Author & Journalist

Laurie Trotta Valenti, PhD, is a veteran communicator and her writings have been published  independently of the hundreds of news releases, white papers, strategy documents and advertisements she has written in her capacity as a public relations professional.  Her articles on media, the arts, travel and education have appeared in magazines, academic journals and publications internationally. A doctor in media education, she is a contributor to seminal Sage textbook series, including:  “Media Advocacy for the New Millennium” and  "Children, TV and Advocacy Groups: A History and Analysis," both in the Sage Publications series Handbook of Children and the Media (2002, 2003, 2008, 2011).  An excerpt from her book, Cold Case, Warm Heart, was featured in Northeast Magazine and received a Special Recognition Award from the American Society of Journalists in 2002. In 2006, Dr. Valenti was invited to serve as Artist in Residence at Arizona State University as wrote a biography of 1930s film star Mary Howard de Liagre.

Building Blocks:  A Guide for Creating Children's Educational Programming
In 1998, members of the creative community participated in a series of monthly meetings with leading children's experts to discuss creating guidelines that would meet the criteria put forth in the new Children's Television Act (TCA). Laurie A. Trotta was the author of the book, which represents a consensus of all relevant points of view. Each draft was debated at great length during meetings, edited, and then debated and edited again after reviewing comments of advisors and advocates.

More Than a Movie: Ethics in Entertainment
Miguel Valenti’s seminal textbook, More Than a Movie: Ethics in Entertainment - Volume Editor, along with NYT veteran TV writer Les Brown (Westview Press 2000), 2002, 2008). More Than a Movie has since become the basis for of the first university film production program in the nation founded on principles of ethical decision-making (ASU).

The Last Ziegfeld Girl, Mary Howard de Liagre 
Biography of 1930s film star Mary Howard, who became Mary Howard de Liagre after marrying Broadway producer Alfred de Liagre Jr. Mary was one of the last Ziegfeld girls, performing with her two famous twin sisters, Meredith and Virginia. She worked tirelessly in the USO during WWII. In peacetime she used her Hollywood cache to involve her acting friends in a new cause celebre -- an organization that started out recording manuals on tape for war veterans, and what is now Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Mary was on of the founding, albeit unsung, founding members of Recording for the Blind. She died on June 6, 2009, when a light that burned brightly over Manhattan for more than 90 years went dim...
Mary's Howard de Liagre's remembrances of Eleanor Roosevelt --

Submitted to the Roosevelt Archives September, 2005 
One of my earliest memories of the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was when I was starting out my acting career in the mid-1930s in New York City. My interest in modern dance led me to be cast in the Broadway show Life Begins at 8:40. It was big news when it was learned through the box office that Mrs. Roosevelt had reservations to see the show. 

My hometown paper in Tulsa ran the story of my part as one of the Weidman Dancers, and how the First Lady arrived in a taxi like anyone else, wearing a blue lace chiffon gown and a brilliant jeweled pin. She sat in seat C-11. 

The lyrist Yip Harburg, who was one of the show’s creators, came out that night to catch a glimpse of the First Lady and to see firsthand her response to, “My Day,” a song he had written in reference to her. Mrs. Roosevelt came backstage after the show and met the cast as well as Yip. She asked for a copy of “My Day,” Yip told me later. He admired the First Lady and it seems they shared many of the same beliefs about the common man. 

I was to meet the First Lady on many other occasions. This was due in part to my movie career but also due to my older sister Meredith’s friendship with both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt. I would never be able to write this story if not for Meredith and the unique life she led. 

Meredith went to Washington in late 1937 after a stint in Hollywood, where she worked for MGM in fashion and public relations. I was carving out a career in Hollywood for myself at that time as an actress and singer. 

Meredith became Washington’s first female radio commentator. Her radio work brought her in contact with people of every facet of life -- government leaders, foreign dignitaries and well-known entertainers of the day. She was the voice of Jean Abbey, a woman’s home companion; she wrote a newspaper column called “Capitol Conversation” and a radio spot, “News and Personalities.” She was a modern day Larry King. 

In 1941, Meredith became the first official female broadcaster to cover the inuauguration of a president when she covered Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and she continued covering the White House and Capitol Hill events for some time after. Her work often took her by air back and forth to New York when few women were flying, and she often was on the same plane as Eleanor Roosevelt. 

I will never forget how as a young woman I answered the telephone in my sister’s home and it was Mrs. Roosevelt calling, wanting to speak to Meredith about a tea she was organizing. Meredith was unable to come to the phone at the time, and I turned and shouted, “You must come now! It’s the First Lady!” 

Meredith was very honored to have known First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, but her friendships with other First Ladies of our country spanned more than three decades: Edith Wilson, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower and Jackie Kennedy. Mamie Eisenhower was the only First Lady personally interviewed by Meredith on her Washington luncheon radio broadcast. 

Meredith would continue her work in Washington until she married Arizona Congressman Richard Harless in 1948. The couple moved to Arizona full-time, and Meredith fell in love with her new home state. For the next 50 years she worked for the welfare of all the people of Arizona. 

Today, Arizona State University holds the archives of my beloved sister. Looking back, I can only say that I was never fully aware of the extent of Meredith’s friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the President. 

