BRIAN LAMB:, HOST:: Bonnie Angelo, where did you get the idea to write about the first
BONNIE ANGELO, AUTHOR, "FIRST MOTHERS: THE WOMEN WHO SHAPED THE PRESIDENTS":
Well, you know, I'd covered the White House for a long
time for Time magazine, but I remember the exact day it came into my
head, and that was in 1968. I was covering the California primary
with Robert Kennedy. And I--I asked him--I said--the--the family was
deployed all over the state campaigning for him, and I said, `With all
the tragedy that your family has suffered at the hands of politics,
how do you account for the fact that they're out there again?' And he
kind of looked at me under the eyebrows and said, `Have you met my
And so I spent a couple of days with that formidable Rose Kennedy and
saw just how resilient she was, how interested she was in--in--in all
of the things connected with pol--how devoted she was to Robert
Kennedy, how she said at the time, yes, she would--she would then
campaign for Teddy when his time came around, you know. So I got--I
began to think about it then, and--and then back in my kind of daily
rounds at the White House, I kept hearing presidents talk about their
mothers, mentioning their mothers and almost never mentioning their
fathers. It began to impress me very much.
Then we all remember that day in August of 1974 when Richard Nixon was
struggling through his resignation speech in the East Room of the
White House, and in this--the--the--the real effort to kind of keep
himself together, he--he sort of blurted out, `My mother was a saint,'
and I thought there it is again, thinking of his mother at this most
traumatic time for himself. And all these things just settled down in
the head, and finally I decided, `Well, stop just thinking about it
and do something on it.'
LAMB:: How many mothers in here?
ANGELO:: There are 11. I began with--it's the modern presidency.
That's Sara Delano Roosevelt right through Virginia Clinton Kelley.
And because our politics started with Roosevelt--our present politics,
it was a watershed for the nation, w--both politically and culturally,
and it seemed to really--a relevant time to start the book.
LAMB:: How did you go about collecting the information?
ANGELO:: I read more biographies than--than you've ever seen,
which I do love doing. And then I talked to--to the three former
presidents: Gerry Ford and Jimmy Carter and George Bush. And I
talked to daughters-in-law: Lady Bird Johnson and Nancy Reagan; and
grandchildren, Margaret Truman and John Eisenhower, both of whom, of
course, are writers themselves, and they view their grandmothers very
well. So they were wonderful help.
And then I talked to the other siblings. Richard Nixon's very much
younger brother, Edward Nixon, which I think--who most people don't
even know he has a brother who's still alive. And he was very
helpful. Teddy Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, just--I talked to people who
were part of the families, and they gave me insights and anecdotes
that don't necessarily appear anywhere else.
LAMB:: Have you met any of the mothers?
ANGELO:: Yes. I've met--I met and interviewed Rose Kennedy;
well, Lillian Carter--oh, yes, yes, I interviewed Lillian Carter.
She's memorable. And I--I--I was around a bit with Virginia Clinton
Kelley, but I didn't interview her, but I was very much around when
she was there. So those, I--I--I did really get to--to watch and talk
to and--and got a feel of their personalities.
LAMB:: How many of these 11 women had a book written about them?
ANGELO:: You know, five of them wrote their own autobiographies,
and that was wonderful because they then put many st--family stories
in that don't appear in other in--more s--president-oriented
biographies, stories about the boys when they were little, stories
about how they felt about their kids when they were growing up. So
those five I just mined endlessly, loved them. And then, of course,
there were some books written about the later ones: Barbara Bush--no,
Barbara Bush i--is--I get mixed up myself. She's in the category
quite apart from the others in that she might be--might be the only
woman, since Abigail Adams, to be both first lady and first mother.
So--but she had things about her mother-in-law in it. There
was--there was a book about Lady Bird Johnson. There were a few
books, but most of all, I loved the books they wrote about themselves.
LAMB:: Before we talk about the 11, have you studied at all Al Gore's
LAMB:: ...or George W. Bush's mother?
ANGELO:: Yes, I certainly have, looking--looking ahead. And they
are b--the--the premise holds; they are both very strong women. Even
George W. Bush's wife, Laura, says that he is just like his mother.
She said the--they're both feisty. They are--they're just like each
other in that they say funny things. They used to fight
as--when--when George W. was just a boy because they were so alike.
But he says--at one point, recently, he said, `She gave me a lot of
love and advice, and I gave her white hair.' That's how it goes.
Pauline Gore--still alive at 87, still very interested in politics;
interesting woman in that she was the product of a tiny town in
Tennessee called Cold Corner, which almost sounds like fiction in
itself. She was determined to go to law school, worked her way
through law school at Vanderbilt University, was the only woman to
graduate in the class of 1936, and that was very early for women
lawyers, and then married Albert Sr. and threw herself into his
political career. She was maybe more a politician than he was. He
was more on policy, she was more on people. She would slog through
the muddy back roads of Tennessee, knocking on doors, leaving material
for them to read. She was a very good politician, and she had the
presidency in mind for her son, Al, from the time he was about six.
LAMB:: Where did you grow up?
ANGELO:: In North Carolina.
LAMB:: Where abouts?
ANGELO:: Winston-Salem, yes.
LAMB:: How long were you there?
ANGELO:: I--I worked there for a while after I graduated from
college for the newspaper there, and then I went to Newsday, the Long
Island paper, and then went to Time.
LAMB:: Where'd you go to college?
ANGELO:: University of North Carolina, yes.
LAMB:: So how many years...
ANGELO:: We're a Tar--I'm a Tar Heel all the way.
LAMB:: How many years with Time magazine?
ANGELO:: Oh, I was with--I have been with Time magazine about 30
years, which is a long time.
LAMB:: Why did you pick the profession of journalism?
