, so that we can you know, it could be anything. it could be scandal in the white house. it could be even worried. it could be it could be race relations. it could be anything this particular season was about voice. but yeah, we're really always excited and please stay online and let let us know who you want to see and why we actually tell them you want to use you know on our page and please do because it's important. yeah, um mark this is something for you not a question, but a little trivia or trivium one of my anonymous attendees says, did you know that c-span found a brian lamb escorted lady bird johnson to the east room is part of her daughter lind. wedding footage was part of a special once-in-a-lifetime produced by the white house naval photographic center public domain, which features a young dan rather formerly of showtime parent company cbs as a co-host.
oh, you didn't know that. i've actually seen the whole entire thing. ah, brian lamb if you're watching i've seen you dress up a halloween party with a little hat on your black hat on your head. and yeah, it was he was very good friend of the chuck robs because he was a naval at that shade during the johnson administration. it's great. it's a hoop to watch the thing. um. so, oh jonathan has a great question, especially since we saw that great clip of her doing this curious about the significance of betty's background in modern dance in her story including in the white house. we do we definitely you know delve into that. kind of one of the things i wish we had had even more time to do but she oftentimes refers to the career. she may have had had that been the direction that she went and we visited her, you know during that time and understand you
know, how progressive a life she may have been headed for had she not taken the turns that she did and you know, she says a lot that martha graham was her. mentor, you know, i think they had a very controversial relationship, you know when it was actually happening, but she learned really important things and i think that it was to live in the moment and to expect and and she says, you know to experience every minute as a moment in the flow of life or the motion of life and one of the things that was so interesting is how betty was able to always be present and conscious and react on a dime to other human beings and what was happening around her and it becomes very essential part of her character. so i think that that dance background besides making her so beautiful and graceful and talented also, you know was was a way of life. yeah, i think what i always loved about that story just real quickly is yeah, he clearly i always pictured it as a dramatist as having a little bit of a grudge because she had
martha graham back to the white house to win the presidential medal of freedom or met one of those that jerry put around martha graham's neck, and i can just imagine it's, you know, betty standing there saying yeah, see where i ended up and you thought i was only good for the beat the b group. that's right. well, we never ended up doing that. we wrote that though. remember we didn't end up shooting that little piece of oh, that's too bad. i let little piece of that little jigger there might have written like originally like a 24 episode series. there's just too much. yes. yes was one of peering back. it was really difficult. you know, we had 10 hours to tell some bits of the history of three women, you know, 40 50 years of each women's life and it was enormously that was the most challenging and difficult part of the process, you know to try to do that and i think you know, it's always going to be you know, controversial what we did or didn't pick and you know, and and it's really hard, you know to do it and and to do that with you know it leave them with three hours and about 10 minutes each. yeah, but they're not that
democratic but that does happen. well, can i just jump it was i have some more questions here. um, one of my attendees wanted to know if you'd watched earlier showtime historical lee inspired drama series like the tutors or the borges and then also said since every piece of popular media is a product of its time. how do you think the first lady would be different if premiering in 2000 or 7 or 11? like the shows that did then what would never shall obama? well, no, michelle obama, but but it's interesting. it was a different so mark your series ran. what were the years 2013 and 2014 13 to 14, so we're talking about sort of earlier times. how do you think it would have been different if it had been like there would have been michelle obama but in that those times periods would have been a different kind of thing. i'm not sure be too much different only because when you take a series that you know that
the spans the history of our country's time, you know it done you have to take a look at big trends and also digging with each first lady and so there has to be an arc and something that i think connects the whole series so, you know, there'd be adaptations as they're always our to technology and the use of media. i mean if the series has started with the roosevelts i would definitely was, you know taking a look at the white houses that that you know. the the place where you can get your message out and that's where a messaging began the white house the power of the white house. so in a different series than you know, with martha washington, but for us i'm not sure to be changing too much, but we'd have to update it. i just would say i don't think we could have gotten this show made at any other time. i i think what i was just gonna say about what kathy was saying about how much material we had and getting it down to 10 hours. i'm just so proud to be
associated with something where each of these three first ladies who's never even or it's been years since they've had features made of them. we got 200 minutes on film of each of their stories, which i don't think in hollywood would have been possible even five years earlier. yeah. i was gonna say the same thing, you know, it's it's just what it's take. i mean look at i just you know specifically. even working with like a female filmmaker and we had one female, you know direct all 10 episodes, you know. oddly enough the very first job. i worked on the movie business was catherine bigelow's second movie and i thought oh, well, look what this is gonna look like we're going to you know we're i'm gonna like i have this career. i'm gonna like write and direct and produce and be women and i didn't even work with another woman for another 22 years. so so it's like we are still so much on the precipice and the idea that we got to show me about middle-aged women at all.
