11 Administrative Professionals Who Became Famous

Getty
Getty

Secretaries, receptionists, and other administrative professionals perform tasks that are vital to many companies. But because their work is often supportive and behind-the-scenes, it may go unnoticed or under-appreciated. In honor of Administrative Professionals Day on April 26, take a look at some famous secretaries and administrative assistants.

1. JOAN RIVERS

After graduating from Barnard College in 1954, Joan Rivers worked as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center, a fashion publicist, and a secretary for Irvin Arthur, who was a successful talent agent and nightclub booker. During the day, she answered Arthur’s office phone—sometimes performing her monologue to callers before handing the phone over to her boss. At night, she did stand-up at clubs in New York City. Arthur discouraged Rivers from pursuing comedy, and he reportedly told her that she was already too old to make it. Rivers certainly proved him wrong, becoming one of the most successful female comedy stars.

2. JEREMY BERNARD


Getty Images

In 2011, Jeremy Bernard became the White House’s first male (and first openly gay) Social Secretary. The role involved planning all of the White House’s official social events, including state dinners, Medal of Honor ceremonies, and teas hosted by former FLOTUS Michelle Obama. Bernard also helped Obama compile guest lists, choose decorations, and select invitations for events. During his four years as Social Secretary, Bernard was profiled by Vogue and became a well-known figure in Washington, D.C.

3. HELEN GURLEY BROWN


By John Bottega, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Helen Gurley Brown—born in Arkansas in 1922—took a few college classes at a Texas college before going to secretarial school. In the 1940s, she worked 17 different secretarial jobs around Los Angeles, including at a radio station and an ad agency. She later recalled how her male bosses would regularly fondle the secretaries, trying to see their underwear.

After working as a secretary, Brown became an advertising copywriter and wrote Sex and the Single Girl, an advice book aimed at unmarried women. The book, published in 1962, became a bestseller and was turned into a film. From 1965 to 1997, Brown was Cosmopolitan’s editor in chief, turning the magazine from a more traditional, literary publication to one that candidly covered sex and women’s issues.

4. CARLY FIORINA


Getty Images

Before she ran for president (and later vice president) in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Cara "Carly" Fiorina worked as a secretary. To earn money to attend Stanford University, the Texas native worked as a receptionist at a hair salon and, during summers, took secretary jobs through a temp agency. She went on to enroll at the UCLA School of Law and dropped out after one semester.

Then, Fiorina worked as a secretary again, typing and filing for a nine-person real estate firm. Her bosses increased her responsibilities and eventually she found her way back to school, getting an MBA and going to work for AT&T and Lucent. She became the CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999, making her the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.

5. URSULA BURNS


Getty Images

Ursula Burns was born in a New York City housing project in 1958 and grew up poor with a single mother and two siblings. After studying mechanical engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic (now New York University Tandon School of Engineering), she worked toward a master’s degree in engineering at Columbia University. She also interned in upstate New York with Xerox’s engineering program for minorities, which paid for some of her education. Burns worked her way up through the Xerox corporate ladder throughout the 1980s and '90s, serving as an executive assistant to Xerox’s vice president of marketing and customer operations and, later, as a secretary to the company’s chairman and CEO.

In 2009, Burns became the chairwoman and CEO of Xerox—and the first female, African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She expanded the company from copying and printing to a tech company. Today, Burns is active in helping students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, succeed in STEM fields.

6. BETTE NESMITH GRAHAM

After secretarial school, Bette Nesmith Graham moved to Dallas, Texas and became an executive secretary for a Texas bank. The single mother went on to work on an IBM electric typewriter in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, the device's design made it difficult to neatly erase typos. Worried that she’d lose her job every time she made a typing error, Graham thought of a solution after she saw artists painting holiday decorations on the bank windows and remembered from her own art background that artists would often just paint over their mistakes.

Graham tried brushing a white, water-based paint onto the paper to cover her typos. Her idea worked. Calling her correcting fluid “Mistake Out,” Graham sold her invention to other secretaries and, in 1958, renamed it "Liquid Paper." She sold her company to Gillette Corporation for almost 50 million dollars in 1979.

