How Harry Truman's Daughter Inspired a Wesley Snipes Movie

Getty / Getty

Many presidential children have gone on to write nonfiction accounts offering unique perspectives on the people behind the most powerful office in the world. Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of Harry and Bess Truman, wrote a few of those, including Harry S. Truman (1973), Bess W. Truman (1986), and Letters From Father: The Truman Family’s Personal Correspondence (1981).

Daniel had been working on another work of nonfiction, this one about children of the White House, when she became bored with the topic and abandoned it—but she wasn’t done writing about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “I was with my agent one day, and I told him I had an idea for a mystery: ‘Murder in the White House.’ I don’t know where those words came from,” she said in a 1990s interview.

Of course, a scandalous story written by someone with such insider knowledge of the place was snapped up by a publisher immediately. Murder in the White House, about a shady secretary of state found dead in the Lincoln Bedroom, was published in 1980, quickly followed by more Washington-based mysteries—a new one was released nearly annually for the next several decades (the series continues today).

“My mother seems to have a strong opinion, often bad, of almost everyone in Washington,” Daniel’s son Clifton wrote in his memoir. “That’s why she writes those murder mysteries: so she can kill them all off, one at a time.” He was right: though Daniel stopped personally writing them after the first one (her publishing company used a ghostwriter), she still influenced the plots. “I remember when we first met, Margaret told me, ‘I want the speaker of the House killed,’” ghostwriter Donald Bain told The Kansas City Star.

Daniel's distrust of D.C. insiders was clearly a sentiment felt by many. Murder in the White House was popular enough that it was eventually optioned for a movie—Murder at 1600 (1997), starring Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane.

Yeah, this one.

By the way, Margaret’s first career choice was musical, not literary. She made her debut as a concert singer on national radio with the Detroit Symphony in 1947 and toured the United States performing, including a stop at the Hollywood Bowl.

Her father, then the sitting president, famously wrote a letter to The Washington Post music critic Paul Hume, who opined that Truman “cannot sing very well, is flat a good deal of the time,” and “cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish.”

"Give 'Em Hell Harry" lived up to his name, calling Hume “a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful,” and said that if they ever crossed paths, Hume would need “a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

We’ll let you judge her talents for yourself: