Writing and History.
Though a half hour by rail to New York City, when Carl Anthony grew up in Bayside life there was similar to many other towns across the country: Memorial Day parades down Bell Boulevard, July 4th band concerts and fireworks in Crocheron Park and winter ice-skating and sledding across the street at Golden Pond, swinging out over Oakland Lake in a tire hung from an old elm tree in summertime, and exploring the abandoned Victorian Bell Mansion on Halloween.
Beyond his neighborhood and school friends, Carl Anthony got to observe a variety of adults through his mother’s activities with the Bayside Women’s Club and his father’s work with the Bayside Historical Society and Bayside Boys’ Club.
Listening in on conversations helped develop his ear for a good story, and inspired his natural urge to write, research and interview.
The school paper he helped start while in Catholic grammar school, however, never saw its second issue.
The principal discovered that his skeptical story about “Veronica,” controversial for her claim of getting “messages” from saints on the church lawn (where hundreds of her followers chanted), was based on his interviewing her. Student contact with her was forbidden.
With presidential families frequently in the news during his high school years, the topic gradually became his focus.
Earning his history and journalism B.A. from George Washington University, he began researching general family influences on Presidents to quickly discover that their wives’ roles were often crucial to their success and a central element to their presidencies.
Until his own work began to appear, all but Eleanor Roosevelt and Abigail Adams, however, were ever consistently assessed in a political context.
A previously ignored topic, it led to his writing the two-volume First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives and Their Power, 1789-1990.
Presidents and First Ladies.
In conducting his research, Carl Anthony began requesting interviews with the living former First Ladies.
Although he had only a few published clips at the time he approached her, Betty Ford expressed an interest in his work. She was the first to grant him an interview and vouched for his intentions to several other former First Ladies.
They remained friendly for years afterwards and she gave him a place of honor at her funeral, among members of presidential families and the group of former First Ladies who attended.
He went on to know and interview President Ford for several smaller projects, and a ghostwritten effort with Mrs. Ford.
Through their daughter, he soon after began a correspondence with Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon, and he was invited to attend their presidential library dedication. He also wrote the last profile of Nixon with which he cooperated.
He went on to know and interview Lady Bird Johnson and her daughters, and also had the chance to see much of the former First Lady through her former aide and confidante Liz Carpenter, who became a good friend of his.
He would also interview Rosalynn Carter on multiple occasions as well as Barbara Bush, and joined Jimmy Carter in a symposium on the presidency. Former President Bush helped him on an overview about President Reagan, focusing on their weekly lunch conversations.
Rather than conduct a traditional interview with Nancy Reagan, he accepted the offer to become her speechwriter for a time, and traveled with her when she had remarks or addresses to make, from an international summit at the United Nations to a Boy Scout camp jamboree in an open field.
Occurring at a time when her role was enlarging, the opportunity provided him with a rare first-hand glimpse of what a First Lady’s real life encompassed, and the relationship between East and West Wings.
A “tour de force,” is how Jacqueline Kennedy described First Ladies.
As an editor she hand-wrote clarifications and new information on his pages about herself as First Lady, concluding after the book’s publication, “Perhaps now people will realize there was something beneath the pillbox hat.”
Throughout his books, he seeks to recover neglected figures or deconstruct mythology of others.
Newspapers and Magazines.
While working on his first book, he frequently wrote articles for the Washington Post, placing contemporary presidential news into larger historical context. He has written extensively for a wide variety of national and regional publications including Newsweek, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, Town & Country, Details and Reader’s Digest.
Among the variety of people he has interviewed for print interviews, ranging from Elie Wiesel to Cindy Crawford to John Glenn.
He conducted a joint Oval Office interview with George W. Bush and Laura Bush in 2004 for American Heritage’s 50th anniversary issue, and a joint Oval Office interview with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in the magazine’s 40th anniversary issue.
A George magazine contributing editor, he was a colleague of its co-founder and editor John Kennedy, Jr., and they shared a passion for the pop culture of presidential history.
He also contributes to the Huffington Post, with some articles providing historical context for the current activities of the President and Mrs. Obama.
Lecturer, Host, Moderator.
Anthony has lectured at the White House, in the East Room, on three occasions, including an April 1997 book party hosted for him there by Hillary Clinton.
He has also given speeches at universities, museums and historical sites, and before corporate and spousal programs around the nation.
Of all the presidential couples, Carl Anthony spent the most time with the Clintons, interviewing them apart and together on several occasions and the First Lady’s Chief of Staff observed that he’d had more interviews (for print, broadcast, and for “background”) with her than any other journalist.
He also wrote the introduction to one of her books.
