Backstairs at the White House (1979)

Solid historical drama in the vein of “Roots,” (with many cast members to share), “Backstairs at the White House” is a warm miniseries, a strange thing to say about what should be a dry political lesson.  We rip through all of the Presidents and First Ladies from the Tafts to the Eisenhowers, all with varying degrees of charm or difficulty, but in an obvious ape at its obvious British counterpart, more important here is the story of Maggie Rogers and her daughter Lillian who work at the White House and observe all that goes on.  I’m not sure that any miniseries has ever boasted so many fancy guest stars, but it’s the main characters that really keep up the sweet and confident pace.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Presidents and First Ladies are often mere window dressing.

It’s 1961 and John F. Kennedy is being inaugurated.  A young taxi driver drops Lillian Rogers Parks (Leslie Uggams) at Levi Mercer’s (Lou Gossett Jr.) place where the two old timers have settled in to watch the inauguration, the driver not at all believing Lillian’s claim that she has been to the White House.  Lillian notes it’s her ninth inauguration, and Levi knowingly rebuffs her, saying she’s too young.

Ah, but she’s not.  She can remember all the way back to the Taft inauguration.  Actually, it wasn’t the inauguration she remembered most, but her father’s return home (a jovial Paul Winfield).  Lillian and her brother are thrilled, but mother Maggie (Olivia Cole) is more reserved.  He’s no good, gone for months at a time and Maggie needs stability.  Paul says all the right things, but Maggie knows better and has gotten herself a job where she can bring her kids.  She fails to mention it’s at the White House!

On her first day, Maggie encounters a cow on the lawn and Mrs. Jaffray, the head of the household.  Maggie is the first black maid to work with the first family, and though the salary is meager, the perks are better than anywhere else.  As Mrs. Jaffray goes to market, Maggie meets Ike Hoover (Leslie Nielsen), who runs everything and the rest of the staff at breakfast.  Even in the servant’s quarters, there is a hierarchy, not race-based, but experience-based.  Mrs. Jaffray had warned Maggie about gossiping, but they sure as hell do a lot of it on their own.

It’s tough work and it’s long into the first day when she meets Mrs. Taft (Julie Harris), who actually does check the plants for dust (Maggie had already done them).  As hard and laborious as it is, Maggie is very impressed by the White House, the furniture, the walls, everything.  Maggie was brought on because of her skill at doing hair, and gets to hear an awful lot while doing it.  Mrs. Taft is always worried about appearances (she won’t allow bald men), so careful to keep the President from being made a fool of. 

At one point, with Mrs. Taft gone, Maggie is needed back at the White House at night, bringing Lillian with her.  Crippled in one leg with polio, Lillian is full of spunk, and amazed by the President’s bathtub.  It’s here that we finally meet Taft himself (Victor Buono), who is very friendly, even inviting little Lillian to snack with him, holding her hand.  He indeed has a very hearty appetite and rambles on about ghosts and politics to Lillian, but he seems like a harmless lonely man. 

Fellow staff members help Maggie to make extra money, even getting her son Emmett a job in the garden.  Charlie Taft gets in him into trouble, which horrifies Maggie.  Even worse is Lillian earning money by helping men bet on horses, which gets her sent off to Catholic school. 

There are times when the narrative gets a bit cloying in its stretch to go both upstairs and downstairs.  For instance, Maggie goes to get her curling iron, trapped in the bathroom when the Tafts come up unexpectedly.  She overhears Taft complaining about being President, summarizing pretty much his entire career in three minutes.  Or, right after that, Maggie tells one of her wealthy clients about poor Lillian’s leg, and the client offers to pay for the surgery. 

Naturally, during the surgery, Mrs. Taft has a stroke and Maggie is called back to the White House.  She has to work, so she leaves the hospital to tend to Mrs. Taft.  Luckily, the operation is successful, and all of the servants are so relieved, giving Maggie the good news as she brushes delicate Mrs. Taft’s hair.  Both Lillian and Nellie Taft recover well (so well that Leslie Uggams has taken over as Lillian now), though Lillian will always need her crutches. 

For the Butler’s Ball, Maggie dresses up in one of Mrs. Taft’s old dresses that Lillian has redone for her, but neither of Maggie’s growing kids is happy.  Lillian stays inside sewing, afraid to be seen handicapped and Emmett is tired of Charlie Taft’s hand-me-downs and leftover duck. 

