In This Episode
“People will applaud anything as long as you end it with the words, ‘America,’ and ‘Thank you.’”
After weeks of bad press surrounding the departure of Secretary Lansing, Edith has no choice but to help orchestrate America’s very first Presidential puff piece.
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Edith, voice over: I should fill you in. There have been some developments. Since last we spoke, Lansing went to the press with some vile insinuations about the president’s health.
[loc. White House, Oval Office]
[phones ringing, overlapping voices]
[Edith and senators on the phone] Hello Senators Walsh . . . Senator Fall . . . if we can just get some cover . . . just some positive coverage . . .just some cover would be great . . . Yes, Senator Gore, I assure you.
Edith: Fuck. That’s half our votes on the league, gone.
Edith: Losing support from our own party. That’s how things end.
Tumulty: Ma’am, are you OK?
Edith: Yeah, yes. Solutions. Solutions. All ideas, welcome. Except bad ones.
Trudie: Sorry, overheard a little from the other room, but I may have a suggestion.
Edith, voice over: It had been weeks and Senator Fall’s visit but ever since Trudie had kept to herself. I may have overcompensated.
Edith: Oh my God. Trudie, please come in. Share your wonderful idea.
Trudie: So, you know those movie magazines I read like Photoplay or Motion Picture or Movie Weekly or Picture Play or Motion Picture Weekly—
Tumulty: Am I needed for this?
Edith, voice over: Quiet Tumulty. Go. Go ahead, dear.
Trudie: Or Moving Picture Journal or Silver Screen—
Edith: No sweetie, skip that part.
Trudie: Sorry. So this morning I read that a reporter asked this actress:
[reporter] What is your preferred breakfast?
[actress] Grapefruit, darling. Grapefruit.
Trudie: And guess what I ate this morning.
Trudie: Seven of them. And I feel great, darling. So maybe a reporter can ask Woodrow, how are you so strong, Mr. President? And he’d say: because I oats. Then everyone reading is like that Lansing is a liar and the president is strong thanks to oats.
Edith: Trudie, are you suggesting we twist the respectability of journalism to plant an unprecedented piece of fluff about the president of the United States and what, debase this office?
Trudie: You’re right. I shouldn’t have brought it up.
Edith: No, no, that’s clever. That’s really shrewd. It’s just risky. I wonder if Woodrow could . . . you know.
Edith, voice over: I’d been protecting Woodrow for so long, from outsiders, from the public, from the press. He’d made so much progress lately, but I had to be sure, for his legacy,.
[loc. White House President’s bedroom]
Edith: Woodrow, Woodrow, you awake?
Edith: Are you writing something?
Woodrow: Letter to Nel. She was asking for something or other.
Edith: Woodrow, if we were to bring someone in, a reporter to talk with you and ask you questions, do you feel capable of taking their questions?
Woodrow: Yes. Yes, of course. Edith. I can handle a few questions. I’m well, I’m, I’m answering one right now!
Edith: Good, good. Yeah, I thought so.
[loc. Banquet Hall]
Edith, voice over: And that’s why we were here in a room full of journalists, they air thick with halitosis, talent scouting, for America’s first presidential puff piece.
Seibold: [speaking to the audience] Thank you. Thank you. I’m so glad we’re here to honor the true heroes, like myself—journalists.
Edith: Thank you for the invite to this fine banquet. Ralph. I also stand for journalism, truth, etc.
Ralph: Wonderful. I’m sorry for Louis up there.
Seibold: [to the audience] That’s right. We are the true heroes, not the firefighters, or the troops, or doctors and nurses, or teachers. Journalists!
Ralph: Well, he’d do anything for a Pulitzer, which is a good thing when your last name is Pulitzer.
Seibold: [to the audience] The jury’s still out on teachers, though.
Edith: Oh, right. This is Ralph Pulitzer. His family started the thing where they get those giant coins to journalists.
Seibold: [to the audience] Personally, I think we pay them too much.
Edith: How can I refuse an invitation from you after we received so many kind words in your fine newsprint?
Seibold: [to the audience] All right. All right. Enough of me. Here he is, famed war correspondent and my coworker, the dangerously young Tobias Clarence. [applause]
Tobias: Wow. Thank you. Thank you.
Edith: Excuse me Ralph, I want to be in my seat for this. He’s a big part of the reason I came here today.
