powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


HBO's All About Ann is mostly about enshrining her


Ann Richards in natural act of speaking her mind. HBO photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Politicians from both sides would agree: Ann Richards knew how to make an impression.

She served just one term as Texas governor, from 1991 to 1995. But the spotlight loved her and she pretty much loved it, never more so than at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. One zinger, in a keynote address filled with many, made the former schoolteacher a political star of the first magnitude.

“Poor George, he can’t help it,” she drawled in reference to Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush. “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” The crowd roared and rose to its collective feet. Richards needn’t have ever said another word.

Richards, who died in 2006 at age 73 of esophageal cancer, is extolled anew in HBO’s All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State (Monday, April 28th at 8 p.m. central). The 90-minute documentary film, by Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper, is fully intended to be a one-sided tribute. It’s very watchable as well, both as political theater and storybook tale of a woman who grew up in rural Texas and wore “feed sack dresses” as a kid. She ended up being a beacon for women’s rights and empowerment.

The filmmakers have included numerous new interviews with both lesser known Richards’ aides and familiar national figures such as Bill Clinton, Dan Rather, Liz Smith and Michael Dukakis.

Archival clips and still shots of Richards are the driving forces, of course. If she was ever dull, it had to be purely by coincidence. When Ronald Reagan said he liked women, Richards retorted that he liked them all right -- in the kitchen. “You know, if Ronald Reagan likes me anymore, I’m gonna have to take in ironing.”

Her 1990 campaign for governor, after earlier serving as state treasurer, remains by far the most colorful and provocative of Texas’ modern electronic age.

Richards first faced former governor Mark White and state attorney general Jim Mattox in the Democratic primary. Mattox, now deceased and commonly referred to as “the junkyard dog of Texas politics,” branded Richards as a soft-on-crime, former cocaine user who now refused to admit her dalliances with illegal drugs. Richards, who freely talked about going to rehab for her alcoholism, finally fired back by telling reporters, “I wish there were a treatment program for meanness. And then maybe Mattox could get well.”

She then went after White as well, alleging he had enriched himself at the expense of taxpayers during his earlier term as governor. His richly appointed Houston home was cited as evidence in a Richards commercial.

White tried to position himself as a hard-liner when it came to pulling the switch. In a commercial that remains a jaw-dropper, he strode manfully past enlarged black-and-white photos of those he had previously sent to their graves. “Only a governor can make executions happen,” White proclaimed. “I did, and I will.”

Richards won the Democratic runoff before facing West Texas millionaire Clayton Williams in the general election. He poured his own money into the effort and enjoyed a double-digit lead over Richards until famously running at the mouth during a campfire get-together with reporters. Comparing rape to bad weather, he joked, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

Williams further compounded his problems by refusing to shake Richards’ hands at a public gathering after intentionally summoning a TV reporter and cameraman to capture the slight. But no hole was bigger than Williams’ jovial admission that in at least one year, he hadn’t paid any income taxes. In a new interview, ex-Texas Speaker of the House Jack Rains tells the camera that “Bubba” could look past the rape joke and the Richards snub. But Williams “lost Bubba” with his non-payment of taxes.

Richards and her husband, David, first moved to Austin in 1969 after living in Dallas. All About Ann, as have many political films, finds it easy to make Dallas something of an arch villain.

“Dallas was a vehement, right-wing city,” venerable author/reporter Gary Cartwright says.

“I think we always wanted out of Dallas. There was no question about it,” David Richards says in a new interview.

Richards herself is shown referring to Dallas as the city where school kids cheered on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. In reality, that remains very debatable, with other accounts saying that the kids were just happy to be getting out of school early, with many of them not told the reason why.

All About Ann uses a good amount of footage from WFAA-TV. But the Dallas-based station may not be happy to learn that some of it is uncredited. Former WFAA political reporter Doug Fox’s studio interview with Richards is identified as “Texas local television, 1991.” Fox is never identified either, but his familiar voice (to some of us at least) can be heard throughout the film during other WFAA coverage of Richards.

Another former WFAA-TV reporter, Robert Riggs, is interviewed specifically for All About Ann. He’s ID’d as a WFAA-TV investigative journalist, giving viewers the impression he still works at the station. That hasn’t been the case at least since 2002, the year Riggs joined rival CBS11’s news department.

Richards lost the governorship, after one term, to George W. Bush. Wayne Slater, longtime Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News, joins others in largely blaming her defeat on the “special interests” money that came pouring in for the Republican candidate while behind-the-scenes mastermind Karl Rove pushed all the right inflammatory buttons. These included intimations that Richards was a lesbian.

In the end, she was beaten rather soundly by Bush, who ended up using the Texas governorship as the springboard to his eventual presidency. “This is not the end of the world. It is the end of a campaign,” Richards told her supporters. She never ran for public office again.

Near the end, All About Ann has footage of Richards addressing a large group of admirers within a little more than two years of her death. She has a heavy cough, but powers her way through. At her memorial service, Liz Smith notes that she had known or met many prominent women during the course of her writing career, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Hepburn and even Mother Theresa.

“Forget them,” she says. “I think Ann Richards was the greatest woman I have ever known.”

This film has no interest in contradicting that assertion. It doesn’t quite canonize its subject, but gets in the vicinity. Others can strongly disagree or ignore the film entirely. It’s not for them anyway.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net