1 9 7 9 (USA)
1 x 180 minute episode
3 x 120 minute episodes
This excellent nine-hour miniseries from NBC (an adaptation of the 1961 best-seller by former White House maid Lillian Rogers Parks) covered 52 years and the terms of eight American presidents – from Taft to Eisenhower – and aired over four consecutive Mondays from 29 January 1979.
The debut three-hour episode began with Lillian’s mother, Maggie (Olivia Cole), starting work at the White House in 1911 when William and Nellie Taft (Victor Buono and Julie Harris) were in the White House – or, as the unhappy Taft called it, “the great White Jail”.
Lillian (Leslie Uggams) eventually overcame a physical disability (polio) to become a staff member at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue herself, and it is through Lillian and Maggie’s eyes – and those of their colleagues in the White House servants’ quarters – that we witnessed the successive presidencies: William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Presidents and their first ladies were superbly portrayed throughout: Woodrow Wilson (Robert Vaughan) had two wives, Ellen (Kim Hunter) and Edith (Claire Bloom), and although his first wife Ellen was better-liked, it was Edith who took over Wilson’s office quietly when he suffered a health collapse in the fight for the League of Nations.
Dimwitted (and corrupt) Warren G. Harding (George Kennedy) and his wife Florence (Celeste Holms) learned that his administration had more holes in it than swiss cheese when his infidelities were revealed. Following his death – and years of scandal and gossip – the quiet dignity of President Calvin Coolidge (Ed Flanders) was a welcome relief.
Coolidge was portrayed as an honest, businesslike president who was very much in love with his wife Grace (Lee Grant) and heartbroken about the death of his younger son Calvin Jr. from blood poisoning in a freak accident.
The calm was followed by the stern Herbert Hoover (Larry Gates) and the Great Depression.
The atmosphere moved from gloom to gaiety as Hoover was defeated by Franklin D Roosevelt (John Anderson), but the relaxed family feeling in the White House ended abruptly with the outbreak of World War II.
Lillian was temporarily dismissed when President Harry Truman (Harry Morgan) moved his family to Blair house but was rehired and served through the two terms of Dwight D Eisenhower (Andrew Duggan).
The White House living quarters were meticulously recreated on a Hollywood sound stage.
Houseman Levi Mercer
Louis Gossett Jr.
Doorman and Presidential Barber John Mays
Mrs Florence Harding1
President Warren G. Harding
President Calvin Coolidge
Mrs Grace Coolidge
President Herbert Hoover
Mrs Lou Hoover
Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
President Harry S. Truman
Mrs Bess Truman
Mrs Mamie Eisenhower
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Emmett Rogers Jr.
First Maid Annie Gilhooley
James A. Watson Jr.
Chief Usher Crim
President William Howard Taft
Mrs Ellen Wilson
Mrs Edith Galt Wilson
Emmett Rogers Sr
Mrs Helen ‘Nellie’ Taft
Attorney General Harry Daugherty
President Woodrow Wilson