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Joshua "Josh" Lyman
Jewish White House Advisor on West Wing Show
Not Really Jewish - Christian Name is Bradley Whitford

Joshua "Josh" Lyman is a fictional character played by Bradley Whitford on the television drama The West Wing. For the majority of the series, he was White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Political Adviser in the Josiah Bartlet administration. Although he focused on domestic legislative affairs, the episode "Memorial Day" reveals that Josh holds the foreign diplomatic rank equivalent to that of a three-star general.

Josh is portrayed as having one of the sharpest minds on the President's staff; he is a witty, somewhat cocky, boyishly charming know-it-all. He is described by Will Bailey as "After Leo...the finest political mind in the party" ("Opposition Research").

Creation and development

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, originally wrote Josh Lyman with long-time friend Bradley Whitford in mind. An early draft of the pilot script, dated February 6, 1998, describes Josh as being aged 38 and "a highly regarded brain."[1] After reading the script, Whitford says he loved the character immediately and "desperately wanted" the part. While his audition impressed the show's executive producers, with Sorkin describing it as "simply the best audition for anything I'd ever seen,"[2] Warner Brothers casting director John Levey was not convinced Whitford had enough sex appeal to play a lead character and executive producer Thomas Schlamme was concerned that he did not have enough depth to carry off the more dramatic scenes. After a second audition, Whitford was offered the role of Sam Seaborn. Whitford called Sorkin for help. "I just said, 'Aaron, I just feel this very strongly. This isn't about me wanting a job. This is the only time in my life I will play this card. I am this guy; I am not the other guy.'" Sorkin was impressed, and soon after Whitford was cast as Josh.[3] In the very early episodes of the series, Josh was portrayed as overly tough and outspoken, but had mellowed by the end of season one, becoming more eager and simplistic in his personal demeanor, even switching places with Toby as the "hotheaded" one, as well as becoming much more markedly disorganized.

In researching for the role, Whitford says he found former Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos's book All Too Human very helpful, "just because it gave a sense of the sort of smell and the texture and the level of intimacy with the president, which I was just unaware of."[4]

Josh shares his name with a character in the Garry Trudeau cartoon strip Doonesbury, a White House deputy cabinet liaison [5] encountered by Doonesbury regular Joanie Caucus. A framed copy of a Doonesbury strip hangs in Josh's office.[6] The character is said to be based in part on Rahm Emanuel,[7] although executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell denies this claim.[8] In the season 1 episode, 'Mandatory Minimums', Josh is called "Rambo" by one of the staff after an intense telephone conversation.

Character biography

Personal history

Josh comes from Westport, Connecticut. A Fulbright scholar,[9] he graduated cum laude from Harvard University (where he worked at the Harvard Crimson), and Yale Law School,[10][11] graduating c. 1984.[12] He has been known to boast that he scored a 760 on the verbal portion of his SAT,[13] although he claims, when trying to explain his lack of skill in serious relationships, his IQ does not "break the bank," so he had to work hard in college and law school to do well.[14]

Josh is a non-practicing Jew; his grandfather was held in the Nazi concentration camp Birkenau during World War II.[15] He had an elder sister, Joanie, who died when he was a child. She was babysitting him when a fire broke out in her home, and she died trying to put out the fire while Josh ran outside - an event which haunted Josh.[16] Josh is an avid New York Mets fan, once trying to finish all of his work quickly in order to travel to a Mets intrasquad spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida [17] His father, Noah Lyman, was a litigator and an old friend of Leo McGarry. Although Josh thinks he would have preferred grandchildren to a son in politics, Noah was proud that Josh was working for Bartlet and often bragged about his son to his friends and neighbors. He died in 1998 on the night of the Illinois primary, after developing an unexpected pulmonary embolism while undergoing chemotherapy for an unspecified form of cancer.[18] His mother splits her time between Westport and West Palm Beach, Florida, before she sells the Connecticut house.[19]
Professional history

Before working for President Josiah Bartlet, Josh worked as the Chief of Staff for Congressman Earl Brennan, floor manager for the Minority Whip,[10] Democratic legislative director in the House of Representatives and Democratic floor director in the Senate.[20] Josh later became a staffer for then-Senator John Hoynes, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President in 1998. However, Hoynes's tendency to go against Josh's advice, and to prioritize politics over Hoynes's own ideas and convictions frustrates Josh.

