Many a tourist wandering through the White House over the years have probably wondered wistfully aloud, “If these walls could talk.”
In reality, the ones that we wish could talk are not the walls, but the housekeepers, butlers, valets, florists, and cooks that make the most famous residence in the world work. Just in time for another potential showdown between the Bush and Clinton families, Kate Andersen Brower is out with a juicy new book in which some of these usually silent workers dish, The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House.
The book is not all salacious tidbits—though they do make for a fun read. It is also a touching story of the often nameless men and women who toil to make sure that the most stressed out family on Earth can live their lives just a little bit easier.
Here are some of the juiciest bits.
The Clintons were the most polarizing, the first Bush the most beloved.
In chapter after chapter, the consensus seems to be that George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush were the most beloved and respected of the presidencies covered in the book—which may have had to do with the fact that they were somewhat used to staff. On the other hand, the book is filled with quote after quote about how difficult the Clintons were and how paranoid they were. Friends of Bill’s consistently set off alarm bells for the Secret Service for having criminal records. On the other hand, many of the women interviewed in the book felt that Hillary “was very, very sympathetic to working women” and had a good relationship with the female staff.
Hillary hit Bill with a book.
The Monica Lewinsky era in the book is perhaps the juiciest. One anecdote that has made the rounds is that Hillary hit Bill so hard with a book that there was blood all over the bed and the president needed stitches. That time period also took its toll on White House workers, who would often find themselves berated for little things by Hillary. The staff was also consistently shocked by the couple throughout their time in the office, from “their vicious cursing” and “periods of stony silence.”
Her go-to comfort food was mocha cake.
During the feeding frenzy after the affair became public, Hillary reportedly found solace in a truly humanizing source—mocha cake. Former Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier said he “made many, many mocha cakes” during this period, and that Hillary would often call up “in a small, unassuming voice” and ask for a mocha cake that night.
The staff thought Hillary knew about Monica.
In the eyes of some of the staff, Monica Lewinsky was not part of some vast right-wing conspiracy, and Clinton “knew about Lewinsky long before it came out.”
Chelsea Clinton called the Secret Service “pigs.”
Former White House florist Ron Payne told the author that he overheard an exchange between Chelsea and a Secret Service agent. Chelsea was on the phone with friends from Sidwell Friends school when she said, “Oh, I’ve got to go. The pigs are here.” When the agent retorted that his job was “to stand between you, your family, and a bullet,” Chelsea reportedly replied, “Well, that’s what my mother and father call you.”
A rapist tried to work at the White House.
Apparently there is a consistent problem of people with criminal records applying to work at the White House. In one case, during the Clinton administration, an applicant told interviewers at the last minute he had been convicted of rape.
President Obama rocked out to Mary J. Blige after moving in.
One member of the White House staff overheard President Obama and the first lady late at night after the 2009 inaugural balls. “I got this, I got this. I got the inside now,” he overheard. And then, with Michelle Obama in a T-shirt and sweatpants, the couple turned on Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” and danced together.
Desiree Rogers was a nightmare.
Desiree Rogers, the former White House social secretary who stepped down after the Salahi party-crashing scandal, was seen by longtime White House butlers, housekeeping, florists, and other staff as “disrespectful of the mansion’s long-standing traditions” and that most of the staff “were happy to see her go.” She kept demanding that the White House have “the Four Seasons look.” Said former Chief Usher Admiral Stephen Rochon of working with her, “It wasn’t exacting, it was just impossible.”
George W. Bush was exactly how you would imagine him.
In what will come as a surprise for few, Brower writes that President George W. Bush would mess with the residence workers by turning photos on their side or by chasing “imaginary flies with fly-swatters when they walked by.”
Ronald Reagan had a penchant for sharing national-security secrets with the staff.
Among the many concerns on Nancy Reagan’s plate apparently was that “she was always wary of having him talk too much to the staff, especially when it came to divulging national-security secrets.” This observation came after an anecdote in which Reagan tips off the White House chef that he just gave orders to bomb Libya.
Jimmy Carter’s sons had bongs in their rooms.
One White House residence worker told Bower, “I would regularly have to move bongs” when the person went to freshen up the boys’ rooms on the third floor.
LBJ had a shower that shot water at his crotch and up his rear.
One of the more bizarre sections was LBJ’s presidency-long obsession with getting a shower that could truly blast and scald him. When White House plumbers went to look at the shower in his private home, they discovered “one nozzle was pointed directly at the president’s penis, which he nicknamed ‘Jumbo.” Another shot right up his rear.”
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth could be surprising.
The book features a few dishy passages about the royal couple, including one in which Queen Elizabeth had a plumber build a special chair to go over her toilet seat, “almost like a throne.” In another, Prince Philip is recorded trying to act like a normal person by mixing cocktails and drinking all night long with White House butlers.