Taft loses his bid for re-election and the staff members are all upset to see the Tafts go.  It’s time for the Wilsons (Robert Vaughn and Kim Hunter), far less friendly, but more thrifty.  Wilson can’t be bothered to meet the staff, but will go around turning off lights.  The Wilson daughters are a bit more fun, joining a White House tour and pretending to be tourists.  Maggie adores the Wilson daughters, much to Lillian’s jealous dismay. 

A charitable do-gooder, the first Mrs. Wilson actually pays Maggie a visit to see how they live, promising to “fight for the Negroes with the very last ounce of my energy.”  You say a thing like that in a miniseries and you are a goner.  Indeed, the first Mrs. Wilson expires in the very next scene.  Luckily, before she died, she told Wilson how much she liked Maggie and he orders that Maggie is “never to be on her knees again.” 

The first Mrs. Wilson is soon forgotten as Wilson marries for a second time (Claire Bloom).  Maggie asks for a raise and is told that is not going to happen as then she would be making the same amount as a white maid, the first time we’ve encountered obvious racism.  “There’s a new Mrs. Wilson now,” Mrs. Jaffray snaps at Maggie’s reminding her that Mrs. Wilson had promised.  Maggie then tries to get a maid’s job for Lillian once Emmett goes off to the army, but Mrs. Jaffray knocks that down too as Lillian is not fast enough. 

Maggie is doing Mrs. Wilson’s hair when she and her husband are arguing against women getting the vote.  Unlike the Tafts, they don’t seem to notice Maggie at all.  She literally stands a foot from them as Wilson bashes everyone, and then Mrs. Wilson suggests they send Maggie outside to find out what the female protesters are saying.  Vapid Mrs. Wilson then tells Maggie how easy she has it, going home from work every night while the President sits up worried.  “Backstairs at the White House” is never mean-spirited, but it does have its little moments of acidity.  Plucky Lillian is outside marching, to the horror of her mother! 

With World War I on, the staff is worried that Wilson won’t eat.  As one of their own goes off to fight, a letter comes from Emmett.  He’s been promoted, thrilling everyone, but Mercer notes the return address is a hospital.  He’s been gassed, they find out through the White House chain.  Wilson tells Maggie that Emmett is on the way home, but then a telegram arrives.  It’s not what you think, because Emmett arrives home safely (though with a nasty cough).  It’s Emmett Sr. coming home, $112 in need.  Maggie is utterly thrilled with everything.  When one is that happy…  Well, the next telegram says Emmett Sr. is not coming home.

The war ends and the servants are overjoyed, even stuffy Mrs. Jaffray.  But Wilson loses his League of Nations battle.  Wilson forgets his glasses and then gets a chill.  Students of history know what is coming next: Wilson’s big stroke.  That it happens in the middle of a big monologue delivered to Mercer is a bit much.  The story gives Wilson far less sympathy than Mrs. Taft after her stroke.  Mrs. Wilson full intends to take over and run things.  A big deal is made over finding Lincoln’s bed for the big show Mrs. Wilson wants to put on to make everyone think Wilson is just fine, and it’s heavy-handed, but it’s only 1979 and the miniseries is hardly subtle at this point.  Okay, it will never be subtle, but it did do some learning. 

Surprisingly, there is some sympathy given to the second Mrs. Wilson, who never gets any in real life.  She’s worn out from running the country and has a touching scene with Maggie where they discover they must be “blood sisters” as both have Indian heritage.  The Prince of Wales pays a visit, giving way to a comical scene where everyone learns how to bow and address him properly.  Even Mr. Wilson is able to greet him.  Maggie and Mercer are proud of their Wilsons, but it’s time for them to leave the White House.

No one is eager for the Hardings.  They have to put spittoons in the rooms!  And sauerkraut!  Mrs. Jaffray tries to get Maggie back to scrubbing the stairs, but Maggie says she’s been spared that by Presidential order.  Lillian is there hear her finally stand up to Mrs. Jaffray, but they do not agree about Lillian’s new bob hairdo.  It goes with her new job at a dress shop, where Washington ladies are already full of gossip about Harding and his affairs. 

