A unique look into the lives of the First Ladies
J.B. West, Chief Usher during the Roosevelt period and into the Nixon era gives us a sneak peek into his head of household duties, also known as, 'The Budget Taskmaster', with the First Ladies. Mr. West seems to be agreeable, resourceful and very devoted to his job knowing that he is first dedicated to the White House and then second to the First Ladies. His duties include answering their phone calls, seeing to their personal needs and otherwise doing his best to make it all happen within his power and budget.
When a newly elected presidential family arrives that is when the real work begins for Mr. West as the First Ladies will always make changes to the White House rooms into their own taste and style as this seems to be his top job. The story tends to go (a tad too much in my opinion) into every detail of the decorating of the rooms and even into the infamous White House renovation during the Truman era but that is how the reader gets to know Mr. West and what his job entails. Sandwiched in between the pages are several interesting facts that the Chief Usher divulges that will make you sit up and take notice.
Spoilers - darn those interesting facts!
These tidbits of inside information told by the Chief Usher come through loud and clear and make this memoir a worthwhile read but overall Upstairs at the White House is a mild account of the comings and goings of the First Ladies, the Presidents and their children but an excellent book club read nonetheless.
*Get your fun presidential facts with this newer release! The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia or Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents: Strange Stories and Shocking Trivia from Inside the White House
Trouble in Camelot
After finishing 'Upstairs at the White House' I came across a memoir released several years ago called, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath. The story is based on young intern Mimi Alford and her 18 month affair with JFK in and out of the White House before an assassination took his life. Reading this memoir together with Upstairs at the White House made me curious if Mr. West truly knew or at the very least had an inkling of what was going on under his watch as Chief Usher and if he played his own part in protecting the Kennedy legacy.
Nothing is implied or hinted by West in his memoir but the one thing that does stand out in the book is his favoritism and loyalty for President Kennedy and especially for the First Lady Jackie Kennedy. He writes with kid gloves in describing the First Lady's decorating style, the way she spoke, her immense love for her children and the tragic death of her newborn unlike the other presidents and their wives that were openly criticized in his memoir with whom he served.
If Mr. West indeed knew about JFK's well known infidelities we can only speculate as to why he was silent. Maybe West wanted only to highlight the things he admired most about Jackie Kennedy and leave out any scandal that would tarnish his and the family name. In all, there is very little mention of President Kennedy compared to the detailed information on the other Presidents and that was the kind of reading I wished Mr. West showed the reader more of.
Jackie Kennedy once said that J.B. West was, "One of the most extraordinary men I have ever met" and as she said goodbye to Mr. West upon leaving the White House she whispered to him, "Mr. West, will you be my friend for life?"
Mr. West left behind a legacy as a dependable, steadfast, honorable Chief Usher and I truly think he accomplished just that.
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