In This Episode
“If I’m going to hit rock bottom, I’m not doing it in front of you of all people.”
Edith is just hours from passing the League of Nations and securing Woodrow’s legacy. And all Woodrow needs to do is get through one tiny little speech in front of the Senate.
Trudie, voice over: You know, it’s pretty weird, you know so much about Edith and me, but you’ve never heard the story of how we met. Feels like we could have led with that. It’s actually a funny story. See, my dad was dying. Wait, that’s not the funny part. But he wrote a letter to this lady he knew a widow named Mrs. Edith Boling Galt . . .
James Gordon, reading: “Dear Mrs. Edith Bolling Galt, I have two tickets on the SS Laplander headed to Brussels, one for me, the other for my daughter, Alice Gertrude. As you’ve probably heard, I am dying. Don’t worry about it, my body is ready. I heard you love Europe, so can you take my place and accompany my girl on that ocean voyage. You see, she’s the kind of a strange girl who requires, company.” Ah. No. Can’t tell her that. “She’s a great girl, very normal human girl. Anyway, please write back before I’m dead.”
Trudie, voice over: It was a free trip to Europe, so, yeah, Edith said yes, and we instantly got along swimmingly. Like in the ocean, with the sharks, nibbling your flesh. Oh, yeah, remember how I feel about boats and ocean voyages?
[loc. Ocean Liner]
Edith: Oh, God, Alice Gertrude. Please don’t tell me you’re asthmatic.
Trudie: No, I wish. I’m terrified of boats.
Edith: What?! Why are you here then? And why do you wish to be asthmatic?
Trudie: Oh, I always wanted to see Europe and I think asthma would help me better appreciate the miracle of oxygen.
Edith: Dear God, should I jump?
Trudie, voice over: From the moment we met, Edith was funny and witty as ever.
Trudie: [laughs] Hey, Mrs. Edith Bolling Galt. Laughing helped. I can breathe.
Edith: Good Alex Gertrude. But let’s reserve our breath by not speaking.
Trudie, voice over: That night over dinner, Edith had bad news.
Edith: I’ll be returning to America earlier than expected, on a different ship, without you.
Trudie: Oh, sure. I can take the trip back alone. I mean, just because my mother died after a boat sank, like it’s fine.
Edith: Wait, say that again.
Trudie: Oh. What, that my mother died after a boat sank. Sure. So my mother died after a boat sank.
Edith: I, I—
Trudie: I was four.
Edith: Um, can I ask you something. Why go by both names: Alice Gertrude. Two, two wrongs don’t make a right.
Trudie: Funny story. In school there was a girl named Alice and one day she beat me up while yelling, I’m Alice, you’re Alice Gertrude, swear you won’t steal my name.
Edith: You’ve never looked up the word funny in a dictionary, have you?
Trudie: No. Just the word gonads once?
Edith: [laughs] You know what? Maybe I can rethink my return trip back, but I have one request. How about something quicker like: Altrude.
Trudie: Altrude. That perfectly describes me. I’m all Trudie all the time.
Trudie, voice over: You know how like a baby horse will be born and look at the farmer holding it and think, Mama? It’s silly but thinking back then I felt a little like that baby horse. Edith wasn’t my mom, but she gave me my name, Trudie, which would also make a great name for a baby horse. So why am I telling you this? I guess it’s because it might explain some stuff later, so uh, yeah. Later. Yeah.
[loc. White House Study]
Edith: Trudie can you pass me those files? Trudie? Trudie!
Edith: Are you OK? I asked you to hand me those files next to you, but you just were, you were somewhere else.
Trudie: Sorry. Yeah, sorry. Uh, just thinking about a really big cat?
Tumulty: Ma’am, sorry to interrupt, but it’s Lodge. He announced he’s calling a vote on the league tomorrow.
Edith: What? But he’s been delaying for weeks. Why would he call it?
Tumulty: I don’t know ma’am, but he said that what he’s going to do, and—
Edith: Trudie listen to me, I don’t know what’s been going on with you lately, but I need your help. Can you keep Woodrow busy for the next few hours?
