FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt: Appearance and Reality in Films and History

hyde park

Many have played Franklin Delano Roosevelt on stage and film. Three personal favorites include Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012),

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Jon Voight in Pearl Harbor(2001)

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and Kenneth Branagh in the HBO film, Warm Springs (2005).

All I know is, every time I see some one portraying FDR, I really crave a cigarette.

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90 miles north of NYC on Rt. 9, please visit FDR’s estate of Hyde Park on the Hudson River as well as their prestigious neighbors, the Vanderbilts.  Two miles down the road from Hyde Park is Eleanor’s cottage sitting on 180 acres, Val-Kill. The architecture, grounds, and beauty of the Hudson River from up on the hill is worth the trip out of the city.

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The family estate, Mrs. Delano’s house, the side of the Vanderbilt Mansion

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Val-Kill , married for forty years

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s father Elliot Roosevelt was the brother of US President Theodore Roosevelt. That makes them fifth cousins, not considered taboo.

Hyde Park on Hudson had its flaws. Historically speaking, it was more fiction than fact. If you want to know how, take a look at this:

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/26/167537602/hyde-park-an-fdr-portrait-thats-more-fiction-than-fact

It’s a pretty film. I can still appreciate the acting while swallowing the pound of salt. The romanization of a leader’s accomplishments and their imprint in history is common in films and textbooks and biographies. Like most biopics, the audience sees the human behind the icon. This is always interesting. The hero is human? Hard to fathom, but it’s nice to know those who seem larger than life are just as flawed as the rest of us. Take FDR, for example. Hated by Republicans, he was a fatherly savior to many Americans during the Great Depression. FDR is generally considered one of the better leaders we’ve had. He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and did so while he hid his legs made useless by polio.

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The biopic Hyde Park on Hudson shed light to his philandering ways. Sigh. Secret liaisons. So what else is new? I suppose I had high hopes for the film because I liked all the actors and were rooting for them. Laura Linney played FDR’s lover, sixth cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley. Linney narrated Daisy’s side of the story. She was the “wife” and true love of Franklin based upon boxes of letters and her journal found under Daisy’s bed when she passed at the age of 100. All the while, FDR was married to Eleanor Roosevelt for forty years. In fact, Daisy and Eleanor learned to accept their roles much like the arrangement in the film, The Duchess.

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It might explain why Eleanor moved out and lived two miles down the road with her personal secretary and life long friend, Malvina “Tommy” Thompson.  I assume it is only a matter of time before a biopic about their relationship is made. If Franklin’s companions gave him comfort and love, I’m glad Eleanor had hers. Is this the message of biopics? To show the burden of rank and privilege, or is this a universal story made interesting because they are famous?

I am a big fan of Naomi Watts, but I fear the upcoming biopic, Diana, released around the anniversary of her death will be, well, predictable.

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Didn’t I read all about it in People?

Eleanor Roosevelt

She is far more interesting than Franklin. She is my personal role model and a source of inspiration.  Orphaned, homely, privileged, isolated, educated, loyal, generous, humanitarian, and a champion for all–she managed her hardships and advocated for human rights. Thankfully, Hyde Park on Hudson showed the strength and compassion of Eleanor’s character.  You’ve probably heard her many maxims:

images             Quote Eleanor Roosevelt

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Whenever I’m scared, I think about her wisdom, and she gives me courage.

8 thoughts on “FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt: Appearance and Reality in Films and History

Add yours

  1. Wonderful post, I had forgotten how many inspirational sayings Eleanor had chalked up. There is a lovely statue of her around the corner from us on Riverside Drive. She still inspires. Thanks for keeping her alive!

    1. You should pass. They made the King and Queen look like idiots. As an American Anglophile, I was insulted. Whenever I watch a film that is a hodge-podge of good and bad, I try to take away the good from the film. Bill Murray was a suprise in the role, and I liked him in it.

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