GUEST: MARK FARKAS
(BEGINNING OF VIDEO)
HARRY TRUMAN: I am speaking to you from the room where I have worked since April 1945. This is the President’s office in the West Wing of the White House.
RONALD REAGAN: You know down the hall and up the stairs from this office is the part of the White House where the President and his family live.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given that trust.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON: This house is only on lend to its tenants. We are temporary occupants linked to a continuity of presidents.
FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH: Well, I’m so excited that you all are here, it’s both a very, very public house with public tours and a wonderful private home for our president.
(END OF VIDEOTAPE)
BRIAN LAMB; HOST, CSPAN Q&A: Mark Farkas, Executive Producer of the upcoming special on the White House, if somebody said to you, you had to pick one room in the White House where you could spend 30 days after your over two years of behind-the-scenes look, which room would you pick?
MARK FARKAS; CSPAN; EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: That’s a hard question, but I think you know the Lincoln bedroom is one of those rooms where when you’re in it in the White House, you definitely get a feeling of people the presidents and first ladies who have gone through there and of Lincoln and how he struggled with issues of race and the country at war, and its really one room in the White House that completely takes you back into a certain time period. But there’s lots of other places inside there that I’d love to spend quite a bit of time. We spent a lot of time in the residence and in the state floor and it really, you know it comes across to you as a place of incredible activity, but also upstairs are those places that you get a sense that they can live a private life while they’re on this public stage.
LAMB: Can you remember the first day that you picked up the phone and called somebody and who did you call and what did you ask them?
FARKAS: Well, we actually went over and met with Gary Walters who was the Chief Usher at the time, this was in 2006, and talked to him after we had produced the Capitol, our documentary in high-definition on the Capitol, and told him as we looked at a presidential election, we wanted to do something similar on the White House and to give some context to this upcoming election, let the American people see where their next president is going to live. And from that time until about really almost a year later, it took us a while to pitch the project to the first lady and then to get in.
LAMB: We’ve got what we call beauty shots of the White House. How much of this, we’re looking at right now, did you shoot and what kind of a camera did you use?
FARKAS: We shot this all in high-definition really for posterity sake. We wanted to go in and shoot the White House in high-definition for amazing archive and then also to put the documentary in our series on high-definition on demand. So we used the high-definition camera, we had a group of three shooters headed up by Bob Reilly (ph) who was the director of photography and these shots look beautiful, but what’s also interesting is what it takes to get these shots.
LAMB: Where did you get that shot?
FARKAS: We actually got that shot from the White House Historical Association, it had been shot years ago, before 9/11. And that is one of the things that you deal with at the White House now, in a post 9/11 world, its not as easy to get in, to get into the airspace to do that is impossible now, so we had to rely on some film that already existed, not only archival film, but then getting in, as you’re seeing, these are our own pictures shot in high-definition.
So it’s a challenge to put together just to to number one get in the place, number two to work around the schedule of a very active building that when the first family is there there’s activity all the time.
LAMB: I’m going to ask you in a moment when people can see the documentary that you’ve done and all the other video that you’re going to present, but in the end how many days do you think you were in the White House with your cameras and how much do you have in the way of hours of video?
FARKAS: Overall, on and off for about a year and a half we were in and out of the White House. And again, a lot of that we wanted to get into all the rooms when they were empty so we can shoot the art in there and really create the sense so that’s when you feel history, of the presidents who have walked through there in the past.
And then we wanted to get in when there was activity in there, so we could show the activity and contrast that with the silence of the building. So over the course of about a year and a half, we shot about 125 hours of video tape, high-definition video tape, of the activity in the building, the beauty of the building, interviews with historians. And then, the other thing we did that we’re going to produce a program on, we took a small mini DV camera its called, into the White House with us almost each time we went there to document our interactions with the First Lady staff, with the Secret Service, with the electricians, to show folks just what it takes to get in there and some of the behind-the-scenes of putting something like this together.
LAMB: We’re going to show a little before we do this though, when can people see this documentary?
FARKAS: December 14th is the night that we kick off a full week its called White House Week. Each night at 9:00 pm, starting that Sunday night, December 14th, and every night that week at 9:00 pm, we will present a different aspect of the White House.
Night number one is a documentary, a feature documentary called ”The White House: Inside America’s Most Famous Home.”
Monday night we will present tours of the White House, an original tour that we did with First Lady Laura Bush in the private residence and we will augment that with some of the great historic tours that people have seen in 1952, Harry Truman’s tour of the White House, Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the White House in 1962. Lady Bird Johnson, we found a tour that she did of the private residence that’s never been on television, we’ll present those on Monday night.
On Tuesday night we take you into the working White House, the kitchen, the floral shop, all those places that are behind-the-scenes and you get to meet the people who make this place both a stage and a home for the first family.
Wednesday night, we’re going to take you to the gardens and grounds of the White House, inside the 18 acres of the White House.
Thursday night, it’s just on Lincoln’s White House, featuring not only the Lincoln bedroom, but other parts of the White House where he really he and his family really left their imprint.
Friday night we’ll do an encore presentation of the documentary as well as taking you behind-the-scenes how we put this together.
And then Saturday night, we’ve got an interview with President Bush with First Lady Laura Bush and then all these great historians who we interviewed for hours and hours and who have these wonderful stories that may not have made it into the documentary but stand on their own, we’ll present that.
LAMB: Here’s some video of the private quarters up on the second floor and folks that come into the White House see the ceremonial rooms, but what’s this like? What are we looking at right there?
