Was Betty Ford's Best Friend Nancy Howe in 'The First Lady' Based on a Real Person?

Nancy Howe is introduced in the Showtime series 'The First Lady' as an old friend and confidante of Betty Ford. Was she based on an actual person?

Katherine Stinson - Author

Apr. 25 2022, Published 3:51 p.m. ET

(L-R) Betty Ford, Nancy Howe
Source: Instagram/@usnatarchives

Betty Ford and Nancy Howe decorate a skeleton for Halloween,

Spoiler alert: The following article contains spoilers for The First Lady, Season 1, Episode 2 on Showtime.

The conundrum with fictionalized retellings of American historical figures is trying to determine if the supporting players actually existed.

Such is the case with the Showtime series The First Lady. We all know who Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer), Michelle Obama (Viola Davis), and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) are, but what about the people that were closest to them?

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The First Lady centers around the lives of Betty, Michelle, and Eleanor before and during their time in the White House, and the stressors surrounding their First Lady era. And what's the best medicine for high volumes of stress? A bestie that's got your back.

That bestie for Betty appears to be a woman named Nancy Howe (Judy Greer). Was Nancy based on a real person?

Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer)
Source: Murray Close/Showtime

Did Betty know a Nancy Howe in real life?

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Nancy Howe was a real person, first and foremost.

Nancy Howe first appears in The First Lady Season 1, Episode 2, titled "Voices Carry." She and Betty are old friends, and Nancy works in the White House gift shop. Per the Ford Library Museum, the real Nancy worked for the White House Historical Association, where she was the head of guide book sales.

According to the same report, Betty hired Nancy as her personal assistant shortly after Gerald Ford was nominated for Vice President.

An article from The New York Times from 1975 described Nancy as, "Mrs. Ford's personal assistant and close friend since 1973."

The story covered the death of Nancy's husband, James W. Howe. James had died by suicide after, "Mrs. Howe was being investigated in connection with reports that she and her husband visited the Dominican Republic last week as guests of Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman."

James took full responsibility for the trip and urged officials not to blame his wife.

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The reason that the trip was being investigated was due to the fact that, "The acceptance, directly or indirectly, of any gift, gratuity or favor from certain persons or corporations violates Federal ethics and the law of conflict of interest," per The New York Times. Nancy did work for Betty after all.

Per the same article, The Washington Post was reportedly prepping an article "on the [Howes'] relationship with Mr. Park" before James died.

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The actress that plays Nancy is quite well-known.

Per The Ford Library Museum, the real Nancy resigned from the White House sometime in May, 1975. The actress that was originally supposed to play Nancy in The First Lady had to step down as well, due to scheduling conflicts. According to The Wrap, actress Pamela Adlon had scheduling conflicts in early 2021 and could no longer play Nancy. She was replaced by the one and only Judy Greer.

Judy's acting career resume is vast. She's been in everything from 13 Going on 30, Jurassic World, the 2018 film Halloween, Halloween Kills, and more. Judy also voices the hilarious character Cheryl on the FX series Archer.

She also played Paul Rudd's ex-wife in the hit Marvel film Ant-Man. Another one of her most recent roles was that of DA Leah Askey in The Thing About Pam.

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Judy Greer
Source: Emma McIntyre/WireImage/Getty Images

Judy Greer plays Nancy Howe in 'The First Lady'

According to Judy's IMDb page, she'll appear as Nancy again in The First Lady Season 1, Episode 6, titled "See Saw."

New episodes of The First Lady air Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on Showtime.

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