ANGELO:: I started when I was about nine years old being crazy
about journalism. I don't know why. Nobody in my family had been a
journalist. I put out my little--own little neighborhood newspaper,
wrote it all, did the headlines, illustrated it with my own drawings,
pasted it up in column form. And I've always said it was probably the
best-edited paper I ever worked for, I said. But it--it--it was--it
was just in my--in my blood to want to be a newspaper person.
LAMB:: And where did you go with Time magazine?
ANGELO:: Oh, Time magazine sent me wonderful places, around the
world with presidents, all over the country. I was here in Washington
for--with Time for about 11 years and covered the White House, covered
a--a lot of very interesting things during the Watergate period. I
was with Newsday still when the Kennedy assassination took place and
Lyndon Johnson came in. Then Time sent me to London as bureau chief,
and it was the first time a woman t--had ever headed a Time bureau
abroad. And I got there with the rise of Maggie Thatcher, so that was
a wonderful story. She kept me in cover stories the whole time I was
there, which was almost eight years, and then I went back to New York
as New York bureau chief.
LAMB:: What was your mother like?
ANGELO:: My mother was a teacher and very--very calm and very
rooted. She did--I would not--I was the youngest of four, fourth of
four, and I think by the time you're the fourth of four, you just kind
of get it out of the air somehow. But she was--they were--my father
and my mother were very good about encouraging me to do whatever I
wanted to do. My father w--gave me the best piece of advice I think I
ever had. When I was out of--just out of college, I had offers of
three jobs, and two of them paid much better than the journalism job.
One was a government kind of position. And he said, `Take the one
that's interesting. Don't go for the one with the money.' And so I
went into journalism, and I thought that's the most wonderful advice
that you could give a kid coming out of college. And I've never, ever
regretted it because it's been a juicy career.
LAMB:: Let's go through these 11. Let's start with Sara Delano
ANGELO:: A dominant woman, Sara Delano Roosevelt. And in--in
that picture, you can see that she's with her daughter-in-law,
Eleanor, and with Franklin. They were on their way to vote. Now they
all looked smiley, but the--the tensions between Sara and her
daughter-in-law were there from the beginning, and they never were
resolved. That was the--the most prickly relationship between mother
But she was such a dominant woman; put her whole life into her son,
Franklin; did not expect him or even particularly want him to go into
politics, as a--an aristocratic, Hudson River grand dame. She
rather--rather thought politics was beneath the Delanos and the
Roosevelts. But once he got into it, she wanted him to win and
actually participated in his campaign in a minor way, which is--that
was the first person who ever did--a first mother who ever did, yes.
LAMB:: Why didn't the Eleanor-Sara relationship work?
ANGELO:: Sara could not give up her dominance, and Eleanor came
into the relationship feeling quite--she--quite inferior. She'd had a
terrible childhood, terrible. And--and--and just--she was glad enough
at the beginning to let this mother-in-law do all sorts of things for
her, but then as time went on, she never began to take over her own
life. They lived their entire life in Sara Delano Roosevelt's house
Hyde--at Hyde Park, or had a house in the city that sh--that the
mother-in-law built for them. But she built an adjacent house for
herself with connecting doors.
So it was an absolutely dominant kind of relationship, and I must say
I--I fault Franklin Roosevelt for turning a blind eye to this very
uncomfortable situation for his wife and not insisting on having a
house of their own, where they could have their children and be a
family. The children really were closer to their grandmother than to
LAMB:: You know, we've heard for years the story about Mrs. Roosevelt
moving to Harvard to live near her son.
ANGELO:: Yes. Yes.
LAMB:: What did you find out about that story?
ANGELO:: Well, her husband had died. He died when Franklin was a
freshman at Harvard. And suddenly there she was alone, in this big
house at Hyde Park, and she moved into--took an apartment in Boston to
have a--keep an eye on her son's social life. She just didn't want to
leave him, and that was the way she could--she could continue to be
almost smother love. And I think that might be one reason that
Franklin Re--Roosevelt married or decided to marry and then did marry
Eleanor, s--his distant cousin, so early. He was only 21, still a
senior at Harvard, when he informed his mother--didn't ask or
say--informed his mother that he was going to marry Eleanor.
She was devastated by it. `She's too young.' You know, she didn't
feel it was a suitable match. She could see what--I mean,
sh--Franklin was a golden boy. And she couldn't really see what
Eleanor brought into his life.
LAMB:: Harry Truman.
ANGELO:: Oh, I re--I knew nothing about Martha Truman when I
started this, but she--I believe she was my favorite mother. She was
a Missouri woman who was rooted, who knew what sh--her values were.
And her Harry was her--her dear friend and her most-beloved child.
Martha Truman was the product of the Civil War. She--the--the Youngs
were a ve--very prosperous farm family on the frontier there in
Missouri. Her father was a wagon master of the--of the--of the wagon
trails going west from Missouri to California. So--so they--they
had--were very solid.
Well, he was--the father was away, and Ma--Mittie, as they called her,
was, I think, about 10 years old, and--and a r--a group of raiders
from across the border in Kansas came to their house. Now they were
raiders, s--Union sympathizers. They were not regular Union, but they
were Union--they wore Union uniforms. They came in, they burned their
barns, they killed their--their livestock, taking only the parts that
they wanted, just kill the others. As--as Margaret Truman said to me,
`Just plain cussedness.' They then made Mittie's mother, Harry
Truman's grandmother, bake biscuits for them. She told Harry how she
baked biscuits, rolled the dough until she had blisters on her wrists,
and then they galloped away finally.
