Okay I’m going to be real with you: When Showtime first dropped the trailer for its ten-episode mini-series, The First Lady, I didn’t pick up on the queerness because I was so focused on Viola Davis as Michelle Obama kick-boxing (because my own personal queerness involves a substantial amount of swooning over Viola Davis). But then! At the Television Critics Association winter press tour, executive producer Cathy Schulman told reporters “it was time to do it” re: portraying the well-known love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena “Hick” Hickok on-screen. So I went back and rewatched the trailer, and lo! That’s Lily Rabe playing Hick opposite Gillian Anderson’s Eleanor Roosevelt. See for yourself!
If you’re unfamiliar with Eleanor and Hick’s love story, you’ve really gotta check out Susan Quinn’s Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady. But allow me to whet your appetite a little bit: When superstar Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok met Eleanor at the Democratic convention in 1932, she wired her boss immediately and said “This dame has enormous dignity, she’s a person!” Hick lobbied for the White House beat, and within six months, she was sleeping in Eleanor Roosevelt’s hotel rooms and road-tripping with her across the northeast and into Canada — without chaperones. Eleanor convinced the Secret Service that if anyone snatched them, there’d be nowhere to stash them. Eleanor was six feet tall and Hick refused to be wafer thin. (“I like to eat!” she told Eleanor at one of their first meetings.) Their correspondence and their personal writings about each other are overtly gay, but, like so many queers before them, Eleanor’s relationship with Hick was written off by historians as some kind of gal pal school girl crush. It was not; it was a full-blown love affair.
After their return home from their early FDR presidency road trip, Eleanor arranged for Hick to travel the country to report on the Great Depression. For the next 12 years, she almost lived at the White House. She even had her laundry sent there! Eleanor’s personal tailor altered all of Hick’s clothes! They even spent every Christmas together, except the one when Winston Churchill arrived as a surprise. Hick’s reporting helped President Roosevelt and his advisers create the New Deal, and she was often the second person to hear the president’s now-famous speeches. First he sent them to Eleanor, and then she read them out loud to Hick.
Not much is known about how FDR felt about his wife and Hick, but The First Lady trailer hints that he was fine with it because of his other love interests.
No matter how good or bad The First Lady is — and it looks awesome — I take comfort in knowing it will at least wash the Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher residue from my eyeballs and ears!
The First Lady premieres on Showtime on April 17th.