Looking ahead to the Roosevelts

One of the many wonderful aspects of blogging for KACV-TV is that I get an advance look at some of the fabulous public affairs programming that will be televised across the Texas Panhandle.

I got a peek this week at a project that Ken Burns is assembling for public TV viewers. It’s a special to be aired in 2014 on the Roosevelt family … specifically on Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The three of them collectively represent one of the more influential troikas in public life throughout the first two-thirds of the 20th century. They also embody public service, love of country and fierce competitiveness. Two of them, of course, were married to each other, but Franklin and Eleanor also actually shared family lineage.

Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to become president. He was 42 years of age when President William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, N.Y. As vice president, TR ascended to the highest office in the land, was elected in his own right in 1904, stepped aside and then sought to regain the presidency in 1912, running as a progressive candidate on the Bull Moose ticket.

But he was a highly accomplished hunter and outdoorsman before becoming president. He was a military hero, serving in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and leading the famous charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba. The Panama Canal was built on his watch and this man elevated the cause of environmental protection during his time in public office.

No wonder his face is one of those carved out of stone on Mount Rushmore.

TR’s cousin Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression. He sought to jump-start the economy with seemingly countless public works projects. He also sought to reshape government, much to the chagrin of politicians who considered him to be equal parts tyrant and president.

World War II began in Europe in September 1939 and slowly the United States was drawn into that horrific conflict. FDR aided the British in their fight against the Nazis. Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked us and Roosevelt sought and received a congressional declaration of war against Japan and later, Germany and Italy.

FDR died a relatively young man, as did cousin Teddy. He didn’t live to see the end of the war, as he died in April 1945 in Georgia. He was just 63. But he is the only man ever to serve more than two terms as president. He was elected four times, in fact, and died just a month after his fourth inaugural.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of huge talent and skill. She stood by her husband through thick and thin during his time as president. But after his death, Eleanor embarked on a public service career that took her to positions in the United Nations, where she held form the world’s international assembly. President Harry Truman appointed her special envoy to the U.N.

Eleanor and Franklin’s life together was not without controversy, which the Burns documentary is sure to explore. There were rumors of infidelity by FDR. There was plenty of hate speech directed against the first couple. Eleanor remained somewhat stoic at least in public through it all.

Burns is no stranger to the Panhandle. He has produced “The Dust Bowl” documentary, telling of the misery brought to the High Plains by the drought of the 1930s and the shameful farming practices that helped destroy the region’s eco-system. Indeed, FDR played a part in trying to help the region recover from that catastrophe.

But the documentarian is at it again with his production on the Roosevelts. He’ll no doubt bring a healthy dose of knowledge to public television.

I’m looking forward to watching on KACV-TV how Ken Burns tells this gripping story of one of this nation’s most compelling political families.


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