FARKAS: You’re looking at a shot that’s looking from east you’re outside the Lincoln bedroom there and down the hall from there are the private family quarters. The Lincoln bedroom is to the left, over to the right is a room called the Queen’s bedroom and the private family quarters run the length of the house, you’re in a center hall there, and over to the right is the Truman balcony and the Yellow Oval Room, that is the west sitting hall. Really right around there is a private family dining room, the presidential bedrooms are right there and that’s one of those places that the public never gets the chance to see, its adorned with wonderful artwork that’s both the collection of the White House and paintings that the first family brings in. That is looking up toward the Lincoln bedroom and again, that’s the west sitting hall. So that’s really where
LAMB: That’s where the family sits, right in there.
FARKAS: That’s where the family sits, they read
LAMB: Where’s their bedroom from where we’re looking?
FARKAS: Their bedrooms are off to each side of that cross hall.
LAMB: Did you get in the bedrooms?
FARKAS: We got into Mrs. Bush took us in on the private tour we did with her into what was FDR’s bedroom, right next to the Yellow Oval Room, and it is now a study for the family. But we didn’t you know there are some things that are sort of sacrosanct, and so we did not go into the bedroom of the President and the First Lady.
LAMB: How many people were around you whenever you were in there with cameras and what did you have to wear?
FARKAS: Well, when we were in the private residence, I mean every time we went in there, we had at least one person from the First Lady staff with us, an electrician or someone else who helped our with our lighting needs, there was someone from the Secret Service, that was the minimum amount.
Other times, when we did a walk through, you know there could be as many as 18 people with us
Because we really had to walk through all these spaces and get a you know a sense of the security concerns that the Secret Service had and then other things that were either OK for us to shoot or off limits. When we were in the private family quarters we actually put on these little booties, almost like surgical booties when we were walking around there.
LAMB: Here is a minute of the tour in the oval room on the second floor private quarters with Mrs. Bush.
LAURA BUSH; FIRST LADY: This is a very warm house the way it’s decorated and really even the stories of it. This is the south facing room and so as you can tell, even on a cold January day the sun pours in these beautiful curved windows. This is where we’ll entertain senators, I will have teas in here with spouses of heads of state who come to visit, the President and I have met with the Dalai Lama in this room. It’s also a room that I’ve had baby showers in for a niece of a nephew. A lot of this room was done this way both by Jackie Kennedy first, the torchieres that are there she brought to the White House. We did have a luncheon for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in here the day of their state visit and we were able to point out the mantle set, the clock and the two torchieres there that were her gift from her father King George to President Truman when she visited the White House as Princess Elizabeth. So there’re years of history in nearly everything in this room.
LAMB: How much was Mrs. Bush directly involved in what you could and could not show?
FARKAS: We gave them a master list of all the rooms and spaces as well as things on the grounds that we wanted to shoot over the course of the project and that went directly to her staff. And I’m not privy to all the conversations I had with her, but my understanding is that she went through that list and in consultation with both the West Wing and the Secret Service decided where we could and could not go.
Now, I must say out of all the places that we asked them to go, there were only one or two where we weren’t allowed, but the pool was one of them, we wanted to go to the swimming pool outside the Oval Office and we weren’t allowed to go there. But besides that, we were given very, very good access.
LAMB: Your cameras were in their private dining room, right there near that sitting room on the second floor. Do they actually this sounds crazy, but do they actually eat there every night when they’re there in the White House, but is there even a more informal place than that?
FARKAS: Well, there are more informal places, but this is right across the hall from the bedroom. It was a room that actually was a bedroom up until the Kennedy’s got there and the first family would go downstairs to eat. Mrs. Kennedy wanted more of a private family place to eat so they converted this into a dining room and this is where they eat a lot of their meals. The President and the First Lady, they can eat anywhere they want to. There’s lots there’s other places upstairs that they could eat. But this room is also indicative of a lot of the places in the White House, it’s got a lot of different stories that have happened there over the years. Grover Cleveland and his wife their baby was born in that room, Willy Lincoln, and it was a bedroom, actually passed away in that room in the Lincoln bed, the one you see in the Lincoln bedroom today.
LAMB: In what year did you graduate from William and Mary?
LAMB: What year is this with you here at CSPAN?
FARKAS: It’s coming up well, its 24 years. Started here part time late in ’84.
LAMB: You and I talked during the time you did the series on the Capitol, what year did we do that?
FARKAS: That went on the air a couple times in 2005 and 2006.
LAMB: What are some of the other specials you’ve done over these years?
FARKAS: We I began getting my feet wet in history with the Lincoln Douglas debates, then
FARKAS: ’94. And then ’97 we traveled around the country retracing Alexis de Tocqueville’s trip as he wrote Democracy in America.
1999 we did American Presidents, taking viewers to all to presidential libraries, homes, other sights around the country and then 2001 and 2000 we did American Writers, a journey through history and then we followed that up with The Capitol which is our first high-definition history special.
LAMB: And how many people have worked directly with you on preparing all this and shooting it?
FARKAS: There’s a lot of people and the number is growing. I mean Bob Reilly (ph) was the Director of Photography, but Bill Heffley (ph) and Bob Young where and you’re seeing right there we’re in the Blue Room, which is one of those oval rooms in the White House that each floor is unified by an oval room, and you see Bill Heffley (ph) there as well, Bill was one of the main shooters and lighters for this and you know what you don’t see in that picture are all the other people, the producers on my staff and production assistants and editors and all the graphic design people and everybody else who will work on this.
