Writing and History.
Though a half hour by railroad 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.
Influenced by factors like vacations to historic sites and family stories of World War I and the Jazz Age, American History captured his attention. With presidential families frequently in the news during his 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. 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, Betty Ford expressed an interest in his work, granted him an interview and vouched for his intentions to several other former First Ladies.
He went on to know and interview President Ford for several smaller projects, and a ghostwritten effort with Mrs. Ford. Concurrently, he was greatly assisted by presidential daughter Julie Nixon and her husband David Eisenhower, the grandson of the late President Dwight Eisenhower and Mamie Eisenhower. 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, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush on multiple occasions, joined Jimmy Carter in a symposium on the presidency and interviewed and corresponded with George Bush.
Rather than conduct a traditional interview with Nancy Reagan, he accepted the offer to become her speechwriter for a time, traveling with her 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 handwrote 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.
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.
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 two series 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.
Dovetailing with his study and sampling of regional food is the sub-genre of national holiday celebrations and its derivations from other countries and evolution by the changing population demographic, advertising and marketing, and how it is tangibly reflected in Pop Americana.
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.”
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.
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.
Dear Mr. Anthony,
I am a g-great grandaughter of Lizzie Lazalere, the madam in Warren & Florence Harding’s town of Marion, Ohio. Is it possible that you might share more sources of information about Lizzie with me?
I’m putting together the story of Lizzie’s amazing & at times hilarious life, and was delighted to stumble upon your references in Mrs. Harding’s biography.
Our family was only told about our grandma madam after everyone involved in her story, was dead.
Any suggestions or advice, would be greatly appreciated.
Am certainly enjoying your book!
Thanks for your inquiry. All I knew about Lizzie Lazalere was obtained from interviews with some of the old-timers in Marion, who are now long-gone. What little information I had I used in the Florence Harding biography. I think your best bet might be going through asome of the Marion Star indexes to see if you might find some local news stories there. Hope that helps.
I would love to find the Colonel Vaughan faked raid story in the Star (circa early summer 1887), referenced in Russell’s book, but have had no luck so far. There are certainly many other sly references to Lizzie’s operation in West Marion by the Star. She could not have had more favorable PR in the early years when both she and Warren were newcomers to Marion.
Thanks for sharing. And thank you for bringing history and “her-story” to life.
Wish I could be more specifically helpful. The research papers of Francis Russell are located at the American Heritage Center in Wyoming, I believe Laramie. Perhaps some of his original source material on her might be within that archive. And thanks for the appreciation.
Dear Mr. Anthony,
I am a ghostwriter/editor with a great old dog– a chow mix named Bear. Like your recently departed friend, Yeager, she’s the best. Losing canine buddies is never easy.
Today I’m working on an education project that involves first ladies. Several years ago I read your book on Florence Harding, and I enjoyed it a lot. I thought you might be the person who can answer this question: Have any first ladies worked on animal-related issues? These could include animal rights, treatment of animals, preservation of wildlife… anything. I would be obliged for any information you might have.
Dear Peter – I just signed on here and found your note from just a few minutes ago – I’m not sure if you saw the article posted right here, but it answers your question directly and it references that one First Lady you mention – Florence Harding. Its the article posted on her birthday – August 15 – about Florence Harding, called “The First Lady Who Loved Dogs – and Got Hell for Helping a Horse.” Hope it is helpful. Other than her, there were no other First Ladies who specifically took on the advocacy of animal protection and rescue.
Just saw you on C-SPAN and enjoyed the program. It seems since her death in the 90s Mrs. Kennedy-Onasis has been painted as a women who did not care or did not understand the depths of world issues and politics. She was a brilliant women who was highly educated. One of the aspects of why President Kennedy picked her as his wife, I’m sure. In the C-SPAN interview again the line of dialogue appeared to be trying to convice the viewer of how she completely understood world issues and domestic politics. Of couse she did, in my opinion as she was probably the most intellegent FIrst Lady in history. Could it be that we still do not know enough about her? Again, enjoyed your interview and the playing of the oral history tapes..