Celeste Holm is immediately pushy as Mrs. Harding, brandishing a dog and a bird as she makes her first appearance.  She’s quirky, confusing Maggie.  She wants a facial every day and sings “Look For the Silver Lining” before saying she gets “good psychic vibrations” from Maggie.  The formality of the previous First Ladies at least made sense to Maggie.

It’s Prohibition, but President Harding (George Kennedy) has the White House staff supplying him with alcohol, must to Maggie’s dismay.  Mercer takes full advantage and drinks what is available.  Harding is a fun-loving people person who plays poker with his cronies in the White House, easily the least stiff of the Presidents so far (and he’s making Taft Chief Justice, which Taft had wanted to be years earlier).  The corruption goes on right under his nose and he seems to have no idea because his friends, including the Attorney General (Barry Sullivan) make it seem legal. 

Maggie does what she does best, comforting First Ladies.  Florence Harding is exhausted from shaking hands and smiling all day long, but not too tired to blather on about Harding’s destiny and her psychic notions.  Let’s not mention her bird that sings at night, a “bad omen.”

Lillian has found the family a new apartment, bigger than before and with furniture.  Emmett comes home from the hospital for a meal…not leftover duck, but pork chops that Maggie herself made.  Both of the kids know about the house on K Street, infamous during the Harding administration as THE place for illegal activity.  Fiercely devoted Maggie refuses to believe anything bad about any of her employers.  Once again, she chooses the job over her family.  Mrs. Harding wants her back while Emmett is choking at the kitchen sink.  Mrs. Harding is right to be worried.  On top of everything else, there are rumors that the President has black blood in him. 

For the first time, we meet a future president before he’s in office.  Silent Calvin Coolidge (Ed Flanders).  Harding brings him to the White House in desperation to see how he’ll vote should the Senate need his tie-breaking vote.  He refuses to give an answer, ever the Sphinx.  He’ll arrive soon enough as Harding’s problems mount.  One of his best friends kills himself and the Senate is bouncing around various charges, including Teapot Dome.  We hear of this in one of the miniseries’ annoying “coincidences.”  Maggie is tending to Mrs. Harding who tells Maggie to open the door, allis owing us to hear/see what Harding and his friends are doing a room away.  Poor Mrs. Harding–her husband is a bum with multiple mistresses and a crumbling presidency.  She has only her Maggie to keep her company, though Maggie is exhausted by it. 

It comes time for the Hardings’ fateful trip to the West.  For Mrs. Jaffray, it’s only a chance to give the White House a big cleaning.  Mercer shows up at Maggie’s in the middle of the night to break the news that President Harding as died.  Weeks later, Florence Harding is refusing to leave, and Coolidge is not pushing to move in.  When she finally does leave, it’s without her pets.  She leaves the damn bird to Maggie. 

There are changes in staff, so many that Mercer and Maggie are near the head of the table and the Irish maid Annie, who gave Maggie such a hard time early on, is retiring after 25 years.  Maggie is the new first maid!  Coolidge is the kind of man who rings for the servants just to see them hurry in and who also expectes change when Mercer gets him the paper.  And he keeps a pet racoon. 

Mrs. Grace Coolidge (Lee Grant) insists her husband has a sense of humor, but she seems to be the only one who can see it.  He’s the kind of man who visits the White House kitchen, instructing everyone on stretching soup by adding water, saving stale bread, etc.  There will be no leftovers for the staff as Coolidge wants them for himself. 

Lillian is caught up in living on credit, as is the rest of the country.  She’s happy to buy her mother a Victrola on credit, much to the delight of the staff members who visit Maggie.  At 26, Lillian has a date, the first one we’ve known about yet!

The only time President Coolidge shows any excitement is with his family.  But even then he’s sour, telling his sons, “don’t get too comfortable, boys, we’re only temporary tenants.”  Mrs. Coolidges’s biggest worry is sneaking a few moments away from the Secret Service.  Hell, she even makes her own bed, but will defend her husband to the end as a “good man.”  Beware the slightest hint of pain in a miniseries.  One of the Coolidge boys complains of a blister on his foot and in the next scene…dead.  Both parents are utterly undone, but after a while, they manage to get back their lives (Mrs. Coolidge has all of those creepy dolls to help). 