LAMB: Bill Heffley (ph) stepped into the picture
FARKAS: Bill Heffley (ph) is the gentlemen in the red. That’s me in the blue and Bob, who did the majority of the shooting with that high-definition camera is the one who’s pictures are actually that’s him right there. That’s the room that looks out onto the south lawn of the White House.
LAMB: During this preparation, you mentioned talking to a lot of historians. How many did you talk to and was your criteria for choosing them.
FARKAS: Well, the first criteria were they had to be an expert on either the presidency, Presidents and First Ladies, or the White House. So we had a main group of five or six. Bill Seale who is the definitive White House historian has written a number of books on the White House, you’ll even see those books when you go up into the private residence. Richard Norton Smith, a renowned presidential historian and an expert on the White House as well. Harold Holzer, who we interviewed specifically for the Lincoln bedroom and the Lincoln White House. Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has obviously written books on FDR, Lincoln, the Kennedy’s, and is working on Theodore Roosevelt book. Anthony Pitch is another one who specializes in Lincoln and the burning of the White House and Lonnie Bunch, who is going to be the head of the upcoming Smithsonian African American History Museum who’s on the committee for the preservation of the White House.
LAMB: Here’s a short minute with Bill Seale, one of the foremost experts if not the foremost expert on the White House, just watch.
BILL SEALE ; WHITE HOUSE HISTORIAN: Washington came himself very impatiently with the commissioner, they said we don’t know where to put it. Its got this huge cellar, do we put it to the north or the south, to the east or the west because these avenues are converging on it, you’ve got to see it, well very impatiently Washington, the old surveyor, you know, came and took off his jacket, its in the record, took off his coat and sided the White House and drove the stakes in the ground for where it stands today. He also had a certain taste that was very out of style. I mean the White House was very out of style by the world standards for today. The White House is just loaded with carving and Washington ordered that, he wanted it. In fact, if you ever go on a tour and you go out the north door, look back over the door, there’s a 14 foot garland carved of roses and things over the its 14 feet carved into the face of the stone. You look at it and you think it was stuck on, it was not, it was carved into the stone and then placed there, but its 14 feet wide, he loved it. But later, just before his retirement he said something of the stone cutting, he said, I think there is not the taste for ornament that there once was. Because of all the new buildings in Philadelphia.
LAMB: How did Bill Seale become such an expert on the White House?
FARKAS: He spent I don’t know how many years inside that building, getting the feel of the place, studying it from the inside and then from the outside it is one of the most well documented buildings in the history of the world. So going to documentary sources, archives, working with the White House Historical Association, that’s how he began.
LAMB: Where did you record that interview with him?
FARKAS: We interviewed him in a couple different locations, one of them was here in our studios, we sort of did a different backdrop than we normally would, and then we visited him at his home here in Washington D.C. as well.
LAMB: Those that want to start doing their own research on this series can go to our Web site, what’s the Web site and what’s on it?
FARKAS: You go to cspan.org/WhiteHouse and what is on it now is a trailer for the documentary and we’re begun to put different videos of the historians, historic moments at the White House are on there, and if you go to the Web site and you actually sign up we will send you out alerts for when new material is posted. So it’s hot now and as you can see right there, that’s the history some of the historic moments in the White House with the Presidents and First Ladies. Anthony Pitch is our historian there. So you can play clips that are on there now. Some of these won’t be on the television special, so you they’re web specific. And then as we go up to December 14th, the air date, there will be a full Web site with lots more clips from the documentary, from the programs and other clips from the historians as well.
LAMB: Who’s attached directly to the White House, on the White House staff that you deal with in matters like this when it comes to history?
FARKAS: Well, when it comes to history, on the White House staff, I mean we’re really dealing with the First Lady’s office. You know, they were they’ve been our conduit for every single thing we do over there, no matter whether it’s in the west wing, in the east wing, in the center house, on the grounds, we go through them. So we’re working with them to get in. The curator of the White House is also someone who we interviewed for the project and who you’ll see in the series and so he’s you know we need to do fact checking because the White House is like the Capitol, there’s lots of stories, some of which are true, some of which are not true, we want to make sure that we’re getting things right.
LAMB: What’s the curator’s position? What does he do?
FARKAS: Well, the White House is a it’s a living art museum and so he does anything from you know making sure overseeing that the public room are you know kept in shape and that the private quarters the first family gets what they need in terms of artwork in the historical furnishings, and so he really oversees the whole house and whenever you see a piece of furniture or a piece of art, that’s tied into the curator.
LAMB: On historians, we have another clip. This is about a minute and a half, and I must say I’ve heard this story many times in my life, but I’ve never heard anybody tell it who was there. So let’s just watch Doris Kearns Goodwin and listen carefully.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN; WHITE HOUSE HISTORIAN: I was in his bedroom several times to talk to him, and in the bathroom to talk to him when he was going to the bathroom which is his custom, and somehow he just didn’t want the conversation to stop. So if you were in the bedroom holding back when he went into the bathroom he would just call you in and say, come on in, I haven’t finished what I’m saying. You get sort of used to this. I’ll never forget one time he told me that McGeorge Bundy (ph) was in a similar situation and he was too embarrassed to look at the President actually on the toilet so he had his back to him and he was as far away as he could be in the bathroom and so he finally said, McGeorge (ph) come closer, come closer, and he said he backed up, I thought he was going to sit on my lap. He said, hasn’t that guy ever been in the army.