7. EVELYN LINCOLN


The National Archives and Records Administration

Evelyn Lincoln, born in Polk County, Nebraska in 1909, was the daughter of a prominent Nebraskan politician. She studied law at George Washington University and went on to work as a Congressional aide until 1953, when she began working for a new Massachusetts senator, John F. Kennedy. When her boss became president, Lincoln worked in an office next to his in the White House. Lincoln was intimately involved in the president’s daily life, and she served as his secretary until his death. (She was riding in his motorcade when he was assassinated in 1963.) After Kennedy's death, Lincoln worked as a secretary for other politicians, wrote two memoirs, and donated the JFK papers she saved to the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

8. J.K. ROWLING


Getty Images

Although it’s widely known that J.K. Rowling struggled financially before finishing the first Harry Potter title, you might not know that she worked as a secretary at Amnesty International’s London headquarters. To pay her rent, she took notes and translated for the human rights organization’s research department. "There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them," she told Harvard Magazine. "I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.”

Rowling was reportedly fired from her secretarial job because she was distracted by her desire to write about a boy wizard…and the rest is magical history.

9. ROSE MARY WOODS

The National Archives and Records Administration

Rose Mary Woods began working as a secretary for Senator Richard Nixon in 1951. Woods, who had already been working as a secretary in Washington, D.C., became Nixon’s confidante, working for him for decades. In 1974, Woods gave grand jury testimony in which she tried to explain her role in the notorious 18.5 minutes of missing audio from a Watergate tape.

The Ohio native apologized for pressing the wrong button and recording over about five minutes of the tape and she became infamous for demonstrating how she allegedly made the mistake. Dubbed the Rose Mary stretch, she stretched back for the telephone while her foot simultaneously hit the transcription machine’s pedal. Nixon told Woods first when he decided to resign, and he asked her to tell his wife and daughters for him. He later wrote that he considered Woods as a member of his family. After Nixon resigned from the presidency, Woods continued to work as his secretary before working for other politicians.

10. BARBARA WALTERS

Getty Images

Barbara Walters has interviewed everyone from Mother Teresa and Maya Angelou to Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931, the famous broadcast journalist graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English. Before starting her career at The Today Show, Walters worked as a secretary for the publicity director of WRCA-TV, an NBC affiliate in New York.

11. NAOMI JUDD


Getty Images

In the 1980s and early '90s, The Judds, Naomi and her daughter Wynonna, were one of the most successful country musical groups. The duo sold millions of albums, won Grammy Awards, and toured the world. But before she was a country superstar, Naomi supported herself and her two daughters with gigs as a waitress in Los Angeles. She applied for a job as a receptionist for the 5th Dimension, the pop group famous for songs "Up, Up and Away" and "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In."

Naomi didn’t get the receptionist job, but she worked in the same office as a secretary for a talent agent for a few months. Naomi later revealed the reason she took the secretary job: She couldn’t afford a car, and the office was just a couple of blocks from where she lived.

15 Clever Breaking Bad Easter Eggs Hiding in Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
James Minchin/AMC

As evidenced by Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his cohorts have an eye for detail that’s nearly unrivaled. If anything, Better Call Saul—which is originally set several years before the events of Breaking Bad—only proves the point. The series, which is about to kick off its fifth season, focuses on Jimmy McGill (soon to become Saul Goodman) and is full of references to its progenitor, some of which are pure fun, and some of which add a deeper meaning to what we already know. Here are 15 clever Breaking Bad Easter eggs hiding in Better Call Saul.

**Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for both series.**

1. Being Kevin Costner

In a throwaway moment in Breaking Bad, Saul mentions to Walt that he once convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner (“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work”), and in the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, we see the exact moment he was referring to. In case we thought that Saul was just making the story up for the sake of a pep talk, here’s the proof otherwise.

