Barbara Bush and Millie: “She Told Me That She Really Loved Me”

The picture with today’s page one Washington Post story about the death of Barbara Bush shows her smiling, wearing her trademark pearls, and holding a Springer Spaniel. It was President and Mrs. Bush’s love of dogs that gave the Washingtonian a story that got more world-wide attention than any other we ever published.

In the summer of 1989, trying to add some fun to a July best and worst cover, we added a picture of Millie, the president’s Springer Spaniel, and called her, in the worst category, Washington’s ugliest dog. That happened after a neighbor of mine with a Springer Spaniel said she thought Millie was a very homely representative of the breed.

A few days after the July issue, with Millie on the cover, hit the newsstands, the press coverage began:

President Doggedly Defends Millie
By David Lauter
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — You can criticize his arms control plans, oppose his flag burning amendment or even argue in favor of higher taxes, but don’t mess with the President’s dog.

“I know you guys don’t write the editorials, but our dog was named ugliest dog in Washington by the Washingtonian magazine,” President Bush told three reporters from The Times at the end of an Oval Office interview Wednesday, referring to Millie, the family’s springer spaniel. “I’d like some defense on the West Coast. Imagine picking on a guy’s dog.”

A few minutes later, the telephone rang at the offices of Washingtonian, the capital’s slick city magazine.

“I’d like to know who did the ‘Best and Worst’ ” article, the caller asked, referring to the piece in which Millie was labeled as ugly. “I’d like to know how you picked the ugliest dog,” the caller continued. Receptionist Felicia Stovall said that the editor who had prepared the piece was tied up and asked the caller’s name. “President George Bush,” the caller responded.

Barbara Bush, to raise money for charity, then created a book, Millie’s Book, with Millie listed as the author dictating the words to the First Lady. Profits from the book went to a non-profit literacy organization.

Millie wrote: “With absolutely no provocation, the July 1989 issue of The Washingtonian Magazine came out with their Best & Worst list. Guess whose picture was on the cover? Mine!  Guess which I was. . .best or worst? Worst!”

Millie went on to complain that the picture we ran of her to prove our point was taken the afternoon of her delivery of six puppies. She wrote: “Show me one woman who could pass that test, lying on her side absolutely “booney wild” [family expression for undressed] on the day she delivered six puppies.”

Millie said she accepted George Bush’s advice to shrug it off and follow his example of dealing with press criticism. She recalled the time the President was named first on a list of the “Most Overrated Men in New York.” Bush, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, invited the other nine men on the list and the author to a reception honoring the overrated. Wrote Millie: “It was a great party.”

Barbara Bush’s silence during the whole Millie affair? The reason, according to Millie’s Book: Mrs. Bush confesses that her first words to Millie after the dog was sent to her were: “You are so sweet, but you are so ugly. You have a pig’s nose, you are bowlegged, and your eyes are yellow.”

“I knew immediately that I was going to have to try harder,” Millie wrote. “She also told me that she really loved me. I believed her….I have since heard her tell others…that I am the best dog they ever lived with.”
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Paige Gold says her father, Vic Gold, a friend and advisor to the Bushes, liked to tell this story about Barbara.

The Bushes were friendly with Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub and his wife—both families had summer homes in Maine—and when Bush became Vice President the Weintraubs hosted a dinner party for them in Malibu, inviting pretty much every celebrity of the early 1980s. They all showed up, even the Democrats.

Before the party began, my father was with both Bushes and warned George Bush, “During the photo session, be sure and have Barbara stand between you and every attractive young actress who poses with you. We don’t need the tabloids cropping the picture so that it looks like it’s just the two of you, then claiming you’re having an affair or something.”

George Bush looked at him with a puzzled expression and said, “Oh Vic, they wouldn’t do something like that.”

At which point Barbara shook her head and said, “George, you really are the most naive man in the world.”

Comments

  1. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    Mille and Barney Bush were the closest of friends.

    It’s good to see Mille back in print.

    She was among the most wise and sharp of all the White House dogs.

    The Bushes may not have been the “greatest” of presidents, but they shared the White House with some mighty remarkable and literate dogs.

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