In personal, almost conversational tones, the noted biographer of Frank Lloyd Wright, Jack Johnson and Margaret Mitchell now gives us a sophisticated portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt. Finis Farr was a producing editor of "The March Of Time" during several of the New Deal years, and he calls his dramatic skills into play as he makes use of his own detailed recollections of the era. "I had a good front row seat for the entire show," he writes. Now we share it.
Presenting new material on the war President as a child at Hyde Park, a schoolboy at Groton, an undergraduate at Harvard, Farr show how these influences shaped Roosevelt into a young man much like the ineffectual, imitation-British, upper-class New York heroes of Edith Wharton and Henry James. Yet he pays tribute to FDR's courage when polio struck him down.
Though Mr. Farr likes Roosevelt as a person and thinks he would have made a delightful "downtown lawyer, college and hospital trustee, and club governor in New York City," he maintains that the President's four terms added up to national disaster---despite the dramatic first New Deal.
Farr gets full value from the colorful supporting cast: the elder Mrs. Roosevelt, Eleanor, Hugh Johnson of the NRA, Harry Hopkins, Louise Howe, Al Smith and a host of other figures. He offers shrewd comparisons between Roosevelt and other leaders of the day: Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini. The author concludes that FDR was the political heir of William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, finds that he wielded great ideological power as populist who used an emergency to become a strong President.
Farr is perceptive. In discussing young FDR's liaison with Lucy Mercer, Farr observes that "no love affair in which he may or may not have engaged could possibly have had the significance of his love affair with himself." Roosevelt partisans will want to forget such incidents as FDR's praise for Legionnaires who captured, castrated and shot a Wobbly leader (her termed it "a high form of red-blooded patriotism"); or his capricious tinkering with the nation's money during the period he was under the spell of Professor George Frederick Warren's eccentric economic theories. Stalin, at the Teheran conference, is presented as "a short, broad-shouldered man of the peasant type, dressed in a nondescript uniform" who "looked like some kind of porter, probably the sort who would quarrel over his tip."
Love him or hate him, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his mar on America as few Presidents did, before or after. Droll and seasoned with cynicism, Finis Farr's biography captures the man and the era and brings both to life again.