Trudie: Yeah. Yeah, of course.
Edith, voice over: I gave Trudie her instructions. I couldn’t handle any more of Woodrow’s surprises.
Edith: Find Marshall, tell him to sit tight at the Mayflower Club.
Tumulty: Shouldn’t be hard getting Marshall to a speakeasy. Might need a wheelbarrow to get him out though.
Edith: Lodge knows we have the votes, so why is he called it early? He’s planning something. It may be a trap, but every trap has its price.
Tumulty: Yes, that’s called bait ma’am. Where are you going?
Edith: I need to make a phone call.
[loc. White House Oval Office]
Edith, voice over: Politicians pretend to hate the media, but it sure is nice to call up someone whose last name is Pulitzer and ask for a favor.
Ralph: We’re running editorials and our many, many papers urging the Senate to ratify Woodrow’s league.
Edith: Good, thank Christ for monopolies, but I’m calling for something else. We have our vote count. Seibold has his own, right? I need to know if any of our people flip to undecided. I need that list Ralph.
Ralph: Mrs. Wilson, I can’t. I, that would be highly unethical. I just I can’t.
Edith: Ralph, when I think of your father, how he used his power and influence to shape our nation in such monumental ways, I don’t know what it must be like living in his shadow when you forge—
Edith, voice over: I’ll cut to the chase, I talked him into it. Daddy issues, blah, blah, blah. When I looked over Seibold’s list, we’d lost a few votes, but I had a plan for that. That’s where Marshall comes in.
Walsh: God Marshall, I told myself you’d never get me drunk again, but you did it, me, a respected dry senator, drunk before lunch.
Marshall: [laughs] Well it didn’t take much convincing, was just a phone call. And that means one thing, something’s bothering you. Well, you know, this isn’t a bar, it’s a confessional booth. Just like your priest, I’m doing this for the free wine and the crackers and the tax perks.
Walsh: You’re not a practicing Catholic, are you?
Marshall: No, I only practice two things: card tricks in the saxophone. [laughs] Come on, tell me what’s eating you, man.
Walsh: Oh, you’re right. There is something. I was in my office this morning when I got a visitor.
Walsh: Secretary Lansing, former Secretary Lansing, what brings you here?
Lansing: Senator Walsh, I’m not a palace intrigue kind of man, but I heard you’re voting for the league. You should see something first. The first letter is from when the president formally asked me to join his cabinet. Look at the signature.
Lansing: Now, take a look at this, the memo where Wilson officially fired me.
Walsh: What’s that going to prove? People’s signatures change all the t—holy shit! It looks like—
Lansing: Like a child’s scrawl. Even if he did sign it, sir, ask yourself, does this look like the signature of a man you trust to represent America in a global governing body?
[loc. White House Hallway]
Edith, voice over: As soon as Marshall got the scoop, he ran it back to me. Well, his version of running, which other people call walking.
Edith: Marshall, what are you doing here? As vice president, you’re not supposed to be at the White House. You’re supposed to be at a bar.
Marshall: I know. [panting] Look, what I heard at the bar was so crazy, I had to leave without paying. Lansing’s been making the rounds. He’s convincing our folks he saw it himself: the White House does not have a functioning, healthy president.
Edith: That’s why Lodge is letting this vote happen. That’s how he’s taking back our votes.
Marshall: There’s not much we can do about it. I mean, it’s a compelling argument. No one seen Woodrow in months, short of parading Woodrow through the Senate in a muscle suit.
Edith: Wait. Shit! The Senate. Yeah, the Senate. That could work, yeah.
Marshall: No wait, what? No Edith? Where you going? Because the idea about the muscle suit that was, that was actually a real suggestion. I want to take credit for it.
