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In episode 4 of FX’s buzzy new period drama Mrs. America, famed conservative galvanizer Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) drags her frightened young daughter Anne (Gracen Daly) by the arm to their backyard pool for a swim lesson.
“I don’t want to!” Anne cries out.
“Fear will not be something that stops my child,” Phyllis responds, before wrapping the trembling girl in her arms and pencil diving them both into the deep end.
“See, that was fun,” Phyllis says when they finally come up for air. “You did great, sweetheart.”
While having a two-time Oscar winner play your late mother on the small screen is ostensibly like striking casting gold, the real-life Anne (now Anne Schlafly Cori) was not enthused when I reached her via phone.
“Mother was not that kind of parent!” Schlafly Cori told me. “She was an encourager and she was not particularly strict. She expected that her children would excel, but she never pressured me. Yes, we had a swimming pool and I started swimming at a young age wearing a floater, [but] I always loved swimming. “
Schlafly Cori said she emailed producers after FX announced the new series in 2018 in the hope of participating in some capacity, but never got a response. Mrs. America creator Dahvi Waller told Vanity Fair that’s because she felt opening a line of communication would make the show’s writers “beholden to [that person’s] version of events.”
To Schlafly Cori, it felt like a slap in the face. “It was obvious they were not interested in the family’s point of view,” she said. “They already had the show sketched out, and they weren’t interested in the facts getting in the way of their portrayal.”
When we spoke, Schlafly Cori was four episodes into the nine-part miniseries, and already “very” disappointed. She said Blanchett misrepresented her mother’s true essence, which she described as “warm” and “optimistic.” She also thought the show failed to highlight her mother’s religiosity, which she called the “bedrock” of her stances against abortion and same-sex marriage, despite her son John being gay.
In Mrs. America, Schlafly bemoans her bad luck after catching John staring longingly at a man getting married. While it’s true that in real-life John is gay—he was outed by Queer Week in 1992—Schlafly Cori said it was never a point of contention in their family.
“I didn’t see any tension between my mother and John growing up,” she said. “Certainly my mother was a devout Catholic. Her religion was very important to her. She very firmly believed that sex should be between a man and a woman within marriage. That was the life she lived. And she lived the Catholic doctrine.”
Schlafly Cori is now the chairman of Eagle Forum, the conservative group her mother founded while campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972. She was in middle school at the height of her mother’s anti-ERA crusade. “When people found out [who my mother was] growing up, they always had an immediate opinion. People either loved or hated her, there was never a middle ground,” she said. “Did people want to take it out on me? Of course, but that’s just part of [being Phyllis Schlafly’s daughter].”
She said the experience toughened her up. “All the junk I was going through in middle school was nothing compared to what my mother was going through on a national stage,” she said. “People said nasty things about her at the time. It gave me enormous courage…It was a really powerful lesson to learn as a child.”