Ralph: I know. My wife loves him, too.
Edith: I did not love him. I just wanted to use the guy, which is honestly what every other woman in Washington wanted to do too.
Tobias: [to the audience] Thank you again, Mr. Seibold. What an introduction, right folks?
Trudie: That’s him, right? He’s young! I got so used to everyone in Washington being like 48.
Edith, voice over: I want it noted I chose to ignore that that is my exact age.
Tobias: [to the audience] It means the world to me that a member of your wizened generation would come here tonight to pass the torch
Edith: Damn, what a little shit. Yep, he’s perfect.
Tobias: [to the audience] I want to talk today about our role in shaping America’s future . . . as the sun broke over the German line, I knew light would soon hit America. Thank you.
Edith, voice over: God, people will applaud anything as long as you end it with ‘America’ and ‘thank you.’
[loc. Back stage]
Edith: Mr. Clarence, what a wonderful speech. I simply had to be the first to shake your hand.
Tobias: Wow. Madam First Lady, I have to admit, I’m a little surprised you’re being kind to me right now.
Edith: Wait, why are you surprised?
Tobias: You haven’t heard? Tomorrow’s edition? My interview with Lansing.
Edith: You’re what now?
Tobias: I interviewed Lansing. It’ll be on the front page of the Wash—
Edith: You interviewed Lansing? The man’s a disgruntled, dismissed, disgraced ex-employee.
Tobias: Uh huh, uh huh. Do you have a statement specifically about his accusations in the press.
Edith: Stop writing that down. [walks off] Trudie, come on, we’re leaving.
Trudie: Did Tobias agree?
Edith: We agreed to disagree that he should drink poison.
Trudie: Oh, OK. But they did just give me some nice Earl Gray and some cookies.
Edith: You don’t need the caffeine, but bring the cookies to go.
[loc. Banquet Hall outside]
Edith: Where’s that damn driver?
Trudie: Hey, look, isn’t that the nice old man we just saw speak?
Seibold: It’s a black Chevy 490. I’ve been waiting 20 minutes.
Valet: I could have sworn we brought that car out already.
Seibold: Did you give my car to someone else?
Valet: I’m not at liberty to—
Seibold: Listen to me you red-vested blotchy-eyed car secretary, either I’m driving out of here in a black Chevy 490 or I’m climbing on your back and riding you out of here like a pack donkey. Got me?
Edith: Oh damn, I like him. Trudie, I need your cookies.
Trudie: All of them?
Edith: Yes. We just found our journalist.
[loc. White House East Room]
Edith: Honey, Dr. Grayson told me make sure you eat lunch and take your pills before today’s interview.
Woodrow: Oh yes. OK.
Edith: And how are you feeling today?
Woodrow: Good. Good. [coughs]
Edith: Woodrow? Woodrow!? Are you OK? Oh, are you OK?
Woodrow: Yes. Piece of pineapple decided to reroute itself toward my lungs, but I’m fine, Edith.
Edith: Oh God. Sorry, I’m just nervous. It’s just for months, it was like, it was all about keeping people out and now we’re, we’re bringing a journalist in. It’s a lot.
Woodrow: Journalist? Oh, yeah. That’s today, isn’t it.
Edith: Yes, it’s today.
Woodrow: Oh, good. Wonderful.
Tumulty: Ma’am, you’re needed.
Edith: Right now? Tumulty, Seibold will be here within the half hour. I’ll be right back, honey. Trudie, I need you to read Seibold for me. What are you drinking?
Trudie: Just hot water with lemon.
Edith: Oh, good. Not caffeinated. The last thing we need is more stress today.
[loc White House foyer]
Seibold: Just to be clear, you’re not going to lose my coat, right?
Tumulty: Sir, in the 130-year history of White House staff accepting visitors coat’s, we haven’t lost a single thread, of course, except that one time the British burned the building down.
Seibold: You better hope so because I’ve ruined more lives than the British Empire. And that’s saying something.
Trudie: Mr. Seibold, welcome to the White House.
Seibold: Hello. Who the hell are you?
Trudie: Why, I’m Mrs. Grayson, wife of the Dr. Admiral Grayson, the personal physician to the president. And also I am the First Lady’s friend. Best friend.
Seibold: Uh huh. Where the hell is she?
Trudie: She is indisposed at the moment. But alas . . . wow, look at that.
