- Last Updated: 11:42 PM, June 13, 2012
- Posted: 11:42 PM, June 13, 2012
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Forget trying to beat around the Bush. Tonight, 9 p.m., HBO’s documentary “41.” Two hours of George Herbert Walker, President Bush the elder. In his own words. From his own home. About his own life. With his own memories.
You see him toddling. An infant. On the same grass that ever grew under on his feet. Grampa bought Walker’s Point, a seaside chunk of Kennebunkport, in 1902. Still there, in the next century, his grandchild.
You see his mother telling her little boy: “Breathe in the salt air.” And the father about whom “41” now tells us: “I regret he never lived to see his son as president.”
It’s this WWII serviceman, businessman, congressman, China envoy, UN ambassador, CIA chief, Republican party boss, VP and P who’s never written a memoir, in boarding school, Yale, Andover. Swimming, fishing, boating, playing soccer, basketball, baseball, heading a bird society, where some feathered friend “bit the hell out of me.”
He remembers a windmill “which makes things greener than Al Gore.” Reminisces about an early girlfriend “who wore a rubber bathing suit.”
Tuesday on the Bush complex — home to their adored maltipoo BiBi and guesthouse “Where my son Gov. Jeb stays” — HBO president Richard Plepler threw him a nice little 88th birthday — 220 people. From his administration: Marlin Fitzwater, White House press secretary; Andrew Card, Cabinet member; Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser.
In a put-up tent (never before allowed even for a wedding, whispered my table’s family member), Dubya Bush, “43,” said: “This captured the heart of a man who will be judged one of the greatest presidents in history.”
Another son Neil to his parents: “Sometimes she can be so darling, so adorable, so annoying . . . no, not Barbara. Their little dog.”
Canada’s former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: “In ’91, on getting Saddam Hussein out of Iraq, Bush told me: ‘Easy to get into Baghdad. Tough to get out.’ ” Another Bushism: “It’s like strangling a gorilla. You can’t stop until the gorilla wants to.”
Sitting alongside, in a pantsuit as white as the hair, his spouse of 67 years murmured: “I’ve loved him all my life — and I’ve got him.”
George Herbert Walker to Richard Plepler: “This is the best birthday I ever had.” I wondered what he’d like next year. He grinned: “What do you have in mind?”
Amid Jeb, Doro, Lauren, Jonathan, Sandra, Pierce, Ashley, Maria, Bushies to your right and left — was documentary chief Sheila Nevins, who had two Greek yogurts in her handbag, while rolls, lobster, clams, chicken, corn, mussels, wine, Maine root beer, chowder, dessert, popcorn and red, white and blue M&Ms were served, co-president Eric Kessler, programming boss Mike Lombardo, so many HBOniks, that left in their office was possibly only “Soprano” Gandolfini huddled on a couch.
Jeffrey Roth, 42, created this never-before-seen intimate portrait. In the ladies room, his tiny daughter introduced herself: “My father made this.” Outside it he told me: “Interviews took seven months, an hour at a time. He never checked questions in advance. Barbara first gave me the evil eye but loved the result so much that afterwards she gave me a tour of the house.
“We dealt with a moving target. He doesn’t like his face touched so we just smoothed rumpled hair.” Roth gave the honorable music for this documentary. In turn he received a tie whose label reads “41.”
Leaving our former president of the United States, one-time commander in chief of the Armed Forces, previous leader of the free world, Roth’s next gig? Schlepping a suit and rolled suitcase to Time Warner chairman Jeff Bewkes’ private plane in order to do p.r. on morning TV, he answered, “I don’t know.”
Executive producer pulling this out of a bottle was GHWB’s neighbor, friend and genie Jerry Weintraub, who brought us “Ocean’s 11,” “12,” “13” and eventually “14,” “15” and “16,”: “The president called and asked me what to do with this. I had a deal with HBO. Richard and Sheila loved it and gave me money for music and film rights. Took three years, but I’ve made the president a happy guy.”
Footage shows Barbara in various shapes and sizes. Of pearls. Sea Island, Ga., honeymoon where, he says, “It was colder than hell” — a small graduated strand. Home in Texas — double rows. Vice president — larger ones. Becoming president but not nervous because “I’d already been there so I knew where keys to the men’s room were” — those marble-sized triple jobs.
After quotes about his family: “When one of us hurts everybody hurts,” and George on patriotism, service, love of country, the Pledge of Allegiance, Barbara Bush then announced: “I want more words about the little brown dog.”
It rained at LaGuardia when we took off. Rained in Portland when we set down. Rained at Kennebunkport when we arrived. Rained back at White Plains when we landed. A 12-hour day. We left 1 p.m., returning at midnight, then a drive from White Plains airfield. Cold, wet on the outside but all of us warm and grateful inside to have truly gotten to know George Herbert Walker Bush.
Only in Kennebunkport, kids, only in Kennebunkport.Follow @PageSix