However, it’s Silent Cal Coolidge who has the best line of the entire miniseries.  He’s in the attic with the servants helping to patch a buckling roof when Mrs. Jaffray starts wailing at them all, not realizing he’s there.  “Mrs. Jaffray, wouldn’t you be more comfortable at Buckingham Palace?” and she resigns.  Having taken care of that, he’s off to his wife full of dire warnings about the economy, that someday there will be a depression. 

On the homefront, Emmett has been moved to Arizona for a better climate, thanks to the President.  So, that leaves Maggie to worry about only Lillian, who goes to speakeasies and boys.  Lillian chides her once again about her devotion to the White House.  “It’s like taking the veil,” she huffs. 

We find out Coolidge is done when the Republican party fails to nominate him in 1928, going for Hoover instead.  It’s suddenly 1930 and the Great Depression is in full swing.  The dress shop where Lillian works is going out of business and the movie theater where she worked has closed.  Things are so bad the refrigerator is taken by the repo man.  In fact, she does something she said she would never do; she takes a job at the White House.  “I’ve come to take the veil,” she announces during breakfast one morning and takes her place at the end of the table.

President Hoover (Larry Gates) is also not the friendliest of men, and even Maggie is caught up in the gloom, ordering around Lillian mercilessly.  The first time we meet Mrs. Hoover (Jan Sterling) is when she summons Lillian, who is schooled in Mrs. Hoover’s finger gestures by her mother.  And Maggie wasn’t wrong.  Mrs. Hoover is definitely an imperious broad, with a bird yet.  She wants to “fatten up” Lillian and sends a boat of ice cream her way, with a servant to make sure she eats every bit of it. 

Mother and daughter are having trouble because Maggie is so tough on Lillian at work.  Lillian is worked to the bone, but Maggie puts it in perspective: there are a lot of people out of work and everyone at the White House knows someone who needs a job, so if she were easy on Lillian, everyone would want to bring in someone.  On top of it all, everyone has to take a pay cut! 

Mercer, Maggie and Lillian’s savings are all wiped out when the banks fail.  Maggie has been putting even coins aside and now gets a big actorly scene of tears and mourning.  “Backstairs at the White House” has been relatively free of these, as it races at break-neck speed through history, but since Oliva Cole can handle it, she might as well have a scene like this every now and then.

A crazed man has gotten into the White House and threatened the President, so security measures are ramped up, meaning the servants have to be even more out of sight than ever.  The Bonus Army is a big worry for the Hoovers, who have everyone working overtime.  Maggie looks ready to drop.  An old army buddy of Emmett’s shows up as part of the Bonus Army (much to the consternation of Frazier, their boarder/coworker). 

The Hoovers are the first couple given no sympathy.  Yes, the President speaks to Maggie once, by accident, and Mrs. Hoover, on her way out, has a scene with mother and daughter for a split second and then they have their own scene where they speak of the good things they have done.  His achievements are minimal, but a bit overdone is Hoover’s speaking Quaker.

Maggie collapses while working.  The doctor orders rest, but Maggie is stubborn. 

The loud Roosevelts show up.  Eleanor (Eileen Heckart, no looker herself, is way too pretty for Eleanor) chatters endlessly and even helps out in the kitchen.  She’s a dynamo.  But right behind her is FDR’s secretary, Miss LeHand, who lives next to Lillian’s sewing room  We first see FDR (John Anderson), appalled at the bell system the Hoovers put in to scatter the servants.  FDR and Lillian immediately bond over their affliction by polio.  He insists no more steps for Lillian, only the elevator!  I know it’s mushy and calculated, but it works.  It’s a moment that chokes one up.  Ike Hoover finally retires. 

Maggie is horrified to hear Lillian’s stories from the White House.  She’s training maids.  The staff calls the First Lady Eleanor.  They even gossip about things that are not in the paper!  Times are chaning, but Maggie is stuck back in the Taft administration.  Maggie is even grouchy over Lillian’s suitor, who very much wants to marry her. 

Lillian and Missy have a nice chat, where Missy explains how she helps the President swim, and both note the lack of free time they have.  Hey, if we can humanize poor Missy LeHand, we probably could have found a way to make nice with the Hoovers, but whatever, they are gone. 

Well, Lillian finally gets married, but without telling Maggie.  They stall at the movies rather than face her, understandably.  She’s not happy.  She fears for Lillian’s job and the husband doesn’t even have one.  At the heart of it is Maggie’s fear of losing everyone.  Lillian assures her she’ll never leave her mother.  Unfortunately, that means even on her wedding night, she sleeps in her room with Maggie and hubby is out on the couch. 

