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seen now in this encore booknotes from october 2000, journalist bonnie angelo discusses her book "first mothers" the women who shaped the presidents from this sara delano roosevelt to virginia kelley. profiles the women who nurtured the american presidents of the 20th century. it's about an hour. c-span: bonnie angelo, where did you get the idea to write about the first mothers? >> guest: 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?ai a 'and he kind of looked at me under the eyebrows and said, 'have you met my mother?' and so i spent a couple of days with that formidable roseet my o kennedy and saw just howth 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 ent she was, how interested she was in all of the things connected with politics, how devoted she was to robert kennedy, how she said at the time, yes, she would then campaign for teddy when his time came around, you know? so i got to think about it then, 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 the real effort to kind of keep himself together, 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 stop thinking about it and do something on it. >> how many mothers in here? >> there are 11. i began with the modern presidency. that's sara delano roosevelt right through virginia clinton kelley. and because politics started with roosevelt, our present politics, it was a watershed for the nation, both politically and culturally, and it seemed to really -- a relevant time to start the book. >> how did you go about collecting the information? >> i read more biographies than you've ever seen, which i do love doing. and then i talked to the three former presidents, gerry ford, jim carter and george bush, and i talked to daughters-in-dew, lady bird johnson, 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. then i talked to the other siblings. richard nixon's very much younger brother edward nixon, who most people don't even know he has a still that was still arrive. he was very helpful. teddy kennedy, eunice shriver. i talked to people who were part of the families, and they gave me insights and anecdotes that don't necessarily appear anywhere else. >> have you met any of the mothers? >> yes. i met and interviewed rose kennedy. mrs. carter, oh, yes, i interviewed lillian carter, she's memorable. and 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 did really get to watch and talk to and got a feel of their personalities. >> how many of these 11 women have a book written about them?
>> you know, five of them write their own autobiographies, and that was wonderful, because they then put many family stories in that don't appear in other president-oriented biographies, stories about the boys when they were little, stors about how they felt about their kids when they were growing up. so those five, i just mined endlessly, just loved them. and then, of course, there were some books written about the later ones, barbara bush -- no, barbara bush -- i get mixed up myself. she's in the category apart from the others in that she might be, might be the only woman since abby gail adams to be both first lady and first mother. but she had things about her mother-in-law in it. there was a book about lady bird johnson. there were a few books, but most of all i loved the books they wrote about themself.
>> have you studied al gore's mother or george w. bush's mother? >> yes, i certainly have, looking ahead. and they are -- the premise holds that they are both very strong women. george w. bush's wife laura says that he is just like his mother. they're both feist air, they're just like each other in that they say funny things. they used to fight when george w. of the 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. pauline gore still alive at 87, still very interested in politics. interesting won 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 in his political career. she was maybe more a politician than he was. he was more policy, she was more 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 6. >> where did you grow up? >> in north carolina. >> wrap? >> winston-salem, yes. >> how long were you there? >> i worked there for a while after i graduate from college for the newspaper there, and then i went to "newsday" and then to "time." >> where did you go to college? >> university of north carolina, yes. i'm a tar heel all the way. >> how many years at "time"
magazine? >> i have been with "time" magazine about 30 years. which is a long time. >> why did you pick the profession of journalism? >> i started when i was about 9 years old being crazy about journalism. i don't know why. nobody in my family had been a journalist. i put out my own little neighborhood newspaper, wrote all 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. but it was just in my blood to want to be a newspaper person. >> and where did you go with "time" magazine? >> "time" magazine sent me wonderful places, around the world with presidents, all over the country. i was here in washington with "time" for about 11 years and covered the white house, covered a lot of very interesting things during the watergate period. i was with news dave still when