They later--there was a--a law in Missouri that didn't seem to apply
anywhere else in the country, where people said to be Southern
sympathizers--and that was--seemed to have been pretty much the case
with the--with the Young family--had to--they were given two weeks to
pack up one wagonload of their belongings and move to a u--a federal
Army fort. And I don't think it happened anywhere else in this
country. Harry Truman talked about it as president. So she had very
harsh memories of the Civil War. So when she visited Harry for the
first time in the White House, she said, `Harry, I will not sleep in
the Lincoln bed. If you try to put me there, I'll sleep on the
floor.' So she was an un--unreconstructed Southerner.
But she was a woman of tremendous confidence, insisted on going to
college as almost all of them did, even in the 1870s, which is very
early for a farm girl to insist on going to college. But she did.
She--I think that Harry Truman is one of four presidents who could not
have been elected, who could not have really even gotten to the
nomination process, had it not been for their mothers. And--and I
trace it back to when he was six, and she noticed that when they were
having fireworks on the Fourth of July celebration, there at their
little town--little village of Grandview, Harry didn't look in the sky
to `ooh' and `aah' over the fireworks. And then she noticed he
didn't--couldn't see the horses at the far end of the pasture. So she
figured, `There's something wrong with this boy's eyes.'
She hitched up h--the horse to the buggy alone, drove him 15 miles to
Kansas City, took him to an eye specialist, who then said he had
extremely bad eyes; gave the little boy thick glasses. But from that
time on, she could teach him to read, and he was one of the most avid
readers that ever inhabited the White House, particular histories. I
think Harry Truman was probably the--the most--the greatest historian
that we've ever had among the presidents. So she made him a
self-educated man--they didn't have enough money to send him to
college--and put in his mind that he could do great things. She
always thought he would do great things. Even when they lost their
home in one of the panics that occurred, she believed in him.
LAMB:: How many children in the family?
ANGELO:: Three, a younger son and a middle daughter.
LAMB:: There's a story about Harry Truman rooming with Mr.
ANGELO:: That's right, yes. For a brief time, they were both in
the rooming house there in Kansas City. They were both in--starting
out in the bank there. And th--that was Arthur Eisenhower, and he
wound up as a vice president of that bank. But I believe Harry beat
LAMB:: How about the Eisenhowers?
ANGELO:: They were church-mouse poor. They lived on the--again,
a frontier town of Abilene, Kansas. It was a hard life, a very hard
life; six boys and a seventh who died in infancy. I--Ida Eisenhower,
Ha--Ike said, was the most cheerful person he ever knew. And when you
look at pictures of her, that smile that we all associate with Dwight
Eisenhower came straight from the face of Ida Eisenhower.
Her husband was a dour man, who had had--been a failure, had
been--have never quite gotten over failing at business and was very
distant from his children and was a very harsh, harsh disciplinarian.
But all of this w--w--Ida was very resilient, and she made do when
they had no money. She had to send the boys to school with patched
clothes. And--and young Dwight, as a schoolboy, had to wear his
mother's old high-top shoes which is bound to have been a bit of a
humiliation for a boy. You know now why he was such a scrapper on the
school grounds, which he was. They earned money from the time they
were, oh, 10 ye--eight--oh, even younger than that; six and eight
years old the boys had to earn money--did all those things: sold
vegetables from their garden. It was a hard life.
But--and--and West Point, of course, gave Eisenhower this access to
everything, and she was--she was a total pacifist. So when her boy
w--decided to go to West Point, it was a blow to her, but she did not
try to stop it. She became--she'd been a very fundamentalist,
religionist--a group called the River Brethren--it was an offshoot of
the Mennonites, very fundamentalist. And then later she joined the
Jehovah's Witnesses, which, of course, have--pacifism is--is kind of
square one in--in their tenets.
She was out on the sidewalks distributing anti-war pamphlets when
Dwight Eisenhower was leading the greatest Army ever assembled, and
one of the brothers or two wrote to Ike and said what she was doing,
and they felt she should be stopped. It was not a proper thing for
her to do. And Ike wrote back, `If it makes her happy, let her do
it.' And I feel that he knew that she couldn't hurt him, and he could
hurt her and he wouldn't. And I thought that was a very touching
thought for her--for that son to let her--let her distribute anti-war
LAMB:: Where did the general get his temper, and how bad was it?
ANGELO:: It was bad. It was a hot temper. And Ida worked on it
hard all--all his life. He got that temper, I--I think, because she
had a--was a--great equanimity. I think he must have gotten it
somewhat from his father, although his father was not a volatile man.
He was a remote, removed man, who would--but he was harsh on his
children. So Ike must have gotten it from that direction. But she
would lecture him on the temper, and she would say, `You're--you're
hurting yourself more than the other person.' And he used to say that
he felt that he had gotten it under control, but anybody who was at
one of Eisenhower's press conferences when there was a really nasty
question thrown at him, they could see a vein throbbing, and they
knew, `Whoops, something's gotten to the president this time.'
LAMB:: Did you find out anything new about Rose Kennedy?
ANGELO:: I did. I--reading her own book about herself--well, she
was--she was a political person from the time of her teens. Her
father was the first Irish-American to be mayor of Boston, which was a
tremendous breakthrough because, of course, Irish-Americans had been
and still are discriminated against in that city. Sh--her mother
didn't like politics. And so Rose went with the father everywhere and
l--s--lapped it up.
She then met Joe Kennedy a--very--when she was just about 18, quickly
fell in love with him. Her father did not want her to marry Joe
Kennedy, but she insisted and been pr--and prevailed. But there--one
of--she--she implanted in her children a sense of duty, a sense of
public service. Joe Kennedy wanted a president, and he wanted the
others to go into business, but she wanted them to be--to give back:
`To whom much is given much must be returned,' or something that--she
had such an influence a--on her children that it even--her
grandchildren are all--virtually all of them, and there are a lot of
them, are in some kind of public service. So her--her influence goes
to the third generation.
