Feisty, fiery, tough, unafraid, a force of nature… and funny as hell. These are a few of the terms used to describe Ann Richards, one of the most charismatic American political figures of the last 30 years.
HBO’S All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State chronicles Richards’ remarkable life, beginning with her origins as a young girl growing up poor in rural Texas, to her rise from suburban housewife and schoolteacher to a beloved national political icon.
Featuring interviews with some of Richards’ closest friends, family members and admirers, including former husband David Richards; daughter Cecile and son Dan; President Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Michael Dukakis, Liz Smith, All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State, is a compelling and entertaining biographical portrait of former Texas Democratic Governor who rose to power in a conservative state. The film premieres Monday, April 28 (9 p.m. – 10:25 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
In addition to her family and political and society heavyweights, others included in All About Ann are Claire Korioth, her campaign consultant; Mary Beth Rogers, her chief of staff; Suzanne Coleman, a longtime speechwriter; Ronald Kirk, former Mayor of Dallas, and Henry Cisneros, former Mayor of San Antonio.
Born in 1933 in Lakeview, Texas, Richards’ parents, particularly her father, emphasized she could be anything she wanted to be. And, Richards did just that, becoming a political powerhouse in her home state and beyond. Before entering politics, she was a teacher and suburban mother of four. When the family moved from ultraconservative Dallas to the more liberal Austin, her interest in politics amplified. Her lawyer husband, who shared her passion, encouraged her to run for office - though she says she warned him it might ruin their marriage (the couple eventually divorced.) Around this time, Richards recognized she had a problem with alcohol. With the support of her family, she decided to go to rehab, recalling her stint at Hazelden as a learning experience: “I realized that failure is a great teacher.”
Richards launched her political career in the late 1970s and by 1983 had become the first female Texas State Treasurer, where she revamped an antiquated system and demonstrated her unique leadership skills. In 1988, she gained national attention for her rousing keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Party Nominee, Michael Dukakis, recalls that Richards was the “perfect choice,” and her speech, which spared no Republican, including President George Bush.
It was here that she famously exclaimed, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth!” Her sense of humor and timing often compelled people to listen up when she spoke.
As President Clinton explains, “You always gotta be careful….you don't wanna be too cutting…But it's incredibly disarming and it makes it hard for people not to listen to you.”
Richards won the vicious race for governor of Texas in 1990 against daunting odds. In the three-way Democratic primary race, her foes came after her hard – even feeding the press rumors about cocaine use – but she knew if you “play with the big boys, you gotta take it like they did.”
She was open about her treatment for alcoholism, saying of one of her opponents, “I wish there were a treatment program for meanness.”
Winning the primary, Richards next faced Republican Clayton Williams, a “good ol’ boy” who was way ahead in the polls. It wasn’t until a series of on-camera gaffes including saying that, “Rape’s like the weather. If it’s inevitable, lay back and enjoy it,” and refusing to shake Richards’ hand in a stunt he staged, when Richards gained momentum and secured many female Republican voters. She capitalized on his mistakes and lack of knowledge about key issues and ultimately defeated him.
As Governor, she worked to overhaul the drug and alcohol treatment program in the prison system while striving to appoint women and minorities to key roles in state government. When she launched her reelection campaign in 1994, Richards’ progressive agenda was resisted by certain groups who funded the first ever pairing of George W. Bush and Karl Rove. At the time, Bush had been hand-picked and led by the young and eager strategist Rove. Though violent crime rates went down under Richards’ watch, Rove ran ads raising questions about her abilities to control crime and violence. A year before, Richards seemed unbeatable, with a 60% approval rating. But Bush’s unlimited funds and Rove’s whisper campaigns were too much to overcome, and she lost.
Ever upbeat, Richards insisted she was ready to get on with her life. She worked for a Washington law firm, stumped for candidates (as long as they were 100% pro-choice), became a favorite talk-show guest, and continued to speak about issues close to her heart. According to her friend, columnist Liz Smith, Richards admitted to, “constant heartburn and she was really suffering from it.” That battle would be Richards’ last. She died of esophageal cancer in 2006 at the age of 73.
An official selection of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State is a film by Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper. This is Patterson’s first film for HBO. He is the CEO of New York based Filmbank Entertainment. Schopper’s previous credits as an editor include HBO’s Emmy®-nominated documentary “Gloria: In Her Own Words” (Gloria Steinem) and HBO’s Emmy®-winning documentary “Teddy: In His Own Words” (Ted Kennedy).
Sponsors for the Texas Premiere include HBO, LBJ Presidential Library, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, Briscoe Center for American History and Time Warner Cable.
For more information, visit: Facebook: facebook.com/hbodocs; Twitter: @HBODocs #AllAboutAnn.
HBO Documentary Films presents All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State; a film by Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper; produced by Keith Patterson, Phillip Schopper, Curry Glassell, and Jack Lofton; executive producer, Sheila Nevins; supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; editor, Phillip Schopper; original music, Michael Bacon.