2. Neighborhood mainstay

If the diner where Jimmy first meets with the Kettlemans looked familiar to you, it’s for good reason. Loyola’s Diner featured in Breaking Bad as a mainstay of Mike’s—he met with Jesse there, as well as Lydia. It’s also, incidentally, a very real restaurant in Albuquerque. And while we’re on the subject of Mike and food, he’s been shown to be fond of pimento cheese sandwiches in both series.

3. Address unknown

David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In Better Call Saul, it’s shown that Jimmy's office is at 160 Juan Tabo Boulevard (which is a real nail salon). Those of you with a head for directions might also recall that that’s the same street that the ill-fated chemist Gale Boetticher lives on, at 6353 Juan Tabo Boulevard. Breaking Bad fans were thrilled when the karaoke-loving chemist appeared in Season 4 of Better Call Saul (with hopefully more to come).

4. The Ignacio connection

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When he’s kidnapped by Walt and Jesse after refusing to help a busted Badger, Saul spits out a variety of nonsense in an attempt to stay alive. He also drops a name: Ignacio. So who is he talking about? As we learn in Better Call Saul, this refers to Nacho, who’s become one of the secondary leads on the show. “Nacho” is a nickname, short for Ignacio, which makes sense as a connection given how closely he’s been working with Jimmy/Saul.

5. Cheap tricks

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures

There’s another callback to the first time that Walt, Jesse, and Saul meet. Despite still having his hands tied behind his back, when Saul agrees to help Walt and Jesse, he tells them to each put a dollar in his pocket in order to secure attorney-client privilege. It seems that Saul got that idea from Kim, who, when she decides to help Jimmy after discovering he’s falsified evidence, tells him to give her a dollar for exactly the same reason.

6. Old afflictions

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In yet another reference to that fateful first meeting, we learn that Saul isn’t bluffing when he tells Walt and Jesse that he has bad knees. He says the same thing when cops apprehend him in the first season of Better Call Saul. As to why he’s got bad knees to begin with, it all comes from his time as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” when he used to stage falls in order to earn a little bit of money.

7. Car talk

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Saul Goodman drives a white 1997 Cadillac DeVille with the vanity plate “LWYRUP.” Jimmy McGill’s ride is much more modest: a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a red door. That said, in the pilot of Better Call Saul, we very briefly see a white Cadillac DeVille—Jimmy parks his car next to it, in a truly blink-and-you-miss-it allusion to what’s to come. (Gus, notably, is driving the same blue Volvo in both shows.)

8. Home sweet home

In Better Call Saul, one of the retirement homes that Jimmy visits in his quest to find new clients for his growing elder law business is Casa Tranquila. If it sounds familiar, that's because it's a key location in Breaking Bad as the home of Hector Salamanca, and the place where he kills his longtime nemesis Gus Fring. It’s a nice touch to revisit the location, especially given the fact that Better Call Saul gives us the story as to how Hector wound up in a wheelchair in the first place.

9. What's your poison?

There’s also a nice bit of brand continuity with the made-up tequila Zafiro Añejo. Gus poisons a bottle to get back at Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, and we see the same blue bottle pop up in Better Call Saul when Jimmy and Kim scam a cocky stock broker named Ken. Ken, for his part, seems to be reaping a constant stream of bad karma, as he’s also in Breaking Bad as a victim of Heisenberg’s wrath. He swipes Walt’s parking spot—and has his car set on fire for his trouble.

10. The little piggy

Though Mike is hard as nails, he’s got a soft spot the size of Texas for his granddaughter Kaylee. He gifts her a pink pig plush in Better Call Saul, which crops up again in Breaking Bad under slightly less cute circumstances. He uses the doll as a distraction when an assassination attempt is made on his life.

11. Word games

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

The first letters of the episode titles of the second season of Better Call Saul are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” It’s a granular sort of trick that the creators have pulled off before: four of the episodes of season two of Breaking Bad spell out “Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ.” In the season finale, a 737 plane does indeed go down over Albuquerque, or ABQ.

