‘The First Lady’ follows the stories of three iconic US first ladies — Michelle Obama (Viola Davis), Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson). The Showtime series depicts their formative years as well as the time spent in the White House. The detailed narrative introduces a variety of interesting acquaintances and family members that influence the show’s three protagonists.
Clara is the Ford family’s long-serving helper and seems to almost be a part of the family. From taking care of their children to supporting the family during Betty’s struggle with alcoholism, Clara becomes important to the narrative because of her proximity to the Ford family. Considering much of the show is inspired by reality, let’s take a look at whether Clara is based on a real person or not.
Is Betty Ford’s Helper Clara Based on a Real Person?
Yes, the character of Clara in ‘The First Lady’ is actually based on Clara Powell, who was the Ford family helper for twenty years. She was hired in 1949, shortly after Betty and Gerald got married in 1948. At the time that Clara joined, Betty was pregnant with her first child. Over the years, Clara became an integral part of the family, helping raise each of the Ford children and being there during some of the family’s most important moments.
Susan Ford is quoted saying, “Clara has always been like a second mother to me. She would do anything for us.” Her brother, Jack, wrote to Clara — “You were always the one person I could count on to understand me and encourage me…” In letters preserved in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, Clara wrote that her connection to the Ford children made up for the fact that she did not have any children of her own. Clara was also present during significant moments in Gerald Ford’s political career. She was there when he was confirmed as Vice President and got a call to come to the White House when he was sworn in as President.
In 1969, just about twenty years after she had joined them, Clara left the Fords to take care of her ailing father. However, as noted in her letters, the Ford children continued to visit her and her husband, Raymond, at their home in Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia. In late 1970, when an intervention was organized to confront Betty’s struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, Clara was one of the people in attendance. The intervention took place after Susan Ford realized that her mother was in a dangerous situation with her use of alcohol and painkillers and needed help. Ultimately, Betty agreed to check herself into a health facility and subsequently recovered.
Thus, the character of Clara, as seen in ‘The First Lady,’ is very much based on a real person. Clara Powell was an integral part of the Ford household for many years and was almost like a part of the family. Betty’s children even referred to Clara as a second mother. Apart from being with the family through many significant events, Clara also became a close confidante to Betty during the latter’s struggles with addiction.