If you’ve been watching the epic documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” on PBS, then you’ve probably come to know Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor as more than just the iconic leaders of America’s coming of age. They were complicated characters who suffered immense loss, and who cultivated the strength and confidence to lead the country through periods of great transition and great tragedy.
Filmmaker Ken Burns said it’s that attitude that inspired confidence in an entire nation. He described what he had learned about them while making the film. he spoke to the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner:
“[Franklin Roosevelt] has the same enthusiasm and confidence he had when he was a little boy. Theodore Roosevelt is trying to escape the demons. He’s always running faster than those demons. And Eleanor is very much like that, but she’s also saying, get up every day and do something that you don’t want to do. It’s facing your fears. And what’s what all of them did in a way, and they did it in an active way that they instilled confidence in others.”
But would these historical characters succeed if they were in today’s hot political climate? Burns doesn’t think so.
“Theodore is very hot for this cool medium of television. He’d have lots of Howard Dean moments,” he said. “And Franklin Roosevelt, you know, in a wheelchair, we’d be vying, all the networks, for the most, you know, the stressed-out look, as he unlocks and stands up. … I think if we saw it we’d be saying, he couldn’t possibly lead us through a crisis. Well, this guy has done more than anyone else in terms of crises except maybe Abraham Lincoln.”
In Wednesday night’s episode, we see exactly that — FDR preparing the U.S. to enter a world war just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Watch an excerpt from our conversation with Burns, above, and look out for the full interview on Wednesday night’s PBS NewsHour. And you can watch the entire series “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” on PBS and online.