Seibold: What are you looking at? Do I have something on my face?
Trudie: Yes, you do. My grand pops eyes, seeing you up close your eyes are exactly like my grand pop’s. Wise, respectable.
Seibold: Well, thank you, Mr. Grayson.
Trudie: So very old. Like on his deathbed. You have those deathbed eyes.
Seibold: Yeah, sweetie, it’s just from a lifetime of wishing I were dead.
Trudie: Shall we join the president? He’s just about to start a movie.
Edith, voice over: That was Dr. Grayson’s idea, that we could ease Woodrow into his interview by starting him with mental stimulation. Doctors back then were mostly just guessing. I mean, let’s face it, they still are.
[loc. White House East Room]
Seibold, voice over: Mrs. Grayson piloted this correspondent through the hallowed White House corridors into the East Room, converted into a majestic movie palace, where two figures were silhouetted in the dark. One figure seated in the office chair was the president, the most loved and most hated man in America. The other, gentle in mein, charming in pose, standing with her left hand on the back of his chair was the First Lady of the land, Mrs. Wilson.
Edith: Mr. Seibold, I’m thrilled you’re here to mark this unprecedented first, a day in the life report of a sitting U.S. president.
Seibold: As long as I also get my in-depth interview,
Edith, voice over: That was the deal, Seibold writes my puff piece and we grant an exclusive, rare, wide-ranging interview with the president.
Edith: You will, Mr. Seibold. In fact, Woodrow, read your questions and they’ve all been approved.
Seibold: That’s unfortunate. I might need to write up some meaner ones then.
Seibold, voice over: [typing] The movie, a Bill Hart western, delighted the president.
Woodrow: Oh, look what that man says there on the screen: they told me this job weren’t no better roses and I’m telling you, she ain’t.
Seibold: Is that how you feel, Mr. President?
Woodrow: Yes. I trade with a cowboy right now. Go outside, ride. At least go for a nice drive in a car, god.
Seibold: Is there a reason you can’t go for a car?
Edith: [laughs] The president is so busy with the League of Nations. You understand.
Seibold: But not too busy to watch a film.
Tumulty: Ma’am, you have some urgent First Lady business to attend to.
Edith: Excuse me, gentlemen. Enjoy the Cowboys. I hope they win.
[loc. White House hallway]
Edith: What was Grayson thinking? A movie? It’s so suspicious. Be honest. Does the president seem capable of handling this interview to you?
Trudie: Maybe we just need to trust him a little.
Tumulty: Ma’am, there’s an urgent matter.
Edith: Out with it quick.
Tumulty: We’ve received pushback after a report that Woodrow decided to strike a request to place racial equality in the League agreement.
Edith: Pushback from who?
Tumulty: Certain people are connecting it to his decision to re-segregate the federal government.
Edith: Oh, dammit, not now.
Trudie: Racial equality doesn’t sound so bad, right? Why not just put it back in, then everyone’s happy.
Edith: Trudie dear, something sound good, but aren’t. Like angel food cake, a resort at Niagara Falls, or racial equality. Trust me.
Trudie: If you say so, Edith.
Edith: Tumulty, start drafting up some responses to this mess, I need to get back to Seibold. It’s a small pet peeve, but I hate it when journalists start asking questions.
[loc. White House President’s bedroom]
Edith, voice over: We didn’t stage the day’s events. The appointment with Dr. Grayson was coincidental. We wanted to keep everything as natural as possible.
Dr. Grayson: Why, Mr. President, not only are you in excellent shape, you have gained a healthy twenty pounds.
Woodrow: Oh. Hmm. Good.
Seibold: Wait, did the president lose a lot of weight after his fall?
Edith: No. We never said that.
Dr. Grayson: The president has just been working out, building muscle. Isn’t that right, Mr. President?
Woodrow: Hmm? Yes.
Dr. Grayson: I wish I were half as healthy as the president. Compared to him, I could die any minute. All of us could. You could, sir.
Seibold: Yeah, well, after I write this story, a few of you might want me dead.
Dr. Grayson: [laughs] Uh. That was funny.
Edith: Uh, the photographer must be here by now. He’s healthy. Let’s move on.
[loc. White House hallway]
Seibold: Back when I started, people didn’t need pictures in the newspapers. They did this little thing called reading.