So somehow, I just again took it as a matter of course, bizarre as it was that you would continue your conversation wherever the President went.
BRIAN LAMB: I’ve got to ask you, the first time that happened, what was your reaction?
GOODWIN: The first time it was very weird. I mean I couldn’t believe that I I kept when he said come on in here, I want to finish the conversation, I wasn’t really sure that he meant for me to go across the threshold and then I saw but I held back, by the time I got in he was actually sitting on the toilet. So this was probably the most bizarre presidential experience I’ve ever had. But after a while, you know you just realize that its more interesting to listen to what he’s saying than it is to look at him. So you just sort of try and look around the room in various other places, the wallpaper got very interesting.
(END OF VIDEO)
LAMB: In case folks missed it, who is she talking about?
FARKAS: She’s talking about LBJ. And I guess that is also one of the things that comes through as you’re talking to not only Doris Kearns Goodwin, but some of the other historians are the stories of Lyndon Baines Johnson and his family inside the White House from really the peak of his success to the end of his term when the place became, in her own words, a much more foreboding place for him.
LAMB: How long is the first documentary that you’re going to show on December the 14th in the evening Sunday evening at 9:00?
FARKAS: It will be about 90 minutes long. We’re getting close to finishing it and so the length will be plus or minus it wont be over 90, but it will be pretty close to it.
LAMB: What was your approach to this, because you’ve got so many more hours you’re going to show us before this is all over.
FARKAS: The approach to the documentary was really, let’s take a look at the White House today. when you go in there, what does it look like, what does it sound like and show people, because you know I don’t know how many people have gone to the White House, but even if you’ve gone there, you’re in and our in 30 minutes, and so lets give people a chance to look and learn about the White House today and then, what we will do, in addition to showing them that, is take them back in time and forward in time and concentrate on several Presidents and their families who have really had the most impact on how we understand the White House today. Those who have changed it.
LAMB: If my memory serves me correctly, before 9/11, on a daily basis five or 6,000 people would go through the White House, five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday? What is it now?
FARKAS: After 9/11 they closed the White House for a while completely to tourism and that had been done in World War II as well. And then once they felt the security situation was under control, they began letting tourists back in. But it’s a different scheme that they have going now. You have to work through your congressman or senator to get a ticket and about 1000 people a day, and this is Monday through Thursday now, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm is when tours can go through the White House. So it’s a different place and level of people passing through and actually in our program. We talked to some of the people who worked there, who were there on 9/11 and comment about how things have changed there, not only for the public that goes through, but for the President and the First Lady.
LAMB: So we’ve literally gone from over one million people, between a million, million and half people a year going to the White House to over maybe a couple thousand at most on a yearly basis.
FARKAS: Yes, it’s changed, its not as traveled well traveled through as it was before.
LAMB: Back to the video, now did you tape this or what’s the technology that you use now? Was it a disc or
FARKAS: We actually use tape, you know it’s traditional in the sense that it’s not a disc and we weren’t putting things right on to a computer. My sense is that the next thing we do is going to be like that, but each tape, its about a half an hour long and so you know when you’re timing your interviews, knowing that you had about a half an hour until you had to stop and so its all video tape for the high-definition material. And then standard tape for the mini DV behind-the-scenes material that he did.
LAMB: You said that if you had to live in the White House for 30 days, you’d pick the Lincoln bedroom, so let’s take a look at it and describe what we’re seeing.
FARKAS: Well, on your screen you’re see the Lincoln bed in the center of the picture, now to the left of the picture. And that bed, I guess, is probably the most famous piece of furniture in the home, but this Lincoln bedroom actually during Lincoln’s time was his office. Harry Truman is the one who wanted it to become the Lincoln bedroom so it’s now adorned with as many things possible Lincoln related. And first families, really since Jackie Kennedy, and first ladies specifically, have taken on projects at the White House. This Lincoln bedroom that you’re seeing today was Mrs. Bush’s biggest project while she was in the White House. Hadn’t been redone nothing really had been done to it except small things since Harry Truman’s redesign of the White House in 1948 to ’52.
So there on your screen is one of the rare there’s five copies of the Gettysburg Address and that is the only one with Lincoln’s signature on it. So it really is a room not only where he signed the Emancipation proclamation but where you have these other artifacts that really again tie you in to Lincoln. And that bed right there was where Lincoln’s son passed away in, Willy Lincoln. The bed was down the hall but its so the room really evokes a time in the White Houses’ history that I think all presidents and first ladies, especially up on that second floor you feel. you feel it.
LAMB: Here is Lincoln scholar, Harold Holzer, who told us all about that room on video tape.
HAROLD HOLZER; HISTORIAN: The reception room and the public hallway outside were the only means by which Lincoln could go from the business part of the White House, which was here, into his private quarters. If he wanted to go back for a meal, if he just wanted to go back for a rest, he always had to go through these public rooms. And in the reception room there would be a throng of people waiting to see him, Congressmen, the general public, lawyers, diplomats all herded in there waiting for their turn.
If he went out into the hallway, there would be people lined up down the hallway from this door, down the stairs, all the way to the front door waiting their turn to see the president because it was an open door policy.
Well, Lincoln eventually found himself absolutely overwhelmed, burdened, annoyed, yes Abraham Lincoln did get annoyed by his inability to move in his own house. So he had a partition built from a door that was there, on this side of the wall, near the fireplace, between the fireplace and the desk, through that area into the oval library which was where he and his wife took meals and had their sitting room. It was the only sitting room on the floor and the partition must have been, I would calculate about seven feet tall because it had to be tall enough for him to pass by without being observed. It did not go all the way to these high ceilings. It was a part way partition. But that was finally built at the end of his first year in office, and he finally had a way to sneak out of here without being pursued by office seekers and favor seekers.
