Book Club with the First Ladies
J.B. West, the Chief Usher, during the Roosevelt period and into the Nixon era gives us a sneak peek into the head of household duties (he is known as: The Budget Task Master) with the First Ladies. Mr. West is seems to be agreeable, resourceful and very devoted to his job. First, is his dedication to the White House and second to the First Ladies. His duties include working very closely with the them in answering their phone calls, seeing to their needs and 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 Lady wants to make changes to the White House rooms into her own taste and style. The book tends to go (a tad too much) into every detail of the room redecorating and even 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 stories 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 none the less.
*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 five years ago called, Once Upon a Secret My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath. Based on the true story of intern Mimi Alford and her 18 month affair with JFK in and out of the White House. Reading that novel together with Upstairs at the White House made me wonder if Mr. West truly knew or at the very least have an idea of what was going on under his watch.
Nothing is implied or hinted by J.B. West in Upstairs at the White House but the one thing that comes across is his sense of favoritism for President Kennedy and the First Lady. He writes with complete loyalty for Jacqueline Kennedy in describing her decorating style, the way she spoke, her children and the tragic death of her newborn.
If he indeed knew about JFK's well known affairs we can only speculate as to why he was silent. Maybe J.B. West wanted only to highlight the things he admired most about Jackie Kennedy and leave out that particular heartache. There is actually little mentioned of President Kennedy in Upstairs at the White House compared to the detailed information on the other Presidents and that was the kind of reading I wished Mr. West divulged more of.
Jackie Kennedy once quoted regarding J.B. West as "one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met" and as she said goodbye to Mr. West upon leaving the White House she whispers 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 that.
Upstairs at the White House Book Club