[loc. White House President’s bedroom]
Edith, voice over: My initial instinct was to keep Woodrow out of public view. I couldn’t handle another surprise like that letter, so I had Trudie tell him League ratification was all but certain. The only thing left to worry about was crafting an inspiring victory statement to be published in all the major papers, and it he needed to come directly from his great poetic mind
Woodrow: [reading] With this vote, America has finally put an end to the forces that have lashed our world into senseless, destructive war.
Trudie: Fantastic. Mr. President, your brain is like a genius, sir.
Woodrow: You know, if anyone else was that complimentary, Mrs. Grayson, I’d accuse them of lying. But you? You may actually be the last honest person in Washington.
Trudie: [laughs nervously]
Woodrow: Edith. What is it?
Edith: Change of plans. Honey, how would you like to rework that statement into a speech? A speech he’ll deliver tomorrow before the Senate?
Trudie: Wait, you want Woodrow to speak before the Senate?
Edith: If Woodrow agrees to it? Woodrow, the country needs to see how strong their president is. What do you say?
Woodrow: Yes, I’ll deliver a speech to Congress.
Edith: Yes, but not just a speech, a declaration of war, not against a country or a slew of them. Against one man: Henry Cabot Lodge.
Edith: [to self] Today’s vote day. Today is vote day.
Woodrow: “We must demand.” No, no more forceful “We must demand.”
Trudie: Yeah, that’s better.
Woodrow: It’s a good speech. Short, simple, strong, quite good. Such a beautiful day. Where are we going? Are we on our way back to Princeton Ellen?
Edith: Ellen? No. Woodrow, no. I’m Edith. Edith. It’s me.
Woodrow: What> Where am I?
Trudie: Mr. President, are you OK? Your face? The left side, it’s drooping.
Edith: Woodrow? Woodrow? Are you OK?
Woodrow: Uh, yeah, I, I’m OK.
Trudie: Edith, I think he just had a s—
Edith: No. No. No. He said he’s OK.
Trudie: Edith, he needs help. He needs to go to a hospital right now.
Edith: Shit, we’re here.
Trudie: You can’t let him give a speech like this. Please.
Woodrow: The speech. The speech, yes, I can give a speech, I want to give a speech,
Edith, voice over: We couldn’t turn back. Everyone would know why. I couldn’t let that happen. It was my job to protect the president. And that is when I realized that I was not the only one with that job description.
Edith: Driver, driver! Open the window, I need to talk to the agent riding up front with you.
Agent: Yes, ma’am. Is the president safe?
Edith: You’re in the Secret Service, right? Just how good are you at the secret part?
Edith, voice over: Outside the car, crowd of reporters shouted questions while senators lined up to be photographed shaking Woodrow’s hand.
[overlapping voices] President Wilson . . . How are you feeling . . . President Wilson . . . Mr. President, any statement for your critics . . . are you feeling better now? Mr. President!
Edith, voice over: Just a few hallways away, we had a safe haven. We had Marshall’s empty office, just had to get there. I ordered the Secret Service agent to act as a battering ram, a frontal assault to clear path.
Agent: Out of the way. Make room for the president. Out of the way.
Edith: Great. Thank you. Now forward men, move them forward.
Agent: Yes, right away. Clear path. Clear a path!
Edith, voice over: With the agent, I had Tumulty and Trudie at the side, steadying Woodrow and making it look like he was too busy discussing important matters to answer any questions.
Tumulty: Oh, God. Oh, God. I got you. I got you, Mr. President. Lean on me.
Woodrow: Let go of me. Tumulty. Let go!
Tumulty: Sorry, Mr. President. Can’t let you fall. Come on. Left foot, step, right foot step, left foot step.
Trudie: Yes, and important matters, Mr. President. Important matters. We are discussing important matters.
Woodrow: What is happening? What important matters? Why are you wrapping papers in front of me like that?
Trudie: Sorry! Important matters. I’m blocking the cameras. Important matters! Temp check we’re talking about important matters.
Edith, voice over: And at the back of this human shield, I used all my poise, grace and charm to plug up the rear.
Edith: Please, gentlemen of the press, stand back. My husband and his staff are discussing important matters. But he asked me to deliver this—
[overlapping voices] Over here please . . . Mrs. Wilson! . . . haven’t seen him in months . . . why won’t he pose for a photo?
