By Kenneth Jones
31 Dec 2011
photo by Ave Bonar
HT: Yes, she went to AA meetings in prisons. Of course, she was very instrumental in building several prisons because the conditions were so bad in the prisons when she came into office. And many criminals had to be released before their parole because there simply was not enough room. That's why she built prisons, not because she was some mean Texas lady [laughs] as some people imply. It's sort of exactly the opposite, if you think about it.
And, she helped institute rehab programs in prisons?
HT: She put a 14,000-bed program into the [system]…and the rate of recovery without coming back to prison was very, very high. It was a proven success. It was a model that proved important when you consider something like 85 percent of all crime is drug- and alcohol-related. She would visit a prison and she would go to an AA meeting in the prison. Of course, no one was at these meetings who wasn't in those meetings. Nobody recorded this, but I have an associate in this research who was also in AA and was with her. She would say the same [thing that] she would in any meeting: "Hi, my name is Ann and I'm an alcoholic." If you think what a young punk would feel in an AA meeting that maybe he didn't even want to be at, and to have this woman say, "Hi, my name is Ann. I'm an alcoholic." You just have to wonder what the effect might be, and might still be today, on that very person. I did meet her one time…[she had] eyes of piercing blue that I've never seen on another person. You haven't been looked at until Ann Richards has looked at you.
What's her legacy?
HT: I think her legacy is a forward view — a view of inclusion. She was a person who was so ultimately fair. I would say, simple fairness was at her absolute core and was revealed very early in her age — when she was about 11. We saw a very big example of that in the first time she left her little town in Texas, which only had a population of about 70, and moved to San Diego, where her father was stationed in the Navy. She was 11 and she was sent to an enormous, thousands-of-students public school, with every kind of nationality, color and stripe. She realized right at that moment, and said that all of those kids were exactly like her. She just had an enormous sense of fair-play, which is evident again and again and again, and touched everyone she dealt with. She was also an extremely hard boss. She drove people, she cracked that whip. As [her former staffers told] me about their trials and tribulations with her, there were tears in their eyes because they miss her so, because they loved her so, because they knew that she was working harder than they.
For the research, you spread your net pretty wide? You talked to former staffers and you talked to family members, I assume?
HT: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. A number of her former staffers were friends back in those early days long before she was in politics, but the staff had known her for 35 years. The head of her insurance board was her friend since they were 20, or in their early 20s. Her press secretary had been her press secretary all of her career. Her primary advisor — her closest advisor through all of her positions in her public life, through her entire life — she had known since the very beginning. I dare say, I have become friends with these people and I would bet you anything they would count me as a friend of theirs, too, because they sure do know that my heart is in the right place and I worked hard.
HT: Paul Huntley is the rock on which it is all standing!
Because that was Ann's her physical signature, right? The gorgeous cloud of white hair?
HT: He is the mountain! I am on top of his mountain. [Laughs.] Yeah, I absolutely depend on him.
Is it one wig for the whole show?
HT: Yes, it is. It's not a narrative that requires her to change her look.
The play is still in development. Are you tweaking the script?
HT: I'm tweaking the writing. It's not developing in any other way. As we've moved out of Texas, we've done extensive revisions of how we do the set. We've gone to a set that has a lot of [tricks] in it. There's more visuals brought into it. It's being made into a first-class production as only [producer] Bob Boyett can do.
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)