C. J. Cregg

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C. J. Cregg
The West Wing character
CJ Cregg.jpg
Allison Janney as C. J. Cregg
First appearance"Pilot"
Last appearance"Tomorrow"
Created byAaron Sorkin
Portrayed byAllison Janney
Information
Nickname(s)Flamingo (Secret Service code name)
GenderFemale
OccupationWhite House Press Secretary (Seasons 1-6), White House Chief of Staff (Seasons 6-7)
FamilyTalmidge Cregg (father)
Molly Lapham Cregg (stepmother)
Libby Lapham (stepsister)
Hogan Cregg (niece)
Older brothers
Childrenat least one child, name unknown (born after series ends)
Relativesat least two brothers
ReligionRoman Catholic
NationalityAmerican
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley

Claudia Jean Cregg is a fictional character played by Allison Janney on the television political drama The West Wing. The role proved to be Janney's breakthrough role and earned her unanimous acclaim. For her performance, she received four Primetime Emmy Awards; twice for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series each, as well as four Screen Actors Guild Awards and four nominations for the Golden Globe Award.

From the beginning of the series until the sixth season, she is White House Press Secretary in the administration of President Josiah Bartlet. After that, she is Bartlet's chief of staff. The character is inspired by Clinton's press secretary Dee Dee Myers, who served as a consultant to the show.

Characterized by manifest integrity, quick witticisms, a fierce intellect, and compassionate stoicism, C.J. is widely acclaimed by critics and political commentators alike as the "most popular White House Press Secretary in recent memory".[1]

Creation and development[edit]

According to series creator Aaron Sorkin, casting for C.J. Cregg was a problem. While everybody had "fallen in love" with Allison Janney, she, like every other actor who had been cast at the time, was white. The cast's lack of racial diversity was making the network nervous, and another "wonderfully talented" Afro-Guyanese actress (C.C.H. Pounder) was also reading very well for the role of C.J. "Still," says Sorkin, "When we closed our eyes at night we wanted Allison. So we cast Allison."[2]

Allison Janney was casted after, Sorkin saw her in Primary Colors

The character is loosely based on Dee Dee Myers, a show consultant and former press secretary to the Clinton administration. One particular storyline in the episode "Lord John Marbury", in which C.J. is left in the dark about troop movement on the Indo-Pakistani border, is taken directly from one of Myers' experiences in the White House. Myers was kept out-of-the-loop with regard to the 1993 assassination attempt on former President George H. W. Bush and subsequently, she assured the press that there would be no more news coming out of the White House hours before the United States bombed Baghdad. Myers was upset with the resolution of this episode's plot, in which Leo McGarry brushes off C.J.'s anger by saying, "Just tell them you spoke without being informed." "This is like saying, 'I'm an idiot; you can't trust me'," says Myers. "I wanted to make her more angry. I wanted there to be some resolution, in order to preserve the strength of her character, where she calls 'the boys' on the rug." Sorkin admits that he "dropped the ball" in this instance.[3][4]

C.J.'s lip-synched performance of "The Jackal" by Ronny Jordan in the episode "Six Meetings Before Lunch" was written in after Sorkin witnessed Janney doing "some impromptu lip-synching" in her trailer on the set.[5]

Biography[edit]

C.J., a Catholic, is originally from Dayton, Ohio (like Janney in real life, as well as fellow cast member Martin Sheen). Her father, Talmidge Cregg, was a math teacher at West Dayton High School and begins suffering from Alzheimer's during Bartlet's first term in office (first mentioned in the season 3 episode "The Two Bartlets," with a more in-depth storyline in the season 4 episode "The Long Goodbye"). Her mother had died some time ago and Talmidge subsequently remarried twice, most recently a fellow teacher named Molly Lapham. C.J. also has at least two older brothers, one of whom has a teenage daughter named Hogan (whose name is the result of the brothers being "golf crazies"). Several jokes are made about C.J.'s height, particularly in an episode in which Big Bird visits the White House. In Season 6, Episode 10, a media report asserts she was the first player to dunk a basketball in Ohio high school history. She graduated from West Dayton High School, and in the season 4 episode "The Long Goodbye" (set in late 2002 or early 2003, between the Christmas and Inauguration episodes) she attends what is presumably her 20th high school reunion, making her approximately 38 years old in 2002 (34 when she joined the Bartlet campaign).

A National Merit Scholar, C.J. attended college at Williams College as indicated by the mug in her bookcase in Season 5 Episode 18. She later earned a master's degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and it is revealed in Season 1 Episode 21 that she is considered an expert in polling models; her undergraduate major is never disclosed. She was making $550,000 a year for her work at Triton Day, a prominent California public relations firm, before coming to work for Bartlet's 1998 presidential campaign for $600 a week ($31,200 a year). Coincidentally, she is fired from that job on the same day that Toby Ziegler comes to California to ask her to join the Bartlet campaign. He tells her Josiah Bartlet was impressed by the work C.J. had done at EMILY's List, then admits Bartlet has never heard of her: she is his and Leo McGarry's choice. She is less than pleased to discover that her Secret Service codename is "Flamingo", a bird which C.J. describes as being "ridiculous-looking".

During the third season, C.J. receives a series of death threats, which leads to her being placed under the protection of Secret Service agent Simon Donovan (played by Mark Harmon), with whom she becomes romantically involved. Shortly after going off-duty, Donovan is shot and killed after becoming caught up in the armed robbery of a New York City grocery store in the episode "Posse Comitatus". C.J. also has a long on-again, off-again relationship with the Washington Post's White House correspondent Danny Concannon, although C.J. feels that they should not date because it would be a conflict of interest with her job. In the seventh season (when C.J. has become chief of staff and no longer deals with the press on a daily basis) the subject is slowly revisited. At series' end, she and Danny are learning how to have a romantic relationship with each other.

In the fifth season, it is revealed that C.J. had a one-night stand with Vice President John Hoynes, who was married at the time, approximately four years before the Bartlet administration entered the White House. She tells Toby that she considers that night to be one of the greatest mistakes of her life.

C.J. succeeds Leo McGarry as White House Chief of Staff in the sixth season (halfway through Bartlet's second term) after McGarry suffers a heart attack at Camp David. She is recommended by Leo himself, giving the President a list of "just one name".

In spite of initial warmth (the pressroom gives C.J. a standing ovation when Bartlet announces her appointment), C.J. receives criticism on her appointment to the position of chief of staff because of her relative lack of foreign policy experience. While her subsequent performance as chief of staff appears at first to be procedural in nature and lacking the independent advice which McGarry brought to the position, C.J. grows into the role. The episode "The Wake Up Call" marks a significant turning point in C.J.'s relationship with both the President and her new role, when she tells Bartlet he needs to trust her to do her job after an international crisis involving Iran. By the seventh season, C.J. is as confident with her new role as she was with her old, and has learned to gauge the President's mood and when he will be most receptive of her ideas. She successfully navigates the murky waters of UN politics, setting up a UN Security Council resolution to end the (real-life) humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

After the election of Matt Santos as President of the United States, C.J. is offered any position she wants in the incoming Santos Administration by Chief of Staff-designate Josh Lyman and is later offered by President-elect Santos a job as Special Counselor to the President. This is only one of many job offers she receives, including several positions in the private sector, notably an offer by Frank Hollis (a Bill Gates/Ted Turner-like character) to manage a new $10 billion charitable organization. She initially declines, but tells Hollis the best way to spend his money is to start building proper roads in Africa in order to make it easier to get food and services to people in need, and if there is money left over to start on the plumbing. Hollis is deeply impressed with this response, particularly when C.J. admits that nobody will give Hollis credit because the task is so mundane that the media won't even notice. She feels obligated to take the position in the Santos Administration, but is convinced by Danny Concannon to do what she wants, which is to take Hollis's money and change the world.

In the opening episode of the final season, a flash-forward to the time of the dedication of the Bartlet presidential library, three years after the end of his presidency, reveals that C.J. lives in Santa Monica, California, with Concannon and their child.

