This is a long post because it bears important news and history in our field. White House Butler, Eugene Allen, endured a harsh and segregated upbringing in native Virginia, yet he prevailed against all odds and went to work for eight Presidents, from Truman to Reagan. He retired after Reagan left office. When he died March 31st, Allen was 90 years old, with a career and life worthy of a great movie.
Mr. Allen and his wife, Helene, were profiled in a Washington Post story in 2008 that explored the history of blacks in the White House. The couple were excited about the possibility of Barack Obama’s historic election and their opportunity to vote for him. Helene, however, died on the eve of the election, and Mr. Allen went to vote alone. The couple had been married for 65 years. Mr. Allen had been living quietly in a simple house when he received a VIP invitation to Obama’s swearing-in. A Marine guard escorted him to his seat. Eyes watering, he watched the first black man take the oath of office of the presidency.
Mr. Allen was besieged with invitations to appear on national TV shows, with book offers and dozens of speaking requests, all of which he declined. He received hundreds of letters from as far away as Switzerland. People are amazed at the arc of his life, imploring him to hold on while thanking him for his service to the nation. People in his neighborhood would stop Mr. Allen and explain to their children the outlines of his life
We’re thrilled to learn that Columbia Studios retained the rights to his story and also the article in The Washington Post about Allen. Producer Laura Ziskin (Spider Man series, Pretty Woman, As Good As It Gets, Eyes of Laura Mars, more ), said the movie would act “as a portrait of an extraordinary African-American man who has lived to see the world turn. It’s about the essence of this man and what he saw, as well as the love story with his wife.”
At ISA staffing (contact us here) we’ve been placing top Butlers or Butlers-Valets, depending on the job description, for high profile VIP clients worldwide; doing it longer and known for our expertise as best of the best. We’re the oldest domestic help agency in the United States owned by the same family, people who actually know what it takes to truly perform that job. We know that Eugene Allen’s story is exemplary of what it means to be a top Butler. We understand the huge responsibility of working in The White House. Since the beginning Dora Renet, the legendary founder of ISA, has staffed people working for those in high Public Office including Ambassadors, Royal Families, Heads of State, among which are Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, Ambassador Walter Annenberg and many more we cannot list due to confidentiality requests (see our photo Gallery).
You can trust our expertise when we say that Eugene Allen affected the Presidents he served, it was not just they who affected his life. Hopefully, the movie will show more of this. It’s inconceivable to consider that President Jack Kennedy was embarrased by Sammy Davis Jr. and May Brit, an interracial couple who were also clients of ours (as was Mr. Davis when he married Altovese and we continued to serve their household staffing needs), who appeared on the list for an event when Kennedy invited 800 black Americans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (Listen to Kennedy’s Emancipation Proclamation Centennial celebration).
Now I’m not crazy about the name “African Americans”, because to me that means we keep ourselves separate, continuing to be “tribally divided”. To regress into tribal mode is not good for us. We can take our cultural heritage with us, but not insist on living it overtly when we are already a Civilization, having transcended tribal mode long ago. Simply put, we are all Americans. Sammy didn’t call himself “African American”, he often referred to himself as a Jewish man, religion playing a more important role in his life.
What would make a man like Kennedy so afraid, that he would instruct White House photographers not to take any photos of the Davis married couple after seeing them stroll in? (see Washington Post article). — This was 1963 America, times of change underway as Davis and other black Americans, entertainers who already proved their success including worldwide tours, sold out Las Vegas performances, and famous 1960 Oceans Eleven movie which set a new tone for “cool” that many wished to emulate (including several of our clients starring in the remakes). Was Jack Kennedy worried about others who might call for the type of unthinkable actions as we’re seeing being directed at President Obama today? That took President Kennedy’s life in one of the blackest days we’ve yet to heal from? People forget that Kennedy too had a huge battle on his hands as the first Catholic President.
Sammy Davis Jr. was not finished with 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He got himself invited to the Nixon White House to meet with the president, and talk about Vietnam and business opportunities for blacks. He slept in the Lincoln Bedroom, and entertained the President and guests. When Davis sang at the 1972 Republican convention in Miami, he famously wrapped his arms around Nixon at a youth rally there, becoming forever identified with a White House that many blacks found hostile.
In our agency’s past we placed many black Americans to work in the most exclusive households of America. Names like Chandler, Ford, Hearst, Doheny, Trousdale, Salvatori, Warner, and many more, had some of the best trained people comprising their household staff. At that time there were diverse ethnic groups such as Japanese and Chinese Americans, along with others from Europe, who worked in this field. Among other job descriptions, African Americans were highly skilled professionals in the domestic help field. As time went on, we saw less diversity of those seeking these jobs. Their children sought work away from the domestic help field, looking for an education to have careers their parents never had opportunity to obtain.
