Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Literary Interlude: "They Hated Roosevelt" (with links)


This week the Siren begins what are scheduled to be regular monthly postings at Fandor, a new site that describes itself as "a curated service for exceptional independent films on demand." The piece itself is behind the subscription firewall, but can also be accessed via Facebook, here. Up first: the Siren's review of the documentary The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1965. The film can be viewed on the Fandor site.

Revisiting the Roosevelt era while a midterm election looms sent the Siren's mind whirling through past and precedents. So, with a hat tip to buddy Glenn Kenny, from whom she has shamelessly lifted the "Literary Interlude" conceit, the Siren offers this passage from Since Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen's book about the 1930s in America. The Siren is crazy about both Since Yesterday and Allen's preceding book about the 1920s, Only Yesterday. His picture of both decades has done a lot to flesh out her perceptions about the movies made then, and she returns to both books over and over.

The chapter section is called "They Hated Roosevelt."


He set out to champion the less fortunate, to denounce such financiers and big business men as stood in his way, and as their opposition to him hardened, so also did his opposition to them…

It was natural, then, that men and women of means should feel that the President had changed his course and singled them out as objects of the enmity of the government. It was natural that they should have become confirmed in this feeling when, with half an eye to undermining Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" offensive, he backed in the summer of 1935 a revenue bill which stepped up taxes on the rich. It was even natural that they should have felt so strongly about what had happened since 1933 as to seem to forget that there had been anything wrong with the country before 1933.

Yet the lengths to which some of them went in their opposition, and the extent to which this opposition became concentrated, among a great many of them, into a direct and flaming hatred of Roosevelt himself, constituted one of the memorable curiosities of the nineteen-thirties.

All the fumbling of a government seeking to extricate the country from the world-wide Depression which had followed the slackening of nineteenth-century expansion; all the maneuverings of an Administration trying to set right what seemed to have gone wrong in the financial world during the previous decade, to redress the disadvantages under which the common man labored, and simultaneously to maintain its political appeal to this common man--all these things were reduced, in the minds of thousands of America's "best people," to the simple proposition that Franklin D. Roosevelt was intent upon becoming a dictator at their expense. Much that Roosevelt did lent a color of justification to this version of history; yet in reducing so much to so little these people performed one of the most majestic feats of simplification in all American history…

Sometimes the anti-Roosevelt mood was humorous. On the commuting trains and at the downtown lunch clubs there was an epidemic of Roosevelt stories, like that of the psychiatrist who died and arrived in Heaven to be whisked off to attend God Himself: "You see, He has delusions of grandeur--He thinks He's Franklin D. Roosevelt." But there was nothing humorous in the attitude of the gentlemen sitting in the big easy chairs at their wide-windowed clubs when they agreed vehemently that Roosevelt was not only a demagogue but a communist. "Just another Stalin--only worse." "We might as well be living in Russia right now." At the well-butlered dinner party the company agreed, with rising indignation, that Roosevelt was "a traitor to his class." In the smoking compartment of the Pullman car the traveling executives compared contemptuous notes on the President's utter ignorance of business. "He's never earned a nickel in his life--what has he ever done but live off his mother's income?" In the cabanas at Miami beach the sun-tanned winter visitors said their business would be doing pretty well if it weren't for THAT MAN. In the country-club locker room the golfers talked about the slow pace of the stock market as they took off their golf shoes; and when, out of a clear sky, one man said, "Well, let's hope somebody shoots him," the burst of agreement made it clear that everybody knew who was meant.

There was an epidemic, too, of scurrilous Roosevelt gossip. Educated and ordinarily responsible people not only insisted, but sincerely believed, that "everybody in Washington knew" the whole Roosevelt family was drunk most of the time; that the reason why Mrs. Roosevelt was "so all over the place" was that she was planning to succeed her husband "until it's time for the sons to take over"; and that Roosevelt was insane. Hadn't a caller recently sat with him and tried to talk public affairs, only to be greeted with prolonged and maniacal laughter? From this point the gossip ran well over the line into the unprintable…

Yet to the extent that it stopped factual inquiry and thought, the Roosevelt-bashing was costly, not only to recovery, but to the haters themselves. Because as a group (there were many exceptions) the well-to-do regarded the presence of Roosevelt in the White House as a sufficient explanation for all that was amiss and as a sufficient excuse for not taking a more active part in new investment, they inevitably lost prestige among the less fortunate.