let alone the first ladies was was remarkably difficult. and yeah, we couldn't have even done it then so and and there would have been less a bit less ability for us to be as open-minded as we as we were i think we would have suffered a lot more censorship than we did and and you know, i have to say the i did an american experience. maybe 2012-ish on dolly madison and it was a big deal that this was an episode of this series that had a woman's name in it. valley madison, you know not wrong. like that's what like it's still so fresh to even be doing content about let alone four women. it's it's which is weird because the primarily that you know, the marketplace for content for for film and television and streaming is very much female majority. it's way over 70% of the marketplace at this point, but we continue to make movies and shows for content for men even though they watch less of it, but we're still working through that whole, you know, kind of revision of our process, so
yeah, that's just one. actually one thing actually you all hit on that actually if we had to do it over again with covid the impact on the mental health of this country with teens and everyone our interview with roselyn carter was one of the most impactful interviews i've ever been a part of where she talked about her mental health initiative and how it just got kicked to kicked to the curve. you know, she was she intended cabinet meetings and she really was ahead of the curve the whole entire nation on this topic and you know if i had to do it over again today might lead with her because it's so important. that's so interesting my gosh. yes. so listen we have time i think just for about one more question, but it's it's a good one and it's for all three of you because you all three had a challenge in that there are always moments that private or difficult moments. and how do you handle them when you are either being fictional or historically, you know doing a historical fiction.
or when it's the truth. and how do you do it in a way that's respectful but also truthful and in the case of kathy and aaron dramatic. so i'll just throw that out to. all of you in the last few minutes i'm just going to chime in first because mine's easy. they have much harder job to do. mine is you get the historians on who tell the stories that are documented and have been documented all through time and you tell them tell them truthfully and you make sure it's a balanced perspective and they're fascinating you can't make it up. yeah. yeah, i guess it is easier with historians though. there would be people that would say just because it's true doesn't mean you need to talk about it. so well in defensible i say but there you go, but how about aaron aaron and kathy? how did you handle things that were private moments or things? that might be a little tricky? well, sorry. trying to get my attention here. you know.
this is how we approach the process. we basically created these. kind of profiles of each of the women and and based on the behavior that was historically. recorded and we started to analyze that almost like like novice therapists or something to try to understand how they generally how the women generally reacted to things in various different categories where they were most open where they were most shut where they were most liberal where they may not have been all the different ways that they could have, you know, approached things. and so what we would do is we would create these, you know profiles and then when something came up that we couldn't know the truth about because it happened at time that wasn't documented which was the point of our series was in between. it was interestial we would try to apply the behavioral norms of that first lady to the way that she would react to something so that we were honoring and staying true to the tendencies,
which is what we thought was the best way to sort of appropriate be appropriately accurate but like you said, you know drama comes in identifying, you know, conflict and flaws. so the trick was, you know to make people be real humans and no human is perfect that anyway that i've met and and it was to try to do that and but at the same time to be honoring and honor honoring the overall perspective of the lady and truthful in terms of how we approach choices that we might not actually have access to so that was our way of managing. and the actresses, you know, that's what they did. you know, they sort of worked by these little codes that we created and for each of the, you know parts and then, you know did whatever independent research they could to be to honor to and all i would add is you know, you have to we're doing historical fiction. and you know, this is not meant to be documentary. there's a great series that was
on c-span a few years ago if you want the documentary version we you just have to write with confidence, you know going back to greek dramatists and shakespeare there's been historical fiction you have to write from you know, you're a more emotional core and and what you believe on these women must have been feeling and thinking obviously you're not going to get a hundred percent, right, but we had such a smart diverse team of strong women experienced in the world experienced with having a lot of pressure and leadership in their own lives that i think we we had a lot of women like kathy who really could draw upon their own experiences and in these kinds of situations to make it to make it truthful. yeah, you know, eric aaron sorkin said something, you know, when asked this question kind of repeatedly because he's always working with historical fiction and you know, he said we're working on a painting not a photograph and i like what he said, you know, he's very very,
you know, credential of hollywood screenwriter and and that is our approach was you know, how do we interpret? because that's what a painting is. like, how do we interpret what it is? we see before us. so we're going to start closing out now because we're right at seven o'clock, but mark you started to say something. did you want the final one addendum, which is our biggest challenge. sometimes is interviewing those first ladies for first ladies. we're still alive and who had you know, laura bush she was in a car accident somebody died in that car accident. so, how do you approach that interview with her and do it in a tasteful way in a way that you don't lead with it obviously, but so there's challenges like that because as kathy said they're all human beings. it's not a perfect one than any of us have met yet and the challenges to get both those sites to them. yeah. well now listen everybody. i just got to tell you that in the questions and answers. there's lots of compliments people are really enjoying this. so it seems sad to say goodbye. but thank you thank you so much.
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