The first documentary to tell George Herbert Walker Bush’s story in his own words, the exclusive HBO presentation 41 is a rare, intimate glimpse at the life and times of the 41st president of the United States. Featuring unprecedented access to Bush as he reflects on the highs and lows of his life from his beloved summer home in Kennebunkport, Me. and presidential library in Texas, 41 debuts THURSDAY, JUNE 14 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), commemorating the president’s 88th birthday on June 12.
One of the most experienced politicians ever to achieve the presidency, George H.W. Bush shares anecdotes from his childhood, family, service in World War II and political career, including his roles as U.S. envoy to China, director of the CIA and vice president of the United States in the Reagan administration, as well as his term as president.
Written and directed by Jeffrey Roth, 41 was filmed over a 17-month period, from Sept. 2009 to Feb. 2011. The film is executive produced by Jerry Weintraub, a long-time personal friend of the Bushes, and himself the focus of “His Way,” an acclaimed HBO documentary.
“I am so proud to be a friend of George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush,” comments Weintraub. “And so proud that our friendship includes this wonderful film about two wonderful people.”
41 captures the personal side of a very public figure who cherishes his family life, in particular wife Barbara, his spouse for 67 years, a record among presidential marriages. President from 1989 to 1993 and father of the 43rd president, George W. Bush, the elder Bush continues to make public appearances today and spends much of his time on his boat or with children and grandchildren. An avid fisherman, Bush last parachuted on his 85th birthday and swears he will do it again on his 90th, which he says proves that “old guys can still do fun things.”
Born June 12, 1924, George H.W. Bush spent much of his childhood at his family’s summer home, built by his grandfather in 1902, at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Me. His close-knit family was fortunate to avoid the hard times of the Great Depression, with George attending boarding schools, where he excelled in sports, serving as captain of the soccer and baseball teams and playing basketball. At 17, he met 16-year-old Barbara Pierce at a Christmas dance. “We fell in love. Old fashioned, falling in love,” he recalls.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the 18-year-old Bush became a naval aviator. He describes the events of Sept. 2, 1944, when his plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire; he ejected and parachuted into the sea, and was rescued by a sub. Bush went home and married Barbara, and when the war ended a short time later, like many G.I.s, he entered college – at Yale – where they had a son, George Walker.
Following the advice of a family friend, he went to work in the oil fields of West Texas. Their family continued to grow with the birth of daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at age three. Robin’s death remains an emotional subject for Bush. Though they had three more sons and another daughter, he admits he couldn’t talk about losing her for years.
In Texas, despite the fact that the state at the time was overwhelmingly Democratic, Bush decided to run for Senate. He lost, but rebounded by running for the House of Representatives and won, becoming a rising star in Washington. President Nixon subsequently appointed Bush ambassador to the U.N. and later, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Then came Watergate. “I wanted to believe Nixon as long as I possibly could,” he notes, but with evidence mounting that the White House lied, he wrote a memo suggesting the president resign. In hindsight, Bush has mixed emotions about Nixon, reflecting, “On the one hand you can never get over the lie. On the other, in many ways, he was a very good president.”
After serving as U.S. envoy to China and director of the CIA, Bush ran for president unsuccessfully, but became Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Ascending to the presidency in 1989, his years in office were marked by numerous historic events, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the protests in Tiananmen Square.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bush says he knew America would have to act. He considered Iraq’s invasion an “overt, crystal-clear wrong,” and despite opposition, felt the war was just. Bush was heartened when Saddam Hussein was driven out of Kuwait.
After losing his bid for reelection to Bill Clinton, George returned with Barbara to a “normal” life in Houston and Kennebunkport. He calls his beloved summer home the “anchor” to his “windward.” It’s where the memories are, where his family comes to visit and where he’s been coming his whole life. “And where,” he says, “I will remain until my last days.”
The president, who to this day has not written a memoir telling his life story, agreed to participate in the documentary after meeting Roth and seeing his first film, “The Wonder of It All,” a documentary about the Apollo moon walkers. 41 is Roth’s second documentary film.
41 is produced and directed by Jeffrey Roth; executive produced by Jerry Weintraub and Stephen Beck; written by Stephen Beck and Jeffrey Roth; edited by Janice Hampton.