Ann Richards returns to national audience on HBO


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist PETER HULL

Posted on April 24, 2014 at 4:33 PM

AUSTIN -- Next week, Americans will be introduced to a figure many Texans know well.

"Ginger Rogers did everything that Fed Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in high heels," Ann Richards quipped to thunderous applause as keynote speaker the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Two years later, the former teacher would become the first woman elected governor of Texas in half a century.

"It's impossible to understand how many people heard that speech and never forgot it," daughter Cecile Richards says in the new documentary film "All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State." The HBO Documentary Films production debuts before a national audience Monday on HBO.

"She is historically significant to not only Texans but to the whole nation," said filmmaker Keith Patterson, who along with filmmaker Phillip Schopper spent roughly three years on the project. The two recovered hundreds of hours of rarely seen footage, including one of Richards' last public speeches before succumbing to esophageal cancer in 2006. The filmmakers also recovered many of Richards' most iconic moments, such as the snub by Republican opponent Clayton Williams during her 1990 campaign for governor.

"The famous Clayton Williams non-handshake was a fun moment, because there were two or three cameras there," said Schopper. "You got to pick up some of her dialogue as she sits down with the reporters right after it happened, and that was kind of fun. You felt like you were inside."

"Well I guess you can't expect everyone to be gentlemanly," Richards lamented to reporters immediately following the incident.

From her early beginnings to her struggles with alcoholism, Patterson and Schopper say Richards' life was anything but ordinary. Nor, they say, was her decision to enter politics in her forties as a mother of four. 

"Nobody was really pushing her to get into it. They had asked her husband to run and he said no, and Ann stepped up and said, 'I think that I can do it,'" said Patterson. "That's the surprising thing, it's just how much more there is to the story that people think they know, but they don't."

Texas' first female governor was Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, who was elected in 1925 after her husband, Gov. James "Pa" Ferguson, was impeached. Although she was elected a second time in 1933, many historians view her governorship as an extension of husband's. Historian and University of Texas Dolph Briscoe Center for American History executive director Don Carleton knew Richards personally, and say her election was a watershed moment.

"That was a huge symbol, very meaningful symbol to women and young girls in this state that they could do that to," said Carleton. "It's almost like Obama's election as president. It's important symbolically."

Twenty years since Richards left office, another woman is now running for governor of Texas. But while there are similarities between the political views of Richards and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), there are differences in the political environment each faced.

"No one really spends that much time anymore talking about that Wendy Davis is a woman candidate, and I think we have to thank Kay Bailey Hutchison as well for that," said Carleton. "Ann broke the mold, and Wendy Davis running now for governor is really not considered a big deal in terms of the fact that she's a woman."

The filmmakers say while Richards' trademark humor and intelligence quickly draw audiences into the story, her legacy remains relevant for Americans today.

"She carried inclusionary policies forward," said Schopper. "Bring women in, bring Hispanics, brings Blacks, bring gays and lesbians. Let's all work together. We're all living here, folks."

The documentary "All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State" airs 9 p.m. ET/PT Monday on HBO.

Go here to see a preview trailer. Go here for more video from HBO Documentary Films.