Legendary documentary film maker Ken Burns says his new film on Franklin, Eleanor and Teddy Roosevelt is “my best work yet.” That is how Burns characterized his upcoming PBS mini-series during a presentation on The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, he gave at his alma mater, Hampshire College.
The Roosevelts, Burn told this journalist privately, is an even more personal and, at least for him, more moving film than even his great signature work, The Civil War. The 14-hour, seven part mini-series, which will be shown over the course of a week starting Sunday, September 14, took even more work than his previously acknowledged masterpiece. Burns says he and his team went through over 25,000 letters and other documents, as well as thousands of hours of film footage to piece together the story of two presidents and a woman who Burns believes in a different time could have been a third. His admiration for Presidents Franklin Delano and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and Franklin's wife, Eleanor, is evident when Burns speaks of them, but this is no slavish homage. Burns opens the closets, shows the skeletons and shines a light on the less heroic and at times unsavory side of what he believes is the most important family in American history.
Burns follows Teddy Roosevelt from and through an over-active boyhood, and into the jungles not only of wartime Cuba but also the even more perilous ones of New York and Washington politics. Teddy charges up San Juan Hill, digs the Panama Canal, creates the National Park system, busts trusts and breaks up monopolies, all while hunting and boxing and riding and doing other “manly” sports – most of which he does to prove to himself and others the stuff of which he is made. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gets similar treatment, as Burns catalogs his career from running the Navy in World War I, through his battle with polio, and on to the governor's mansion in Albany and finally the White House. The New Deal and World War II – as well as FDR's love affairs and backdoor bargaining – are presented honestly and without any whitewash.
It is with Eleanor, however, that Burns really shines. Teddy's niece and Franklin's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt was more than just a first lady; she was even more than FDR's partner, as Burns explains. Eleanor, says Burns with evident regard, was the spirit that moved and challenged Franklin; the true progressive who pushed her otherwise pragmatic politico of a husband to do great things. Burns' respect and admiration for Eleanor – for whom he says jokingly he cast “a little known actress named Meryl Streep” to do the voiceovers, comes across in every clip in which the great lady is featured.
Burns is also a bit in awe of Ms. Streep for her ability to channel Eleanor so perfectly that it seems like Mrs. Roosevelt herself is speaking. Although no sound recordings exist of Teddy, Burns says Paul Giamatti has given as accurate as possible a voice to the president who spoke not that softly, especially when carrying a “big stick.” As for FDR, Burns told his Hampshire College audience with a laugh, who else could he have chosen but Edward Herrman – after all, he quipped “Edward IS Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History will premiere on CPTV Connecticut Public Television and most other PBS stations at 8 pm Eastern Time on Sunday, September 14. , and will continue nightly in six additional two-hour installments until the mini-series concludes on Saturday, September 20.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with nearly 40 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include War and Peace, The Napoleonic Wars and the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln.
To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
…or his blog at http://markgmclaughlin.blogspot.com/
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref...
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