Lee Daniel’s The Butler, based on the life of White House butler Eugene Allen, is both a critical and commercial success. Part of its appeal for many was the unique nature of its story telling the tale of a handful of men and women who were witnesses to history as servants to American presidents over many decades. But, perhaps the fictionalized life of Allen is not all that unique. Because before there was The Butler, there was the NBC miniseries Backstairs at the White House.


The 1979 production is based on the memoirs of Lillian Rogers Parks, My Thirty Years at the White House. This 1961 text chronicles Parks’ three decades spent as a maid and seamstress to the first families she served.

In the mini-series, Parks is played by legendary actress Leslie Uggams among a star-studded cast. According to respected black film blog Shadow and Act, “The program itself was a huge ratings smash and was nominated for a ton of Emmy awards.”

Much like The Butler, Backstairs at the White House paints juicy portraits of the presidents and their wives seen through the eyes of the black serving staff, who are witnesses to a more intimate, and at times idiosyncratic, perspective on these historical figures.

The series is available on YouTube and for sale on Amazon.com. Unlike The Butler‘s fictionalized version of Eugene Allen’s life, which is transformed into the more archetypal journey of the character Cecil Gaines, Parks’ true story is seen in her narrative.

Always fascinating, the secret lives of presidents will never grow old for a public seeking to peer into new corners of White House history, no matter from whose perspective.

Will you be checking out Backstairs at the White House?

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.

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