LAMB: As Harold Holzer was sitting there, off to his left would be the window that looked out over the south lawn.
Were you allowed at any point do to that with your camera? Walk from a room and look out the window and I’m basically asking because of security.
FARKAS: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. That was part of the process of walking through the areas with the Secret Service and the First Lady staff before hand. There were some places that we were not allowed to show the vista and some places that we were.
LAMB: What were the arrangements or obviously are the arrangements for the White House on what you what they have to approve?
FARKAS: Having the Secret Service there with us each time we shot, they had a chance to look at our footage before we left the White House, so we were able to do that or before we go on the air with any of this, the Secret Service will take a look at it and let us know if there is any security issues or concerns or if security’s being compromised, and at that point, we’ll either have the option of taking something out or blurring it over. But there’s no editorial control that the White House would have over this.
LAMB: What do you mean by editorial control?
FARKAS: If the President says something in the interview we did with him and the First Lady says something in the interview we did with her and we want to put it in and they don’t like it, or if one of our historians says something about the White House that may not be flattering, its not up to them what goes in and out of the documentary on the series in terms of comments.
LAMB: But they can prevent you from using certain video?
FARKAS: Yes, although I must say there’s nothing that we shot in there I mean since we did walk through of each one of the spaces, you know they didn’t want us what they call connecting the dots. Taking a steady cam and going, you know especially in the private residence, from room to room to room. So, you know I don’t foresee, you know we haven’t gotten a lot of our footage over to them yet, as we’re still in production on it, but I really don’t see a lot of problems arising, I hope.
LAMB: Across the hall from the Lincoln bedroom is the Queen’s bedroom.
FARKAS: It’s it used to be called the Rose Room and off each one of these bedrooms is a sitting room, but a number of European queens stayed there and the furniture in there goes back to sort of the Andrew Jackson’s and the Federal period, even before that. But you know it’s again one of these rooms where there’s lot so great stories, it’s where Winston Churchill stayed, he came over the public did not know it until a few weeks over. Comes over right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and stays in that room. And in our programs, you’ll hear some of the stories about Winston Churchill interacting with the Roosevelt’s and potentially overstaying his welcome a little bit. He stayed there the longest period of time of any foreign leader and actually after that, extended stays for foreign leaders got moved over to the Blair House, across the street.
LAMB: We’re going to show some video of Lonnie Bunch in a moment. Who is he?
FARKAS: Lonnie Bunch is he’s been the head of the Chicago Historical Society, he’s a preeminent historian. He will be the head of the Smithsonian’s new African American History Museum, and most importantly for this project, he’s on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.
LAMB: Let’s show about a minute of him discussing the early days of the White House and the staff.
LONNIE BUNCH; HISTORIAN: As President Roosevelt grapples with a country at war, Mrs. Roosevelt wrestles with tensions inside the home between the white and black permanent staff in a historically poignant moment that connects to the White House today believing that the service staff would function better if it were all one color, she dismisses all white members of it and hires only blacks at a lower cost.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: That darkie in uniform is John Mays (ph), White House doorman and official barber.
LONNIE BUNCH: When I talk and think a lot about race I like to talk about the White House because the White House often is seen as the central American place and so I want people to realize that part of that centrality is because it’s a place that grappled with questions of race, it was a place that was reflective of its time. So I want people to realize that what the White House is is the symbol of America, for good, for ill. A symbol of what’s possible and a symbol of America falling down and failing to meet its stated ideals.
(END OF VIDEO)
LAMB: How large is the staff?
FARKAS: For this project?
LAMB: No, for the whole White House?
FARKAS: Oh, for the whole White House. Well, for the home itself, the central historic home, you’ve got about 100. You know the Chief Usher is the person that oversees all that, he works for the First Lady, but you know and that so that’s basically you know the butlers, the electricians, the curator staff and all those people who really make than place function as both a home, as a stage, you know they’re the ones that setup if you get an event in the east room, they do that. But they’re also the ones who make sure that they private residence upstairs is a home.
LAMB: Which kitchen is this?
FARKAS: That’s the main kitchen and when they have state dinners or even small dinners and different parties, right there you know I always thought they must have some huge kitchen that you’d see at a hotel. But it’s a pretty small place, as you can see from that, it’s not very big. And when a state dinner or another function is about to happen and they’re preparing there, I believe that was when President Sarcozy was coming to visit the White House, it’s a hustle and bustle of activity and you know boom, boom, boom and all around in that area on the ground floor of the White House, places that the public never gets a chance to see, you’ve got activity that is going, but it also ebbs and flows with the activities of the White House.
LAMB: Where is the flower shop?
FARKAS: It’s right down the hall from the kitchen and again, their staff they’ve got a main staff of four people who work in there and when they’ve got big events, they bring in folks from the outside to help them out. And it is just you know when again, when there’s a dinner or something going on it’s a hustle and bustle of activity.
But when there’s nothing going on at the White House, the staff over there is continually putting new flower arrangements out. That’s Nancy Clark who’s the head of the floral shop at the White House. And so it really is you know it we say its upstairs it’s a regular American home, but it’s pretty darn nice. I mean I don’t have people cutting flowers for me everyday at my house.
LAMB: What’s the chocolate shop?
