Hillenbrand, "Seabiscuit" Crew Join President Bush at White House Screening
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 7/23/2003 6:42:06 PM
Last Updated: 7/24/2003 12:35:17 PM

Laura Hillenbrand, whose blockbuster bestseller, "Seabiscuit," opens in theaters Friday, attended a White House screening Monday night, hosted by the President and First Lady. Also present were many of the film's stars and producers, including jockey Gary Stevens and Steven Spielberg.

"It was without question the best night of my life," Hillenbrand said. "The whole evening was intimate and easygoing, and everyone seemed as thrilled as I was to be there.

"Shortly after arriving, I was sitting down, digging through my purse, my head spinning from having just met William Macy, when I noticed someone standing right in front of me. I looked up and it was the President, offering his hand and saying, 'Please don't get up. I'm George Bush. You wrote a wonderful book.' I had a wonderful conversation with him, telling him about how Michael Howard, a Marine Corps Colonel who served as my biggest source for the book, had just won the Bronze Star for service in Iraq.

"As I was trying to recover from that amazing conversation, another familiar face came up, with another hand extended. It was Steven Spielberg. I spoke to him for quite a while, and he introduced me to his friends. I also finally had a chance to chat with Gary Stevens. I asked him if the experience had been fun. He said 'it was like winning the Kentucky Derby.'"

Following dinner, everyone filed into the screening room, which had been converted from a bowling alley. President Bush stood up before the audience and said, "Laura and I want to thank all of you for coming. I want to thank the director, the producers, and the actors, but most of all I want to thank Laura Hillenbrand for writing a fantastic book about America," which elicited a round of applause. "I turned crimson," Hillenbrand said.

Hillenbrand was forced to leave the screening early due to a case of vertigo. She was joined in the reception room by director Gary Ross, and later by Tobey Maguire, who had arrived late, having flown in from filming "The Late Show With David Letterman."

"After the movie, The President came out with tears in his eyes," Hillenbrand said. "One of the staffers was crying very hard. The First Lady brought me little cookies in the shape of horses, and sat with me for dessert. Most people stayed another hour or so; everyone seemed joyful and no one wanted to leave. We were all passing around cameras, taking pictures of each other. At the end of the night, after nearly everyone had left, a Secret Service agent that Gary (Ross) and I had been talking to earlier offered to take Tobey and me, with his girlfriend and my boyfriend, on a tour, and we eagerly accepted. We went up to the Oval Office and had time to look around, which was thrilling. Tobey had to catch a plane, and it was very late, so we finally and reluctantly left. Suffice it to say that my feet haven't yet touched the ground."

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