First Ladies Throughout the Years

Act 3: Barbara Walters recalls her memorable moments with the first ladies through the decades.
6:18 | 11/29/13

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Transcript for First Ladies Throughout the Years
I barack -- if the president is the most powerful man on earth then the first lady just might be the most powerful woman. I have had the privilege of interviewing ten first ladies back to maimy eisenhower. And the question that always comes up is -- just how much influence do they really have over all that power. When you hear people say, "she's the power behind the throne" how does that make you feel? It's just not true. I'm certainly not his foreign affairs or domestic advisor, that's not my expertise. She's one of my most trusted advisors. We talk -- our relationship is such that we are each other's advisors. That kind of partnership between a president and first lady may seem typical today. When I interviewed lady bird johnson 20 years afterhe and president johnson left the white house I heard a different story. It was a different world then. This was your husband. You lived his life, pretty much. When you say it was a different world. I read that you shined his shoes. I soon found a more competent shoe shiner! But you did all those other things. And many women today would rebel against that role and say now mrs. Johnson why did you do all that? Because he would take on the harder tasks and I really think it was an unfair division of labor, with me getting the easier parts. Easier perhaps, but being first lady has always come with its own burdens. In 1977 when I interviewed president and mrs. Ford it was clear, during a tour of the white house living quarters, that the first lady was handling the pressure of the presidency by abusing alcohol. Yes. Uh. Barbara, I fixed this room, for him. I brought things from home, uh, from home. Her speech was slow and sometimes slurred and I choose then to edit out much of the interview. Today her struggle with alcoholism is well known and the rehabilitation center that bears her name is the ford's greatest legacy. In 1987, a decade after leaving the white house, we spoke again. The toughest part for you was to admit that you were an alcoholic. The word "alcoholic" to me had a feeling, a meaning of being disheveled, drunk, all of those things, so how could I be an alcoholic? Since mrs. Ford's courageous confession other first ladies have taken on important issues. In 1994 barbara bush spoke candidly with me about her history of depression. I was ashamed and I was certainly ignorant about depression, and I was so dumb, i didn't ask for help. And george was the only one who knew I had it and he would say, 'why don't you get some help?' you even write that you had thoughts of suicide. Well, not quite, but I had thoughts. You said you thought of driving into a tree. Yes. Well, that's pretty serious business. Well, it was pretty serious, and I didn't even tell my best friend. I didn't tell anybody. The interview allowed the public to see a more personal side of mrs. Bush. But it's the woman who was occupying the white house at the time of this interview who redefined the role of frist lady. From day one hillary clinton was a charismatic and sometimes controversial first lady. When we first spoke in 1996 there had been the failed healthcare overhaul, whitewater, even rumors she had, in a fit of rage, thrown a lamp at the president. I mean, you know I have a pretty good arm. If I'd thrown a lamp at somebody, I think you would have known about it. Do you have a terrible temper? No, but I do get angry about things. I'm not going to deny that. I do, there are things that i think are wrong or things that i think should be fixed and I am not at all shy about expressing my opinion. I have been with the clintons on many private occasions and have never doubted their commitment to one another. In 2003 I again interviewed mrs. Clinton again for the publication of her book living history and she spoke frankly about both her public and private life. There is something in your book on page 75 that I thought answered the question, and i have underlined it. Would you read it? "I'm often asked why bill and I have stayed together. All I know is that no one understands me better and no one can make me laugh the way bill does. Even after all these years, he is still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I have ever met." A complicated love that has survived and thrived but by far the most fabled love story i witnessed in the white house was that of president and mrs. Reagan. When we spoke in 1981, just three months after the assassination attempt on her husband, mrs. Reagan described that terrifying ordeal. We got to the hospital and i remember police running back and forth in the corridors and yelling, get those people out of the way! Finally they let me in to see ronnie and that's when he said honey I forgot to duck. Mrs. Reagan was there a point when you thought your husband might die? I was awfully scared. I was awfully scared. Their love sustained for 52 years. And for so many of those years people wondered, as I did, what their secret was. How do you keep the romance in a marriage? I don't know. We get along. Clark gable had a line once that I thought was very eloquent. "There's nothing more wonderful for a man than to approach his own doorstep knowing that someone on the other side of the door is listening for the sound of his footsteps." And I've always had the feeling that for 34 years somebody is listening.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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