Angela E. Gilmer
Thank you so much Angela – I appreciate it….especially as I have been cleaning up the words and inserting photographs into the new posting this morning – while it was already up, which I’ve never done. And yes, I do think that there will be yet still more to be learned and discerned from the documentary materials as they appear. Her papers at the JFK Library and the oral histories she made with William Manchester will someday be publicly disseminated.
Dear Mr. Anthony,
as I have been writing my bachelor thesis on American First Ladies, your scholarly work has been a very helpful source to me, and at the same time a good read. Thank you so much!
Best regards from Germany!
Thank you Alix…..very much. And the “good read” part makes it twice as welcome an observation. And hopefully I will make Oktoberfest in Munich yet again next September. Cheers, Carl
Carl. I’m a longtime reader of your superb work. Actually many of your books are part of my personal library. I have the White House bug – a keen interest in its tenants and help. I’ve read them all from Ike Hoover’s memoirs to Nancy Clarke’s new book.
Your thorough study of the First Ladies Vols 1 and 2 was not only interesting but it gave meaningful context to the gallery of ladies who filled the most demanding volunteer job in America while just trying to live their lives. I hope someday there’s a Vol 3.
Your biographies on Nellie Taft and Florence Harding were great, I appreciate books about lesser known historical figures. As much as I am pro-Kennedy, I think the subject is extremely overdone. Your Harding book gave me a whole new picture of Flo, who’s tragedy and failings obsured her story. Besides, any dame who can hurl a piano bench at a brazen rival can’t have been all bad. I bet that book even brought Margaret Truman around!
Dear Tom – What a great surprise and affirmation for me as a writer. As to a volume 3 – well, volume 2 ended with 1990 and it covered 7 First Ladies, from Jackie Kennedy to Barbara Bush in her first year. So, I think I’d have to wait for another twenty or so years until there are perhaps at least three or four to include and thus justify it as a collective biography. In the meantime, my biography of Ida McKinley and the story of her through the Spanish-American War, the President’s assassination and how her disabilities assumed political significance will be out in 2013, so stay tuned. And thank you for you extremely generous remarks.
Carl – As I explored your site I noted with an appreciative chuckle that Ida McKinley was the next subject of your efforts. I had wondered if you were doing a series on first ladies from Ohio. If so you’ve got a quite a few to go. I look forward to your Ida book, she was another historical figure who was obsured by perception of her tragedies. As for Vol 3, if and when you write it, I hope to be there to read it. I bet you are assailed with demands to write this or that. That’s the price of success and talent. Anyway best wishes. I’m glad I found your website
The honest truth is that I pursue a subject for biography based on whether I sense that they’ve never been given an in-depth consideration as a complex human (and at the end of the day, I think every human is complicated), been written off as a caricature (and I’ve been guilty of doing that to historical figures as well) and whether they have a compelling story that is sort of timeless and can offer people today some larger warning or lesson or message – is there a “character arc” so to speak. And in the case of Florence Harding, Nellie Taft and Ida McKinley, I would say – yes. One thing does echo your notion of this sort of regional biographical series – in the late 19th century Ohio was radically progressive about women’s education and suffrage and I think a lot of that came out of the abolition movement. All three women were urged into the world “of men” by their fathers – to study a serious subject, to excel in a profession, and only to marry men they saw as potential partners rather than becoming subordinate to them. And then, you take this ideal of the First Lady as, you know the “gracious” “hostess” etc. thing – and you put these intelligent and unconventionally-minded women in there – and there’s this inherent dramatic conflict between who they really are and who people expect them to be, and that makes for an interesting life. That said, there is so much responsibility doing a biography well – and then trying to make the case. you know fighting this uphill battle of perception that just because “nobody” knows about them that they must not have a life worth exploring. So, it’s a hell of a struggle, frankly – and I have learned to be much more cautious about committing to a long writing project unless I am drive to tell that story…whew, how’s that for a response?