the kennedy assassination took place and lyndon johnson came in. then "time" sent me to london as bureau chief. it was the first time a woman 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. >> what was your mother like? >> my mother was a teacher, and very calm and very rooted. 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 -- my mother and my mother were very good about encouraging me to do whatever i wanted to do. my father gave me the best piece of advice i think i ever had. when i was 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 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. >> let's go through these 11. let's start with sara delano roosevelt. >> a dominant woman, sara delano roosevelt. and in that picture, you can see that she's with her daughter-in-law elnor and with franklin. they were on their way to vote. now, they all looked smiley, but the tensions between sara and her daughter-in-law were there from the beginning, and they never were resolved. that was the most prickly relationship between mother and daughter-in-law. 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 an arith contract i can hudson river grand dame. she 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 that was the first person who ever did, a first mother who ever did, yes. >> why didn't the eleanor-sara relationship work? >> sara could not give up her dominance, and eleanor came into the relationship feeling quite inferior. she had a terrible childhood, terrible. and 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
at hyden park, or the house of the city 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 would say i fought 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 she could have their children and be a family. the children really were closer to their grandmother than the mother. >> we heard for years the story about mrs. roosevelt moving to harvard to live near her son. >> yes. >> what did you find out about that story? >> well. her husband died. he died when franklin was a fresan at harvard. and suddenly there she was alone in this big house at hyden park, and she moved into -- took an apartment in boston to keep an eye on her son's social life. she just didn't want to leave
him. and that was the way she could continue to be almost a smother love. and i think that might be one reason that franklin roosevelt married or decided to marry and then did marry eleanor, 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, franklin was a golden boy, she couldn't really see what eleanor brought into his life. >> harry truman. >> i knew nothing about martha truman when i started this. but i believe she was my favorite mother. she was a missouri woman who was rooted, who knew what her values were. and her harry was her dear
friend and her most beloved child. martha truman was the product of the civil war. the youngs were very prosperous family farm on the frontier there in missouri. her father was a master of the wagon trails going west from missouri to california, so they were very solid. well, the father was away, and matty, as they called her, was about 10 years old, and a group of raiders from across the border in kansas came to their house. now, they were raiders, union sthiers, not regular union, but they were wore union uniforms. they came in, burned their barns, killed their livestock, taking only the parts that they wanted, just killing the others . as margaret truman said to me,
just plain cussedness. they then made matty's mother bake biscuits for them. she told harry how they baked biscuits, rolled the dough until she had blisters on her wrists, shen they gallop ad way finally. they later -- there was a law in missouri that didn't seem to apply anywhere else in the country, where people said to be southern sthiers, and that seemed to be pretty much the case with the young family, had to -- they were given two weeks to pack up one wagon loaded with their belongs and move to 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 unreconstructed
southerner. but she was a woman of tremendous confidence, insisted on going to college as almost all of them did, even in the 1870, which is very early for a farm girl to insist on going to college. but shdid. 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 i trace it back to when he was 6. she noticed that when they were having fireworks on the fourth of july celebration there at their little town, little village of grand view, harry didn't look in the sky to ooh and aah over the fireworks. and then she noticed he 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 the horse to the buggy alone, drove him 15 miles
to kansas city, took him an 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, particularly histories. i think harry truman was probably 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. >> how many children in the family? >> three. a younger son and a middle daughter. >> there's a story about harry truman rooming with mr. eisenhower's brother. >> that's right, yes. for a brief time, they were both in the rooming house there in kansas city. they were starting out in the bank there.