12. Sentimental value

Given that Saul’s Breaking Bad office has a lot of strange objects in it, it’d be easy to miss the octagonal desk. As it turns out, the offices of Saul Goodman aren’t the desk’s first home: it’s seen in the background of Kim’s office in Better Call Saul. It’s retroactive, sure, but it’s still nice to know that Saul has some mementos around.

13. Movie night

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Ursula Coyote, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

There’s also a little sentimental value in the name of Saul’s holding company, Ice Station Zebra Associates, which he uses to help Walt launder money in Breaking Bad. As we discover in Better Call Saul, Ice Station Zebra is Kim’s favorite movie, due to her father’s affection for it. Though Kim is physically absent from Breaking Bad, small details seem to tie back to her all the time.

14. Set dressing

Krazy-8, may he rest in peace, also shows up in Better Call Saul. The van that he drives has the logo for Tampico Furniture on it, and he’s wearing a uniform with the logo as well. Tampico is where Walt, as he recalls in Breaking Bad, bought Walter Jr.’s crib. Unfortunately, those fond memories aren’t quite enough to save Krazy-8’s skin.

15. Beware of bugs

Before Mike leaves Philly for Albuquerque, a bartender tells him to be mindful of tarantulas. The spider plays a key role in Breaking Bad later on, as a young boy’s pursuit of the bug puts him in Walt’s path—and Todd’s path, by proxy. Determined to make a good impression on Walt, and knowing that there can’t be any witnesses to what they’re doing, Todd shoots the boy in one of the most shocking and cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2018.

This Land Is Your Land: The Story Behind America's Best-Known Protest Song

American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
Woody Guthrie: Getty Images. Landscape: iStock/mammuth

Few songs are more ingrained in the American psyche than "This Land Is Your Land," the greatest and best-known work by folk icon Woody Guthrie. For decades, it's been a staple of kindergarten classrooms "from California to the New York island," as the lyrics go. It's the musical equivalent of apple pie, though the flavor varies wildly depending on who's doing the singing.

On its most basic level, "This Land Is Your Land" is a song about inclusion and equality—the American ideal broken down into simple, eloquent language and set to a melody you memorize on first listen. The underlying message, repeated throughout the song, makes the heart swell: "This land was made for you and me."

But there's more to "This Land Is Your Land" than many people realize—two verses more, in fact. Guthrie's original 1940 draft of the song contains six verses, two of which carry progressive political messages that add nuance to the song's overt patriotism. These controversial verses are generally omitted from children's songbooks and the like, but they speak volumes about Guthrie's mindset when he put pen to paper 80 years ago.

 

Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in a divey hotel room in New York City. He'd just landed in Manhattan after years of rambling across the country and meeting impoverished people affected by the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Throughout his travels in the late '30s, Guthrie was haunted by Kate Smith's hit recording of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Guthrie found Berlin's song to be jingoistic and out of touch with the reality facing many of his fellow citizens. So he set about writing a response.

Guthrie originally titled his rejoinder "God Blessed America"—emphasis on the past tense—but eventually changed his tone. Instead of doing a sarcastic parody, he wrote a song that pulls double-duty, celebrating America's natural splendor while criticizing the nation for falling short of its promise. In the "lost" fourth verse, Guthrie decries the notion of private property, suggesting America is being carved up by the wealthy:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said: 'Private Property.'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

The sixth and final verse in the original manuscript references the poor folks Guthrie saw living on government assistance during the Great Depression:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me?

When Guthrie first recorded the song in 1944, he included the verse about private property but left out the one about the relief office. That original recording was lost until the '90s, however, so for years, all anyone knew was the version Guthrie recorded for 1951's Songs to Grow On. Guthrie's rendition on that album features neither the "no trespassing" verse nor the one about the relief office, which he never actually recorded.

It's unclear why the 1944 recording with the "private property" verse was never released, or why Guthrie edited out the radical stuff for the 1951 version. (He also chopped out both controversial verses when he first published the lyrics in the 1945 pamphlet Ten of Woody Guthrie's Songs.) It may have had something to do with the mounting anti-communist furor that would lead to the Red Scare of the late '40s and early '50s. As a pro-union communist sympathizer, Guthrie and his fellow rabble-rousing folky buddy Pete Seeger had already faced industry blacklisting in the early '40s.