Edith: Deliver a special message which is . . . uh, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. Thank you very much.
[overlapping voices] Mr. President! President Wilson . . . President Wilson!
Edith: Can’t you go any faster.
Tumulty: No! We can’t. We’re not going to make it. We’re not going to make it.
[loc. Marshall’s Office]
Edith, voice over: Somehow we made it to marshal’s office.
Edith: Thank you, Tumulty, please help Woodrow onto that couch there.
Tumulty: Here you are, Mr. President.
Woodrow: Yes, thank you. Thank you.
Edith: Thank you. Now, go make sure everything’s ready for the speech
Tumulty: Right away, ma’am.
Trudie: Edith, we can’t. You can’t make him go through with the speech.
Edith: What choice do I have?
Trudie: My husband is a doctor. He’d tell you what Woodrow needs rest and medical care. He doesn’t need this.
Woodrow: I can. I can do it. I can.
Edith: It’s OK. It’s OK Woodrow. It’s OK. I understand Trudie, but think, think of all we’ve done to get here.
Trudie: No. No. I’m not letting you do this again. He is not OK. And if people find that out then people find that out. That’s how this works. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
Edith: Just one moment. Woodrow.
Woodrow: Hmm? Yes, one moment. Yes. OK.
Edith: Trudie, come with me.
Trudie: No, I, don’t—
Edith: come with me. Trudie, Trudie, you know, for many reasons that I can’t have children anymore, but you well, you’re like a daughter to me.
Trudie: I, I thought we were talking about Woodrow.
Edith: Trudie, what’s your name? Hmm. What do people call you? What do you call yourself? What’s your name?
Trudie: Oh, uh, Trudie. I call myself Trudie.
Edith: Um hm. That’s right. Who gave you that name? Who accepted you? Who took you in when you were all alone?
Trudie: You. You did.
Edith: And since that night on that boat with your new name, I have seen you grow. I’ve seen you become strong and smart and brave. I’m proud. I’m proud of you like a mother. I love you like a mother.
Trudie: I. I love you, too.
Edith: But I’m, I’m not one of those mothers who’s afraid of their children. You can cry, you can kick, you can scream in this office, but, I’m taking Woodrow out there and he’s going to deliver the speech and there’s not really that much you can do about it now, is there?
Trudie: No. No, there’s not.
[loc. Capitol hallway]
Edith, voice over: I left Trudie in Marshal’s office and walked Woodrow to the floor. All he had to do was read a few simple lines. That’s it. Why didn’t I see it coming? Why did I leave her there, upset?
Trudie: Um, excuse me, Senator Lodge, sorry to bother you. I know you have to get to the floor and shake some hands, take questions from press, maybe use the restroom.
Lodge: Miss, I don’t know you, but I can already tell you won’t top unless I tell you to cut to the chase.
Trudie: I have a letter for you. A letter from President Wilson. He wrote it to you. And, it, uh—
Lodge: What is this? Who are you?
Trudie: I’m Tru—I’m Alice. Alice Gertrude, Gordon. Oh! And Grayson. I keep forgetting I’m married. Alice Gertrude Gordon Grayson. Yep. And there is absolutely no way to shorten it.
[loc. Capitol, Senate]
Announcer: The President of the United States of America.
Edith, voice over: I watched from the balcony among the people of the balcony: the elderly, the bored schoolchildren, the tourists—and me amongst them, seemingly just as powerless to exert any control.
Woodrow: I, uh, [clears throat] Thank you, Senators. I’ve, I’ve written out a little statement.
Tumulty: He seems OK, Edith.
Woodrow: To demand the, um—
Edith: Come on Woodrow, come on.
Woodrow: Um ah, ch, to . . .
Tumulty: Ma’am. He’s doing—
Edith: I know. Shut up.
Edith, voice over: I turn to these people of the balcony, so powerless, but together they have a voice, one which is loud, belligerent and violently patriotic.