FARKAS: The chocolate shop is a small kitchen and that’s Bill Yossus (ph), who you see in that picture, they’ve got two dessert kitchens. One of them is upstairs and this is the one that’s on the ground floor and he’s preparing they’re going to have a dinner for the 200th 250th birthday celebration of the original architect of the White House, James Hoban (ph), and so those are little chocolates that he’s preparing for that dinner. They’re edible, a lot of people will take them home as keepsakes, but that is just specifically a kitchen for chocolate.
LAMB: Are people like the chef there do they get a government paycheck?
FARKAS: You know, I never really asked them, but you know the White House has a budget each year from Congress and that’s where the permanent staff of the White House gets paid from that government budget is my understanding.
LAMB: Now, if you’ve been in and out of there for the last two years.
LAMB: Do you you’ve got a couple of kids.
LAMB: Do they have any idea that you’ve been in and out, and do they care? How old are they by the way?
FARKAS: I’ve got a 13 year old and a 10 year old and its interesting you know the White House is that one place that crosses over generations. You know, all kids know about presidents, they know about Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt. And so they’re very interested in what I’m doing over there. When I was doing the Capitol, there wasn’t as much. But I think, I mean to me that is one of the thins that will attract a lot of people, not only our normal CSPAN viewers but other people. I mean this is this is our home. And don’t you always want to sort of when you go to somebody else’s house look around, see how other people live, this is sort of the chance to look inside the ultimate American home.
LAMB: How many floors did you get to go on?
FARKAS: Well, overall we went on you know there’s four main floors of the White House, the ground floor where the diplomatic reception room is, one floor above that is where the state rooms are, the East room, the Green, Red, Blue, oval rooms and the State Dining Room. One floor above that is the private family quarters where the Lincoln bedroom and all those other places that we saw. One floor above that is the upper most level of the White House, the third floor. It’s mostly just guest bedrooms and a solarium, which is the most private, sort of inner sanctum for the first family. Now so we went on all those, and then there’s a basement level a couple basement levels below that that we really didn’t go into, although we did go to the bowling alley which is sort of there you see it on the screen. Sort of made famous by I’ve seen photographs and film of Richard Nixon bowling in there. I’m not sure the Bush’s are big bowlers, but its one of those places that’s tucked away and again, it’s a nice amenity for a family that really you know they cant go out to a bowling alley, so this is one of the thins that they get a chance to do inside the White House.
LAMB: Is the bowling alley under the White House or under the front lawn?
FARKAS: It’s under the north lawn.
LAMB: North lawn.
FARKAS: Of the White House. Yes.
LAMB: How much is under there?
FARKAS: Well, you know in our program, Bill Seale, tells a great story, just if you picked the White House up by the hair of the head it would look huge, it would much different that the way it looks from the street level or from an airplane view. I mean it’s you know there’s tunnels underneath there, there’s a bomb shelter underneath there. There are you know there’s a restaurant over underneath the west wing. There are other places for the staff to sleep. There are storage areas. So it’s a pretty huge complex and I think most of what will be done in the future is probably not going to be above ground, but probably would be below.
LAMB: Here’s Mrs. Bush showing a little bit of the theater with some kids in it.
LAURA BUSH: I thought you might want to know that this room was first made into a theater when Franklin Roosevelt was president in 1942. And it’s been either the theater or the cloak room. It still is the cloak room. When your mothers and fathers come here for a party, this is where they leave their coats in this room, for big parties that we have. So it’s both the movie theater and the cloak room both. So are you all ready? OK, let’s see it.
Al are you want to come over here to your seat? OK, Nancy Drew.
(END OF VIDEO)
LAMB: Did you were you able to take your daughters to the White House during this process?
FARKAS: You know I took them we went on a public tour, that was one of the things, you can either go through your congressman or senator, or if you’ve got a contact at the White House, you can beg them, as I did, as my children or my wife actually had never been through the White House. So we went through last year at Christmas time and it was a thrill for them.
LAMB: How old was the video of Mrs. Bush with the kids in the theater?
FARKAS: Oh, gosh. You know, that was actually pretty recent. We did that closer toward the end of the video taping than the beginning. Gosh, I want to say it was about six, seven months ago.
LAMB: Now, the interview with President Bush, we’re going to show a clip of that, was done how many months ago?
FARKAS: We did that in the spring, I believe, yes.
LAMB: Because the idea was to ask him about his experience in the White House and
FARKAS: Right, right. It wasn’t an interview that we was based on world events or timeliness of something it was really the you know the focus of it was his experience living in the White House. So it wasn’t political at all, it was more personal ad really get a sense of what its like for a resident in this place.
LAMB: And here’s about 45 seconds from that interview. This is the first time it’s been shown.
BRIAN LAMB: What’s your feeling about walking out of here for the last time?
GEORGE W. BUSH; PRESIDENT; UNITED STATES: I’ll be sad in a way and sad that because we had become so close with many of the people that work here and I’ve had eight years here working with most of the same people all the time. as you drive the elevators, the cooks, and the people who work upstairs, these have become like family and so I’ll be grateful on the one hand and you know sad that to know that I wont see them a lot.
On the other hand, I’m fully aware that it’s healthy for democracies to change leadership and I’m also be somewhat joyous about the fact I’m heading home to Texas.
(END OF VIDEO)
LAMB: Can you describe what you saw around the White House and around the President and the First Lady and the attitude of people that worked there. How did they treat them and how much conversation is there about them that when they’re there in private.
