"The Butler" was a huge box office success this weekend, and we wanted to share our own piece of the story. "The Butler" is based on the real-life account of Eugene Allen, who served the White House for 34 years until he retired as the head butler in 1986. He started in the White House in 1952 as a “pantry man” and over the years rose in his position until finally attaining the most prestigious rank of butlers serving in the White House. Eugene Allen was present at many important events during President Kennedy’s administration (we have photographs that show him serving), but his name, or the title of ‘butler,’ doesn’t appear in any planning documentation, except for President Kennedy’s funeral.
In 2008, Eugene Allen told the Washington Post he was invited to President’s Kennedy’s funeral but choose not to attend because “Somebody had to be at the White House to serve everyone after they came from the funeral.”
Take a look at these notes with friends, family, and domestic staff specifically invited by Mrs. Kennedy to attend President Kennedy’s funeral, with check marks next to the names of the people who RSVP’d yes to the invitation. As you can see, Eugene Allen is the only one who declined her invitation so he would be available to work.
(Both of the yellow documents came from the White House Staff Files of Sanford Fox, Box 27, titled “Funeral Services.” Citation number for the white note is JFKWHSFSLF-027-008-p0092.)