Edith: Hey, everybody, how about a little love for our country, huh? Come on. USA, USA, USA,
[chants] USA, USA, USA, USA, USA.
Edith, voice over: A mindless chant. The one thing that unites all Americans, from the lowly janitor to the even lowlier career senator.
USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA.
Woodrow: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. I’m, I’m here to demand the United States of America, the USA vote to join the League of Nations. We made a pledge to our gallant armies, our boys, because that’s what they were, someone’s boys. We made a pledge to never let a war like that one happen again. Senator Lodge and his cohorts will use anything to convince you otherwise, but that pledge, that pledge is sacred. I will keep this short and I will keep this simple because this issue is short and it is simple.
Tumulty: Oh, my God, Edith, he’s doing it.
Edith: Of course. Giving a good speech is the one thing Woodrow loves more than me. [laughs] I knew he could do it. I knew it!
Woodrow: . . . for special interests. We must demand for the honor of our fallen and for the safety of our living, Senator Lodge, stop the delays and call this vote now. [applause]
[loc Capitol hallway]
Edith: Woodrow, Woodrow! I am oh, I am so proud of you. How do you feel?
Woodrow: I, uh, yeah, good. I have a little headache but good.
Edith: Tumulty take the president, go get Dr. Grayson at once.
Tumulty: Ma’am, are you staying here? Isn’t it uncouth for you—
Edith: My couth is fine Tumulty. Just go.
[loc. Capitol Senate balcony]
Edith, voice over: Tumulty was right though. The First Lady couldn’t be seen gloating. So I wore my morning veil and sat back in the balcony ready to savor every expression, every twitch of Senator Lodge’s defeat. But as he approached the podium, before he even spoke, even through my veil, it was like he was looking right up at me.
Lodge: As promised, we’ll call a vote on the ratification of League of Nations sans reservations. But before we do, I received a letter from the President with a request, nay, a demand, that I read it before this vote takes place. So how about we dig into it huh folks?
Edith: What? No, no, no, no,
Lodge: [reading] “To the honorable majority leader, Henry Cabot Lodge,”—hat’s me— “And to all members of Congress.”—that’s all of you—”I submit to you a great and solemn proposal”—great and solid proposal, classic poetic President Wilson, you could really tell when he wrote something himself and when he’s reading someone else’s pre-written words—”I have no doubt the American people support the league. In fact, I would gladly wager my presidency on this belief. My proposal is simple. I’m asking all members of Congress to resign immediately.” [laughs] Hold on. Hold on. [audience laughs] “Immediately after we shall hold a snap election as a referendum on the League ratification.”.
Edith: Oh, Jesus Christ. No. No.
Lodge: “If the American people reelect the opposing congressmen, thereby voicing their disapproval of my leadership, I vow to resign from the presidency immediately.” [laughter]—Hey, don’t laugh, this is real—”I am confident in making this gamble. The question remains, are Senator Lodge and his supporters equally confident?” signed Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. [laughter] OK. All right, I am feeling pretty confident, I mean, his speech earlier with those dramatic pauses, and this letter . . . not at all unhinged. So hinged! Fully hinged. What else do we need to know, really? How about we vote, huh?
Edith: It’s OK, I have the votes, I have the votes. It’s OK.
Rollcall: Mr. Shields: nay. Mr. Gore: nay. Mr. Walsh . . . Mr. Walsh: nay.
Edith: Fuck. Fuck.
Rollcall: Mr. Sutherland: nay. Mr. Dillingham: nay.
Edith: Fuck. Excuse me. Excuse me. Lady in morning. Let me through the aisle. Thank you. Out of my way.
Edith, voice over: I exited the balcony and I ran down to the Senate chamber as quickly as I could, but—
Usher: Ma’am. Ma’am, excuse me. You can’t enter the Senate chamber.
Edith: I have to go in there. Look, look, I’ll, I’ll take off my veil here. See, it’s me. I’m Edith Wilson, the First Lady.
