Fact or Fiction: Inside Episode 5
Was the President infatuated with Norway’s Crown Princess? Learn more about their intimate friendship, what Eleanor thought about it, and how Martha supported Norwegian sailors and refugees in this week’s Atlantic Crossing fact check.* [Contains spoilers.]
Fact or Fiction: FDR had romantic feelings for Princess Martha.
LIKELY: “There were many rumors about their relationship—many at the time thought [it was] romantic,” says series creator, director, co-writer and executive producer, Alexander Eik. “We do not know for certain that was the case, but we know that President Roosevelt was infatuated with Martha and this has been confirmed by many sources [including] two of his grandchildren. … Early in the war, British Intelligence [also] reported from Washington to London that the President was infatuated.”
It’s true that in his spare time between 1941-1945, FDR’s most frequent companion was Martha, though others were often with them as well. “We have assumed President Roosevelt had romantic feelings for the Crown Princess,” sums up series’ co-writer and historian, Linda May Kallestein. “That does not mean they had a physical relationship.”
And what did Martha feel for Roosevelt? “That we don’t know,” says Eik. “She was very private. We don’t even know if she wrote anything down in her diaries or in any letters. … We certainly haven’t been able to find any evidence for her feelings towards the President. … Personally, I think she had very warm feelings for him. We know their friendship was intimate, that it was a deep friendship. Was it romantic? I don’t know.”
Fact or Fiction: Eleanor Roosevelt and Princess Martha became good friends—eventually.
FACT: “In our research we found Eleanor’s relationship with Martha developed during the war,” says Eik. “As far as we know, the First Lady didn’t think much of the Crown Princess when she first arrived.” While Eleanor was a strong voice in the White House and a political activist, Martha focused on her children. Later Eik adds, “it was clear the President was flirting with Martha. Someone confronted Eleanor about it and she is said to have shrugged and said, There’s always a Martha.”
But Norway’s Crown Princess ended up making a great effort for her country and she and Eleanor were definitely on friendly terms as the war progressed, according to Kallestein. One of Martha’s heralded achievements was a 1943 speech in Madison Square Garden to raise Red Cross funds and it’s true that the First Lady introduced her on stage. However “the part about Eleanor’s helping Martha with her fears of public speaking is something we made up to fit Martha’s dramatic arc,” Kallestein explains.
Eventually, Eleanor became a close friend and supporter of Martha. “Eleanor visited Oslo after the war as the royal family’s guest and met with Martha when [the Crown Princess] traveled several times to the U.S. for medical treatment,” says Kallestein.
Fact or Fiction: Martha invited injured sailor Alfred Isaksen to dinner as guest of honor.
FICTION: She did not invite a wounded veteran to challenge prominent guests including the President; the situation is fictional as is the character named Alfred Isaksen. It is true, however, that the Crown Princess met a Norwegian seaman who had survived a torpedo attack and who rejected her inquiries during a hospital visit, say the series co-writers. Martha later learned the sailor was anxious about his family, investigated their situation, and wrote him a letter conveying news they were doing well. The next time she visited, the man cried tears of joy thanking her. It is also “true that President Roosevelt brought high-ranking guests to [Martha’s] home,” says Eik. “The representation of her home as an informal, social arena is correct.”
Fact or Fiction: Merchant seamen from Norway were overnight guests at Pook’s Hill.
FICTION: The Norwegian Embassy arranged day trips to Pook’s Hill for both war refugees and wounded sailors, however series co-writers say they found no evidence that any spent the night. Episode 5 scenes of men being assigned bedrooms and Martha calming the young sailor Otto’s nightmares are fictionalized. “Otto represents several characters we found in our research,” says Eik. “Many Norwegian refugees in the U.S. had major problems and we know the Crown Princess helped as many as she could.”
Princess Martha did visit area hospitals to personally thank Norwegian seamen and listen to their stories. And in 1943, she and Prince Olav also opened a 51-acre center in the U.S. for Norway’s seamen and refugees.
*Based on a series of articles (in Norwegian) written by Mari Aftret Mørtvedt and Ola Nymo Trulsen for NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company.