Mark Felt, best known as the 1970s Watergate scandal whistleblower “Deep Throat,” played a series of roles in his daughter Joan’s life.
As a little girl, she knew him as a warm, loving daddy. When she was teenager, as her dad rose in the ranks of the FBI, he became more secretive, preoccupied and withdrawn. In her rebellious post-college years, Joan believed her father’s job made him part of the oppressive Establishment.
After Felt came to live with his daughter at her Santa Rosa home in 1992, and even after several later strokes, he was the kind and gentle man that Joan had always believed he was at heart.
Felt lived quietly here until he finally revealed his secret in a Vanity Fair article in 2005. He died of congestive heart failure in Santa Rosa in 2008 at age 95.
Today, the very private man’s story goes public once again when the new movie “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” starring Liam Neeson as Felt, premieres in New York and Los Angeles.
Chatting comfortably in the sunny kitchen of her west Santa Rosa home, Joan Felt seems like nothing more than the quiet, modest, 73-year-old college teacher she is, but like her famous father, she has another side.
As his daughter, she is also a witness to the life of a central figure in one of the most notorious political scandals in American history.
Moved to weep
Father and daughter passed countless hours talking at the same kitchen table where she spent a recent morning sharing memories of her dad’s public and private life, and her impression of the new film, created by writer and director Peter Landesman with her candid cooperation.
“Liam Neeson and Peter Landesman portrayed my dad so well that it gave me an insight into his depth of character that I hadn’t had before I went to Atlanta to watch the movie being filmed,” she said. “I got to watch the scene where my dad is in the courtroom, being accused of illegal break-ins and wiretapping of the Weather Underground and I watched him perform for 30 seconds, and I started weeping from the core of my being. I never knew what he was up against.”
Joan Felt was born in Washington, D.C. Her father was transferred more than a dozen times during her youth to cities all over the country, before he and his family returned to the capital city, where he eventually rose to second-in-command at the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.
After Hoover’s death, the Nixon administration pressured the FBI to close its investigation of the break-in at the Democratic Party’s campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, leading to a cover-up and ensuing scandal that eventually ended in President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Blocked from continuing his investigation by the administration, and passed over as Hoover’s successor, a job he had long been groomed for, Felt leaked information on the crime and cover-up to Bob Woodward at the Washington Post and Sandy Smith at Time magazine. Felt’s stated aim at the time was to protect the FBI’s traditional independence from the White House.
Estranged in the ’70s
Portrayed in the film by Maika Monroe, Joan Felt plays a major role in the film even though she doesn’t appear until late in the movie, as a rebellious daughter exploring the counterculture and seeking to find herself in the 1970s.