Thirteen weeks before the New Hampshire primary, Josh receives a visit from Leo McGarry, an old friend of his father's. At Leo's request, Josh travels to New Hampshire to hear Bartlet speak. He is so impressed by Bartlet's prioritizing conviction and honesty over popularity, that he immediately leaves Hoynes' campaign to work for Bartlet; he also recruits his old friend Sam Seaborn to the campaign.[21]

Shortly after joining the Bartlet for America campaign, Josh hires recent college dropout Donnatella Moss as his assistant despite her apparent lack of qualification.[18] Donna remained as Josh's assistant for most of the series since then. A largely unspoken friendship, and romantic tension, exist between the two for the majority of the series.

Josh's defection from the Hoynes campaign later leads to an odd working relationship with his former boss when Josh is appointed President Bartlet's deputy chief of staff and Hoynes, his Vice President. While tension clearly exists between them, Josh often comes to Hoynes' defense (though he also gives tacit support to an abortive plan to cut Hoynes from the 2002 ticket in favor of Admiral Fitzwallace, and it's shown that Hoynes' top defender amongst the senior staffers is Sam which possibly due to Sam's staunch idealism and strict loyalty to those around him).

In the first season finale, Josh is critically wounded by gunfire from white supremacists during an assassination attempt on African-American presidential aide Charlie Young. Josh undergoes fourteen hours of surgery and is subsequently put through intensive psychotherapy with psychiatrist Stanley Keyworth after displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including raising his voice to President Bartlet in the Oval Office and breaking a window in his apartment.

Though idealistic like every other member of the Bartlet administration, Josh is perhaps the most willing to resort to less than honorable tactics and has, on occasion, been known to suggest solutions and methods that others in the staff see as less than honorable, as befits his role as the senior staff's attack dog. It is not unknown for Josh to resort to threats, intimidation, lies and even blackmail, to achieve what needs to be done for the Bartlet administration.

Josh's position in the Bartlet administration is temporarily compromised after he leaks information to the press about an anonymous hold on military promotions placed by Idaho Senator Chris Carrick. Carrick had been trying to secure a promise from the White House that a missile defense system would be built in his home state, but Josh's competitive nature will not allow him to make a compromise. After the leak, Senator Carrick releases the hold but resigns from the Democratic Party, informing Josh that he will seek re-election as a Republican and citing Josh as a key reason for his defection.

The embarrassment to the administration and to the party leads Leo to leave Josh out of key budget negotiations, negotiations which eventually result in a complete shutdown of the federal government. Josh soon finds himself stripped of much of his political authority, as freelance political advisor Angela Blake takes up many of his duties. He eventually returns from isolation after the First Lady pointedly asks President Bartlet "Where's Josh?" Josh is the only senior staffer to support the President's firm stand against Speaker Jeff Haffley; the President's eventual political victory over Haffley during this conflict is largely due to Josh's advice.

Towards the end of Bartlet's administration, John Hoynes publishes an autobiography as the first step in his return to politics; the book devotes many pages to praising Josh, whom Hoynes attempts to recruit as manager for Hoynes's presidential campaign. Josh decides that he doesn't want Hoynes (or current VP Bob Russell) to be President, and instead convinces Texas Congressman Matt Santos to run for president, much in the same way Leo McGarry recruited Bartlet eight years prior.

Josh leaves his position at the White House to run the dark horse Presidential campaign of Congressman Matt Santos of Texas; leaving his legislate portfolio to be taken up by Clifford Calley. The Santos campaign initially loses the Iowa caucus, comes in third in the New Hampshire primary at 19% and goes on to win a come-from-behind victory in the California primary. Santos wins the Texas primary and the final New Jersey primary by a slim margin.

Going into the Democratic National Convention no candidate has enough delegates to win the nomination, with delegates split between front runner Vice President Bob Russell, Rep. Santos and former Vice President John Hoynes. At the convention Pennsylvania Governor Eric Baker attempts an upstart campaign from the convention floor that further fractures the delegates. Ultimately Santos wins the nomination after a inspiring convention speech that was expected to be his concession, and behind the scenes maneuvering by President Bartlet. Josh is influential in recruiting Leo McGarry as the vice presidential nominee, and rises to become campaign manager for the Santos/McGarry Campaign. (The Santos nomination is similar to the struggles that Governor Bartlet had in his dark horse victory over Senator Hoynes during the 1998 campaign.)

After Matt Santos is elected President of the United States in a narrow victory over Republican Senator Arnold Vinick, Josh becomes the White House Chief of Staff of the incoming Santos Administration. In his last appearance in the series, he is meeting privately with President Santos in the Oval Office.