Hi Mr. Anthony,
I enjoyed your books very much. In noticing Mrs.Onassis’ saying about there being more to her than just her pillbox hat. I hope she knew that there were people (every day people) like me realized that and really cared about her. I never had the pleasure of meeting her,but I’ve always admired and cared about her even to this day. She was a very remarkable person.
Thanks so much for your comment Michelle and greatly appreciate your writing. So funny you ask that because I just wrote a response to another person here on this topic about her discomfort later in life when people praised her time as First Lady. And what is even more interesting about your question is that when I – like everyone else – heard that she was battling cancer I wrote that to her – that all those millions of people who had once seemed to besiege her would now be those pulling for her, praying, etc. And I don’t have her response letter in front of me, but she did write back that what I said “meant more to me than you cold ever realize” so I think perhaps, she did come to know that and finally accept it.
When I heard she was sick I wrote to her also, I sent it to 1040 5th ave but I don’t know if she saw it. I told her how much I admired her. I did recieve a thank you note from her children. That was so unforunate that she got sick that way,I was so sad about it,considering what she had been through.
She handled it well.. I don’t think I could have if I had the whole world looking at me all the time. But I’m glad she lived her life for her and her family despite it all.
Thanks for your reply.
In a funny way, I think those moments in the collective sense of the world population remind us of the most important fact – however mythical or monumental or legendary a human may become in our imaginations, they are always still human. Jackie Onassis dying of cancer at 64 was one of those moments. And in an odd way, it may help everyone else feel far more connected to them as humans, in terms of our own real lives, than by the aspiration of living up to be as famous or beautiful or rich as they seem to be. Thank you for your thoughtfulness Michelle.
I’m in the middle of your book on Helen Taft and really enjoying it. I was unaware that you’ve also written on Florence Harding. I’m looking forward to reading that next!
Look me up if you’re ever in San Antonio, Texas. I’d love to introduce you to our wonderful city.
Thanks Travis – I worked damned hard on both books, so it is genuinely satisfying to hear from someone who is reading one and intends to read another. I’ve been to San Antonio many times – I almost always drove over from Austin when I did so many trips for research at the LBJ Library. Just about the most perfect weather – at least when I was there.
Thanks so much for responding. Austin is one of my favorite cities too. I used to live there years ago, working for Ann Richards when she was Governor. There are some neat little bars on 4th Street if you ever have the opportunity to get there again. I’m sure you’ve spent a great deal of time at the LBJ Library; it’s one of my favorite places in Austin. Also, try out Dirty Martin’s Hamburgers on the Drag when you’re there next time.
Thanks for the Austin tips – was there most recently two years ago.
I’m sitting here watching TV this morning and enjoying the rain (which is rare in Texas!) and I’m watching the American Experience episode of “Dolley Madison”…and there you are in the flesh! What a coincidence that we’ve been corresponding and that I’m also reading your book. I’ll finish your Taft biography today and I’ve ordered your Florence Harding biography; hopefully it will be here next week. I might send them to you and ask for your autograph on them. Is it common for people to do that? Better yet, if you’re lecturing in Texas any time soon, lemme’ know and I’ll come see you in person! I hope you’re well…and thanks so much for sharing your talent with us.
Quite a coincidence, I’m glad they’re still playing that. And thank you for writing and appreciating the work. Always greatly appreciated.
Mr. Anthony, just discovered your blog today, and, oh boy, I am hooked.
I read a little about “Veronica” when I was a kid, and she excited the kind of fascination that a car wreck glimpsed on the highway does. As I recall, she was all gloom and doom in her divinations and inspirations. The essence of her vision’s messages was “the world’s utter vileness gives God a delicious opportunity to kick its collective derriere”. There is apparently a niche market for that sort of thing. Best, John.
That whole Veronica episode was very exciting – it was also the first time I ever thought there was a reason to question any adult about metaphysical manifestations – about the time I questioned Santa Claus too. What a piece of work that one was – another story in my line of movie ideas in the cue, a coming-of-age about pessimists and optimists and how a schoolkid begins to learn the difference. It was also the first time I started thinking dogs were intended to be the so-called “superior” beings but that humans figured this out and took credit faster. And as students at St. Robert’s we were ordered to steer clear of Veronica and her cult followers – which of course made most of us all the more curious and run to sneak their kooky incantations. Thanks for adding in on that – I was told recently that there are now recordings of her “conversations” with the spirit world available on Youtube.
That indeed would be a fascinating movie subject.
I read some years ago an excellent book by John Cornwall, who went on to write the controversial book “Hitler’s Pope”, titled the “The Hiding Places of God”. His brother is, I think John La Carre.)
In “Hiding Places, Cornwall explored recent claims of metaphysical manifestations in the Catholic millieu. His approach was respectful yet cautious. As a graduate of Catholic schools from grade through law, I once had a tendency to believe in some of those things (Fatima, stigmata, etc.) much more than I do no.
Veronica, it seems was a sad mental case with a surprisingly large following. I don’t recall whether Cornwall covered her claims.
On a Monday, I believe everything – on a Tuesday, nothing. I think humans are very funny sometimes when we think we know what is true and what isn’t! And it is as equally true of the religious as it is the scientific. I always get a kick out of a “new” discovery establishing the “new” scientific rule – rarely is it acknowledged that the discovery supersedes what was believed to be “new” and “absolute” fifty or sixty years ago…..that sounds like a good book to look up – thank you.
Thank you for your kind responses. I promise not to post so often. It’s just neat to discover a site covering such great topics.
I bought and read your two volume First Lady studies when they first came out. Loved the way you interwove their stories. I got a kick out of your portrayal of the second Mrs. Wilson. She did not rexactly etire to the nunnery after Mr. Wilson’s death, if I recall correctly. (Good for her.)
Also, enjoyed the Florence Harding book. Once drove across Ohio just to visit the home in Marion. Alas, it was closed, but I got to see the very elaborate tombs and memorial.
My only brush with presidential greatness was when JFK Jr., interned one summer at DOJ Main. I remember seeing him in the Main Libray and in the cafeteria. Everyone pretended not to recognize him. I pretended no to notice that he ate fresh pineapple pieces for lunch. And that was all. Best, John.
Haha…John was something else – I don’t think he was easily pigeonholed or labeled – and that was a lesson from his mom. I understand that my Harding book enraged some nasty old lady in Marion who was trying to make Harding look less than human and as marble as his monument – then I discovered this married woman had been the “Carrie Phillips” to the husband of her friend, so her reason for trying to purge Harding’s adultery made more sense, even if I bore the brunt of it – and yet, for her declaration that nobody in Marion should read my book, she was later praising Florence Harding based on new material I first published. See why I think dogs have the edge?
Hello Mr. Anthony,
I just saw your video on the poisoning of President Harding. I wondered where you found the great Fox Newsreels of Harding’s Alaska trip? I’ve organized his fifteen days and done numerous presentations on his tour, including one in Marion Ohio. You are the only historian that I’ve seen that had this video! I sure would appreciate knowing where I could go to purchase a copy of the newsreel.
Thanks! Jim R. Geraghty – Juneau, Alaska
The whole origin is rather anonymous to me – they were old videotapes I bought years ago on ebay when I did my lecture tour of Alaska when my book Florence Harding came out and I showed them (old VHS style!) with my presentations. I traced the President’s western trip, city by city, 75 years to the day in 1998.
No wonder I haven’t seen them! I wasn’t even interested in the Harding’s then. I’ve put together about 160 photos from his Alaska trip. Any chance of paying someone to copy the VHS onto DVD? The Alaska State Historical Library would surely like to have a copy!
Jim R. Geraghty
Jim – I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find that VHS tape if I still have it, since most of my earliest historical videos were just filmed directly from the screen on a digital camera in the early 00s. I could try and send the compressed file, if it isn’t too big to send via email and then you can perhaps transfer it to a DVD or bring it to someone who could restore the quality? Perhaps later in the upcoming summer I will get a chance to go through a ton of storage boxes and find it.