*****




The Siren finally has been catching up on her blog reading, and here are some highlights.

Rectifying a slight committed in the midst of a dire September, the Siren urges you to read Flickhead's tribute to the late Claude Chabrol. She traces her own fascination with this great filmmaker to Flickhead's encouragement. There has been no greater champion of the director on the Web, and no better analyst of Chabrol's work. The Siren heartily echoes Flickhead's advice: "You shouldn't read about these films before seeing them." Chabrol films are best viewed as cold as possible. But once you've seen them, you will want to read Flickhead.

This is also from a while back, but the Siren never linked to it here, and oh lord she should have: Gregory Peck asks Pauline Kael why she's picking on him. At the Man From Porlock, Craig Porlock's marvelous blog.

At Cinema OCD, Jenny the Nipper's funny, lovingly comprehensive post about Jane Eyre and movie Rochesters down the years inspired the Siren's new banner. Jenny on Colin Clive's performance: "Clive is surely all wrong: he's congenial and handsome, and when he says he's been living in torment for 15 years his tone of voice seems to say, 'It's dashed inconvenient having an insane wife, you know, old sport. Bloodcurdling screams interrupting house parties and all that.' "

Zipping back to the New York Film Festival, of which you have not heard the last here--the favorite of just about everyone the Siren spoke to was Abbas Kiarostami's magnificent Certified Copy. Her favorite write-up so far was also the first she saw: Jaime Christley at Unexamined Essentials.

"You push me one more time and you’ll wear this suitcase as a necklace!": a line that might come in handy on the subway sometime. Back in April Laura Wagner gave gorgeous, tough tootsie Ann Sheridan her due in a tribute to Torrid Zone, which Laura considers an unjustly neglected classic. The Siren has fond memories of the film herself; Sheridan and Cagney were a fabulous team.

God it's good to have Greg Ferrara back, as demonstrated by his list of "BAMFs." (The straitlaced Siren wasn't familiar with that acronym, and if you too need it explained you'll just have to click through.) Amen to Rosemary's Baby.

Edward Copeland, prompted by Tony Curtis's passing, looks at The Boston Strangler, and mostly likes what he sees. He points out that this was Richard Fleischer's follow-up to Doctor Dolittle, which bit of trivia the Siren will probably spend all week recovering from.

"No matter how godawful you may think the [Hollywood] present looks, in five years' time it's going to look better": The Siren had a great time listening to Tom Shone's recent podcast about his witty history, Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood into a Boom-town. She highly recommends the book, even if it covers an era outside her usual jurisdiction. (Hey, if you asked the Siren to name something great this country has produced, aside from the Roosevelts, her blink-of-an-eye choice would be Myrna Loy, but that doesn't mean the Siren can't appreciate a well-stated case for somebody who definitely isn't Myrna Loy.) And Tom says nice things about James Cameron; the Siren likes Cameron too.

42 comments:

Flickhead said...

Thanks for the plug!!

The Siren said...

You are most welcome as ever, R. Better late than never.

Edgar W. Hopper said...

Thank you for this. I was only 6 years old in 1935, but I do remember that my parents absolutely loved Roosevelt which, of course, was good enough for me. In these days I understand why with a conviction as deep as theirs.
PS I love reading your blog posts!

Gloria said...

Now, this Roosevelt situation sounds familiar. Good thing the haters didn't totally own the media back then. Bad thing they do now (or so it seems).

The Siren said...

Gloria, doesn't it just.