Edith: Yeah, sure. Let’s be upset at the concept of photography,
Woodrow: Ah, yes, photography. “And old, once-treasured memory engraved on glass to keep the dying past alive.”
Seibold: Huh? James A. Tweedy. His “daguerreotype” poem, am I right?
Woodrow: Yes, sir. 1853. You must be a fellow poetry lover.
Seibold: I wouldn’t say I love anything, but it is one of the few things that doesn’t make me want to die.
Trudie: Oh hey. Edith, the photographer is already waiting inside.
Edith: Great. Do you mind helping them find Woodrow’s good side. I, I just wanted to share a quick word with you Seibold. How are you feeling about the profile piece?
Seibold: I’m mostly looking forward to the interview.
Edith: Oh wonderful. Because I have some good news. It’s already done.
Seibold: What’s this?
Edith: It’s your interview. It’s really good.
Seibold: I, I thought my questions were approved.
Edith: Yes they were. And now they’re answered. The president prepared it all beforehand. It’s really an incredible read. Pulitzer worthy.
Seibold: [laughs] You don’t understand Mrs. First Lady. You can boss around all the little peasants in your castle, but I don’t work for you. I work for—
Edith: I understand. But Woodrow is a very busy man, Mr. Seibold. He’s the president. If this is an issue, please feel free to talk to your boss and tell him that you failed to get your interview despite having more time with the president than any journalist before you. In the history. Of the presidency. Or we can go right in there and take a nice photo. Which will it be?
Seibold: Take the damn photo.
[loc. White House South Lawn]
Seibold: Hello, Mrs. Grayson. I didn’t realize you were out here. Mind if I smoke?
Trudie: Not at all. Just drinking. Earl Gray. The caffeine isn’t too much for me. I like it. How’s the interview? Bet it’s fine. Nice weather, huh? Yeah, pretty nice!
Seibold: Wow. OK. Like giving cocaine to a mouse. Actually, Trudie, something I noticed is that the First Lady is uh, has she always been this strong-willed?
Trudie: She’s strong, real strong. People never gave her what she wanted, so she found ways to get it anyway. That’s Edith. The president can’t even go for a little drive anymore without her say-so.
Seibold: You know what, sweetie? I love talking to you. I wondered if you could talk about some of the business Edith just keeps wandering off to attend to today.
[loc. White House Oval Office]
Photographer: Hmm. OK, Mr. President, Mrs. First Lady, hold still for a moment.
Edith: Woodrow. Hold the paper still.
Woodrow: I am holding it still.
Edith: No, it’s shaking. Woodrow. These cameras will blur if there’s motion.
Photographer: Just one more moment and . . . [click]
Edith: Did it? Did it work?
Woodrow: I thought there’d be a flash or noise or something.
Edith: Was it the paper?
Photographer: No, Mrs. Wilson, something appears wrong with the camera. Can I have five minutes, Mr. President?
Edith, voice over: That’s more time than we gave the ambassador from Romania and they were at war, but sure.
Photographer: Thank you, Mr. President.
[loc. White House South Lawn]
Seibold: Trudie, look into my eyes. Your grand pop’s eyes, right? Would you lie to him on his deathbed?
Trudie: [laughs] No, no lies.
Seibold: What’s really going on here with Edith and Woodrow?
Trudie: If you’re thinking Edith sees you as a sad old man she can manipulate, you’re wrong. She doesn’t. She respects us. You, all of us,
Seibold: You know who also seems like a sad old man? The 28th President of the United States.
Trudie: Teddy Roosevelt?
Woodrow: What? No, Woodrow Wilson.
Trudie: Sorry. Sometimes Teddy Roosevelt just pops into my mind. But, but Woodrow’s not so sad, old man. He’s a good president.
Seibold: Thanks for the intel.
[loc White House Oval Office]
Seibold: I must say, Mr. President, you’ve really impressed me with your strength today, agreeing to a sit-down interview. So many of your detractors in Congress are much too cowardly for something like that.
Edith, voice over: Why do people assume that just because I’m in a hallway dealing with important matters, that I can’t hear them conspiring against me?
Seibold: I’d love to take you on a drive—.
Edith: Woodrow, looks like the photographer is ready.
Photographer: Yep! All good. Ready.
Woodrow: Oh, wonderful. “A fractal blink of time preserved and saved so that the tableau at moment would survive.”
