For some Scandal fans, Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope is as real as it gets. She's no bullshit, no judgment, and absolutely no red wine spills on her ivory wardrobe (so, she might also be wizard). What more do you need? Well, if you're like me, you need a link to the real world. Lucky for us, Shonda Rhimes plucked our beloved D.C. fixer from the actual backchannels of our nation's capital.
And while many Scandal fans are already well aware of Olivia Pope's real world inspiration Judy Smith — so much so, that Smith's book signings often have lines out the door — it's okay if you weren't totally aware of the Washington D.C. doppelganger fixing real world problems when you tuned into your favorite Shonda Rhimes soap. Here's your chance to play catch-up.
Now, imagine this post as Olivia's famous warehouse window with images forcefully taped to its surface, because I'm about to give you the run-down on Smith, starting with the fact that the impeccably white wardrobe made famous by Washington's character is not only enviable, it's inspired by Smith's own penchant for icy outerwear. If we were willing to play ABC's ridiculous weekly hashtag games, this one might go something like this: #OMGOliviaisReal? (There's a reason we don't play their ill-advised hashtag games, okay?)
Meet Judy Smith
Above is real life fixer and Pope-spiration Judy Smith with Kerry Washington. I know, I know. Your brain wants to explode right now. While she did serve as the Press Secretary for President George H. W. Bush in 1991 much like Olivia did for Fitz, Smith asserts that she was never involved in a sexy, scandalous extramarital affair with the former U.S. president and enemy of broccoli everywhere. Thank God for that. Though she does look pretty chummy with Fitz in this picture:
Kidding, of course.
She has, however, been running her own crisis management firm for the last 25 years, helping such famous screw-ups as Paula Deen, Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, and Monica Lewinsky to salvage the pieces of their images that could be saved, according to her website.
How Much of Scandal Comes From Her Life?
Well, obviously the fixer job and the fact that she's worked for a president are ripped from reality, but there are even some storylines on Scandal that stem from cases she's worked during her career.
- Amanda Tanner, Former White House Intern and Fitz' Supposed Playmate: Amanda claimed to have had an affair with the President and if this storyline doesn't remind you of a certain scandal Smith fixed — Monica Lewinsky after the Bill Clinton incident — then you weren't paying attention. Of course, the part where Amanda is murdered is where the story really diverts from its inspiration.
- Senate Majority Leader's Dirty Laundry: On Scandal, the Senate Majority Leader was revealed to have been having an affair with a young woman who was later found dead. In Scandal's D.C., Olivia represents the senator, but in a very similar scandal in real life, Smith represented the family of Chandra Levy. Levy was an intern who had an affair with Congressman Gary Condit and was later found dead.
Now all they need is a storyline about a rotund Southern chef with a propensity for putting her foot in her mouth and a quarterback who loves to make adorable animals fight each other, and it's practically reality.
Scandal Has the Smith Touch
If you didn't know there was a real Olivia Pope, you probably didn't know that she also serves as a co-executive producer and technical adviser on the series, which is probably how it gets its (usually) airtight crisis plots.
And if you want more insight as to how Smith helps with Scandal, she actually wrote a blog post on her website about working with Rhimes and the storylines involved:
The best way, of course, for managing any crisis is to avoid it in the first place. Over the next seven weeks, I want to show how the drama you see unfolding in each episode is actually representative of problems we all face everyday. The same behaviors and circumstances that lead to the extreme predicaments Olivia Pope’s clients find themselves in are also responsible for the real life crisis situations we find ourselves in from time to time. My goal is to help you apply these onscreen scenarios to your own circumstances so that you can become your own gladiator armed with the tools to warn and shield you from trouble ahead.
So, next time you settle in with your extra tall Crate & Barrel wine glass full of the good stuff and a bowl of popcorn at your side, know that even though much of Scandal's craziness is plucked from dramatic twist guru Rhimes' beautiful mind, it all stems from the very real life of one very in-demand lady.
Cheers to that.