‘Scandal’: Is Olivia Pope Real? Kerry Washington’s Iconic Character Has a Real-Life Inspiration
In a time when a Presidential candidate just picked the first African-American running mate, it pays to look back at the ABC series Scandal and its influences. Much of what the show depicted might be considered over-the-top, even by Washington, D.C. standards. Then again, the star character was based on a real figure.
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) was based on what D.C. pundits called a “fixer.” Those who know about Michael Cohen’s relationship with Donald Trump will know the former as the latter’s own fixer/lawyer.
There was a woman in the Beltway, though, who once handled those duties, including for a specific Republican President. How close was she to the Olivia Pope character?
Shonda Rhimes based Olivia Pope on Judy Smith
It seems the most extraordinary people portrayed on the big or small-screen often have the most basic of names in real life. That was the reality of Judy Smith, albeit her life being far from ordinary.
As one of those D.C. fixers, one has to wonder how much these people really fix. Going by recent stories from Michael Cohen, some of them go to major extremes to cover up crimes for influential politicians/Presidents.
Smith was known for fixing, despite being known under a more ethical title: Crisis manager. She worked to calm scandals by D.C.’s most notorious back in the ’90s and 2000s. Some of these clients included Monica Lewinsky and one President (George H.W. Bush).
Her stories are legendary from her legitimate company. Based on Smith’s own website, her Smith & Company continues having renown as a full-service crisis management and communications firm.
How much of Judy Smith was in the Olivia Pope character?
One can certainly see the resemblance between Judy Smith and Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Smith even wrote a book called Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets as a means to show being a fixer should never mean breaking the law.
Some might argue the case that fixers nowadays have received a bad name because of what occurs in D.C. at present. And, if going by Scandal, it maybe was already this bad years before the Trumps came to town.
From all indications, Shonda Rhimes only loosely based Olivia Pope on Judy Smith. Considering many of the plots on Scandal were off the charts in things needing fixing, one has to hope it came strictly from the writers’ pens.
Smith had to do interviews to assure her fans she never slept with the President (when working as an aide for him), or helped move dead bodies. In an interview with NPR back in 2018, she reiterated all of it was made up for TV.
Setting the record straight about George H.W. Bush
According to Smith in that NPR interview, she had to call George H.W. Bush to let him know about Scandal when it first went on the air. Considering she was listed as a co-executive producer on the show, she worried what the reaction from Bush might be.
Bush reportedly gave all his support and her foray into TV. Most ironic, though, is Scandal took on a major theme about how scandals start: Via the internet.
Smith had to go through similar situations herself and used her skills to diffuse anyone thinking Scandal was mimicking her own life. Much of that was quelled quickly, if George H.W. Bush joking with her via email about the rumors. He jokingly wrote her: “Love you. Want you. You left me. And by the way, this is the former leader of the free world. Call me.”
Leave it up to the late Bush to put a stop to it with his own wicked sense of humor. Now, in hindsight, Judy Smith’s time in D.C. may look like child’s play in comparison to the near impossible task for a fixer today.