Thursday, July 9, 2015
July 9, 2015: Secret Service Stories: Guarding Tess
[In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Secret Service’s founding, this week I’ll highlight a series of histories and stories related to that unique department within our federal government. Leading up to a new Guest Post on the organization this weekend!]
On the silly and serious sides to a lifelong Secret Service detail.
I imagine everybody is aware of the Secret Service’s primary responsibility, protecting the president and his or her administration; and thanks to the increased media attention received by presidential families and children, both in reality and in pop culture texts like the Katie Holmes film First Daughter (2004), we likely all also recognize the inevitable presence of Secret Service agents in the lives of these individuals. What we perhaps don’t always remember, however, is that many such Secret Service details don’t expire with a term of office—that for former presidents and their immediate family members (particularly their spouses, but also for children through the age of 16), the Secret Service will often be a lifelong part of their worlds, indeed one of the most constant such presences across all the stages of the presidency and its aftermath.
This lifelong Secret Service presence was the subject of a comic film released only a year after Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire: Guarding Tess (1994), which starred Shirley MacLaine as a president’s headstrong widow and Nicolas Cage as the eternally frustrated Secret Service agent in charge of her detail. Although the film culminates [SPOILER ALERT once more!] in an unexpected and very serious crisis, the kidnapping of MacLaine’s Tess, it plays as a whole (as reflected in MacLaine’s Golded Globe win for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical) as a light-hearted, comic examination of the challenges that come with such lifelong Secret Service protection. Cage wasn’t quite in the prime of his mega-acting heyday yet, although it was only a couple years away; but the film’s central motif in any case was a series of explosive, funny confrontations between these two powerhouse performers and their equally stubborn characters (a motif that continues even after the kidnapping crisis and into the film’s concluding scene).
Yet if Guarding Tess mostly represents the silly side of the reality and effects of a lifelong Secret Service detail, it also helps us consider that issue in more serious ways as well. I know it’s not easy to work up much sympathy for those who have had the opportunity to serve in one of the most powerful positions in the world, and/or for those in their families who got to go along for that ride. And as both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have amply demonstrated, there are great opportunities for former presidents to continue to make their mark in the world. But at the same time, those opportunities, like Shirley MacLaine’s frustrations in Tess, reflect the fundamental reality that a former president and his or her spouse will never be anything close to private citizens, that these figures will live lives that require permanent Secret Service details. For a president and spouse as young as Barack and Michelle Obama (he will turn 54 this August and she recently turned 51), that means the likelihood of three or more decades accompanied by the Secret Service, a prospect that, as Shirley and Nicolas can help us understand, isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs.
Last story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other Secret Service connections you’d highlight?