The Butler: Eugene Allen - Book and Film Review
White House Butlers
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
Directed by Marjorie Hunt, this documentary filmed for the Smithsonian Institution for 2009 features Eugene Allen and several other workers.
Additional Long Time White House Employees
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
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.
“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.
- 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
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.
Staff Areas Added During the Truman AdministrationClick thumbnail to view full-size
History During Eugene Allen's Tenure In the White House
- US History: COLD WAR INTRIGUE 1950 - 1960
The Cold War began as World War II ended and continued unti the fall of the Berlin Wall in1989 and the collapse of the USSR, around 1990 - 1991. The Cold War involved spies and counterspies, new technology...
- US History: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 - 1960
The Presidency of our 34th President of the United States comprised 8 years of turmoil immediately after WWII. The WWII ally Russia became a Cold War enemy in the race for Communist control of the world and in the Space Race with the USA. Prejudice..
- John F. Kennedy and the Marilyn Monroe Murders: 1960 -1963
1960 - 1963 presents some of the most turbulent years in the world. Certain government sources stated that they would not release the true and complete details of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's demise to the general public unti
- US History: The Great Society 1963 - 1968
President Lyndon Baines Johnson called for a country free of racial tensions, class and race segregation, and prejudice. We declared the War on Poverty that we could not win. He also proclaimed the Great Society...
- US History - The Nixon Years: 1969 - 1974
The Apollo 11 Mission permitted two US astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to walk on the moon in a global first. With that, the Space Race had been won under President Richard M. Nixon...
- US History: President Gerald R. Ford, 1974 - 1976
In 1963, Gerald Ford was elected to the US House of Representatives for Michigan and served 13 terms until appointed under the 25th Amendment as Vice President under Richard M. Nixon.
- US HIstory: President Ronald Reagan 1981 - 1988
The Christian Science Monitor summed up the Reagan Presidency in the following words in 1997: Ronald Reagan's legacy was a fascinating mixture: lower inflation and higher deficits...reduced economic...and expanded social regulation...
© 2013 Patty Inglish MS