Usher: OK, I don’t believe you, but even if you were, the First Lady doesn’t have the power to enter the chamber during a vote, or really ever.
Edith: Stop the vote! Stop the vote!
Usher: Ma’am. Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.
Edith: No, no. Let go.
Edith, voice over: As I was dragged away, I heard all the death and destruction. I heard our work, our legacy, bombed, missile’d, torpedoed. I heard all the times I was insulted by the vipers surrounding me.
[overlapping voices] I am calling on President Wilson to resign immediately. . . What you are doing to Daddy, to this country, it just isn’t right . . . the White House if being run by, no offense, an unelected wife . . . What do you want with this, Edith, is it even power?
Edith, voice over: And here I was helpless. Just another First Lady.
Lodge: Gentlemen, gentlemen, please let go of this woman. She is my guest.
Usher: Yes. Of course. My apologies, Senator Lodge.
Edith: Yeah, sure. Apologize to him.
Lodge: Edith! I wish I could say this is a new low for you, but I’m sure it’s actually somewhere in the middle.
Edith: The vote? What was the vote?
Lodge: Forty nine to thirty five. I’ll let you guess by the smugness in my voice which direction it when
Edith: You stole that letter.
Lodge: [laughs] Excuse me.
Edith: You stole it from Trudie somehow.
Lodge: [laughs] Believe what you want, but maybe ask your little friend first. She seems pretty honest.
[loc. Trudie’s House]
Edith: I went back to the White House and I searched all the places I usually find Trudie: the study, the South Lawn, the kitchen. Then I searched any nearby pet stores, dessert shops, any park where she could feed some ducks or squirrels. Finally, I resorted to checking the place I’m pretty sure she spends the least amount of her time: her home.
Dr. Grayson: Edith! I just got back from the White House. Woodrow is resting now. He seems stable. Is everything OK?
Edith: Trudie! Is Trudy home?
Dr. Grayson: Do you want to come inside? I heard what happened with the vote. Jesus. Between that and Woodrow’s health scare today, people are going to ask questions Edith. Can the man who wrote that letter be mentally fit?
Edith: I don’t really have time for this, Grayson. Where’s Trudy?
Dr. Grayson: [laughs] Why are you asking me?
Edith: I thought you were her husband.
Dr. Grayson: Come on, Edith. You know we are never close. Men in my circles need a wife for legitimacy. And Trudie an orphan, she needed stability. But love? She didn’t really seem to need that from me. Or me from her.
Edith: It’s “I from her”! But I just asked you where she is.
Dr. Grayson: Yeah. She stopped by a few hours ago, before I was called attend to Woodrow. She packed some clothes, nothing out of the ordinary. She practically lives on Pennsylvania Avenue. Honestly, if you don’t know where she is, no one does.
Edith: Useless. Once again. Can’t even keep my husband healthy.
Dr. Grayson: What was that?
Edith: I have to go.
Dr. Grayson: Look at yourself. You know, my reputation as a doctor might be ruined after today. And your husband, he’s a laughingstock. The entire reason you bullied me and everyone in your path violated the Constitution, the façade of it. It’s done. There’s no more leak. Everything you touch falls apart. This is on you Edith. This is all on you.
Edith: No. Christ, is it? No. No, no! If I’m going to hit rock bottom, I’m not doing it in front of you of all people. [to self] Fuck. Trudie, where are you?
[loc. SS Laplander Ocean Liner]
Woman: Baby, please, please stop crying, come on. Sorry, she’s just scared. It’s her first time on a boat.
Trudie: Oh, it’s OK.
Trudie: Aw, it’s OK. Hey, you know, I used to be scared of boats, too, but then something really great happened. Do you want to know what it was?
Trudie: I came up with a plan for if the boat sinks, and now I’m not scared. I’ll bet you’ll feel so silly. I was like, oh, hello, Trudie, come on. It’s like right there, like what was up with my brain where I didn’t just realize—.
Woman: Miss, please, could you just tell her the plan?
Trudie: Swim. The plan is I swim.