and that was arthur eisenhower, and he wound up as a vice president of that bank. but i believe harry beat him. >> how about the eisenhowers? >> they were church mouse poor. they lived, again, on a frontier town of abilene, kansas. it was a hard life, a very hard life. six boys and a sent who died in infancy. ike said it 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 husban dour man who had been a failure, had 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 -- 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 young dwight, as a school boy, had to wear his mother's old high top shoes. that was 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. they earned money from the time they were, oh, 6 and 8 years old, the boys had to earn money, did all those things, sold vegetables from their garden. it was a hard life. west point, of course, gaye eisenhower this access to everything, and she was -- she was a total passivist. so when her boy decided to go to west point, it was a blow to her, but she did not try to stop it. she'd been a very fundamentalist, religionist -- a group called the river brethren, an off shoot of the
mennonites, very fundamentalist. later she joined the jehovahs, which have passivism in their square one. she was on the sidewalks distributing anti-war pamphlets when dwight eisenhower was leading the greatest army ever assembled. and one of the brothers 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 that son to let her -- let her drblet anti-war pamphlets. >> where did the general get his temper? how bad was it? >> it was bad. it was a hot temper. and ida worked on it hard all his life. he got that temper, i think, because she had -- she had
great equinity. i think he got it from his father, although he was a remote, removed man. 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 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 press queion thrown at him, they could see a vain throbbing, and they knew something's gotten to the president this time. >> d you find out anything about rose kennedy,nything new? >> i did reading her own book about herself, 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 american had been and still are discriminated
against in that city. her mother didn't like politics. and so rose went with the father everywhere and lapped it up. she then met joe kennedy 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 prevailed. but 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 like that. she had such an influence 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 influence goes to the third generation. 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 graduated from marymount, which was a very good college for an affluent catholic girl. she was a great reader, spoke three languages, was a tremendous musician, could play the piano wonderfully. 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 obviously did not come to pass. but her commitment to public service was unending. >> the story about rosemary and the l.a. got me. >> yes. >> did he really not tell her about that? >> he did not tell her.
>> what were the circumstances? >> 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. >> the daughter. >> the daughter, rosemary, the oldest girl. she was able to be presented at court with the other older girls when joe kennedy was ambassador to the jameses in london. so she was able to have her paris gown 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 marks of it seemed to be that. joe kennedy simply had it done. the lobotomy at that time was one of the operations that was supposed to be one of the great -- 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 heart broken that this decision had been made without her. >> the other story about joe kennedy, the father's dalliances. >> oh, yes. >> and again, i ask you, did gloria swanson, did they know that he was having a relationship with joe kennedy, and did they travel together? >> they did travel together. >> mrs. kennedy? >> the three went to europe together on a -- 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 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 good friend, and that her husband was just trying to help her with her hollywood career. he was a producer at that time. and she simply swallowed it. but there was a time earlier than that that she actually went home to her father. there was dalliances of other kinds. and she went home, she told her father what it was all about. and he said, "rose, this was ion," but he didn't say i told you not to marry him. he was much nicer. he said, "this is your
decision, and you must live with it. go home, rose. go home to your family." and so she did. but it was that close a thing, and her father saying you must go back and be with your family. therefore, she simply saw what she wanted to see, heard what she wanted to hear. >> and she was how old when she died? >> rose was 104 years old. >> what year, do you remember? >> 1995. >> and rebecca johnson, did she live to see her son be president? >> 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 lyndon johnson then won as a young man herself. rebecca 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, an editor. and rebecca's own grandfather had been president of baylor university. so 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. this picture shows that at one time eleanor roosevelt was in texas, and these two had the lovely meeting together. and i think that was one of the high spots of her life because she so admired eleanor roosevelt. >> what did lyndon johnson get from his mother? >> he never would have been president without his mother. she was a great believer in education, a tremendous interest in all things literally. she insisted on going to college, even when in the 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 and had a year in california, just knocking about, then came back to johnson city in texas and worked with pick and shovel 09 road gang. it broke her heart. he would come back, he would carouse at the road houses at night. he would come home drunk. he was clearly going down, down, down. and lady bird johnson told me about the worst night, i suppose, when his friends brought him home and poured him into bed. and rebekah 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 said, "mama, i've tried
it with my hands, i'm ready to try it with my head, if you'll help me"ment she flew into action. she called the president of the little college from not too far away to see if he could get in a bit late. she then rounded up a loan for him from a bank that said any grandson of joseph baines -- that was her father -- was good for a magnificent $75 loan, which was what he needed to get into 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. >> how did lyndon johnson -- or how well did lyndon johnson get along with his atmosphere?
