Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2008

President Truman’s only child dies

January 30, 2008

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Margaret Truman in 1950.

Margaret Truman in 1950.

— Margaret Truman, the only child of former President Harry S. Truman and a concert singer, actress, radio and TV personality, and mystery writer, died Tuesday. She was 83.

Truman, known as Margaret Truman Daniel in private life, died at a Chicago assisted living center after a brief illness, according to Susan Medler, a spokeswoman for the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo.

Her father's succession to the presidency in 1945 thrust her into the national spotlight while a college junior.

"I feel that I've lived several different lives, and that was one of them," she said in 1980. "Some of it was fun, but most of it was not. It was a great view of history being made.

"The only thing I ever missed about the White House was having a car and driver."

Her singing career attracted the barbs of music critics - even the embarrassment of having her father threaten one reviewer. But she found a fulfilling professional and personal life in New York City, where she met her husband, journalist Clifton Daniel, who later became managing editor of The New York Times. They married in 1956.

She published her first book, an autobiography titled "Souvenir," in 1956. She said it was "hard work" and told reporters: "One writing job is enough."

But then she did a book on White House pets in 1969, and later more, one a biography of her father. The idea of doing a mystery called "Murder in the White House" came "out of nowhere," she said.

That 1980 title was followed by mysteries set in the Supreme Court, the Smithsonian, Embassy Row, the FBI, Georgetown, the CIA, Kennedy Center, the National Cathedral and the Pentagon. The last book, "Murder on K Street," was released last year.

Later in life, she was a grandmother and sang only in her church choir, but she made her professional singing debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1947 and gave her first Carnegie Hall concert two years later. Critics generally praised her poise but were less impressed with her vocal talent.

When Washington Post critic Paul Hume wrote after a 1950 concert that she "is extremely attractive on the stage ... (but) cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time," her father fired off a note on White House stationery scolding Hume for a "lousy review."

"I have never met you, but if I do you'll need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak and perhaps a supporter below," the president wrote.

The note made Page One news - but was not the sort of publicity an aspiring artist seeks. Years later she was able to laugh about it: "I thought it was funny. Sold tickets."

She soon turned more to radio and television, where she made regular guest appearances with Jimmy Durante and Milton Berle.

On radio, she was co-host, with Mike Wallace, of a daily talk show on the NBC network and had her own nationally syndicated interview program for eight years. She also worked with Fred Allen and Tallulah Bankhead.

She and Daniel had four sons; he died in February 2000. Son William died in September 2000 when he was hit by a taxi; he was 41.

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