Broadway’s new one-woman-show Ann, written by and starring Emmy winner Holland Taylor, explores the trials and victories of larger-than-life Texas governor Ann Richards. The play currently in previews at the Vivian Beumont Theater at Lincoln Center, where it will open on March 7. Before heading to see Ann, brush up on your Richards trivia with 10 facts you need to know about this one-of-a-kind lady.
1. She Wasn't Elected on a Man's Coattails.
Many women follow their husbands into politics. Not Richards, who remains the only female elected governor of Texas. “She was such an adored person, because of her values, her depth, her character, her humor,” Holland Taylor told Broadway.com. “These qualities ran in her like the deepest ancient river you could imagine. And this is why people believed in her.” In 1991, Richards made history when she defeated Republican opponent Clayton Williams for governor with 49.9 percent of the vote.
2. She Fell in Love With Politics In High School.
Richards’ interest in government was sparked when she represented Waco High in Girls State, in which high school students organize a shadow state government. After graduating in 1950, she volunteered for Democratic gubernatorial campaigns while attending Baylor University on a debate scholarship, and later ran the campaign to elect Sarah Weddington (the lawyer who argued the winning side of Roe v. Wade) to the Texas legislature. After years as a social studies teacher, Richards was elected county commissioner in 1976, then made the jump to state government in 1982, when she was elected state treasurer, a post she was re-elected to in 1986.
3. She Was a Hell of a Public Speaker.
The always quotable Richards gained national attention for her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. The speech received major press coverage thanks to her witty delivery and frequent jabs at then-Vice President George Bush. Most famously, Richards quipped, "After listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like," as well as "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Just like that, a political star was born.
4. She Wasn't Afraid to Be Called a Liberal.
“She was a truth teller, and her values were progressive politically,” Taylor said of Richards, who didn't hesitate to speak out on behalf of equality for women, gays and minorities. During her time as governor, Richards added African-Americans and women to the Texas Rangers, created the state lottery, instituted a statewide performance review of government agencies, supported a woman’s right to choose and helped set up programs for prison inmates addicted to drugs or alcohol.
5. She Doted on Her Four Children.
At age 19, Dorothy Ann Willis married her high school sweetheart, David Richards, and the couple had four children, Cecile, Daniel, Clark and Ellen Richards. (They divorced in 1984.) Holland Taylor dramatized Richards' devotion to motherhood by writing in phone conversations between the busy governor and her adult kids. “I checked with Cecile," Taylor said of the mother/child chats, "and I said, ‘When she was in the office, would she call like that?’ and Cecile said, ‘Absolutely! It was her way of touching base with us.’"
6. She Conquered Her Own Addiction.
As her political career heated up and her marriage crumbled, Ann Richards began to drink heavily. Taylor describes it colorfully in the Ann script: “I was like the poster child for Functioning Alcoholics Everywhere. And I functioned all over the place!...I musta drunk eleven hundred thousand martinis by the time I landed in AA... I like to think I broke a barrier for politicians with an addiction in their past. And nowadays, Hell, you can’t hardly even get into a primary unless you’ve done time in rehab.” Richards sought treatment for alcoholism in 1980.
7. She Underestimated George W. Bush.
Richards lost re-election in the 1994 governor’s race to future President George W. Bush, son of the man Richards famously mocked at the 1988 Democratic convention. After her defeat, Richards admitted she underestimated her opponent and thought of him just as “some jerk.” Explained Taylor, “She said, ‘Maybe I didn’t want it enough,’ because she was exhausted. When you do governor like she did governor, you are tired. She wasn’t in politics until she was in her mid-forties, and when she walked out of the governor’s office she was 60.”
8. She Made the Most of Life After Politics.
After her term as governor, Richards accepted positions as a senior advisor at the Washington law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand and the PR and marketing firm Public Strategies Inc. and sat on the boards of the Aspen Institute, J.C. Penney and T.I.G. Holdings. When Taylor told former Richards staffers that she was thinking of calling her solo show Governor Ann, "One of them looked at me with dismay and said, ‘Well, she was only governor for four years.’ To the people who knew her, being governor wasn’t the deal. Her being Ann was the deal.”
9. She Bravely Battled Illness.
Richards was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1996 and co-authored the book I’m Not Slowing Down about her struggle with the disease. In March 2006, she announced that she had esophageal cancer and died at home in Austin six months later, on September 16, at age 73. "The loss when she died was so affecting to me, something I simply couldn’t get over," Taylor recalled. "[Creating a stage biography] was completely inappropriate in terms of the fact that I didn’t know her, but it was something I felt I had to do."
10. She Left a Lasting Legacy.
The legacy of the former teacher and governor lives on in the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, an all-girls' school for grades 6 through 12. The day after losing her re-election bid, Richards went to a carnival and ended up chatting with kids waiting in the roller coaster line about staying in school and working hard to become something. Marveled Taylor, “Her secretary was standing next to her when she sat down with those kids, and she remarked, ‘Look at that. Ann just can’t stop teaching and encouraging.’”
See Holland Taylor bring Ann Richards to life in the new play Ann at Broadway's Vivian Beumont Theater.