She had to--she had some hard times with the discrimination against
the Irish-Americans because she was well-educated, she went to
finishing school in Holland. She went to--graduated from Marymount,
which was a--a very good college for a--affluent Catholic girls. She
was a great reader, spoke three languages, was a mu--tremendous
musician; could play the piano wonderfully. She us--she said that if
she hadn't found the right man, she would not have married, but she
might have been a music teacher, which ob--obviously did not come to
pass. But--but her commitment to public service was unending.
LAMB:: What--the story about Rosemary and the lobotomy...
LAMB:: ...did he really not tell her about that?
ANGELO:: He did not tell her.
LAMB:: What were the circumstances?
ANGELO:: Joe Kennedy did not tell Rose Kennedy, who had been the
caretaker of this young woman, whose mental condition was becoming
more and more grave.
LAMB:: The daughter.
ANGELO:: The daughter, Rosemary, the oldest girl. She was able
to be presented at court with the other older girls when the--when Joe
Kennedy was ambassador to the Court of St. James in London. So she
was able to have her Paris gown and--and curtsy to the queen. But it
began to be worse and worse. Eunice Shriver told me that she thinks
that perhaps Rosemary also was suffering from epilepsy because some of
the--some of the marks of it seemed to be that.
Joe Kennedy simply had it done. It was--the lobotomy at that time was
one of the operations that was supposed to be one of the great--not
a--it wasn't a cure, of course, but it was supposed to be something
that really helped a schizophrenic person to live with themselves.
Now, of course, it's been disused since then, but at that time, it was
seen as a great breakthrough--cover of Life magazine, all of those
things. He didn't tell her. She didn't find out for years, and she
was really heartbroken that this decision had been made without her.
LAMB:: The other story about Joe Kennedy, the father's dalliances.
ANGELO:: Oh, yes.
LAMB:: And again, I--I ask you, did--did Gloria Swanson--did they know
that they--he was ha--she was having a relationship with Joseph
Kennedy, and did they really travel together...
ANGELO:: They did travel together.
LAMB:: ...with--with--with Mrs. Kennedy?
ANGELO:: Mi--the three went to Europe together on a--on a--on a
cr--not a cruise; they were going to Paris for some sort of event:
Gloria Swanson, Joe Kennedy and Rose Kennedy. Gloria Swanson and her
daughter were their house guests in--when they were still living in
Bronxville, a New York suburb. Rose Kennedy had to turn a blind eye.
She had to know that if she left Joe Kennedy, it would destroy their
family, which both of them were devoted to. She simply decided within
herself that this was something she would have to tolerate, and so she
looked upon Gloria as their--their--good friend and that her husband
was just trying to help her with her Hollywood career. He was a
producer at that time, and--and she simply swallowed it.
But there was a time earlier than that that she actually went home to
her father. There were dalliances of--of other kinds. And she went
home, he--she told her father what it was all about. And he said,
`Rose, this was your decision,' but he didn't--he didn't say, `I told
you not to marry him.' He--he was much nicer than that. He said, `But
this is your decision, and you must go--go--you must live with it. Go
home, Rose. Go home to your family.' And so she did. But it was--it
was that close a thing, and it was her father saying, `You must go
back and--and be with your family.' Therefore, she simply saw what she
wanted to see, heard what she wanted to hear.
LAMB:: And she was how old when she died?
ANGELO:: Rose was 104 years old.
LAMB:: What year, do you remember?
LAMB:: And Rebeckah Johnson--did she live to see...
LAMB:: ...her son be president?
ANGELO:: No, she didn't. And that's a pity, because she was a
political person, really political. And her father had run for
Congress and been defeated from the very seat that--that Lyndon
Johnson then won as a young man herself--himself.
Rebeckah Baines Kennedy--Johnson was a woman with great aspirations.
She loved poetry. She was a great reader. She wanted Lyndon Johnson
to be the fine sort of man that his grandfather was. His grandfather
had been quite a scholar, a lawyer, a--an editor. And--and Rebeckah's
own grandfather had been president of Baylor University. A--so she
sent--she sent Lyndon to take dancing lessons, and she sent him to
take violin lessons, and they didn't take. But she was a great friend
and admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. That was sort of her idol. So
at--as this picture shows, at one time, Eleanor Roosevelt was in
Texas, and the two had this lovely meeting together. And I think that
was probably one of the high spots of Rebeckah Baines Johnson's life
because she so admired Eleanor Roosevelt.
LAMB:: What did Lyndon Johnson get from his mother?
ANGELO:: Ah, Lyndon Johnson would never have been president
without his mother. Sh--he--she was a great believer in education, a
tremendous interest in--in all things literary. She insisted on going
to college, even when in last year she had to pay her own way through
because her father had lost his money. When Lyndon graduated from
high school, he said, `That's it. No more education for me. That's
it. I'm finished with it.' Well, she was heartsick because it meant
so much to her. He went off, h--had a year in California of just
knocking about and then came back to Johnson City in Texas and worked
with pick and shovel on the road gang. It broke her heart. He would
come home at night--he would carouse at the roadhouses at night. He
would come home drunk. He was clearly going down, down, down.
And Lady Bird Johnson told me about one--the worst night, I suppose,
when his friends brought him home and poured him into bed, and
Rebeckah stayed at the bedroom door and said, `Oh, my firstborn, my
firstborn, to think that this could happen to you.' And a short while
later, on another terrible day of road building, Lyndon came home
exhausted, threw himself on the bed and he said, `Mama, I've tried it
with my hands. I'm ready to try it with my head if you'll help me.'
She flew into action. She called the president of the little college
down at San Marcos, not too far away, to see if he could get i--get
in; it was a bit late. She then rounded up a loan for him from a bank
that ha--said, `Any grandson of Joseph Baines'--that was her
father--`was--was good for a magnificent $75 loan,' which is what he
needed to get into--to college.