>> i think it was just so-so. you get stories 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. i think it was not an easy relationship. and yet when sam 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 you think, all right, there was something there. but the love was to his mother. >> hannah and frank nixon. >> oh, that was a very uneven couple. hannah nixon was 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
storm and drama. he was the kind full of opinions, a man very hard to get along with. when he had a general store, people would wait to have hannah wait on him because they didn't like his -- all his opinions. now, that picture of hannah 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 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 a close mother-son bond. >> what kind of other traits, speaking traits, any of that kind of thing come from hannah nixon? >> i don't think of traits precisely. i think of her calmness, her
always backing him when he was in trouble, for example, on the checkers speech. she sent him 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 reminded him that his mother was down there prayerful. she then sent a telegram to dwight eisenhower, a starchy telegram saying i know richard nixon better than anybody, and i know that all the truth of this will come out, and i'm sure i will. you know, eisenhower then read that telegram to the rally that he was having the day after the checkers speech. so she took some action, even in her quiet way. >> how did leslie king jr. become gerald rudolph ford jr.? >> what a contemporary kind of story that is. door knee gardner was a society girl in a little town of
harvard, illinois, went to a finishing school and met the brother of a friend of the college, and he was the son of a wealthy omaha big businessman. she was a big wedding. they went on their honeymoon to the west coast. before they got to oregon, to portland, oregon, he had beat her on their honeymoon. he then, they went from oregon down the coast to los angeles. he abused her physically and emotionally on that part of the trip altogether. 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 leslie king, the husband, came after her and promised he would, you know, never do it again, change his ways. she went back to him. she became pregnant and had the baby.
16 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 the river where her parents were waiting for her, never saw the man again. she was ostracized.e knew that -- jerry ford was very tender when he told me about this. his voice quavered as he recounted those facts, and he said it was an act of courage, and it was indeed. she knew she would be ostracized. divorce right after the baby was born, it was just unthinkable in those days. but she knew that even though she thought the 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. she decided that would be a good city to bring up this boy. she met in a couple of years a very nice man named gerald ford and married him. and he was the finest stepfather that any child could ever hope to have. >> what was the story of his original father, leslie king, coming to grand rapids? >> oh, that was such a mean, mean story. jerry ford in depression, the family had had quite a good paint store, a good living. but then in the depression, nobody painted their houses. so he had to work at a luncheonette to pay his way through high school. he saw this man standing by the door, and it was not somebody he'd ever seen before. when there were no customers,
he came over and said to young jerry, he was 17 then, you jerry ford? and he said, yeah. he said, i'm your father. just like that. somebody who had never, ever been in touch with him. it was quite shocking. he did then take jerry out to lunch and wanted to -- 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 had come to detroit to pick up a new car and then make this swing up to grand rapids for this purpose. he said, why don't you come live on the ranch with us, his second wife? and jerry 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 teenager, i mean, he was everything in high school. he was just the best of students, the best football player, finest young man, would be a very good free ranch hand.
but jerry ford knew where he was, he knew who his father was, his real father was gerald ford sr. >> lillian carter. >> oh, she was a georgia original. lillian carter was -- she's another one that i feel confident that jimmy carter could never have been elected president had it not been for his mother. 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 said, 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 -- 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 that's how strongly she felt about the racial equality and tolerance. and without that, he could not have been nominated, much less elected. >> james earl carter sr., what was he like? >> he was a very successful peanut warehouseman and farmer. very much a man of his place and his time. he was very glad that his son went to annapolis. that was jimmy carter's dream from the time he was 6 years old, which was 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 early 1950's south georgia. >> lillian carter, 68 years old, goes to india in the peace corps. why?
>> that's a -- why is a very good question. i think it was a feeling of wanting to broaden her horizons, of wanting to serve. she was a nurse, and nurses have to want to serve. she had retired from nursing at that point, and she tells a very funny story, that she was watching johnny carson on the late show, and she was lying in bed -- she said she was looking at johnny carson through her feet, and then came on alic service announcement to join the peace corps, and age is no criteria. and so she did. i think i'll do it. and so she told her children, i thought they'd say no, mama, you can't do. and they all said, what a good idea. and then she had to do it. and it was hard. it was very, very hard. she stayed her full two-year term, and most of the older peace corps volunteers do not.
