Rare Home Movies Show the Private Lives of the Roosevelts
The 16mm film depicts the first couple picnicking, boating, and socializing with their friends, family and advisors
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously did his very best to control his public image. So a new trove of home videos released by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, New York, is something to get excited about. And the 11 reels of 16mm home movies certainly don't disappoint with their tantalizing glimpses into the personal life of the press-savvy 32nd president.
Michael E. Ruane at The Washington Post reports that the footage was donated to the museum last year by Barbara Jacques, the grandniece of Marguerite A. “Missy” LeHand, Roosevelt’s longtime aide. Most of the films were shot by LeHand and date roughly between 1932 and 1941, though some of the film may have been given to her.
The silent, candid footage, shot in both color and black-and-white, present Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in a domestic light, going out with friends and advisors and family. There are images of the Roosevelts driving around Hyde Park, going on picnics, competing in egg races, sailing and fishing, ice skating, knitting and swimming. There are even images of FDR sitting poolside at the polio clinic he helped establish in Warm Springs, Georgia, with his emaciated legs visible—a rare, unguarded moment for a man whose Secret Service was in the practice of seizing any footage that made the image-conscious president appear vulnerable.
The reels play something like a who’s who of the 1930s. The cast of characters include the Crown Princess Martha of Norway, and the Duke of Windsor, as well as Louis Howe “the man behind Roosevelt,” Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., FDR’s trusted advisor Harry Hopkins, the president’s personal secretary Grace Tully, and, on a few occasions, Missy Lehand herself.
In total, the footage runs about 90 minutes. Nine of the films are available on a YouTube playlist, while the other two are only available for viewing at the museum since they contain copyrighted material. Ruane reports that most of the footage has never been seen before, which should make historians especially excited.
Jacques, now 73, tells Ruane that she had the films in her basement in Virginia for years and years. But it wasn’t until recently that she had the film transferred to DVD and realized what a treasure trove she had on her hands. “People were telling me how much money I could get . . . if I sold it,” she says. “And I thought, ‘You know what? That’s not where Missy would want it. Missy would want it at the library.’ She loved the Roosevelts".
Jacques hopes that by donating the footage, more people will be able to enjoy the home videos, and also might familiarize themselves more with Missy, whom the director of the Library previously characterized as one of the most important woman "who is perhaps least remembered" of the FDR administration.
This isn’t the only exciting piece of Roosevelt film to emerge in the past few years. In 2013, a researcher from Indiana unearthed a rare 8-second clip from the National Archives showing Roosevelt in his wheelchair, which may be the only film footage of the president using his chair. And, earlier this summer, the National Archives released a home movie from the 1935 White House Easter Egg Roll showing Roosevelt walking. Not only is it one of the few pieces of film to capture the commander-and-chief walking, it is probably the earliest footage of the long-standing Easter Egg Roll. The footage, just a few minutes in length, was shot by Nevada rancher Fred Hill who attended the event and, besides showing images of FDR walking, shows Eleanor Roosevelt greeting guests, and even includes a brief glimpse of a Zeppelin above the White House.