ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Butler: Eugene Allen - Book and Film Review

Updated on March 17, 2015

White House Butlers

Mr. Eugene Allen (second from right) worked from 1952 to 1986 as a pantryman, a butler, and finally, the Maître d’.  Eugene Allen photo album, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Mr. Eugene Allen (second from right) worked from 1952 to 1986 as a pantryman, a butler, and finally, the Maître d’. Eugene Allen photo album, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. | Source

The Witness To 20th Century American History

Starting as a pantry worker in the White House in 1952, Eugene Allen (1919 - 2010) earned consistent promotions throughout 34 years of service to become the Maitre'd or head butler of the President's home and office complex.

Allen lived from just after the end of World War I until 2010 and the official end of the Great Recession, halfway through US President Barack Obama's first term. Allen was honored by an invitation to attend the Presidential Inauguration.

In the film The Butler (2013), Forrest Whitaker plays Allen, although the character is named Cecil Gaines. Oprah Winfrey plays the butler's wife. The book on which the movie is based, The Butler: Witness to History, was written by Wil Haygood and maintains historical accuracy.

White House Workers: Traditions and Memories

White House Workers: Traditions and Memories
White House Workers: Traditions and Memories

Directed by Marjorie Hunt, this documentary filmed for the Smithsonian Institution for 2009 features Eugene Allen and several other workers.

 

Professionalism and Duty In the White House

Author Wil Haygood describes Eugene Allen as one of a cohort of African American men that served steadfastly with honor during times that sought to rip them apart emotionally and politically. It was not easy to be a White House Butler.

Haygood holds these men up as examples of goodness and strength in society.

Mr. Allen served under eight US Presidents - Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan - even though politics shifted with each change of command and his own son served in Viet Nam with the US Military. Allen was nothing but professional on the job. Until recently, such stories of the White House staff have not been shared with the public.

Banquet at the White House, 1955

Butler Eugene Allen, front right.
Butler Eugene Allen, front right. | Source

Mr. Haygood had wondered since his childhood about the role of Black butlers among whites in America, as far back as the Old West portrayed in TV series. He made up his mind to find such a man in White House history after he saw a group of women crying on Election Night 2008.

They were white women crying because they had voted for Barack Obama and their fathers, in relatilation, refused to speak to them. Mr. Haygood set out to find someone on the White House staff who had served through such political changes long term and he found Eugene Allen.

Butler Eugene Allen, far right, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1950s.
Butler Eugene Allen, far right, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1950s. | Source

“You hear nothing, you say nothing. You only serve.” --

Instructions given to White House butlers in The Butler (2013)

American History from WWI to the Great Recession

Eugene Allen saw Harry S. Truman give up the White House to Dwight D. Eisenhower, followed by the Korean War. The Space Race began. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and Allen declined the invitation to attend the state funeral - he felt his place was at the White House to work to ensure that there was enough to feed everyone after the funeral.

Civil Rights and Viet Nam were sources of turmoil under Lyndon Johnson and Allen's son Charles fought in the war. Nixon and Watergate came next, and the end of the Viet Nam conflict in disgrace. Ford's was a short lived presidency. Carter's saw gas rationing, among other events; and Reagan promotod Eugene Allen to Matre' d. First Lady Nancy reagan refused to allow him to work one evening, insisting that he attend a state dinner as a guest. Even though the public is aware of Mr. Allen's contributions only since the late 2000s, the families in the White House seemed to have appreciated him.

Lee Daniel's The Butler

  • Running Time: 2hr. 12 min.
  • Rating PG-13
  • Release Date: early release, late-night August 15, 2013.

Selected Cast:

  • Cecil Gaines (Eugene Allen) - Forrest Whitaker
  • Glora Gaines (Helene Allen) - Oprah Winfrey
  • Robin Williams - President Eisenhower
  • James Marsden - President Kennedy
  • Liev Schreiber - President Johnson
  • John Cusack - President Nixon
  • Alan Rickman - President Reagan
  • Jane Fonda - Nancy Reagan
  • Orland Eric Street - President Obama

Thoughts

Presidents Truman, Ford, and Carter are not portrayed in this film and I do not know why Carter was eliminated. The other two may have been deleted to save time.

Strong performances are given by additional actors as White House staff and other important characters, including Mariah Carey, Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Lenny Kravitz. The cast list is very long.

Some horrid and brutal scenes from the cottonfields during the days of Jim crow are enlightening and set up a foundation for the historical changes that Gaines/Allen sees during his White House years. Much of the history is told through the interplay between Gaines and his son.

I have always admired Oprah Winfrey's acting skills, even though I did not enjoy her TV series much. I wish she had acted in several additional films, because she is excellent as the butler's wife who sees the same history as her husband and enthusiastically wants descrimination and segregation to end.

Some East and West Coast critics already name this film as an Oscar contender.

Mr. Allen in later service years.
Mr. Allen in later service years. | Source

Staff Areas Added During the Truman Administration

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
The White House
The White House | Source

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Hope you like it as much as I do. Have a great time at the movies!

    • lupine profile image

      lupine 

      5 years ago from Southern California (USA)

      I saw the previews on TV last week, and knew I wanted to see this movie, so when I happened to see your hub on it, was very excited! Very informative hub.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I am glad to be following you; also glad that you like these Hubs. "The Butler" may have several Oscar nominationns.

    • lupine profile image

      lupine 

      5 years ago from Southern California (USA)

      Patty, I will be reading your hubs, interesting titles and subjects. Glad I met you on hubpages... thank you for the following!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      lupine - I like a children's stories about lupine flowers very much; thanks for commenting.

      drbj - I'm going to see it again. I've read about a couple of other long time White House workers, so I hope additional books and films coem along soon.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      With your intriguing review, I promise not to miss seeing 'The Butler.' Thanks, Patty, for your relevant, movie-review titillation.

    • lupine profile image

      lupine 

      5 years ago from Southern California (USA)

      Good Review. This is a movie I will be sure to watch.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I enjoyed watching the film and learned quite a few surprising things about our Presidents as well as about the butlers' lives in the White House. Cuba Gooding, Jr. was especially good as one of the supervising butlers. I hope you like the film. Thanks for your kinds words, too, Angela!

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      5 years ago from Central Texas

      What an absolutely fascinating Hub -- and thank you for sharing all this info. I've seen the ads for the film on TV but just couldn't decide if I wanted to see it or not -- you've made up my mind for me -- I'll go! It's always a pleasure to read your excellent writing and your skill at researching any subject always come through clearly. Best/Sis

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It is packed full of events, for sure, and gives us a lot to think about.

    • easylearningweb profile image

      Amelia Griggs 

      5 years ago

      Good hub... I'm really interested now in seeing this movie.

      Thanks for all the info!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)