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 have imagine her life if she had not gone to india. it was that big a fundamental experience in her life. >> did you run across any explanation as to why the pancreatic cancer with ruth, gloria, billy and the whole family? >> the family is stalked by cancer. >> breast cancer. >> breast cancer. stalked by it. no, i don't think medical science yet knows, but it's clear that their family -- there are families that have cancer. i mean, they always warn, particularly breast cancer, if there's a history of breast cancer, you must be much more careful about what treatments
you get. i think that's something that medical science has to determine yet. but it was -- there was just a lot of sadness for jimmy carter as one after another -- you know, his much younger brother and both of his sisters, it was quite tragic. >> one of the other things that surprised me in the book, i guess, was that nell and jack reagan moved to hollywood to be next to their son when he became an actor. >> yes, and i'd like to phrase that a little bit different, because it was when ronald reagan went to hollywood, became an actor. and after the first year, warner brothers 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. he wanted his parents there. i thought for a bachelor, hand so much 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 hadded good luck of finding somebody who did have a lot of letters. >> lorraine wagner. >> lorraine wagner in philadelphia. >> is she the same one that was written up in the new yorker? >> yes, she had 276 letters from ronald reagan and another 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 los angeles, had an ongoing correspondence with nelle. it was quite remarkable. >> you tell a story about ronald reagan asking lorraine wagner to do something special once for his mother. >> at the big deal in dixon, illinois, it was the homecoming parade, nelle pulled lorraine
wagner, who was a very young woman then, aside -- >> 50. >> 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. ron said he didn't want to do that. 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, nellie, and they did indeed dance. then ronald reagan turned to lorraine later and said you 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. >> how much of a executionist was nelle reagan? >> ronald reagan says she was
the greatest elecutionist in illinois. she was a wannabe performer. she would write church plays. when ronald was 5 years old, he liked being at her plays. and she and he became, when he was about 9 or 10, became a team. she played the banjo, 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 him. and her voice coaching i think was probably very, very instrumental in ronald reagan's distinctive, magical whispering kind of intensity that you will remember that sound of ronald
reagan, as we will remember jack kennedy's boston cadencies and roosevelt's arith contract i can tones long into history. >> when did jack reagan, his father, die, and also his mother? >> his father died not too long after they were in hollywood. his father had been -- >> early 1940's? >> maybe 1943, something like that. his mother lived quite a longer time. she then died before he got into politics at all. and she died of alzheimer's. so we see another mother to son. jack reagan, ronald reagan used to say, was a great story-teller. and ronald reagan says he got that trait 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 nelle. his father was a shoe salesman, not very successful. they moved about 11 times. therefore, never were quite as rooted as some of the others. always in small towns. >> in the state of illinois. >> in the state of illinois, yes. and some towns they lived in twice. so they moved 11 times, but the number of towns was not quite that great. but then when he took them to hollywood, jack reagan lived kind of a better life there and enjoyed those years, did die. but in the meanwhile, he'd gotten to know people like pat o'brien in the movies, and that was exciting. so ronald reagan gave him a
happy time as well as his mother. >> dorothy bush and her father. >> yes, what a dynasty they're building. dorothy bush was the daughter of a wealthy st. louis mercantile family. she had a golden life. no rain fell on dorothy bush. a 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 tittley winks, swimming. they tell a story within the family that at kennebunkport, they were playing solvet ball, and she hit a home run and was trotting around the bases and touched home plate. and then trotted right off and
went straight to the hospital and had her first child. that may or may not be polished up a little bit, but basically it was just about the way she was. she was so competitive and so -- and at the same time, so concerned about sportsmanship. so if her boys began to sound like, hey, i won this or that. she'd say, what did the rest of the team do? she would not let them boast. when george bush dedicated his presidential library a while 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." so she wanted them to be gentlemen and with great sense of sportsmanship. >> you also talk about their early beginnings when she was married to press cot bush in the early days, a chauffeur,
butler, a cook. >> yes, everything, staff, everything. big house. she didn't suffer at all uring the depression, which is quite amazing, because most of the families had to weather some hard times, but she didn't. she had a wonderful life. and the chauffeur would take them, take the boys to the day school there. and when ronald reagan told me the story, when ronald reagan heard devin bush telling about how the chauffeurs would race to take the kids to school, reagan would just roll his eyes, because his really poor, poor growing up years, he'd walk through two feet of snow, whatever distance it was to school, nobody took him, he couldn't even ride a bus. so their lives were so different. 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 tragedies. >> you have 11 mothers, and the 11th, virginia kelley, how different was she from all the others? >> virginia kelley was a totally different creature. she was only really the 20th century girl. she wrote an autobiography that was so candid and spared herself not at all. she was kind of a rhinestones and racetrack lady. she loved nightclubs. she loved partying. >> and that hair is -- >> and that hair. >> on purpose. >> she called it her skunk stripe. she had it done that way because she said she wanted people to look -- in a room, i want everybody to look at me. and if she said if everybody but one person likes me, i've got to have the other person like me. now, bill clinton is just like that. everybody's got to likhim. >> how often was she married? >> four times. she had four husbands. she was actually married five times because she married clinton twice.