She then sat up all night with him, coaching him on geometry so he
could pass the college entrance exam, which he did barely. He
squeaked by. He got into college and blossomed. From that time on,
Lyndon Johnson went from success to success, absolutely directly as a
result of his mother's help and determination.
LAMB:: How did Lyndon Johnson--or how well did Lyndon Johnson get
along with his father?
ANGELO:: I think it was just so-so. You get--you get stories
that they didn't get along at all well. I think his father,
especially in the later years, was certainly not a character to be
admired. He was an alcoholic, and he was seen around town really
inebriated. He was kind of--never home. An--and--I--I think--I think
it was not an easy relationship. And yet, when Sam Ealy Johnson put
his boy on the train, the new congressman, to go to Washington, he
kissed him on the lips. You know, it was--you see that picture,
and--and you think, `All right, there was something--something there.'
But the love was to his mother.
LAMB:: Hannah and Frank Nixon.
ANGELO:: Ah, that was a--that was a very uneven couple. Hannah
Nixon was a--a--a--a wonderful, sincere Quaker, quiet at the core, a
woman who never raised her voice. Frank Nixon was exactly the
opposite. He was a bombastic man, full of Sturm und Drang. He was
the kind--full of opinions, a man very hard to get along with. The
people in--when he had a--a general store, people would wait to
se--Reb--have Hannah wait on him because they didn't like his--all his
opinions. And now that picture--the--the--of Hannah and--and Frank
shows them in a wonderful moment, when they were hearing over the
telephone that their son had been nominated as vice president in 1952.
So that was a great mo--moment in all of their lives. She
was--Richard Nixon was so like her. His brother Edward told me that
he was the son that was really like his mother, looked like her, was
reflective as she was, very much--very much a close mother-son bond.
LAMB:: What kind of other traits, speaking traits, any of that kind of
thing, come from Hannah Nixon?
ANGELO:: I--I don't think of traits precisely. I think of--of
her--her calmness, her always backing him. When he was in trouble,
for example, on the Checkers speech, she sent him, you know, a
telegram when he was agonizing over that speech, just hours before he
was to give it, saying, `We're thinking of you,' which just, you know,
reminded him that his mother was down there prayerful. She then sent
a telegram to Dwight Eisenhower, kind of a starchy telegram, saying
that, `I know Richard Nixon better than anybody, and I know that
the--all the truth of this will come out, and I'm sure you will'--I
mean, you know, Eisenhower then read that telegram to a big rally that
he was having the day after the Checkers speech. So she took some
action, even in her quiet way.
LAMB:: How did Leslie King Jr. become Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.?
ANGELO:: What a--what a contemporary kind of story that is.
Dorothy Gardner was a society girl in a--in the little town of
Harvard, Illinois, went to a finishing school, met the brother of a--a
friend at the school--of the college. And he was the son of a wealthy
Omaha--big businessman. She--it was a big wedding. They went to--on
their honeymoon on a train to the West Coast. Before they got to
Oregon, he--to Portland, Oregon, he had beat her on their honeymoon.
He then--they went from Oregon down the coast of Los Angeles. He
abused her physically and emotionally on that part of the trip--the
trip altogether. And this on the honeymoon.
She got back to Omaha, where they were to live, and she went straight
home to her parents in Illinois. And then he--then--then Leslie King,
the--the husband, came after her and promised he would, re--you know,
never do it again, change his ways. She went back to him. She became
pregnant and had the baby. Sixteen days after that little boy, little
son was born, who was named for his father, Leslie King Jr., the
father attacked the mother and the son with a butcher knife. With
that, she escaped that night with her baby nurse keeping watch,
because this man had such terrible temper. She escaped, went
across--and there was a river where her parents were waiting for her,
never saw the man again.
They had--she was ostracized. She knew that she was--it was a--it was
a--Gerry Ford was very tender when he told me about this. He--his
voice quavered, as he re--re--recounted those facts. And he said, `It
was an act of courage,' and it was indeed. She knew she would be
ostracized. It--divorce--from--at that--right after the baby was
born, it was just unthinkable in those--but she knew sh--that even
though she thought a boy should have a father, she knew that she would
be taking him into a life of fear and abuse and she decided that
leaving was the only thing she could do. So her father, who was
extremely supportive, gave up his very profitable business and moved
to Grand Rapids. They decided that would be a good city to bring up
this little boy. She met, in a couple of years, a very nice man named
Gerald Ford and were--married him. And he was the finest stepfather
that any child could ever hope to have.
LAMB:: What was the story of his original father, Leslie King, coming
to Grand Rapids?
ANGELO:: Oh, he--that was such a mean, mean story. He--Gerry
Ford, in Depression, had to--their--their family had had quite a good
paint store--I mean, a good living. But then in the Depression,
nobody painted their houses. So he had to work at a luncheonette to
help just pay his way through high school. He was flipping hamburgers
and he said to me that he saw this man standing by the door, and it
was not somebody he'd ever seen before. And when there were no
customers, he came over and said to young Gerry, he was, like, 17
then, `You Gerry--you Gerry Ford?' And he said, `Yeah.' He said, `I'm
your father.' Just like that.
Now somebody who had never, ever been in touch with him. It was quite
shocking. He--he did then take Gerry out--out to lunch and wanted
to--at--I guess he saw what a fine boy he was--the father had a ranch
in Wyoming and, obviously, was doing very well, because he'd come to
Detroit to pick up a new car and then just co--made this swing up to
Grand Rapids to--for this purpose.
He said, `Why don't you come live on the ranch with us,' his second
wife an--and Gerry Ford said, `No, my place is here.' And there wasn't
a minute's thought that he would go to live with this man. But my
feeling is that Leslie Ford saw this strapping, wonderful teen-ager--I
mean, he was--he was everything in high school. He was just the--the
best of students, the best football player, the finest young man,
would be a very good free ranch hand. But Gerry Ford knew where--who
he was. He knew who his father was. His real father was Gerald Ford
LAMB:: Lillian Carter.