There’s another pay cut, this one 25%.  However, FDR is understanding, noting in a letter to Eleanor that they need to cut back too. 

In a hoot of a scene Eleanor moves into Lillian’s sewing room because there is no room in the house, especially with Alexander Woolcott staying on and on.  She formulates a plan to get him out, literally stripping the room bare right out from under him.

It’s 1939 and Hitler is on the move, with Roosevelt thinking of a third term.  Maggie is supposed to retire, but Eleanor has asked her to stay on through a royal visit.  Lillian’s husband is laid off and very crabby that he gets to spend no time with his wife, the breadwinner.

The King and Queen of England come for a visit and frumpy Eleanor wears a wool dress with an uneven hem, but she doesn’t care.  “That’s my lady!” Lillian says proudly.  “Not quite yet!” Maggie says with each word taking a full minute.  But, four days later, it is indeed her time to retire, after 30 years.  Franklin and Eleanor give her an inscribed pocket watch.  She has as sweet goodbye speech and of course Mercer is sad to see her go, having obviously loved her from the first day they started together,  “I want to go out the way I came in…by myself,” she says in a very Miss Jane Pittman moment. 

As Maggie is leaving, we hear an ambulance and Lillian thinks something has happened to Maggie, but it’s actually Missy LeHand who has had a stroke.  Mercer takes that moment to remind us of all the death and decay he’s seen in the last 30 years, as if we hadn’t remembered.

Suddenly it’s Pearl Harbor Day and we’re in World War II.  Now it’s Maggie who is lonely and begging Lillian not to work so hard.  She’s without purpose.  Wheatley also hasn’t seen Lillian, but does so just long enough to tell her he’s enlisted.  When he gets back, he also wants a divorce.  It’s the old “you’re not married to me, you’re married to the White House” speech we’ve all heard so many times in life. 

Jackson and Mays aren’t holding up so well.  Jackson is coughing and Mays has memory trouble.  But, with Mercer, they keep going.  Maggie is still around too, but also having memory issues, confusing the two wars.  When she shows up at the White House, Mercer and Lillian think she is confused, but Eleanor has sent for her to help with Madame Chiang Kai-Chek’s visit.  Eileen Heckart and Olivia Cole have a beautiful scene sitting in the kitchen talking about the horrors of war. 

Maggie collapses on those darn backstairs and for once asks to go home to rest.  Now she’s telling Lillian she’s doing too much.  Poor Frazier, who had been living with Maggie and Lillian before the war, is killed in an air raid. 

Flashing off to March, 1945, FDR is only weeks away from death, old and haggard after years of service.  He and Lillian have another one of their personal chats.  Lillian knows the house history and FDR notes she would make a fine tour guide, which of course she wanted to be years before.  It is, of course, their last chat.  “Good night, Little Girl,” he says as she lives.

Harry Truman (Harry Morgan) is now in the White House with fumpy Bess (Estelle Parsons, in a strange fright wig) and Margaret in tow.  The servants are split on the Trumans.  There’s a lot to make fun of, but the old-timers like Lillian, are sounding an awful lot like Maggie used to, defending whoever lives there no matter what.  Harry is homespun and Bess makes muffins to share with the staff.  The only problem is the one that always emerges…economizing.  They won’t even be feeding the staff breakfast anymore, but both Harry and Bess’ mothers are moving in. 

Mrs. Jaffray’s position has never been an easy one to fill, with a succession of women.  The latest, Mrs. Nesbitt, is fired after denying Bess a stick of butter.  Harry has bigger problems.  Big as in the atom bombs that end the war.

Would you believe Maggie is still alive?  Yup, still pasting clippings into her scrapbook for that book she’s always wanted to write, ignoring her health.  The White House is in even worse shape, so bad that the Trumans famously had to flee it temporarily so it could be patched up.  Jackson has retired, but Mays and Mercer are still at it.  Mays and Mercer even make the cut when the Trumans move to Blair House, the only two of the whole staff to stay on.  But, that doesn’t last long because Truman squeeks out a win and Bess wants Lillian back. 

Then it’s 1950 and Korea creeps into the regular vocabulary.  One of history’s more forgotten episodes happens right outside Lillian’s sewing room window when assassins target Blair House and kill a policeman.  The Secret Service wants to stop Harry from a speech, but he refuses.