Relationships with other characters and with the series

Leo McGarry

John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, described his character's relationship with Josh as a mentoring one, with Leo regarding Josh as a younger version of himself.[22] Leo was an old friend of Josh's father, Noah Lyman. It is this connection that Leo used to get Josh to travel and see then Gov. Bartlet speak and later to join Governor Bartlet's presidential campaign in the first place.[23]

Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan refers to Josh as "McGarry's boy,"[24] and Bartlet believes that Josh would throw out the baby, the bath water and the bathtub in order to avoid letting Leo down.[25] Both have shown strong loyalty to one another, with Josh going to great lengths to prevent damaging details of Leo's past drug addiction and alcoholism from being made public[26] and Leo supporting Josh as he struggles with post traumatic stress disorder, promising that "as long as I got a job, you got a job."[27] After Leo's death, President Bartlet says that Leo thought of Josh as a son.[28]
Donna Moss

Josh's assistant Donna Moss, portrayed by Janel Moloney, was originally slated to be a minor recurring character; however, the chemistry between the two actors caught producers' attention early on. After seeing Moloney and Whitford perform together in the pilot, Aaron Sorkin added a scene in which Donna argues with Josh to change his shirt before attending a meeting, eventually convincing him by saying that "All the girls think you look really hot in this shirt." Although Mandy Hampton was originally intended to be Josh's romantic interest, by the end of the show's first season the character had been written out and the role taken over by Donna.

During the first four seasons, the relationship remains in stasis, with neither daring to make any real romantic move on the other. Sorkin admits that he was more inclined to move the relationship forward, but every time he discussed the possibility fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme would shout, "No! Wait another year!" Besides, adds Sorkin, "Sexual and romantic tension is, to me, much more fun than taking the tension away by having the sex and romance."[29]

Other characters occasionally speculate on the pair's relationship. When Donna encourages Josh to ask Joey Lucas on a date, Joey guesses that Donna is attempting to cover her own feelings for Josh through misdirection.[30] During the same episode Josh and Sam Seaborn discuss why Donna was being so pushy about asking out Joey Lucas; Josh comments that he wonders why Donna wouldn't be jealous to which Sam asked if Josh gets jealous when Donna has dates. Josh says he doesn't but does everything in his power to stop or hinder the dates from happening. During her first meeting with Josh, Amy Gardner asks him if he is dating his assistant,[31] and later asks Donna directly, "Are you in love with Josh?", we do not see Donna's answer.[32] When Donna recruits Josh to help her get a date with Jack Reese, Josh's behavior leads Jack to wonder whether he is getting "in between anything".[33]

Following Sorkin and Schlamme's departure from the series at the end of the fourth season, the relationship takes some new turns, with Donna attempting to broaden her horizons past Josh and pursue her own social life outside of the White House. When Donna is badly injured in a terrorist attack in Gaza, Josh rushes overseas to keep vigil at her bedside at a military hospital in Germany. In the sixth season episode "Impact Winter," Donna finally breaks loose and quits her job as assistant to Josh, seeing no chance of career advancement. She begins working for Vice President Bob Russell's presidential campaign. Around the same time, Josh leaves his job to work on Matt Santos' campaign. This puts Donna and Josh in direct confrontation as their candidates battle each other for the Democratic Nomination. Santos beats Russell for the Democratic nomination in the season 6 finale "2162 Votes." Donna wants to return as Josh's deputy in season 7 premiere "The Ticket," but he finds himself forced to reject her as she is on record trashing his candidate while she was still working for the other team. During their conversation he reveals that he misses her "every day." Donna is eventually hired anyway and Josh gets over his objections when he realizes her past working for Russell is not a problem for the Santos campaign.

In the season seven episode "The Cold," Josh and Donna kiss passionately as she brings him the good news that Congressman Santos has caught up to Vinick and that they are tied in the national tracking polls. Josh apologizes, saying the kiss was "inappropriate", but Donna says "it was bound to happen sometime." Donna talks to Will, who says pursuing a relationship with Josh wouldn't be inappropriate, and to talk to C.J. about the matter. Later in the episode, Donna discreetly leaves the key to her hotel room on the table for Josh, but Edith Ortega notices the key before Josh can retrieve it and returns the key to Donna. In "Election Day," Josh and Donna consummate their relationship, sleeping together twice, both times on her initiative. Donna gives Josh four weeks to figure out "what they want from each other." She insists that if this cannot happen within four weeks, their relationship will remain in a constant state of ambiguity, which is not what Donna wants. After talking to Lou as well as his deputy-of-choice Sam Seaborn, Josh realizes that he desperately needs to take a break from work. At the end of the episode, Josh and Donna go on vacation together.

