Mary Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of former President Harry S. Truman, died today in an assisted living facility in Chicago. She was 83. One of America’s most popular mystery writers, with a long list of New York Times bestsellers, she was dubbed “The Queen of Mystery.”
Born on February 17, 1924, Margaret grew up in Independence, Missouri at the center of her father’s universe, her mother, Bess, avowing to bring some structure and discipline to the girl’s life. When Margaret was ten years old she began taking singing lessons, showing great promise but that same year her father was elected to the U.S. Senate and his public career was launched. In 1944, he was elected vice president, on the ticket with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Only months after the inauguration Roosevelt died and Harry Truman was president.
When the Truman’s moved into the White House in 1945, Margaret was a twenty-one year old student in politics and history at George Washington University. That Fall she attended a performance of Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and was invited back stage to meet the great baritone, Lawrence Tibbett. The singer asked the new president’s daughter to sing for him and promptly announced that she had “the voice.” But the critics disagreed.
Thrust too soon on the stage she was ridiculed by some. In a famous incident in 1950, Washington Post critic, Paul Hume, dismissed her talent. Rising at 4:00 A.M. the next morning the president wrote in his diary, “a frustrated critic on the Washington Post wrote a lousy review. He put my baby as low as he could.” An angry, threatening letter to the writer from the president appeared on the front page of the newspaper.
It became the defining public moment of Margaret Truman’s life. Though Margaret would publicly dismiss the event, probably to protect the feelings of her father, friends privately confirmed that it was a devastating blow. Her singing voice was at the very heart of her self-esteem and sense of personal identity. It had been her acknowledged “gift” since childhood. It had won her distinction from other children and a singing career had been her only ambition.
Shunning the limelight and vowing never to marry while in the White House, Margaret eventually met and married E. Clifton Daniels in 1956. He was a dashing war correspondent for the New York Times who covered the founding of Israel, was posted in Moscow and later became managing editor of the paper. They had four boys.
Soon after her marriage to Clifton Daniels, Margaret released her autobiography to rave reviews. What struck some music critics as hesitancy and weakness struck book reviewers and buyers as revealing and compelling reading. Her non-fiction writing career was born. In 1972, her father’s biography Harry S. Truman sold over a million copies.
Margaret’s first mystery, Murder at the White House, was written in 1980, and a new mysteries were published annually for years. Margaret built an international following of readers who treasured her inside knowledge of the people and places inside the power corridors of Washington.
In 2000, her annual novel, Murder in Foggy Bottom, featured three commercial aircraft shot out of the sky on the same day. The following year, the whole nation watched the horrifying events of September 11 unfold, with the crashing of three planes used as terrorists weapons targeted at American civilians. Government critics were stunned that Margaret had anticipated the potential of such acts and the government had not.
Her inventive talent with the pen and stubborn refusal to accept defeat in public life earned her fans, fortune and the grudging respect of critics who once drove her from the concert stage. Dubbed the “Queen of Mystery,” Margaret Truman, a presidential daughter who was once accused of only trading on her father’s fame, died this afternoon a success in her own right, one of the most beloved and popular authors of our generation.
Doug Wead, presidential historian, is the New York Times best selling author of All the Presidents’ Children and the Raising of a President which tells the story of Margaret Truman Daniels. Excerpts from the book were used in this article. https://dougwead.wordpress.com/