Reception[edit]

Throughout the seven season run of the show, the critical reception towards C.J. remained highly positive and she is now widely regarded as one of the greatest female characters on American television. Writing for The Atlantic, John Reid says that "her capability and combination of strength and simple compassion represented the fantasy of the Bartlet White House better than anyone", the publication also ranks her as the best character from the series.[6] Although the creator, Aaron Sorkin is known for being fairly condescending and a problematic writer of women, he is acknowledged for making a shift with C.J. In their ranking of the best characters from all the television series created by Sorkin, Vulture, ranks C.J. at #2 and says; "If all the Sorkin women were as classy, self-assured, and legitimately funny (the turkey pardon!) as C.J., we'd never have had the Sorkin woman argument in the first place".[7]

Thing is, on Aaron Sorkin's hyperverbal show about the daily grind of American government—which, in the beginning, nobody really believed would work, including the cast, Janney's C. J. seemed to embody no less than the ideal modern woman: a smooth-talking, deeply intelligent, slyly sexy professional who made competence seem like the coolest quality a girl could have. Absent all the standard office-gal tropes—the bitchiness and hysteria and irrational competitiveness—C. J. was sharp and supremely human, and she regularly outshined the show's boys' club (no one else in the cast came anywhere close to Janney's Emmy count). And, oh, how elegantly C. J. could eviscerate rogue members of the press—her wit so fast you could barely see the flash of the blade. The portrayal was so convincing that when the show went off-air, Janney was offered a gig as an actual on-air political pundit.

Elle describing Janney's portrayal of C.J.[8]

C.J. is widely regarded as a feminist role model. Bustle calls her a "powerhouse in the political arena" and says "In a profession dominated by mostly males, she wasn't just a woman trying to keep up with the guys. In fact, most of the time they were trying to keep up with her".[9] "The Women of Qumar", the third episode from season three, is considered one of the most significant episodes which showcase C.J.'s strengths and takes on feminism. A kind of "I speak for all women" conviction is displayed by her in this episode, whose conversation with National Security Advisor Nancy McNally (played by Anna Deavere Smith) suggests her belief that all other female members of the administration share her perspective. The episode won Janney an Emmy, and contains what is perhaps her most impassioned speech on women's issues. It's framed as a look at C.J.'s personal, emotional side and seems largely intended as character development.[10]

Her portrayal of C.J. Cregg brought Janney a multitude of accolades. She received four Primetime Emmy Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Award, a Satellite Award and four nominations for the Golden Globe Awards, making her the most awarded cast member of the series.[8]

Homages[edit]

Allison Janney's appearance at the White House Press Briefing on April 29, 2016

On April 29, 2016, Janney made an appearance at a White House Press Briefing in place of actual Press Secretary Josh Earnest to raise awareness of opioid use disorder, and also made humorous references to "Josh getting a root canal" and her doing "The Jackal".[11]

Janney reprised her role as C.J. for the pre-taped introduction of Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Van Belle, Douglas A.; Mash, Kenneth M. (2007). A Novel Approach to Politics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. ISBN 1-56802-829-6. OCLC 71350326.
  2. ^ Sorkin, Aaron (2002). The West Wing Script Book. New York: Newmarket Press. ISBN 1-55704-499-6
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved December 14, 2007.
  4. ^ Thompson, Krissah (November 22, 2012). "Meet the players in the Petraeus scandal". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved December 14, 2007.
  6. ^ Reid, John (September 12, 2014). "A Definitive Ranking of Every Character on The West Wing". theatlantic.com. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  7. ^ Lyons, Margaret (June 22, 2012). "From Sports Night to Studio 60: Vulture Ranks Aaron Sorkin's TV Characters". vulture.com. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Bullock, Maggie (January 14, 2014). "Allison Janney Just Keeps Getting Better". elle.com. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  9. ^ Schremph, Kelly (September 23, 2014). "11 Times 'The West Wing's C.J. Cregg Was a Total Feminist". bustle.com. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  10. ^ Holdsworth, Pauline (September 23, 2014). "Women in Politics Week: "The Women of Qumar": Feminism and Imperialism in 'The West Wing'". bitchflicks.com. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  11. ^ "C.J. Cregg (aka Allison Janney) crashed the White House press briefing".
  12. ^ Knapp, JD (April 30, 2017). "Allison Janney Brings 'West Wing' Role to 'Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner'". Variety.