In the series finale "Tomorrow," Josh and Donna wake up in bed together on the morning of Inauguration Day – ten weeks after Donna set the four week deadline.
Sam Seaborn

Sam is Josh's best friend, to the point that Sam considers him a brother.[34] After Leo recruited Josh to the campaign, Josh's first stop was to recruit Sam (who was working, unhappily, at a law firm) to join them. Although from opposite coasts and possessing distinctly different personalities (Sam is polite, organized, and awkward while Josh is more harried, aggressive, and cocky) the two manage to be very much in sync and possess a common intellect, sense of humor and idealism. As two of the youngest members of the senior staff they occasionally get themselves in trouble for various schemes and incidents, usually with the best intentions. Both of them share a very similar gap between their professional and personal competence—they are both portrayed as immature, simple-minded and lacking in common sense when it comes to unimportant issues, but in contrast, are extremely effective and brilliant at their jobs. Much like the relationship between Jed Bartlet and Leo McGarry, Josh and Sam's friendship extends far past their role as co-workers and the two are each other's confidants on personal matters and relationship troubles. They even spend some holidays together when not going home.[35]

After Sam leaves the White House at the end of Bartlet's first term to run for Congress, the role of Josh's counterpart is taken over by Toby Ziegler although that relationship becomes frayed due to Josh also leaving the White House to run the presidential campaign of Matthew Santos. After Santos is elected, once again Josh quickly resolves to include Sam (who lost his Congressional bid) by offering him the position of Deputy Chief of Staff, which Sam ultimately accepts, though after giving a frazzled Josh an ultimatum: get much-needed R&R for a few weeks or watch Sam return to California and never come back. Josh and Sam's last scene shows them together in the Oval Office for the new President's first briefing.
Toby Ziegler

Josh has a complex relationship with Toby throughout the show's run. The two do not have much in common (one of their few unifying traits, their mutual Judaism, is negated by Toby's tendency to imply Josh doesn't really count as Jewish) and are often at odds on policy matters, Josh being more pragmatic while Toby is more idealistic. They still respect one another tremendously, though, and tend to be equally politically ambitious. When Josh leaves the White House to run the Santos campaign, he discovers that Toby has been informally advising dark-horse candidate Sen. Ricky Rafferty and has given her position statements originally drawn up by the Bartlet campaign. In a confrontation that turns physical, Toby accuses Josh of abandoning Bartlet at a time when he was needed. Obliquely in that conversation, and more explicitly in the next season, Toby admits to Josh that one reason for his anger was that he wanted to run a campaign with Josh. Toby was also affected by the recent suicide of his brother, who was diagnosed with cancer. Toby complained that he could have had years, but instead he just walked away; unable to express his anger at his brother for abandoning him, he projected it onto Josh. Their anger expressed and confronted, the two appear to repair their professional relationship, and Josh seeks Toby's advice covertly throughout the general election campaign.
Will Bailey

When Will started working for the White House Josh and Will developed a working friendship and was not initially angered by Will's defection to work with the Vice President. Will acknowledges Josh as "the finest mind in the Democratic party" second only to Leo McGarry and as such lobbies Josh to run the Vice President's campaign. As Will put it he wanted Josh to make the Vice President a candidate that America would vote for and when the Vice President won the Presidency the two would work together to make him a worthy President. Josh turns down the offer but the two work together to stop what Josh views as a faulty Patient's Bill of Rights that the Republican Congress was trying to pass which Will was against mainly because it was a campaign subject that he wished the Vice President to address. However it is through working against the bill that Josh realizes how politically savvy Congressman Matt Santos is which leads to Josh picking him as his "fantasy candidate" for the Presidency several episodes later. However relationship between Josh and Will becomes considerably antagonistic during the '06 primaries when Josh became the campaign manager to Texas Congressman Matt Santos as Santos ran for the Democratic Nomination just as Will's candidate Vice President Bob Russell ran for the party's nomination. Will can't understand why Josh would pour that political talent into backing a candidate with such little chance of success, while Josh questions Will's integrity, both for backing an unworthy candidate, and for his methods. The two eventually come to a head as the Democratic National Convention heats up, the two spark an argument just prior to the convention in the Roosevelt Room in the west wing of the White House which irritates Leo McGarry who had become the Convention Chair under the orders of President Bartlet. Despite the tough politicking between the two, their aggression disappears once Santos is named the Democratic Presidential Nominee and the rivalry becomes moot. Following the nomination of Santos, the two are seen drinking beers together in the backroom of the convention.