ANGELO:: Oh, my. She is the--she is a Georgia original. Lillian
Carter was--I--she's another one that I--I feel confident that
Gerry--that--that Jimmy Carter could never have been elected
president, had it not been for his mother. And that--the reason I say
that is that from her earliest days, she was totally open-minded on
race. And in south Georgia, that was not an easy thing. Jimmy Carter
said that his mother--he says, `My mother had no--knew no color line.'
And that was implanted in him. His father was a classic Georgia
segregationist, who died before the Supreme Court decision. Her
great--she was a great baseball fan. Her great hero in 1947, that
early, was Jackie Robinson. Now in Plains, Georgia, that was not a
popular hero. But tha--but that's how strongly she felt about the
racial equality and tolerance. And she--without that, he could not
have been nominated, much less elected.
LAMB:: What was James Earl Carter Sr. like?
ANGELO:: He was a very successful peanut warehouseman and farmer.
Very much a--a--a man of his place and his time. He was--he was very
glad that his son went to Annapolis. That was Jimmy Carter's dream
from the time he was six years old, which is quite amazing. Earl
Carter was a leading man in his little town of Plains, Georgia, but he
was--his attitudes were very, very much those of--of early--early '50s
LAMB:: Lillian Carter, 68 years old, goes to India in the Peace Corps.
ANGELO:: That's a--a--the why is a very good question. I think
it was a feeling of wanting to--wanting to broaden her horizons, of
wanting to serve. She was a nurse, and nurses have to want to serve.
She was--had retired from nursing, at that point, and she tells a very
funny story, that she was watching Johnny Carson it--on "The Late
Show," and she was lying in bed with--she said, `I was looking at
Johnny Carson through my feet,' and--and then came on a public service
announcement, you know, to join the Peace Corps, and age is no
criterion. And so she said, `I think I'll do it.'
And so she told her children. She said, `I thought they'd say, "No,
Mama, you can't do that."' But they didn't. They all said, `What a
good idea.' She said, `Then I had to do it.' And so she went. She--it
was very hard. Very, very hard. She stayed her full two-year term,
and most of the older Peace Corps volunteers do not. She--it was
brutally hot. The poverty was really very depressing to her, but
she--after she had done those two years, the--lost weight, could
hardly wear her own shoes. You know, it was physically very hard.
She said she knew the Lord had sent her there, and that she could not
imagine her life if she had not gone to India. It was that big a
fundamental experience in her life.
LAMB:: Did you run across any explanation as to why the pancreatic
cancer with Ruth and Gloria and Billy and the whole family?
ANGELO:: It's a family stalked by cancer. Now and--and Ru...
LAMB:: And breast cancer for Lillian.
ANGELO:: And breast cancer. Stalked by it. No, I don't think--I
don't think medical science yet knows, but it's clear that there are
families that have cancer. I mean, they always warn on--particularly
breast cancer, if there's a history of--of breast cancer, you must be
much more careful about, you know, you--what tr--treatments you get.
I--I think that's something that medical science has to--has to
determine yet. But it was--it wa--there was just a lot of sadness for
Jimmy Carter, as one after another--and there's--you know, his much
younger brother and his sis--both of his sisters. I mean, it was--it
was quite tragic.
LAMB:: One of the other things that surprised me in the book, I
guess--just hadn't focused on it, was that Nelle and Jack Reagan moved
to Hollywood to be next to their son when he became an actor.
ANGELO:: Yes. And I--I'd like to phrase that a little bit
different, because it was when--when Ronald Reagan went to Hollywood,
became an actor. And after the first year, Warner Bros. renewed his
contract. And that's when you feel safe as an actor. The first thing
he did was call his parents and ask them to come to Hollywood.
They--he wanted his parents there. I thought for a bachelor--handsome
bachelor, Hollywood star on the rise, to want to have his mother
there--he bought them the first house that they ever had. And as you
can see, he always, as I said, watched over his mother. There are no
letters in the Reagan Library between the two. No letters. Reagan
Library knows practically nothing about her. But I had the good luck
of finding somebody who did have a lot of letters. But he...
LAMB:: Lorraine Wagner.
ANGELO:: Lorraine Wagner in Philadelphia.
LAMB:: Well, is she the same one that was written up in The Phil--New
ANGELO:: Yes. She had 276 letters from Ronald Reagan and she had
another whole packet from Nelle Reagan. She had been the president of
his fan club and went to Dixon, Illinois, for one of the big `Welcome
Home, Ronald Reagan' events and became a family friend and saw them
in--in Los Angeles, had an ongoing correspondence with--with Nelle.
It was--it was quite remarkable.
LAMB:: Well, you tell a story about Ronald Reagan asking Lorraine
Wagner to do something special once for his mother.
ANGELO:: Oh, yeah. At--at the--at the big deal in Dixon,
Illinois, where it was the homecoming parade, and Ne--Nelle pulled
Lorraine Wagner, the--this--who was a very young woman then, aside...
LAMB:: This was in the '50s.
ANGELO:: Yes. Pulled her aside and said, `What I want more than
anything is to dance with my son. Will you ask him for me?' Well,
Lorraine did. And Ron said he didn't want to do that. He said--then
everybody else--you know, he just didn't want to start it. And
Lorraine persuaded him that it would really mean so much to her. And
so he said, `OK, come on, Nelle,' and they did indeed dance. Well,
then Ronald Reagan turned to Lorraine later and he said, `OK, you've
got to do something for me. When Nelle gets up to introduce me, she
will go on talking forever. You have got to make her sit down. I
don't care how you do it. You've got to make her sit down.' And so
Lorraine was the one who had to kind of tug at Nelle's coat to make
her cut her remarks a bit shorter.