The United Nation’s Club 
The country was being drawn into the war and Meredith was inundated with requests to be of service. She was the type of person who had the answers to everything. Whatever needed to be done, Meredith would do it. Beginning on December 6, 1941, she started “Embassy Days,” a radio broadcast that focused on the war efforts of the allied nations. Embassy Days, which Meredith organized and emceed, involved a weekly 500-guest luncheon at a Washington hotel, the proceeds of which went to the Red Cross. This really cast Meredith into the political scene, as she interviewed the top-ranking diplomats of 58 countries. Out of this broadcast was born the idea for the United Nations Club. 

The Club was co-founded in the summer of 1942 by Meredith and three other prominent women of Washingon: Mrs Robert Pell, Mrs Frank Kent Jr. and Miss Suanne Rosenberg. Its home base was an estate called Dumbarton Oaks, and Meredith was its president. 

The UN Club served a vital interest during the war and brought together allied nations of the charter, diplomats and military leaders. At its peak, the UN Club’s membership of about 1,100 included embassy heads from every UN nation, U.S. government officials, officers in the armed services – and their spouses. 

One of several of the President’s Birthday Balls that I attended was held at the UN Club; its goal was raise awareness and money for victims of paralysis. 

Meredith’s twin sister Virginia and I were repeatedly called upon to help out in charitable events for the war cause, many of which took place at the United Nation’s Club. Meredith was in charge of entertainment for many of the military hospitals around Washington. She received from the Treasury Department the highest award for being among the first people to sell $250,000 in war bonds, which she did through her radio programs. It was no wonder that she was dubbed in Washington as “ambassador to the Diplomats” and “Minister of Goodwill.” 

People were encouraged to get involved. Like many families during this period, we did all we could for the men and women in uniform and for various causes supporting the war. Our brother, Lt. Bill Howard, was serving in the navy and stationed in Washington. Our father was the Commanding Officer of a US Navy station in Trinidad and our mother was involved in the famous Stagedoor Canteen. I was asked to travel for the USO, visiting wounded soldiers in the hospital and entertaining them. The war touched all of our lives in some way or another. 

Movies at the White House 

I was invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt and the First Lady in the early 1940s, when I played a lead role as Ann Rutledge in the film “Abe Lincoln in Illinois.” Mrs. Roosevelt gave a special dinner for the President to view the movie at the White House with leading cast members. 

I lunched with both the President and the First Lady on several other occasions. Once, the President invited me to join him while he broadcast one of his Fireside Chats. Our country was going through turbulent times, absorbed in the war against fascism. 

A Solemn Moment in History 
Meredith was chairperson of a Children’s Hospital Benefit to be held at the Sulgrave Club in Washington on April 12, 1945. Mrs. Roosevelt had agreed to speak on the topic, “Our Children of Tomorrow.” I was asked to come down from New York to help, and Meredith invited the cast members from the Broadway show “Songs of Norway” to contribute their talent too. 

My job was to greet the First Lady upon her arrival and escort her to the ballroom. A photographer recorded the moment when we greeted each other. 

A few minutes later I was across the room watching the program in progress when someone from the club approached me and said the White House telephone operator was on the phone asking for Mrs. Roosevelt or Meredith. He said to get her immediately, it was an emergency. I went to fetch Meredith, because Mrs. Roosevelt was already on the dais speaking. Meredith and I both went back beyond the ballroom entrance where the phone was, and Meredith took the phone. It was Stephen Early, the President’s secretary, saying, “This is an emergency call for Mrs. Roosevelt.” 

Meredith immediately and calmly walked down the aisle to the end of the dais where the First Lady had just finished her talk. As Mrs. Roosevelt got to the end of the platform, Meredith leaned forward and relayed the message. Everyone in the room by this time was keenly aware that something was happening. I was still at the entrance door when Mrs. Roosevelt passed me on the way to the phone. I heard her say, “I hope it isn’t one of the boys.” She looked very troubled. 

Meredith told me later on she had seen the President not too long before and she had thought that he did not look well. She said if the public had known this, he might not have been re-elected. It was not like today, where they want to know every thing. 

We tried to continue with the program, but when the music was over we just stopped and waited. Mrs. Roosevelt stepped just inside the entranceway where I was standing and said, “I had hoped to stay with you but I must return to the White House. I must go.” 

Meredith and I both moved to accompany the First Lady to her car, but I realized that someone should stay behind and address questions. As I turned to go back to the ballroom, I glanced back and saw Mrs. Roosevelt running towards her car. 

Soon afterward I went to meet a friend for a drink at a Washington hotel. I told him about the Sulgrave, that something had happened at the White House. Since my friend worked for one of the embassies, I asked him to call his office to see if there was news. He did and was told there was no report of anything significant underway. 

As we continued our conversation, the background music came to an abrupt halt. The bandmaster turned to the audience and said solemnly that President Roosevelt was dead. Everyone in the room was stunned. It was like hearing that a family member had passed. America had relied on the President for so many years and his death seemed unbelievable. 

I left my friend to find Meredith. As I reached the revolving door, a gentleman was coming through the other side and he was crying: “He’s gone, he’s gone.” The whole city seemed in shock. 

The next few days the newspapers across the country ran the picture of the First Lady and me greeting one another at the Sulgrave Club. It was, sadly, Mrs. Roosevelt’s last official appearance as First Lady of our country. 

-- As told to Laurie A. Trotta and Wanda Freeman / Manhattan / September 2005

Mary Howard de Liagre