Episode 116, with guests Wil Haygood and Danny Strong

Wil Haygood and Danny Strong are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: August 24, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
PoliOptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here

This week, we are here to serve.

Like the Butler Eugene Allen, or his cinematic doppelganger Cecil Gaines, we understand what your Saturdays listening to satellite radio are all about: you want to be served, like a tall cold glass of lemonade brought forth on a silver platter, a linen napkin placed just so, a spoon set by its side on the Resolute Desk of the Oval Office.

Or, maybe, you’re not the President but you’re in Washington, DC just the same. It’s a hot August day. This podcast is playing in your ear as you chaperone a school class to the White House for a tour of a lifetime. Your destination: the Executive Mansion, designed by James Hoban and built in large part by slave labor between 1792 and 1800, staffed in large part for the last two centuries by African American servants and now lived in, for the last four plus years by the first African American president.

If you’re on one of those tours – and I saw hundreds come through during my five years on the White House staff – you might be greeted by one of the mansion’s butlers offering you the same courtesy he would a president: a tray of freshly baked cookies from the kitchen down below, held for your taking by a man who knows his role is to do his job without being noticed. You might not notice him – only the cookies – but you should say thank you just the same.

As I said, we are here to serve. You don’t have to say thank you, just enjoy the show, a very special show for week of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

Wil Haygood of the Washington Post is with us. Wil is the author of The Butler: A Witness to History, available now in bookstores, and also the original 2008 Post Article “A Butler Well Served by this Election” that inspired a film — LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER – which, on its first week of release, earned $25 million at the box office. The success of the film is testament to the power of the idea in the article that you once might have read as a companion to the Election Day coverage of Barack Obama in 2008, which happened just a few days before Haygood’s piece went to print.

For all of the stories in Washington, D.C. of the great and the powerful, it took a reporter like Haygood to unearth the story, under everyone’s nose, of Eugene Allen and his wife, Helene, in Northwest DC and bring it to life while history was being made in Chicago. Importantly, Haygood’s story isn’t just about the butler. It’s about the African American men and women who, over the decades of the Civil Rights struggle to the present, have also served in increasingly prominent political roles in the White House, from Fred Murrow in the Eisenhower years to Barack Obama in the Obama years.

Then, how do you bring that story to screen? You start with the vision of a producer, the late Laura Ziskin, and raise enough money to meet the big budget of a period epic spanning 50 years. But, crucially, you need a writer with the chops to pull it off. And in our show today, we are joined in studio by that writer, Danny Strong. For viewers of a certain age, Danny is an actor of great renown, with recurring roles in “Clueless,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Gilmore Girls.” For viewers of my age, he is also an actor of great comic relief, with an occasionally recurring role as Danny Siegel in AMC’s “Mad Men.” But Danny’s unique calling card these days is as a writer — the screenwriter — of the most important stories about the presidency and those who seek it, including RECOUNT and GAME CHANGE. and now, those who serve it, in LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER.


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