"The Butler" inspirations: Meet real-life White House staff who helped capture world for film

(CBS News) The movie "Lee Daniels' the Butler," which opens Friday, focuses on an African-American servant at the White House. It's bringing new attention to another pioneer, Adm. Stephen Rochon, who ran the presidential household during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. He is quick to remember the others who paved the way to equality.

"The Butler" is about America in transition and an unknown American known only to his family and eight American presidents. The movie is inspired by Eugene Allen, a real White House butler who started in 1952 with Harry Truman when he couldn't use white bathrooms in the South. He left in 1986 with Ronald Reagan and was a guest at a state dinner.

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Allen's White House service ran parallel to the civil rights movement -- a nation tormented by a new kind of political turmoil. Presidents tried to look away, and then were forced to intervene. In fleeting moments, black servants served another purpose, becoming a window on the chaos.

CBS News talked to the movie's writer, Danny Strong, and one of its consultants, Rochon, the nation's first black White House chief usher, who supervised the butlers and all other White House service personnel.

Strong said, "The film is very much inspired by the story of Eugene Allen, but the Gaines family is a fictionalized family, but they're representative of so many truths, of so many different people."

But the details about the butlers is authentic, according to Rochon. "The scenes in the kitchen and the joking and the butlers' quarters," he said. "All that's pretty authentic."

The movie also captures the fear within a black family about change. Disagreements over civil rights tear the fictionalized Gaines family apart.

Eugene Allen, the real life butler, did not experience such family strife, but he became a vehicle to express it. Strong said, "In many ways, the mindset of the butler is similar to that of the president, which is to that, 'We're kind of scared of what's happening here'."

A White House history buff before and after his service, Rochon knows the transformation was real. He said, "They were converted from what was happening to the butler's son and what he experienced and being jailed and beaten and bitten by dogs and watered down with fire hoses."

Rochon met Allen, the real life butler, when he came to visit him at the White House. Allen and other black butlers sparred with previous white ushers over better pay and promotions. Allen had to see the first black chief usher. "He was actually shocked when I extended my hand and reached out to him and told him what an honor it was for me to meet him," Rochon said.

Now President Obama runs the White House -- and the entire nation. Allen lived to see the day, and cast the most memorable ballot of his life. Allen is deceased now, and Rochon is retired. He occasionally tends his scrapbook, and consults on a movie about his story and our history.

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