"We did one program on CBS Radio, and a newspaper reported out, said, 'Red minstrels try to get on the networks,'" Seeger told NPR. "And that was the last job we got."

Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Regardless of which verses are included, "This Land Is Your Land" is terrific for singing. That was by design. Guthrie likely stole the melody from the Carter Family's 1935 tune "Little Darling, Pal of Mine," which itself was patterned after an old gospel hymn titled "When the World's On Fire" (sometimes called "Oh, My Loving Brother"). "This Land" was a perfect fit for classrooms and campsites, where the song would take on new life.

 

In the early '50s, famed American folklorist Alan Lomax came up with a nifty plan for preserving the nation's musical heritage. He approached legendary music publisher Howie Richmond with the idea of including rural folk songs—the kind he'd been documenting for the Library of Congress—in school music textbooks. Richmond, who had become Guthrie's publisher in 1950, loved the idea, and to sweeten the deal for textbook publishers, he lowered his usual licensing rates and offered "This Land Is Your Land" for just $1.

That's how "This Land Is Your Land" went viral and became nearly as ubiquitous as the national anthem, even without the radio play and jukebox real estate of Smith's "God Bless America." While the versions distributed to America's impressionable youth lacked "no trespassing" and "relief office" verses, the song's original lyrics were never forgotten. Following Guthrie's death in 1967, artists like Seeger continued performing the "lost verses," lest people forget the anger that inspired the song.

But regardless of Guthrie's intentions, "This Land Is Your Land" has come to mean different things to different people. That's part of what makes it so timeless. When President Ronald Reagan used the song at his victory party in 1984, after it had been used by Walter Mondale's campaign, both sides were probably trying to evoke feel-good patriotism. The same goes for Reagan's advisors and allies who were invoking Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." during rallies and in newspaper articles. Reagan himself name-checked Springsteen and his "message of hope" during a rally in Hammonton, New Jersey. The president either didn't know or didn't care that "Born in the U.S.A." was another song about loving your country but hating how poorly it treats some of its citizens.

Ironically, the Boss had begun performing "This Land Is Your Land" in the early '80s. On the version included on the Live 1975–85 box set, Springsteen gives his audience the backstory about Irving Berlin and refers to "This Land" as "just about one of the most beautiful songs ever written." And, when given the opportunity to perform the song with Pete Seeger at Barack Obama's pre-inauguration concert in 2009, he readily agreed to sing all the verses at Seeger's insistence.

Over the years, "This Land Is Your Land" has been covered by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed the song in Zuccotti Park during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011. Lady Gaga sang a snippet to open her Super Bowl halftime show in 2017, causing fans and critics to speculate about whether she was making a political statement. She mashed it up with "God Bless America," so it's a safe bet she knew the history of the song.

 

There may be even more officially recorded versions in years to come. Much like what has been done with ubiquitous songs like "Happy Birthday" and "We Shall Overcome" (which Seeger toured with and taught across the country at rallies and protests throughout the '50s and '60s), there is a push to have "This Land Is Your Land" enter the public domain. The Brooklyn rock band Satorii filed a lawsuit in 2016 challenging the copyrights held by the Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, and maintain that since Guthrie only wrote the lyrics and not that pilfered melody, he shouldn't have been able to register the song in the first place, nor should Ludlow have been able to own the copyright. The suit is ongoing.

Whether it enters the public domain, as one imagines Guthrie would have wanted, or doesn't, "This Land Is Your Land" isn't going anywhere. The song has been adopted and modified by Native Americans, Swedish anti-Nazi troubadours, and people all over the globe who find truth and comfort in Guthrie's words, however they choose to interpret them.

"The whole idea of a land is your spot on Earth, you know," Woody's daughter Nora told NPR. "A spot where you can claim safety, sanity."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER