Explore the behind-the-scenes drama that gave rise to some of the most influential American leaders. Narrated by Kevin Spacey, the next episode of CNN Original Series “Race for the White House” airs Sunday, March 13, at 10p ET.
Nancy Reagan fumed at White House staff when they moved the knick-knacks in her bedroom.
Lyndon Johnson drove a plumber to a nervous breakdown over his constant demands for more water pressure in his unusual shower.
And Bill and Hillary Clinton fought as the Monica Lewinsky scandal exploded.
These are just a few of the juicy tidbits in a new account of life behind the scenes in the White House. In her new book “The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House,” reporter Kate Andersen Brower interviewed dozens of former maids, chefs, florists, butlers and doormen who worked at the White House as far back as the Kennedy years.
The famously loyal and discreet staffers shared their recollections of working for different presidents and their families, giving readers an intimate look at what presidents were like away from the public eye.
Bill and Hillary Clinton were the most private residents in recent history, Brower told CNN.
“I’ve had staffers say that the Clintons were definitely the most paranoid first family that they ever had to work with,” she said. “They didn’t really trust the staff – it took them a full year to really carry on a conversation while the staff was in the room.”
Brower said the Clintons adjusted to the nonstop scrutiny they felt while living at the White House by changing the way some things were done. Instead of using an operator to connect all their phone calls, as first families had done from the residence in the past, the Clintons had the phone system rewired.
“They wanted it to be like it is in everyone’s home and certainly that’s understandable in a way,” Brower said. “They were worried about people listening in on their phone calls.”
This spring, as she prepared to launch her own campaign for the presidency, Hillary Clinton faced outrage when it was revealed she had used a private email address to conduct all her official business as Secretary of State from 2009 - 2013.
A moment of solitude
Just before Bill Clinton confessed to his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998, Hillary Clinton wanted a rare afternoon of solitude at the White House. She asked an usher to arrange for her to walk to the pool – and made it clear she did not want to run into anyone along the way, even the Secret Service agents assigned to protect her.
“‘If anybody sees her, or she sees anybody, I’m going to get fired, I know it,’” the usher, Worthington White, told Clinton’s Secret Service agent.
White managed to accomplish the task and was gratified when a “heartbroken” Clinton squeezed his hand and looked him in the eyes to thank him.
The book also details the exhaustive steps a White House plumber followed to fashion a shower that would please President Lyndon Johnson. The president wanted a shower that rivaled the luxurious one he had in his private home in Washington.
Brower writes the shower was “like nothing the staff had ever seen: water charging out of multiple nozzles in every direction with needlelike intensity and a hugely powerful force. One nozzle was pointed directly and the president’s penis, which he nicknamed ‘Jumbo.’ Another shot right up the rear.”
The White House plumbing foreman Reds Arrington spent five years working on getting the White House shower up to Johnson’s stardards, adding nozzles, upping water pressure and making the water piping hot. Arrington “was even hospitalized for several days because of a nervous breakdown.”
But the state-of-the-art system didn’t please everyone.
When Richard Nixon saw the shower after taking office, he took one look and said: “Get rid of this stuff.”