'Scandal': Real-Life Olivia Pope Reveals George H.W. Bush's Reaction to Series Debut
"I'm going to confirm the affair," the former president joked to Judy Smith
Judy Smith, who was Shonda Rhimes' inspiration for Scandal's Olivia Pope, says former President George H.W. Bush has a sense of humor when it comes to the series' take on their real-life relationship.
Smith, founder and CEO of strategic and crisis communications firm Smith & Company, was appointed as special assistant and deputy press secretary to Bush in 1991. They worked on, among other headline-grabbing events, Mikhail Gorbachev's 1991 resignation as president of the USSR and the 1992 L.A. riots following the acquittal of police officers on trial in the beating of Rodney King.
On Friday, Smith told an audience at the Nantucket Project, a conference centering on art and commerce, about her initial conversations with Rhimes about the show's storyline. (Smith is a consultant on the ABC show starring Kerry Washington.)
"She told me, 'I'm thinking that I'm gonna create a character where a president is involved. … I'm thinking of sort of a different storyline, one where the two of you are close,' " Smith said, noting that she told Rhimes she had, in fact, remained close with the president over the years. "[Rhimes] said, 'No, actually, sex.' I said, 'With the president?' Well as any good crisis manager would have it, I had to quickly call President Bush to help frame the message, to help form the narrative, before he heard it from anybody else."
She called his office, and when he called her back, she was unable to take his call. So he left a voicemail message: "Love you. Want you. You left me! And by the way, this is the former leader of the free world. Call me."
She called him back, saying: "See? This is why I’m calling you now: You need some talking points. You need to stay on message."
His response? " 'I'm going to confirm the affair.' I said, 'What affair? There was no affair.' He said … 'I have young people working in my office now. They said I need to stay relevant, that it's good for my reputation.' I'm like, 'What reputation? You're almost 90. What are you talking about?' "