Edgar, so nice to see you here. My father's side of the family lives in the Alabama part of the Tennessee Valley and some of them have worked for the TVA over the years. Needless to say my father grew up among huge Roosevelt backers. He would say the usual parlor decor in the area was a picture of Jesus Christ on one side of the mantel and FDR on the other. I guess it was in my genes, but FDR has always been my favorite president. I love him even for his flaws.

X. Trapnel said...

My grandparents (Queens, NY) had a huge portrait of Roosevelt hanging in their living room. He's always been a family presence.

For Karen: "We're going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Roosevelt."

Nora said...

Oh dear. I fear my grandfather may have been one of those golfers. Although he did not hold with shooting presidents (only oil men who engaged in slant oil drilling or men who cussed in front of my grandmother), Papa did think government inferred with his ventures in unfettered capitalism.

Greg said...

I always appreciate a mention by The Siren but my vulgar post makes me feel like the guy in the oil stained overalls drinking a Miller High Life at a champagne sipping soiree. But I'll get over it (and being linked here always classes me up some).

I first learned about the BAMF acronym from Pulp Fiction. It's on Samuel Jackson's wallet.

chatchien said...

The Ann Sheridan link and the Certified Copy link are the same.

Could you give the Ann Sheridan link?

Linkmeister said...

I didn't know BAMF until I clicked through. It's interesting. Unless I'm mistaken, there's approbation attached to the acronym. That's very unlike REMF ("Rear Echelon M***** F*****"), used by the Army grunts in the front lines to describe all those support guys who sit back where it's safe and warm.

Craig said...

Thanks, Siren. You made my day.

The Siren said...

Chatchien, thanks, it's fixed! Juliette Binoche is not really a one-for-one substitute for Annie...

Nora, you don't want to know about one of my grandfather's political opinions. I mean, you really. don't. want. to. know. Your grandfather sounds quite likable, actually.

Greg, I loved the post, that's why I linked! I have seen Pulp Fiction, and yet I didn't know the acronym. What other key moments did I miss, I wonder?

Linkmeister, there will surely be an occasion for me to use REMF at some point, come what may.

Craig, it was my pleasure. The post was a hoot. What a great job you have.

Jennythenipper said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Siren. I've been getting new traffic all week thanks to you. Would it be so wicked to love that new banner? No, indeed.

Vanwall said...

Wonderful post, and links, too. Ann Sheridan was one of the tops, I love her work.

I noticed recently a few mentions in the news of Major General Smedley Butler, the author of "War is a Racket" from 1935 - he new intimately how much of one, too, and the parallels to today are frightening. The Business Plot, which Butler evidently stomped flat, seems tenuous from this time looking back, but was possibly closer to reality then we care to admit, and seems to have morphed into a more tenacious attempt in our own time. Roosevelt's accomplishments are still mentioned as some sort of pinko/commie/socialist world wrecker in a lot of Baggers screeds. One of the radio fascists back in the day made a good living espousing what he thought of Eleanor Roosevelt - right into the late 50's. Sad. I liked the Roosevelts from the get-go, not exactly popular in my Goldwater desert state.

Trish said...

I'm inclined to agree with Pauline Kael on the subject of Gregory Peck, albeit without the venom. I always thoroughly enjoy viewings of "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" and "The Big Country", even though I have to roll my eyes at his dignified carriage. I wonder if Kael mentioned "Yellow Sky", a film in which he plays the intended rapist of Anne Baxter. Not only is he excellent but he is quite frankly, delightful.

The Siren said...

Jenny, i loved the post, I truly did. I haven't seen some of those; I've seen only Welles, Scott and Dalton.

Vanwall, Sheridan isn't much discussed but she was a rare beauty with great comic timing.

Trish, you know I love The Big Country and I think he's well cast. Yellow Sky -- dang, it's been AGES since I saw that one but I sure liked it at the time. No matter how wooden Peck was, and Kael is right that The Keys of the Kingdom is a great example, he was unbelievably gorgeous.

The Siren said...

XT, I forgot to tell you -- but Allen quotes that New Yorker cartoon!

Vanwall said...

