Bess Truman was "extremely suspicious of people who paid her a lot of compliments," says Margaret Truman, and as a result she became suspicious, too.
"My husband tells me to this day that I cannot accept an honest compliment gracefully. And I don't," says Truman, who is Mrs. E. Clifton Daniel of New York City in private life.
And lest you doubt, her point is made:
Sitting in the wood paneled board room atop Macmillan Publishing Co., Harry S. Truman's only child is giving an interview prompted by the biography she has written about her mother titled "Bess W. Truman."
It's her 12th and "most difficult" book, the fifth nonfiction book about her parents or herself. That plus 40 years in the limelight ("I went after it, as a matter of fact," she says) have left few questions unanswered, and today Margaret Truman seems not eager but resigned to this latest round of media encounters.
Resignation gives way to impatience when the door opens and a tall, good-looking man quietly enters. He introduces himself only as Ned Evans; clearly an uncomfortable intruder, if one duty-bound to ask whether Margaret Truman might want for anything.
"I wanted to tell you," he adds shyly, "that we're very pleased to be the publisher of your book."
A spare smile briefly transforms Truman's face as she murmurs her thanks. An awkward hush follows. Then she firmly reminds him that she's doing an interview and asks would he mind leaving the door slightly ajar as he leaves, and he retreats.
Truman is totally mystified by the unannounced admirer, whom she learns later, to her embarrassment, is Edward P. Evans, chairman and chief executive officer of Macmillan Inc.
Growing up first as a U.S. senator's daughter and later a president's left its mark on Margaret Truman, notably in personal relationships and learning how to tell whether acquaintances are sincere, she says.
She made no new friends while she was in the White House, she says, a fact that never bothered her at all.
"I give my mother credit for that. She taught me to be careful," Truman says. "I made some friends here in New York who certainly didn't want anything. You can usually tell fairly soon."
Bess Truman's protective rearing, Harry Truman's devotion and the fact that Mary Margaret Truman was "practically the only child" in the Truman and Wallace families made her "very" spoiled. "And I loved it."
She never rode public transportation until she was a senior in high school, didn't have her first date until she was 16 ("then, my uncle drove us to the football game and drove us home") and never was told the facts of life.
"Ever," she emphasizes. "But I knew anyway."
Today at 62, after careers as a concert singer, actress, radio talk show host and author, she thinks she is less pampered because her four sons "took it out of me" as did her husband -- "although he spoils me, too."
The book, drawn from nearly 1,000 personal letters found after Bess Truman's death, is the portrait of a reticent woman who at the same time exerted a strong influence and kept a tight rein on her husband and child. Harry Truman acknowledged that Bess was "The Boss," though his daughter says that "sometimes he listened to her and would go his own way."
Though usually shrewd about politics, Bess refused to believe that Harry would accept the Democratic nomination for vice president in 1944, dismissing the idea as "a plot." Party leaders had become increasingly convinced that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would not live out a fourth term, and they turned to the senator from Missouri as the man best able to win and, when the time came, carry on.
Truman's nomination that summer at the Chicago convention set off a tumultuous celebration, but Margaret Truman says her mother "never gave any indication" that she was proud of Harry, even though throughout their marriage he tried eagerly to please her. She boycotted the election-night party by going to bed early.
The following summer when Truman as president gave the order to drop the atom bomb to end the war, it became all too apparent to Bess, whom the news had taken by surprise, that she was "a spectator rather than a partner in Harry Truman's presidency. That made her very, very angry," Margaret writes in the book.
"She felt more and more superfluous. This feeling combined with her original opposition to Harry Truman becoming president to build a smoldering anger that was tantamount to an emotional separation," she continues.
Talking about it in the interview, Truman says she thinks her mother felt she should have known about Harry's decision to drop the bomb. "But on the other hand I think she should not have known about it. The fewer people who knew about it, the better."
Bess Truman had gotten used to being a senator's wife, eventually even liking it. But when the presidency suddenly was thrust upon her husband she found herself in a role she never coveted.
"She felt she was entitled to her privacy. I tried to tell her that she wasn't, but it made no impression," says Margaret Truman.
Bess Truman's dealings with the press were almost nonexistent. Once a week she dispatched her social secretary to tell reporters what she was going to do. She thought questions about her clothes trivial.
"Mother told her secretary, 'I don't give a damn what they want to know,' and the secretary translated that to 'She hasn't made up her mind yet,' " Margaret Truman says.
"I remember how glad reporters were when I came to town because I would have a press conference in the Red Room."
She says she thinks the media demand more today in their coverage of the White House -- "not that they shouldn't" -- and that as a result the spotlight is on the families living there much more than in her day.
"Image as we we know it now didn't really exist -- I hate that word, it doesn't mean much of anything" -- when the Trumans occupied the White House, she says. Bess Truman had her charitable work "but did it quietly."
"There was no particular cause," she says. "Mrs. Roosevelt was a hard act to follow, and my mother had no intention of following it. She made a home in the White House as much as anybody could for the three of us."
She says she thinks a first lady should have a project but finds it "totally unbelievable and unnecessary" that so many people work at the White House -- "they just repeat each other" -- and wonders if Nancy Reagan couldn't get along with three or four East Wing aides instead of 16.
"Several subsequent first ladies liked being in the spotlight. My mother didn't," she says. She never needed ego gratification because she didn't have an ego. Her daughter says she would have been suspicious of people "playing to her ego all the time," including White House staff.
For her part, Truman says she has never been afraid of the limelight and would go back to acting "if anybody came up with a good idea on television."
Her determination to have a career received no blessings from her mother. Bess "grumbled" but didn't say anything when Harry Truman said he would back anything Margaret wanted to do as long as she got a college degree. Bess and her mother Madge Gates Wallace thought Margaret should get married, though Truman's mother, Martha Young Truman, was always behind her granddaughter.
When Margaret finally did meet the man she wanted to marry, she didn't tell her parents anything about him until a couple of months before the wedding. The Trumans were back living in Independence, Mo., by then. On a trip to New York, where Margaret was a radio talk show host with Mike Wallace, the Trumans met Clifton Daniel for the first time. He had recently returned from Moscow where, Margaret says, he had been "the whole New York Times bureau" after the sw,-2 sk,3 ld,10 Soviets kicked out the other member, a photographer. It fell to Daniel, who ultimately became the paper's executive editor, to be a photographer as well as reporter, and Margaret says he subsequently developed an ulcer.
"I think what really threw my father was when he asked for milk," Margaret remembers. Also "rather startled" was Bess Truman.
make "any big issue," she says, of the fact that her sons' grandfather was president. When her oldest son, whose middle name is Truman, started school, somebody asked if his grandfather had been president.
"He said he didn't know, and when he came home he asked if Grandpa had been president of the United States," as Margaret Truman remembers it. "I said, 'Yes, but anybody's grandfather can get to be president.' He took it very casually from then on."
Truman says she thinks White House living can be an interesting experience for presidential children if they are history buffs like she is.
"But I wouldn't call it fun. The only thing I ever missed about the White House was having a car and driver."
This day, at least, a car and driver wait for Margaret Truman outside Macmillan. As the interview ends, it occurs to her that once she's been dropped at her East Side apartment, the driver might be able to drop the reporter at La Guardia Airport. He consents, after the reporter assures him that the ride will be paid for.
Settling into the back seat, Truman is talkative and more relaxed than she's been for two hours. When she reaches her apartment, she becomes almost motherly herself as she tells the reporter goodbye. She has her purse at the ready.
"Are you sure," she asks, looking concerned and a little doubtful, "that you have enough money?"