Lee Daniels, director of the no. 1 box office hit The Butler -- starring Forest Whitaker as an African-American who served in the White House, literally serving eight presidents -- grew up in a rough neighborhood in West Philadelphia. He lived with his mother, who had been a maid, and next door to the Crawford's – Monroe and Caroline – who worked as a butler, and maid, for sports mogul Ed Snider.
“It was my first encounter with a butler, actually, not even understanding what a butler did,” Daniels recalled in a recent interview. “Very classy. As a matter of fact, in many ways I saw Forest Whitaker’s Cecil Gaines character through Monroe Crawford's eyes. It was my understanding of how a butler's life worked.“
Daniels has the Crawfords – and Flyers owner Snider – to thank for something else, too. “I lived in West Philly, but I went to Radnor High School,” he says referring to the affluent Main Line institution. In the mornings, Daniels would walk over to the Crawford’s, get in their car and they'd all head for the Main Line.
“I used Ed Snider's address,” Daniels says. “And had I not gone to that school, I don't know that I would be here today. I would certainly have been -- I would not have been so good, I'm certain of that. I have very few friends that I grew up with that are alive, and many relatives that are gone, too. So my mother instinctively knew she needed to do something radical, even if it was illegal, and that was to stick me in the car, pretend that I had an address in Villanova, and I rode with the butler. Every day I rode to work with a butler-- and a maid.”
Lee Daniels' The Butler has grossed $57 million since its release two weeks ago, and you can bet it will still be on people's minds come awards season time. Next up for the fearless director: a Janis Joplin biopic, with Amy Adams set to star.