Monday, December 18, 2023

The First Lady

 We have seen stories about prominent politicians, their struggles and their impact.   The First Ladies were conceived as a sort of decoration, perhaps a tool to help their husbands get elected.  Ambitious men create problems for their spouses, but some women are also ambitious. For this series the focus is on Eleanor Ford, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama all with interesting stories.  They each had to endure White House staff attempting to control their duties and they all rebelled.


Each presidential candidate had serious obstacles to overcome.  

Franklin Roosevelt had the credentials, but his polio was something he had to hide. His mother was against his proceeding, but Eleanor thought he was strong enough. Barrack Obama was the first major black man and was the first candidate to get security before even declaring. Michelle was not very happy, anticipating endless scrutiny.  Betty Ford also was concerned about the disruption to her life.  Gerald Ford was the house leader, making him third in line.  Spiro Agnew was ousted for crimes and Nixon famously was likely to be convicted.

Betty Ford had been in an unhappy marriage prior to Gerald Ford and divorced.  Eleanor Roosevelt was a take charge person and did not consider First Lady a job, just circumstance, an obstacle to her desire to be an activist.  Michelle was identified as an asset, but was very reluctant.  She anticipated racism and lots of scrutiny.

Their lives were followed through courtships, marriages, struggles, campaigns, failures and triumphs.

Eleanor Roosevelt reacted against husband's adultery and wanted a divorce, but her mother in law forbade it  Eleanor accepted that they would sleep separately and she would continue to be involved with the government.  Later a lesbian affair developed with a reporter  that attracted attention of J. Edgar Hoover.  Franklin refused to press on the issue.  

Betty Ford, upset about the Nixon pardon which she identified as her husband's undoing.  She developed troubles with addiction to pain killer and alcohol.  One upsetting incident was after she had a mastectomy and the film showed her scars (and her husband's supportive reaction).  After leaving the White House her alcoholism and pain killer addiction alarmed her family who coerced into some very trying rehabilitation.  She was so grateful that she campaigned to build a treatment center.  

Michele was scrutinized, but also was very popular.  Some wanted her to run for political office, but wanted nothing to do with that.  Throughout the series we see racism.  Her brother got an athletic scholarship to Princeton, but she was advised she really was the Princeton type.  She did in fact go there and initially encountered some racism.

Politics is very visible.  There is always a conflict between doing what is right and the necessities of     getting elected.  Often the wives are frustrated that their husbands cannot do enough for things they believe in.

The last two episodes refer to Donald Trump.  As one character stated his own words should disqualify him, however too many voters liked what he says and others overlook his deeds and words.  I believe the series would have gotten (and deserved) higher ratings if it was not so negative on conservative Republicans, especially Donald Trump.

The film is a step forward explaining the role of First Ladies to help us understand them as humans.  For most of us the first ladies were of secondary interest while some thought merely decorations.  The series represented a mammoth effort involving a lot of professionals.  Below are listed only a few.

Aaron Cooley created the series, wrote for it and was an executive producer.  A graduate of the Yale Theater Studios.  He has 7 film credits.  He has also written two novels.

Susanne Bier is the director and executive producer.  An international award winner including an Oscar and Emmy.  The acting in this series is top notch due in small measure to her skills.  Her career started in Denmark.  She has 22 credits as director, 7 as producer and 13 as writer.  Her films include "Brother" (2004), "After the Wedding" (2006 and one of my very top films), "Things We Lost in the Fire"(2007), "In a Better World" (2010) and "The Undoing" (2020),

 Geoff Zanelli provided the music.  A guitar player got a big boost after meeting Hans Zimmer.  An Emmy award winner with 56 composing credits and another 49 music department,

 Amir Mokri handled the cinematography.  He has 37 film credits including "The Joy Luck Club" (1993).

Lindsey Woodward was an editor.  She has 30 film credits including "Shetland" (2016), "Grantchester" (2016),  "Big Little Lies" (2019),  "The Undoing" (2020) and "Sex Education" (2023). 

Sarah Finn worked the casting and was a co-producer.   She has 160 credits for editing and 19 as a producer including "Coach Carter" (2005), "Seven Psychopaths" (20112), "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missiouri" (2017) and "Everything, Everywhere all at Once" (2022).

Viola Davis played Michelle Obama and was also an executive producer.  She has 90 acting credits and 19 as producing including "The Help" (2011), "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2011), "How to Get Away with Murder" (2014-2020), "Fences" (2016), "Widows" (2018), "The Unfogiveable" (2021), "The Woman King" (2022), and "Air" (2023).  With "Air" Michael Jordan made only one casting request and it was that Viola Davis play his mother.  Check:

Michelle Pfeiffer played Betty Ford.  She has 69 film credits including "People Like Us" (2012), "The Family" (2013) and "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017).

Gillian Anderson played Eleanor Roosevelt.  She has 67 film credits including "The Last King of Scotland" (2006), "The Fall" (2014--also the producer), "Sex Education" (2019-2023) and "The Crown" (2020).

Kiefer Sutherland played Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  His Grandfather Tommy Douglas was Premier of Saskatchewan and later head of a national political party, the New Democratic Party.  His father is Donald Sutherland.  He has 106 credits as an actor and 13 as producer including "Stand By Me" (1986), "A Time to Kill" (1996),"Melancholia" (2011), "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2012) and"Designated Survivor" (2016-2019).  

I was struck with the personal details that illustrate the stress political figures endure.  Politics is a dirty business, but some good is occasionally done.  During the series a brief reference to Nancy Reagan illustrates that some women just want to be an enhancement.  In recent news a political commentator suggested that Melania Trump just wanted to be a trophy wife, but recently she made a speech against her husband's immigration policies.  I would like to have seen Rosalynn Carter who I am sure will inspire her own share of films. 

I watched this series off a DVD borrowed from my local library.

As usual I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.

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