FARKAS: Well, you know you get glimpses, you know we’d be in the Blue Room and shooting in there for the portraits and other activities going in there and then you’d look out the window and you’d see out in the south lawn you’d see the President and Josh Bolton and Barney and Mrs. Beasley.
LAMB: Josh Bolton is the Chief of Staff.
FARKAS: Yes, yes. So you’d get a little bit of a window. I mean we didn’t you know we didn’t shoot that, but you get a sense of I guess how the place functions both as a home and as a you know because just yards away from the home is the office, is the Oval Office and so you get a sense of you know so you’d see them in you know small gaggles with just a few staff and then you know from time to time with larger amounts of people.
I guess not too much different than you’d see over on Capitol hill when a senator goes by and you’ve got a press person and you’ve got a legislative director. So it sort of ebbs and flows with depending on what they’re doing.
LAMB: You talked to the curator in the Oval Office about among other things the President’s desk.
FARKAS: Yes, Bill Allman, is the curator of the White House, and one of the things, actually the First Lady’s staff offered this up, they said, you’re going to be in the Oval Office doing your shooting, would you like Bill to give you a tour and I said absolutely.
BILL ALLMAN; CURATOR; WHITE HOUSE: This desk was has a very interesting and complicated story, it was produced from decking off of an English navel vessel, H&S Resolute was in Queen Victoria’s fleet in 1854 and was an expedition exploring the arctic above Canada and was trapped in the ice and abandoned by the crew and the net year it was found about seven degrees of latitude further south and it had been abandoned and was extricated from the ice by an American whaling vessel, brought back to the United States and the American government decided to refurbish the ship and return it to her Majesty’s Navy.
So, on its decommissioning in 1879, Queen Victoria recognized the historical significance of the Americans having given her back her ship and asked that the deck paneling be made into a desk to be given to the President of the United States.
So it arrived for President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and was used in the private quarters by every president from then until President John F. Kennedy who moved it over here to the Oval Office.
(END OF VIDEO)
LAMB: How often did you run into somebody that thought the Oval Office had been there forever?
FARKAS: Not too many people actually. I mean before I got in the project, you know you just get the sense you know when you look at it today, it’s like oh it must have always been there, you always needed it. But the fact is, before Theodore Roosevelt, you know everything was centered in that White House, that’s why Harold Holzer talked about you know Lincoln needing to escape the public, the office seekers because at home was both the office and the place where they lived.
LAMB: Richard Norton Smith talks about the Oval Office and the history of it.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH; HISTORIAN: With the Roosevelt president, TR, first of all, looked at the Buchanan conservatories where the west wing is located now and characteristically says smash the glass houses. Well, first of all I think there’s a childish delight in smashing the glass houses, but equally important, in reminding everyone, I’m getting rid of anything that reminds anyone of James Buchanan. I am not that kind of president. So the glass houses disappear and on their sight rises the west wing with an Oval Office. The Oval Office is in a separate location today, actually following the fire during the Hoover presidency, FDR rebuilt it. But its isn’t it revealing that it’s the two Roosevelt’s. The two Roosevelt’s who in so many ways invent and define and redefine the presidency as we know it today who likewise redefine the White House and in fact, relocated the Oval Office.
LAMB: In the end did you ever did you count up the number of hours that you actually sat down with historians?
FARKAS: I haven’t counted it, but it’s a lot as we’re going you know over the course of the past couple months as we go through it.
You know, its extensive only because you know we wanted to come out of this with not only material for a feature documentary, but you know this is our chance to do something on a home again that’s a symbolic home of all Americans and how many times are you going to do a project like this. so we wanted to sit down with as many people as we could and talk to them in depth about a place that has you know there’s so many you could do you could do 15 specials on the White House and make them each 15 hours long and not get to the end of the line on all the stories that are taking place inside that building.
LAMB: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Richard Norton Smith, Lonnie Bunch, Bill Seale, Bill Allman, others.
FARKAS: We also interviewed members of the staff who had worked there for a long period of time. anyone from Gary Walters who was the Chief Usher and worked at the White House for almost 30 years, and the Chief Usher now, the first African American Chief Usher, Steven Rushon So we it’s a mix of historians who we spoke with, the President and the First Lady and then current staff and former staff that worked there, and then the other thing we’re doing, both on the Web site and in each one of our pieces is taking a great wealth of archival film and sound of Presidents and First Ladies inside the White House to take you back in time.
LAMB: When was the last time anybody in television did a video tour of the White House?
FARKAS: Well, a tour Presidents and First Ladies off and on have been giving tours here and there. You know Jackie Kennedy famously did her tour of the White House, but since then, it’s been pretty few and far between. National Geographic did a film during the Clinton administration taking you in, but really traced a state dinner more than taking you through the White House. So the historical association of the White House, the historical association has done things here and there, but nothing only because I think it’s a tough a tough subject to tackle and so it hasn’t been done that often and it’s hard to get in there and get what you need to do that.
LAMB: Again, in your drawer somewhere you have how many tapes?
FARKAS: Well, about 250 high-definition tapes.
LAMB: Thirty minutes each?
FARKAS: Thirty minutes each. And then about 30 of these small tapes shot on a small camera of scenes of us and the First Lady staff and other electricians, folks doing work at the White House.
LAMB: We’ve seen some video of the private quarters and you’ll see a lot more of that, but here is some video of the basic public rooms that anybody can walk into. You walk in the front door and that’s what you see.
FARKAS: You’re walking in from the north, through the north portico and you’re looking at this grand entrance hall and the stairway, right there the grand staircase is pretty close to there, that’s where they come down from the private quarters and walk out during a state dinner, its that iconic shot of the presidents and first ladies and the world leaders. The east room, right there, that’s the state dining room. Sorry, I might have been mistaken. Again, Lincoln didn’t lay a nail to the building but his influence on the way its interpreted today is everywhere. You’re going in the from the cross hall into the Red Room, as sort of the drawing room, one of the parlors. A beautiful room that Dolly Madison used for her teas to entertain. Eleanor Roosevelt held press conferences in there. Next to that, as you’re traveling east is the Blue Room and everything you see in there really goes back to James Monroe. And then you have it sort of ties back to the founders, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. And as you make your way from that Blue Room, again traveling east you come into the Green Room. Thomas Jefferson sat down to dinner with Thomas Payne in that room. He even met with Meriwether Lewis to plan the Lewis and Clark expedition. So that room really ties in to that sort of federal period, the signers of the constitution and the declaration. And its you know as you see it’s a gorgeous house. It’s a lot of eye candy.
You’re going there into the east room, probably the most public room in the White House and in our programming you’ll learn really what George Washington’s influence was on this house. Even though he’s the only president to have not to live there, he leaves his mark almost like no other president in our history. So again, and that’s a portrait of George Washington to the right Martha Washington to the left. And again, you see here, the room when its empty but also what we’ll show you is the room when it’s full of life.
This is upstairs, one floor above the Yellow Oval Room that is right over the Blue Room. Again, this is the place it serves two functions, really it serves a place for the first family to have time alone, but they also entertained world leaders when they come there before they go downstairs in front of the cameras.
LAMB: And you took us outside, talked to the gardener about the rose garden, what’s his name?
FARKAS: Dale Haney is he’s sort of the head of all the grounds and we got a special tour from him taking us around the grounds. This one takes us to the First Lady’s garden.
DALE HANEY; WHITE HOUSE GARDENER: So we’re in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden today. and the Jacqueline Kennedy garden was actually being renovated when President Kennedy was assassinated and Mrs. Johnson followed through with the plans of Mrs. Kennedy on this garden and then she went up to the hill in Congress and actually had the name of the garden changed over to the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Why is that?
HANEY: Part of that is kind of called the First Lady’s Garden, the east garden, but it is the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden today.
Actually the American how is it you see here’s the topiaries were original ones that were put in during the renovating times. The boxwoods, the lemon trees that you see between the borders here and all all have been changed in trying to keep the garden into scale to how it was originally back in 1964, ’65 when it was finished.
LAMB: We’re about finished with this part of it. How close are you to being finished with the documentary?
FARKAS: We’re a lot closer here than I. We have actually you know the treatment has been done, the script is written and we have finished we’re working on all different parts the week right now, different producers, Delia Rios and Russell Logan and Rick Stoddard, our staff are working on different parts of the week and then for the documentary we are completing it in chunks, its rough cut and so we know where we’re going but its filing in a lot of the narration.
LAMB: It all starts the night of December the 14th, Sunday night, 9:00 for seven days seven nights.
LAMB: And the video on the Web site today that they can see and then how much more will they be able to see in the future?
FARKAS: They’ll be able to see a lot more. I mean again, you know as I think I’ve I think you got a sense, we’ve done a lot for this. A lot of that will go on the air, but there’s a lot more that we want to you know more and more people are watching on the computer these days and looking for things that are in sort bursts. And so there you get stories, you’re taken into the history of the White House and so there’s material on there now, but as we ramp up toward the air date of the series, there’ll be a lot lot more.
LAMB: And in the next couple of weeks we’re going to have a discussion with Harold Holzer on his new book which is about Abraham Lincoln from the time he was elected to the time he took office, and in those days you weren’t you didn’t take the oath of office until March the 4th, so he had a lot more time on their hands.
Mark Farkas, the last bit of video we’re going to show, is at the actual end of the documentary?
FARKAS: No, it’s the actually it’s the beginning of we put together the open for the documentary, we showed a little bit at the beginning of the program, and it really gives you a sense of not only the beauty of the place, but also the history of the place and what we’ll do during that program on Sunday night an then during the week as well.
LAMB: So we don’t get to see the end of it? I mean its not the end’s not done yet?
FARKAS: We’re working on that after I get out of here.
LAMB: Thank you, Mark Farkas and here’s some more from the documentary. We look forward to seeing the week.
FARKAS: Thank you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: This is the story of a house located at the center of a nation’s identity and the focal point of international events, whose occupants have a chance to leave their own legacy to the official residence of the president and the symbolic home of the American people. Some leave their marks on the physical structure, others their psychological imprints on it. Inside it is a place of beauty and history and its spaces and priceless art collection help tell the story of those presidents and first ladies that have changed this home, whose story of survival and growth since 1800 is parallel by that of our nation.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: This old house has withstood war and fire and bull dozers just as its inhabitants have faced a stern test or two.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It is the story of a house that in many ways no longer exists. Its insides have been burnt, gutted and rebuilt. But even those parts of it that have long become landfill or that we see now only in traded photographs are part of our nation’s collective memory and our national heritage. Now we walk inside the White House and through time to the beauty of its grand state floors where the rooms and parlors all tell stories of the past and where public history still unfolds, and into the world of the permanent staff who helped first families adjust to life in the White House by making it both a home and a stage. And into the rarely seen private family quarters upstairs where all presidents since John Adams have tried to live private lives while in the public spotlight. Together they all tell the story of an American idea called The White House.