A unique look into the lives of the First Ladies
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Upstairs at the White House, is a memoir, written through the eyes and ears of Chief Usher J.B. West who served in the White House for the First Ladies and their families from 1957 to 1969.
J.B. West, was in the White House during the Roosevelt period to the Nixon era. He shares in his own words intimate details of his beloved job and what life was like as head of the household duties in the White House. Known as, 'The Budget Taskmaster', by the First Ladies Mr. West seems to be agreeable, resourceful and very devoted to his position knowing full well that his first dedication is to the White House and second to the First Ladies. His duties include answering the First Ladies phone calls, seeing to their personal needs and otherwise doing his utmost best to make it all happen within his power and budget.
When a newly elected family arrives that is when the real work begins. The First Ladies, like clockwork, will quickly make changes to their new home by bringing in their own decorating tastes and style as this seems to be Mr. West's main job. The story tends to go (a tad 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. That is how the reader gets to know Mr. West and what his job entails. Sandwiched in between the pages are several interesting tidbits of information that the Chief Usher divulges that will make you sit up and take notice.
Spoilers - darn those interesting facts!
These little bits 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 and tame 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. 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 wonder 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 stood out was is his steadfast favoritism and loyalty to 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 he seemed to openly criticize during their appointed time.
If Mr. West indeed knew about JFK's well known infidelities we can only speculate as to why he was so silent in his book. 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 Kennedy family name. In all, there is very little mention of President Kennedy in his memoir compared to the detailed information on the other Presidents and that I found very interesting considering JFK was a massively popular and much beloved figure in that time and even to this day.
Jackie Kennedy once said that J.B. West was, "One of the most extraordinary man 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.
Upstairs at the White House Book Club
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