LAMB:: How much of an elocutionist was Nelle Reagan?
ANGELO:: Oh, Ronald Reagan writes of his mother that she was the
greatest elocutionist in Dixon, Illinois. Now that's not--that's not
a big region, but she was a wanna-be performer. She would write
church plays. And when Ronald Reagan was just five or six years old,
she'd have him at her plays. And he liked being in her plays. And
then she and he became--when he was about nine or 10, became a team.
She played the banjo, they--he sang. They sang together. He did
recitals. They played such places as the local mental institution.
And they played in some of the prisons. But they were a team, Reagan
and Reagan. She would then coach him when he was in high school plays
and college performances. He was--he was keen on it. She really
would--and--and her voice coaching, I think, was probably very, very
instrumental in Ronald Reagan's distinctive, magical whispery kind of
intensity that you will remember, that sound of Ronald Reagan, as we
will remember Jack Kennedy's Boston cadencies and--and Roosevelt's
aristocratic tones, as long--you know, long into history.
LAMB:: When did Jack Reagan, his father, die, and also his mother?
ANGELO:: His father died not too long after they were in
Hollywood. His father had been...
LAMB:: Like in--around 40 or something?
ANGELO:: Ye--yes. In the early 40s. Maybe 43, something like
that. I don't remember exactly, but his early 40s. His mother lived
quite a--a longer time. She then died before he got into politics at
all. And she died of Alzheimer's. So we--we see another mother to
son. But Jack Reagan, Ronald Reagan used to say, was a great
storyteller. Great Irish raconteur. And--and Ronald Reagan says he
got that trait from his--from his father. I think he got from his
mother--in addition to the love of acting, he got from her a sense of
optimism and confidence that was the hallmark of his personality and I
think the hallmark of his approach to the presidency. And that came
directly from--from Nelle. His father was a shoe salesman, not very
successful. They moved about 11 times. Therefore, never were--were
quite as rooted as some of the others. But always in small towns.
LAMB:: But in--in the--in the state of Illinois.
ANGELO:: In the state of Illinois, yes. And some--some towns
they lived in twice. So they--they ma--moved 11 times, but the number
of towns was not quite that great. But then when he took them to
Hollywood, Jack Reagan lived a kind of a better life there and enjoyed
that--those years, did die. But in the meanwhile, he'd gotten to know
people like Pat O'Brien in the movies, and that was very exciting to
him. So Ronald Reagan gave him a happy time, as well as his mother.
LAMB:: Dorothy Bush and all the office holders in her family.
ANGELO:: Oh, yes. What a dynasty they're building. Dorothy Bush
was the daughter of a wealthy St. Louis mercantile family. She
had--she had a golden life. No rain fell on Dorothy Bush. Wonderful
parents, wonderful husband, wonderful children. But she could have
sat back and just been a debutante or a bridge prayer. Not at all.
She was a competitive sports woman, a real athlete. She played tennis
with such vengeance. She was the National girls junior champion and
was serious about it. She was competitive. If it was Tiddledy Winks,
if it was swimming.
And they tell a story within the family that at Kennebunkport, she
was--they were playing softball, and she hit a home run and was
trotting around the bases and touched--touched home plate and then
went--trotted right off and went straight to the hospital and had her
first child. Now that may or may not be polished up a little bit,
but--but basically, it was just about the--the way she was. She was
so competitive and so--and at the same time, so concerned about
sportsmanship. So she--if her boys began to sound like, `Hey, we
won--you know, I won this or that.' And she'd say, `Well, now what did
the rest of the team do?' She would not let them boast. When George
Bush dedicated his presidential library awhile back, he was telling,
quite rightly, some of the accomplishments of the Bush administration.
And at one point, he stopped and he pointed his finger to heaven, and
he says, `I can hear mother up there now saying, "Stop bragging."' And
so--so she wanted them to be gentlemen of--and sports--with great
sense of sportsmanship.
LAMB:: You also talk about their early beginnings when she was married
to Prescott Bush in the early days, a chauffeur, a butler, a cook.
ANGELO:: Oh, yes. Everything, staff, everything. Big house.
They didn't suffer at all during the Depression, which is--which is
quite amazing, because most of the families had to weather some hard
times, but they di--they had a wonderful life. And the chauffeur
would take them--take the boys to the day school there. It--and when
Ronald Reagan was selling--just told me the story. When Ronald Reagan
heard George Bush telling about how the chauffeurs would race to take
the kids to school, Reagan just would kind of roll his eyes, because
in his really poor, poor growing up years, he'd walk through, you
know, two feet of snow, whatever length of distance it was to school.
Nobody took him. He couldn't even, you know, ride a bus. So their
lives were so different. We--there was a tremendous range in these
women of wealth to poverty, and yet, they all had this innate
resilience. They overcame, and even the wealth sometimes had
LAMB:: You have 11 mothers, and the 11th, Virginia Kelley--how
different was she from all the others?
ANGELO:: Virginia Kelley was--was a totally different kind of
creature. She was the only, really, 20th century girl. She--her--she
wrote an autobiography that was so candid and spared herself not at
all. She's a--she was kind of a rhinestones and racetrack lady. She
loved nightclubs. She loved partying.
LAMB:: And that hair is...
ANGELO:: And that hair.
LAMB:: Was done on purpose.
ANGELO:: On purpose. She called it her skunk stripe. She had it
done that way because it looked--she wanted people to look at her.
She said, `I want people--when I walk in a room, I want everybody to
look at me.' And she said, `If--if--if everybody but one person likes
me, I've got to have that other person like me.' Now Bill Clinton is
just like that. Just like that. Everybody's got to like him.
