Margaret Truman: Singer, biographer and crime writer

She was a singer, a praised biographer, and a bestselling crime novelist. But she is best known for a letter threatening physical violence to a music critic who panned one of her performances. It was written by her father – who at the time just happened to be the President of the United States.

Step aside Jenna Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Amy Carter, Luci Baines Johnson and Caroline Kennedy. Even in a less celebrity-besotted age than ours, it was hard enough to cope with having a famous parent. But no First Daughter has coped as successfully as Margaret Truman, and none has made her own comparable mark on life. But then again, after a letter like that, who would cross her?

Harry Truman penned it after a Washington Post critic noted sniffily of a programme Margaret gave of Schumann, Mozart and Schubert in December 1950, that while his daughter was "extremely attractive" on stage, "Miss Truman cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time." In response, the 33rd President accused the critic in question of being a "frustrated old man" who wrote "poppycock". Then Truman truly let rip: "I hope to meet you some day. . . and when that happens, you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below." Margaret's reaction was more measured: "I'm glad chivalry isn't dead." The public seemed to agree. When the letter was published, White House mail ran 80 per cent in favour of her father's fit of rage.

Margaret's singing career tapered off after her marriage in 1956 to Clifton Daniel, a talented New York Times reporter. Daniel would soon become the Times's managing editor, while she moved into radio, and then books.

Her first was an autobiography entitled Souvenir, written when she was barely 32, which told of how an ordinary Midwestern girl, by an accident of history, found herself living in the White House. Later she produced well-received biographies of her parents – Harry S. Truman in 1973 (a year after his death) and Bess W. Truman, published in 1986, four years after her mother died – followed by a highly successful series of Washington-based thrillers. The first of them was a Book of the Month Club selection, whose paperback rights in 1980 fetched $215,000, a king's ransom at the time.

Margaret Truman was 10 when her father was elected to the US Senate from Missouri and the family was forced to move from the Truman home-town of Independence, near Kansas City, to Washington for six months a year. In 1945 residence in the capital became permanent when Harry Truman, having been elected Vice-President, assumed the Presidency itself when Franklin Roosevelt died that April.

She disliked living in the White House, which she often referred to as "The Great White Jail" – albeit one in which she once brought aspirin to the visiting Winston Churchill when he fell ill. Later her father used her as an unofficial ambassador, and during a European tour in 1951 she persuaded Churchill to give the Trumans one of his paintings, a view of the Moroccan city Marrakesh. A month before her own death, Margaret sold it at Sotheby's in London, for almost $1m (£500,000).

Her artistic career, however, was another matter. Many expected it to founder when her father left the White House in 1953 but, as she wrote in Souvenir: "Since I had done everything I could think of not to trade on my father's position and stand on my own feet, I was more optimistic than the gossipers."

Her confidence was well-founded. Harry S. Truman, the intimate biography of the plain and simple President who was her adored father, sold more than a million copies, while the series of crime novels exploited to the hilt her knowledge of Washington and the dark ways of power. There were 23 in all. The first, entitled Murder in the White House, in which a womanising Secretary of State is found strangled in the presidential home, appeared in 1980. Others followed almost yearly, until Murder on K Street [home of Washington's power lobbyists and law firms], published in 2007.

They featured diplomats, politicians, powerful journalists and other prominent denizens of the city, and some critics drew comparisons with Agatha Christie. Her own son, Clifton Truman Daniel, had a simpler explanation. His mother, he told The New York Times, seemed to have strong and usually unfavourable opinions of most people in Washington. "That's why she writes these murder mysteries, so she can kill them off one at a time."

Rupert Cornwell

Mary Margaret Truman, singer and writer: born Independence, Missouri 17 February 1924; married 1956 Clifton Daniel (deceased; three sons, and one son deceased); died Chicago 29 January 2008.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Sport
Newcastle players celebrate, Mario Balotelli scores, Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers
footballNewcastle vs Liverpool , Arsenal vs Burnley, Chelsea vs QPR and Everton vs Swansea
News
i100Amazing Amazon review bomb
Arts and Entertainment
The Spice Girls' feminism consisted of shouting 'girl power' and doing peace signs in latex catsuits
musicWhat is it? You know what you want it to be...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
News
Moss and Grimshaw arrive at the party
peopleKate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Nick Grimshaw at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
News
i100
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Travel
travelPurrrfect jet comes to Europe
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch attends the London premiere of his new film The Imitation Game
people He's not as smart as his characters
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities