Excerpts from an Oral History Interview with Robert Breeden
“One of the interesting things about George Mobley and his work on the photographic side: the cover picture that we used was shot by Mobley on one of these very long extension fire ladders on the fire truck. And it was shot from the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. The truck pulled up–and it was just before rush hour. I’m sure people wondered what in the world happened. But George had to go to school for three days to learn how to get up and down that ladder. The picture was shot just a few days before Easter. It was processed over night. A selection was made; we made a selection I think on Saturday before Easter and sent down a few transparencies for Mrs. Kennedy to see. She was in Middleburg at the time. And she selected this one.”
“I remember we were shooting the Green Room–if you look at the early books, we almost always had a fire going in the fireplace because it added a little atmosphere to the picture. Well, they lit the fire and somebody forgot to open the damper. And here was [Benjamin] Franklin, the big picture of Franklin over the mantle which is still there, and the smoke is rolling up. The Secret Service people were coming from all directions. They finally got the fire under control. I thought poor Lorraine was going to panic. I tried to settle her down. I said, “Lorraine, I don’t think old Ben would object.” She said, “Well, I do.” So I didn’t succeed.
› Mrs. Kennedy’s editorial contributions
“As I mentioned a moment ago–I think I referred to her as the ex officio editor; in all truth I think she was the editor of the book. She looked at everything. Looked at all the pictures; read all the proof; made comments, some of which I still have. She even selected the typeface for the book. We gave her a selection of three or four faces that we would recommend. She selected the one that she wanted. So there was never a time when we doubted her keen interest in the book. She very much wanted it.”
› On the Presentation of the first White House Guidebook to President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy in June, 1962
“And it was finally sent to the engraver, finally printed and presented June 28 in the “Fish Room”. And there is a picture at the Association showing all the individuals who were there at the actual presentation…. I remember when we walked out of the “Fish Room” (Cabinet Room) Mrs. Kennedy walked beside J. B. West (chief usher). I was right behind them. And I remember that she said, “Mr. West, I want it understood that everyone must pay a dollar for this book, even Ethel [Kennedy].” I’ve told that to a few people since. And the book did sell for a dollar.”
› On his support of the research and publication of The President’s House by William Seale, a classic two-volume work on the White House and its first families
“I would always reassure the board as best I could that a book of this magnitude required much detail, research by the author and by his assistant—Bill had an assistant at the time–and that by hurrying the process we wouldn’t get the quality that we would want. And I think that if there were any doubts, any negative considerations about the time it took Bill to do the book, they vanished after it was published because it became immediately popular, a particularly important historic work, two volumes in a slipcase. It looked pretty imposing if you didn’t want to read a lot. But people did read it. Not just members of the board.”
› On the history and evolution of the White House Historical Association
“Unquestionably it has remained the same in its educational mission. I think that started at the very beginning with the publication of the White House Guidebook. In fact, in that book it was stated that the Association’s purpose was primarily education. As I said, it’s still true today.
Essentially the Association has changed with the times. Regrettably, books aren’t in as great a demand as they once were. The TV cassette that we have done, “Within These Walls”, is increasingly more in demand. The ornament is something that almost everyone can use and appreciate and I think this simply demonstrates that the mix has changed a great deal. Another way to put it is that we’re simply using diverse avenues now to reach that educational goal that was established at the beginning.”