I finished watching Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. A fair amount of liberal hagiography for FDR and, especially, Eleanor, but on the whole I liked it, and I will review it in a future post. However, I was struck by a vignette that occurred in the final episode last night.
By 1944 FDR was in visibly failing health. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Dr. Howard Bruenn, a Navy Lieutenant Commander and cardiologist, followed him everywhere. He recommended extended bed rest which was an impossible diagnosis for a Commander-in-Chief during a World War.
At the Quebec Conference with Churchill, in the evening for entertainment, FDR had the film Wilson (1944) shown. A film biopic of the life of Woodrow Wilson from his election as Governor of New Jersey in 1910, the movie is largely forgotten today. It won several Oscars, but was a financial flop, people being too preoccupied with the current World War to want to see a movie about the first one. Alexander Knox, relegated through most of his career in character actor roles, does a good job in the role of Wilson. Making the dessicated, pedantic Wilson into a heroic figure was difficult, but the film, taking a fast and loose approach with much of the history of the period, and with the help of a majestic musical score, accomplishes the feat. It is definitely worth watching.
FDR had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Wilson and was always an admirer of his. He sat enthralled by the film. Churchill, never having had any use for Wilson, left half way through the film and went to bed. As FDR watched the conclusion of the film, FDR saw Wilson struck down by a stroke and his League of Nations rejected by the Senate. FDR was heard to mutter at this point quietly to himself, “By God, that’s not going to happen to me.” After the film Dr. Bruenn took the President’s blood pressure and found it dangerously high. Less than seven months later, FDR died of a massive stroke. Unlike Wilson he largely accomplished what he had wished to accomplish, although, also unlike Wilson, he did not live to see American victory.