LAMB:: How often was she married?
ANGELO:: Four times. Well, I mean, she had four husbands. She
was actually married five times because she married Clinton twice.
And their--Bill Clinton's father was killed in an automobile accident
before he was born. So that was a very, very brief wartime marriage.
LAMB:: What was her relationship with her mother?
ANGELO:: Hated her. Hated her. Really did not like her mother
at all. And--and says so in--in her book. She was ano--all of these
girls were daddy's girls. All of them. And she loved her father. I
mean, just--you know, they were just so close and she--she was Ginger
to him. They were such a--there was such a bond between them, as
there was a bond, a special bond, with every one of these women and
their own fathers. And I think that's where their self-confidence
came from. That's where their sense of independent thinking came
from, which enabled them to feel confident about bringing up these
boys without a Dr. Spock, without anybody telling them what to do.
They just did it on their own gumption. But it was the father to the
daughter to the son.
LAMB:: How many children did she have?
ANGELO:: Two. Virginia Kelley? Two.
LAMB:: And what was her reaction to Roger, her son, spending time in
ANGELO:: She--oh, that--h, she said when she went to see him in
prison when--on a Christmas Eve, because she felt he had to have
something for Christmas, you know. And she went--a friend went with
her. And they stayed in a--couldn't find anything but what was a
sorry roadside motel, and they--she said, `We couldn't--there wasn't
anything. It was Christmas Eve. There was nothing--nowhere we could
get food. We got a Snickers bar out of the machine,' and she said,
`We--we ate the Snickers bar, and--and I guess a Pepsi-Cola
and--waiting to see my son in prison.' And she said, `That was when I
realized my life is like a country song.' And it was. It was all of
these kind of terrible things that happened: bad husbands, abuse,
alcoholism, a--a so--one son who was a tremendous success beyond
anybody's dreams, one son who went to jail.
LAMB:: What did she have to do with making Bill Clinton what he is, do
ANGELO:: I think she gave him the sense that he could do
anything. She backed him in every way. He wanted to go to Georgetown
University, an expensive university in--in Washington. It would have
been much cheaper to send him to the university in Arkansas. She--she
sent him there because she was the breadwinner in the family as a
nurse anth--anesthetist. She made him feel he could do anything. But
she also maybe made him feel--she said about herself, `Rules are not
meant for me.' And I think that maybe she im--imbued that a bit with
Bill Clinton, that he didn't have to play by some rules.
LAMB:: You report in your book on the 11 mothers a lot of jealousies
in these families. Which is the--well, if you can think back, what
were the biggest?
ANGELO:: Ah, I think that where there was a younger of two sons,
there was jealousy.
LAMB:: Like Neil "Moo--Moonman" Reagan? The...
ANGELO:: Now Neil was older. Neil was older, and so there was
coolness there, but not quite the dis--the degree that--on the
ot--there was coolness. They were never close.
LAMB:: What about Sam Houston Johnson?
ANGELO:: Son--Sam Houston Johnson was a reprobate. He was
Ly--Lyndon's quite younger brother. The girls, incidentally, never
had any problems with it. They were always supportive. They were
not--there was not any sibling rivalry there. Interesting. But he
was such a--a roust-about, round-about, that he--they kept him in the
White House for most of Lyndon Johnson's term, on the third floor as a
guest. And I said it's kind of like house arrest, because there they
could keep an eye on him and kind of know what he was up to. And he
knew that. He would go through the gates of the White House joking
with the guards, holding his hands up as though they were in--in
LAMB:: What about Billy Carter and Jimmy Carter?
ANGELO:: Billy Carter, much younger--again, much younger. He
actually did business with Libya, the outlaw nation of Libya.
LAMB:: You say $275,000 worth.
ANGELO:: Yes. Yes, it was quite a lot of money. And the idea
that with his brother in the White House, that he would have anything
to do with a nation that was an--in--in--an outlaw in every sense--you
know, with terrorists, with all of the things that were anti-American,
that he would do that to his brother, to me, is an--is an incredible
way of getting back at--at big brother.
LAMB:: You said in the book--and I don't think you said this about
anybody else. You say that Lady Bird Johnson was one of the great
ANGELO:: I think--I'll put her right up there with Dolley
Madison. And I actually think her influence on the country might be
more lasting, because she was one of the early ecologists. When
people ha--hardly knew the words environmentalism and eco--ecology,
she called it beautification. She didn't like the word, but that was
the best she could come up with. And it was to tell communities to
make--to--to treasure their natural resources, their--and make their
communities more beautiful. Get rid of the junkyards, tear down those
billboards. Her imprint is seen today all over this country.
Highways in North Carolina, in Georgia, in California are sprinkled
with wildflowers, which takes some--takes some doing. It's too--it's
much easier just to mow them.
ANGELO:: She did--she did a lot.
LAMB:: Which one of the mothers did you like the least?
ANGELO:: The least? Oh, Brian, I don't look at people that way.
I--I would say which one I like the best. And I--and I think that
Martha Young Truman was just such a--such a--a steadfast person with a
sense of humor and a--and ki--kind of full of vim and vigor. She
talked politics on her deathbed.
LAMB:: Is it fair to say, though, that in the book, you were pretty
positive about all the mothers?
LAMB:: I mean, did you purposely do that, stay positive all along--all
ANGELO:: Do you know, I--when I--when there was a negative, I
think I put it in. I certainly put some negatives in about Virginia
Clinton Kelley, because I think she--her values were less firm, shall
we say, than the rest of them. But when there was something negative,
I really--I really tried to put it in. But these were positive women.
And I guess that's why I wanted to write the book.
LAMB:: Our guest has been Bonnie Angelo. And this is the book, "First
Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents." Thank you very much.
ANGELO:: Thank you, Brian.
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