On Inauguration Day, Dwight Eisenhower (Andrew Duggan) refuses to come in and do the hand-off properly.  This time, the goodbyes are very small, as only a handfull of staff members are still around, but it gives Mercer a nice last bonding moment with Truman before he disappears from the story.  But, at least everyone is back at the White House, Lillian in her sewing room.  Eisenhower bucks tradition again and banishes the portraits of Truman and FDR to the attic. 

Lillian is summoned by Mamie (Barbara Barrie), a stickler for small details, such as calling drapes drapery.  She has a habit of not addressing people directly, only through her housekeeper.  Mamie and Ike are as bland as Mamie’s Pepto pink. The first time we actually see Ike, he’s off to golf.  Mamie can’t stand footprints on carpet.  One already misses Bess’ antics, though Ike’s personally-made soup (on a hot pot) is somewhat endearing.  Lillian doesn’t have to mend the linen anymore, instead having to make them brand new. 

Mamie demands to see Lillian, who is ready to quit due to Mamie’s demands, but it’s only a ruse to get her downstairs for a surprise birthday party.  By now, we’re really stretching for things to do in the White House.  That night, Lillian comes home just in time to see Maggie going back to the White House, confused about where she is and when it is. 

Mercer and Mays are still in the White House, though they complain they aren’t really noticed.  They have been there since the Tafts and even Lillian has nearly 30 years on the job.

The last of the illnesses in the story is Eisenhower’s heart attack, kept a secret from everyone except the staff, much to the chagrin of a dressmaker who wants to fit Mamie.  Mays has to have a leg removed and then dies.  Mercer, Maggie and Lillian are present at the funeral, making Mercer the only old-timer left in the White House.  As Maggie breathes her last, Mercer finally admits his love for her. 

But Lillian and Mercer return to work, admitting the only people they know now in the White House are each other.  Mays had gotten a nice parting speech before he was dispatched, so now it’s Mercer’s turn.  He decides to retire once Kennedy is elected.  “The presidents, their families, they are temps.  We are the ones who live here,” Lillian tells him when he says he no longer belongs. 

Then it’s back to where we started, Inauguration Day, 1961.  Lillian leaves her sewing room for the last time.  She gets the 30-year tray and autographed pictures of Dwight and Mamie, though Lillian wonders who told Ike her name, since they had no contact in his years in office.  Going down the staires for the last time, Lillian says she intends to write a book, the one her mother had wanted to write, but one that can now be about their summed 50+ years on the job. 

There couldn’t be a better Cliffs Notes version of presidential history than “Backstairs at the White House.”  Made at a time of organized simplicity, it’s really a very elegant and streamlined production.  The main characters are given delightful easygoing personalities, without any trace of soapiness in the plot once Emmett Sr. leaves the family after the first scene.  There is a great deal of fun to be had at the expense of the Presidents and First Ladies, but the comedy is never downright bitter.  This all gives the miniseries an expert tone, not political and not preachy, but a sweet story that just happens to take place at the very center of 50 years of American history.  The final praise goes to the three leads.  Olivia Cole is a tender and solid presence as Maggie, a rock solid center.  Lou Gossett, always looking at his favorite ladies with love, is as kindly a Mercer as can be imagined, and Leslie Uggams hits just the right notes of feistiness and knowing drama, as always.

Categories: Historical Miniseries

2 Comments to “Backstairs at the White House (1979)”

  1. vilstef 15 January 2011 at 6:07 am #

    Nicely done! This really brought the mini-series back to me. I had seen it the single time in 1979. A line which comes back to me is Roosevelt telling Lillian not to bother with the blackout curtains because ‘the Germans could see this great white barn 100 miles away.’

    I’m from Iowa, and the two First Ladies from Iowa, Lou Henry Hoover (Waterloo) and Mamie Eisenhower (Boone & Cedar Rapids) are just stifling stuckup sticky beaks. As they would’ve said back in the day, they really put on airs.

  2. Bj 16 January 2011 at 1:21 am #

    You are so right! I think a lot of the actors in the piece were directed to seem on the difficult side in order to make the lead characters even more sympathetic, but history has come down hard on Lou Hoover and Mamie Eisenhower, especially the former.

    Thanks for the comments!