C.J. Cregg

C.J. trusts Josh the most of all the senior staffers, and therefore Josh shows great affection for her. She often asks Josh to look into questions posed in her press room, which Josh almost always does. The duo does tend to have disagreements, however, because Josh is more arrogant while C.J. is more personable and caring. Josh technically ranks higher than C.J. in the White House chain of command, but that doesn't stop C.J. from getting in the face of Josh such as when he replies to a blog called "Lemon Lyman", causing a press stir.
President Bartlet

Throughout the series, Bartlet (along with Leo) appears as a fatherly figure to Josh. Although flashbacks reveal that President Bartlet initially had trouble remembering Josh's name and telling him apart from his other advisors, the President develops a special affection for Josh and even refers to Josh as his son in the season two finale Two Cathedrals. When Josh's father died, Josh booked a plane trip back to Connecticut when Bartlet made a surprise appearance at the airport terminal. Bartlet offers his condolences and asks Josh if he wants him to go to Connecticut with him, to which a visibly moved Josh says no. Josh tells Bartlet that his father was proud to have him working on the campaign, citing that his father wanted Bartlet to win the election. Bartlet regards his young Deputy Chief of Staff as an integral part of the machine that makes the White House run properly; the brain behind the political strategic planning of the administration. On one occasion, he jokingly remarks to his friend Leo McGarry that Josh "frankly, is a lot smarter than you." When Josh tells the President he wants to leave the Bartlet administration to run the Santos campaign, he says he had never imagined having the conversation, and tells Leo that he doesn't "know how to tell him." During the primary and general election, Josh worked to keep Santos from making any comments that would show Bartlet in any form of negative light. An example of this is very early in the campaign, Bartlet gave Josh some New Hampshire dropout numbers for Santos to use when talking about education, urging Josh to have Santos say Bartlet hadn't done enough. Immediately after the conversation, Josh burned the numbers.
President Santos

When Josh first meets then Congressman Matt Santos he is impressed by his conviction and sees in him the same willingness to put his beliefs before political profit as he did in President Bartlet. Santos at that point was ready to leave Washington and national politics to go back to Houston and spend more time with his family. When Josh gets caught up between offers from both major democratic candidates for the presidential nomination 2006, Vice President Bob Russell and former Vice President John Hoynes, he decides that he doesn't want to work for either of them. After a discussion with his mentor Leo McGarry Josh discovers that he already found his guy, Congressman Santos. He flies down to Houston to pitch Santos his plan to make him President of the United States and after a few days Santos accepts by telling Josh "I'm in, if you're in with me". The two start a close relationship which appears to be complicated when they got into a number of fights, but it comes across very clear that they care for each other, like in the Season 6 episode "La Palabra" when Josh urged Santos not to put his personal financial future at risk just to continue the campaign. During the general elections campaign 2006 Santos seems to be ready to fire Josh as Campaign manager in "The Wedding" but he keeps him on and ends up winning the elections. In "Election Day Part II", just after the final state (Nevada) was called, Santos looks at Josh across the room and thanks him, acknowledging that Josh was the major architect behind his victory. Despite their close relationship Santos has his own mind and disagrees with Josh at times due to Josh's willingness to resort to dirty politicking (early on in the Democratic Primaries) and when Santos passes Josh over to run his Presidential transition team (however Santos argues that it kept Josh from "saying no" to the people Josh would later have to deal with in his capacity as Santos's Chief of Staff). Despite this Santos considers Josh his top advisor (akin to Leo McGarry to Jed Bartlet) and tends to listen to Josh more often than not (examples would be when Josh recommended Leo McGarry as Santos's running-mate and also when Josh told Santos not to meddle in the Speakership race). Another example of the connection the two have is shown when Santos begins to have concern for Josh's well-being when Josh seems to overwork himself during the transition. Santos questions Donna Moss about Josh's personal life and asks her whether Josh is seeing anyone or ever has any fun. When Josh decides to take a vacation, Santos remarks that he would "drive Josh to the airport himself if it didn't require a motorcade". In the final episode Josh assumes his new position as White House Chief of Staff.

Increased focus in the series

As the series shifted focus from the Bartlet administration to the Santos campaign during the final two seasons, Josh was removed from the "senior staff" ensemble and became a more central figure. While Bartlet and his staff began to appear in fewer and fewer episodes, Josh remained key to the storyline, and many episodes dealt with his difficulties running a campaign for an often uncooperative dark horse candidate.


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