When Mrs. America begins, the Equal Rights Amendment is headed to the states for ratification. That’s when it lands on the radar of Phyllis Schlafly, still reeling from her own failed 1970 Congressional bid. “She said losing office was the best thing that ever happened to her,” Schlafly’s daughter Anne Schlafly Cori told Bustle this morning, immediately after watching the first two episodes of the FX on Hulu series. In Mrs. America, though, the loss is essential to Schlafly’s crusading animus. It’s just one of the aspects of her mother’s ascent to conservative icon that Cori thinks the show gets wrong. “I see why they didn’t want me to see it beforehand,” she says of her attempts to contact production. “Because they have not done justice to the evidence or the truth of my mother’s extraordinary life.”
For Cori, seeing her family life dramatized on screen was difficult, from Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Schlafly as “a Mommie Dearest type” to the “wallflower” she feels her Aunt Eleanor is reduced to. “I think the defamation of my father is the hardest,” Cori tells me. In the series, Schlafly’s husband (played by John Slattery) discourages her from a further run for office because it would take time away from her family. But “he was immensely proud” of her, remembers Cori. “In fact, he used to say with great joy, ‘I regret that I have but one wife to give to my country.’”
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When it comes to the Eagle Forum, the right-wing political interest group Schlafly founded to defeat the ERA and which her daughter now chairs, Cori takes issue with the infighting and “jealousy” depicted on screen. “I thought several of the members were painted as quite sad sacks,” Cori tells Bustle of the group she recalls as dynamic and encouraging. She chalks the discrepancies up to the realities of making entertainment: “This is a Hollywood production, and it isn’t a good show if they don’t show conflict.”
Still, there are aspects of Schlafly family life that Mrs. America gets transportingly accurate, even for someone who lived them. Cori couldn’t believe the detail with which set designers recreated her childhood home. “The color of the tile in the kitchen is exactly how I remembered it,” she says. So is the picture window in Phyllis Schlafly’s home office, where she kept her typewriter. In the final moments of the third episode, Schlafly is revealed to be something of a nuclear prepper, inventorying her stores of masks and canned goods; Cori wouldn’t call it a “true bunker,” but confirms there was a room in the basement with water and dried goods in case of calamity.
Cori says she first reached out to producers about a year and a half ago, when she learned the show was in production. She never heard back and was never approached for an interview, a fact that series creator Dahvi Waller recently described as a feature rather than a flaw of Mrs. America. “I felt if I sat down and talked to anyone, I was beholden to their version of events,” Waller told Vanity Fair. “I wanted to look at the sources and interpret it myself and come up with my point of view.” (FX, who produced the show, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
When I mention that every single episode begins with a disclaimer of historical accuracy, though, Cori is unconsoled. The reality, she says, is that she won’t always be available to tell her family’s side of the story. The Eagle Forum Instagram account can’t post in Phyllis Schlafly’s defense forever. Eventually, the Hollywood version of what happened might be the only version people see. “You make a movie [or TV show], it lives forever,” says Cori. “Generations from now, people will pick it up and they won’t particularly be aware or know of the history, but they’ll get a viewpoint that I think is not only a misrepresentation, but is harmful.”