and bill clinton's father was killed in an automobile accident before he was born. so that was a very, very brief wartime marriage, very brief. >> what was her relationship with her mother? >> hated her. hated her. really did not like her mother at all. and says so in her book. all of these girls were daddy's girls. all of them. and she loved her father. i mean, just -- they were just so close, and she was ginger to him. they were such -- 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. they just did it on their own
gumption. but it was the father to the daughter to the son. >> how many children did she have? >> two. virginia kelley, two. >> and what was her reaction to roger, her son, spending time in jail? >> oh, you know, when she went to see him in prison on a christmas eve, because she felt he had to have something for christmas, you know, and a friend went with her. and they stayed -- couldn't find anything but a sorry roadside motel, and she said, there wasn't anything, it was christmas eve, nowhere we could get food, we got a snickers bar out of the machine, and she said we ate the snickers bar, and i guess pepsi cola, waiting to see my son in prison. and she said that is 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 , one son who was a tremendous
success beyond anybody's dreams, one son who went to jail. >> what did she have to do with making bill clinton what he is, do you think? >> 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, expensive university in washington, would have been much cheaper to send him to the university in arkansas, she sent him there because she was the breadwinner in the family as a nurse. 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 viewed that a bit with bill clinton, that he dent have to play by rules. >> you report in your book a lot of jealousies in the families. what were the biggest? >> i think that where there was a younger of two sons, there was jealousy. >> like neil reagan?
>> neil was older, so there was coolness there, but not quite the degree -- there was coolness. they were never close. >> what sam houston johnson? >> sam houston johnson was a reprobate. he was lyndon's quite younger brother. the girls incidentally never had any problems with it. they were always supportive, there was not any sibling rivalry there, interesting. but he was such a roust about, round about, that 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 handcuffs. >> what about billy carter and jimmy? >> billy carter, again, much younger. he actually did business with libya, the outlaw nation of
libya. >> you said $275,000. >> yes, 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 outlaw in every sense, with terrorists, with all of the things that were anti-american, that he would do that to his brother, to me, is an incredible way of getting back at big brother. >> you said in the book -- and i don't think you said this about anybody else, you said lady bird johnson was one of the great first ladies. >> i 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 earley colingses. when people hardly knew the words environmentalism and 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 treasure their natural resources, make their communities more beautiful. get rid of the junkyards, tear down the billboards. her imprint is seen today all over this country. hiways in north carolina, in georgia, in california are sprinkles with wild flowers, which takes some doing. it's much easier just to mow them. she did a lot. >> which one of the mothers did you like the least? >> the least? oh, i don't look at people that way. i will say which one i like the best, and i think martha young truman was just such a steadfast person with a sense of humor and kind of full of vim and vigor. she talked politics on her death bed. >> is it fair to say in the book you were pretty positive about all the mothers? >> yes. >> did you purposely stay positive? >> when there was a negative, i put it in. i certainly put negatives in about virginia clinton kelley,