Besides another live-audience interview she gave to him at the Kentucky’s Author Forum, Clinton also participated in several live-audience forums with him, including one evening that was part of his 1994 twelve-week symposium, The President’s Spouse.
He acted as host, introducing the night’s topic with a film he narrated, then moderated expert panels which included past White House staff, political and cultural observers, and members of the national press corps. Like Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush headlined the symposium, joining Anthony on stage in live interviews before an audience of about 1,000.
The series was filmed by ABC News and C-Span, which continues to air the series. He has also served as host and moderator for panel discussions and one-on-one interviews around the country and televised on local broadcasts.
As a regular commentator on presidential political history and popular culture, Carl Anthony has appeared on the full range of national network, cable and public television programming, including the ABC, CBS and NBC Nightly News and morning shows, from Charlie Rose and Nightline to Entertainment Tonight and E!
Whether wedding or funeral or any other event in the lives of presidential families, he has given hundreds of live and pre-recorded national and regional radio and television interviews.
During the 2009 Inauguration, for example, he provided all-day ABC News commentary.
He has also worked as exhibit consultant and guest curator at museums including the Smithsonian and Nixon Presidential Library, and as historian for the National First Ladies Library.
Anthony moved to Los Angeles to enlarge his writing to screenplays.
In 2003, he worked with Dreamworks Television in developing FLOTUS, a television series about a fictitious First Lady, based on an original pilot script he wrote. He is currently writing several feature scripts including Becoming Mrs. Claus, a retro holiday love story, and Jackie on the Job and Poisoning the President, based on two of his books.
He wrote a treatment and outline for a series based on several chapters from First Ladies, Volume II, showing the growth of Nancy Reagan’s role. The original idea was sold to ABC, although the project was then sold elsewhere with a story that was neither his nor which he developed.
He has also branched into documentary-styled television, developing series such as HolidayUSA and President’s Residence.
In the various venues he’s tried, Carl Anthony attempts to make history accessible, compelling and relevant, blending traditional genres to achieve this. He used anecdotes in America’s First Families to underline the psychological impact of different family relationships (parent, sibling, etc.) on Presidents. The Presidents’ Residence considers cherished objects which reveal private clues to presidential personality.
To promote his critically acclaimed 1998 biography Florence Harding about President Warren Harding’s activist wife, he retraced their 1923 cross-country trip and Alaska voyage 75 years to each day, ending in the San Francisco hotel where Harding died. Lecturing to crowds along the way, he screened 1923 newsreels of the various locales to show what had changed in each place, or what hadn’t.
For him, history isn’t only academic data but a discovery of how the arc of the individual lives of Presidents and First Lady affected those of millions of others. In emphasizing the human attributes and deficiencies of these couples, he finds the balance of marital power consequential and the wives inherently conflicted by the mythology and expectations attached to their symbolic role as they strive to stay real.
Beyond presidential families, another area of his curiosity is how the smallest changes in technology continue to alter life as we know it, whether these evolutions match “the future” as imagined in the past, and how 21st century life shifts the “reality” of how the past is perceived.
Another way he finds the evidences of history living among people today is the personalities of the nation’s regions. Having explored all but four states, Anthony enjoys tracking down how regional American customs, accents, and cultures have evolved. The most common currency he finds this expressed through is the specialty foods unique to different areas. In looking at traditionally popular pies of each state, for example, he has found a regional history encapsulated in each story.
Within the realm of literally tasting American culture through regional food is another hybrid of his interests – the impact of Presidential Food, an often humorous but not politically and culturally insignificant sub-genre that might be best labeled “Hail the the Chef.”
Dovetailing with his study and sampling of regional food is the sub-genre of national holiday celebrations and its derivations from other countries and how these have a history of their own evolution, shaped by determined individuals, politics, the nation’s always-changing population demographics, advertising and marketing – and how these have been tangibly reflected in Pop Americana.
As a natural outgrowth of his research into the lives of the Presidents and First Ladies, he also has given some focus to the persistent mythologies about many of them and come to further research the broader context of American mythologies, specifically how various individuals have captured the nation’s imaginations and found value more for what others wanted them to symbolize than who they might really have been.
Finally, from his experiences with his old dog, now gone, he began a new research pursuit, seeking to understand the evolution of a uniquely American perspective on its favorite companion – the dog, and the industry growing around it.
From experiences which proved personal yet are ultimately universal which he continues to determine how best to express, he has come to recognize that the life a human shares with a dog can encompass far greater importance than meets the eye.
He is listed in Who’s Who, and a past member of the Author’s Guild, American Historical Association, and Organization of American Historians. He is a political Independent.
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