President Obama attaining the highest office in the country came under that dream (even if you don’t like his politics or agree with them). That’s an incredibly important Vision. Why is it all right to spend millions on a program “No Child Left Behind” which failed, but when a black President tries to deploy critical education improvement in our country he’s met with open threats politically incited? I’m not taking political sides (I find all parties severely lacking and appallingly self serving at this historical crossroads). It is tragic that all the current political parties are acting irresponsibly when our future is in peril, when the drop-out rate is so high, when kids are illiterate, when we don’t invest in our young people and their education to give them every opportunity possible– when we want our young to be programmed as sheep. We are still, the wealthiest nation in the world, bar none. There is no excuse for this ignorant madness of denying people an education and re-writing History. It must stop.
In our history of staffing during the golden age of domestic service, people spoke to each other with respect and civility despite their class difference. Even at that time during extreme disparities between rich and poor, America and England were less divided as nations than they are today. Eugene Allen’s generation saw politically serious times and heated issues he witnessed personally. But he also had a relationship with people he affected by his very person, being daily in their midst.
Allen trekked home every night, his wife Helene, patiently waiting for his return. President Truman called him Gene (don’t get me started on Truman who was clearly way over his head and not fit to be President after President Franklin Roosevelt died). According to the article, President Ford liked to talk golf with Eugene Allen. Two men chatting about sports. He saw eight presidential administrations come and go, often working six days a week, never missing a day of work. Eugene Allen deserves a medal of honor service recognition for tireless services Allen gave to the country he loved, with his unwavering 34 years of exemplary devotion and a work ethic rare to find today. I have been greatly privileged to know people of this unique caliber.
Allen’s is a story from the small print, the back pages of History as the Post article points out. The man in the kitchen, dining room, living room and other areas of The White House, performing his Butler duties, along with overseeing other household staff comprising his team, the one who quietly and modestly keeps it all going. The American Butler experience is very different then the British or other European countries. America has a history of slaves who built the White House, but not allowed to enter its doors.
A totally different experience exists for the British history of domestic help staffing. The Oscar winning film Gosford Park, by Robert Altman (also a client in our photo Gallery), is an important commentary about “upstairs-downstairs” life in England, as this movie brilliantly portrayed by a great cast, and also brilliantly directed. We’re blessed to have so many wonderful clients!
We’ve placed more top European and Eastern European Butlers who came to America seeking work then any other agency, a better life then the conditions in their home countries. Many were degreed and educated in fields paying less money then they would make working in their careers back home. We found them work in the best jobs, employed proudly in the best Luxury Estates needing highly skilled staffing. Their children also sought vocations in other fields of their choice.
According to internet research, half of all households in England today now employ a domestic help worker of some kind– paying over 20 billion pounds annually for their services. This is an amazing statistic and not remotely close to the huge population of the United States who employ domestic help workers. While these workers might not be butlers or other top level domestic help workers in the grand family traditions the British or American luxury estates have traditionally employed, it still shows the extensive changes socially that have taken hold worldwide about domestic help workers. Not to mention in the hospitality field of Hotel services.
The Merchent Ivory movie The Remains Of The Day (starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thomson), shows the highly skilled requirements of a top First Butler as wonderfully portrayed by another client, Anthony Hopkins (be sure to see both movies if you haven’t already). I’m reminded of the dignity Stevens teaches us about the meaning of service through popular anecdotes and personal encounters are truthfully and wonderfully depicted, played against beautiful sets similar to some our clients live with. My mother and I have had the wonderful opportunity to see them first hand, many so truly memorable they remain highlights of our work as part of American history we witnessed unfold.
A wonderful illustration by Stevens the Butler in The Remains Of The Day is about dignity, which involves a story Stevens father tells about a butler working for his employer in India. “One day, while the employer was entertaining guests in his drawing room, the butler went into the dining room and found there was a tiger under the table. After conferring with his employer, the butler shot the animal, removed its carcass, cleaned up the dining room, and returned to calmly inform his employer that “Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am please to say there will be no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time.”
We must remember that in pre World War II days it was not unusual to bring back exotic animals as Employers traveled, to be maintained as house pets. The Employers staff had to take care of these animals, far beyond current trends of house animals! A wonderful depiction of that is in the movie Bringing Up Baby starring another of our clients, Cary Grant, with Katherine Hepburn who becomes very attached to a leopard sent by her brother to her Aunt. Their hilarious antics are well worth seeing.
A classically traditional style of doing things in household work may seem like they’re gone to some, but we at ISA staffing know that the quality of life for those who can afford it will never wane, and we will continue to be there as always to serve it in the field for household help. Anyone who thinks this is not an exciting career, has no clue! I for one, cannot wait to see the movie on Eugene Allen’s life. I know he dearly loved his work and as he expressed, was deeply satisfied doing it. His story will so inspire many young people who’ve yet to know of it, and remind others of days when someone could stay on one job for almost 40 years until their retirement.
If you have an excellent background as a Butler or Butler-Valet, register online and allow us to help find you the dream job you want. Take advantage of our free consultation, there is no fee to you for applying and we look forward to helping your job search provided you meet all our criteria. To learn more about our services, go to our website and browse more detailed information there.
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