Photographer: Uh, yeah, sure. We can do that. OK, let’s get into pose.
Edith: Woodrow, put the paper down.
Photographer: I’m not a child, Edith.
Woodrow: I said, stop it. I’m not a child.
Photographer: Should I?
Edith: Two seconds. Woodrow, listen to me, please. As your wife, I’m asking you put the paper down. Or let me help you. Let me help you steady it. That’s what I’m here for, to steady you, to show you in the best light. Do you trust me>
Woodrow: OK, Edith. You win.
Edith: Thank you Woodrow. I love you.
Photographer: And [camera flashes] there we go. Sorry about the delay.
Edith: We’re done here?
Photographer: Yes, ma’am, I’m all done.
Edith: Excellent. Mr. Seibold, the interview is over. Thank you.
Seibold: I’m sorry. I thought I had more—
Edith: The staff will see you out now, Mr. Seibold. Thank you.
[loc. White House foyer]
Tumulty: I’m sorry, sir. I’m not sure where your coat went. This has never happened before I swear.
Seibold: Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to go back in there and get me a coat. I don’t care if it belonged to George fucking Washington. Do you hear me?
Seibold: Mr. President?
Woodrow: I have your coat. I had staff bring it to me because I wanted to ask you a question. Would you care for a drive?
[loc. White House grounds/car]
Seibold: A little birdie told me there’s some controversy today and I’m wondering about the decision to strike racial equality from the League. What was your thinking?
Woodrow: Mr. Seibold, I have been saving my energy all day for a question as intelligent as that. It’s simply a matter of avoiding friction. The same reason for allowing segregation in certain federal departments . . .Edith and I both grew up in Virginia . . . the truth is domestic slaves were almost uniformly dealt with indulgently and even affectionate by their masters . . . Klux Klan started merely with mischief, were pranks initially . . . doubts were understandable as to the safety of setting free a body of men so large yet so ignorant to the moderate use of freedom . . . that’s what the League is about . . . America needs to lead the world, just like domestically, men like myself must lead the country.
Seibold: Wow. Thank you, Mr. President, for such a comprehensive answer to my one question. I wanted to—[car screeches]. What the hell was that!?
Woodrow: I believe a car just swerved in front of us.
Edith: Seibold! Woodrow!
Edith: Seibold, get out of that car now.
Seibold: Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on?
Edith: You kidnapped the president, that’s treason!
Seibold: Treason. Are you insane?
Woodrow: Please, please. The yelling. It gives me a headache. No one kidnaped me, Edith. We had a nice conversation, that’s all.
Edith: Oh, and what did you say to him?
Woodrow: Does it matter? It’ll never see print.
Edith: How do you know that?
Seibold: Because the American people don’t want to think about all that. Half of what he told me, he’s already wrote into books no one reads. No offense, Mr. President. That’s not what I’m here for.
Edith: Well what do you want then?
Seibold: Access Mrs. Wilson. You guys get some information, gossip, who’s in, who’s out— bring it to me first. I haven’t had that in years. That’s what I want.
Woodrow: I said it’s fine as long as what he prints meets our approval. Edith? Does that sound right?
Edith: I, hmm, that does actually sound fine. Mr. Seibold, my apologies and congratulations.
Seibold: Congratulations on what?
Announcer: This year’s Pulitzer Prize in reporting is awarded to the New York World for both their interview and groundbreaking profile with President Woodrow through the work of reporter Louis Seibold. [applause]
Seibold: Thank you. I, uh, wow. I’m just—
Edith, voice over: Speechless. I mean, who wouldn’t be having their name attached to something so Pulitzer worthy?
[loc. White House Oval Office]
Edith, voice over: It had been a rough few months, seeing Woodrow in bed, away from the office, his seat of power, which felt unnatural without him on it.
Edith: The chair has been waiting for you, Mr. President.
Woodrow: Thank you, Madam First Lady. [laughs]
Edith, voice over: But now it was hard to dispute, Woodrow was back to his old self.
Edith: How does it feel?
Woodrow: Oh, it feels good. Quite good. Thank you for keeping it warm, honey.
Edith: Of course, it was all for you, Woodrow. I’m so glad you’re back.
Edith, voice over: It was time for him to return to where he belonged.
Woodrow: Is this year different than it was before.
Edith: Hmm, what’s that?
Woodrow: Nothing. I’m sure it’s nothing.