I'm with Trish, "Yellow Sky" is a fave - a noir western. halfway down the page

I liked Peck, myself, and at one time worked with his niece, a wonderful person herself.

hamletta said...

Vanwall, I just want to highlight your comment about The Business Plot. Captains of Industry weren't just dissing FDR in the boardrooms and on the links, some of them were planning a coup.

Did you learn about this in history class? I sure didn't. I only heard about it a few years ago, and that was after I'd decided Seven Days In May was the scariest movie ever.

Vanwall said...

hamletta - I read Butler's booklet in my college daze in the early 70s, as my interest was in how a soldier twice awarded the Medal of Honor - and almost a third time! - would have such a buried reputation. I was learning to look under the rug. The Business Plot has a lotta ifs, but it certainly wasn't, and prolly isn't, taught about in many history classes, if at all.

Over the years, I found myself often reading books that are eventually made into films before I happened to see them - especially that period before a lot of somewhat newer films were shown on TV and their original release dates in the late 50s thru the 60s, so I was reading the novels instead, planning on seeing them someday. So it was with Seven Days in May - the film is very close to the book, BTW, - and yes, it was even more frightening, as the Butler booklet dovetailed so well with the fictional versions.

VP81955 said...

One of the radio fascists back in the day made a good living espousing what he thought of Eleanor Roosevelt -- right into the late 50's.

You sure you aren't referring to Westbrook Pegler, whose antipathy for Mrs. Roosevelt was no secret? He was really more of a "print fascist," though I suppose he did his share of radio, too. (You may have been thinking of Father Charles Coughlin, who was popular on radio but largely discredited after the 1930s.)

The Smedley Butler story is fascinating; if Michael Moore ever decided to go the Oliver Stone route, that would be a good film project for him (if he could resist his temptation towards snark).

The Siren said...

Pegler I don't know so much; Coughlin either, although I thought he was pro-New Deal early on and then turned on Roosevelt later.

Karen said...

Ah, X.T., I went running to my New Yorker album as soon as I read the Siren's post, but I see you've beat me to the punch. For those of you who don't know what we're talking about, however, a photo of an early-'30s New Yorker cartoon by the great Peter Arno...

As to Torrid Zone, starring the sublime Ann Sheridan and a sadly-moustached (but otherwise divine) Cagney, the sole "Favorite Quote" occupying my Facebook page:

Lee Donley: [picking up a cigarette dropped by Gloria] I believe this is how the Chicago fire got started.
Gloria Anderson: The Chicago fire was started by a cow.
Lee Donley: History repeats itself.
-- Torrid Zone (1940)

Trish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

Oh, I like Peck too... There is something comforting in his reliability. But it's always wonderful when an actor does something unexpected, and it works! I am surprised that "Yellow Sky" came after "Gentleman's Agreement", as GA seems to be the point of no return in Peck's career. "Yellow Sky" is up on youtube...

The Siren said...

Karen, thanks so much for the link! Arno was reportedly a demon to his lady friends in real life, but a great cartoonist. I *think* he did another favorite of mine for Esquire. A blonde dame (very much a dame) in a negligee is standing over the prostrate body of a man in evening clothes. She is holding a smoking gun and explaining to a dumbfounded policeman, "He drove me to it. Kept buying more and more life insurance."

Trish, I run hot and cold on Peck. One famous performance that does very little for me is "Cape Fear;" don't know what Kael had to say about that one, either. But Yellow Sky is worth my getting reacquainted with, I think.

Karen said...

Arno did GREAT blonde dames!

Re Peck: I'm not as harsh as Kael--who is?--but I am not a HUGE fan of Peck. He was undeniably gorgeous as a young man (although I don't think he aged particularly well), but he had, shall we say, limited range.

I do like him in Roman Holiday and I found him surprisingly good in Horatio Hornblower, but mostly I can take him or leave him alone.

Trish said...

Siren, Cape Fear is always worth watching to cheer for the bad guy. Mitchum is awesome, but Peck is... dull. The person who truly annoys me in that film is Polly Bergen. Oh my, such a harpy.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Did somebody say Ann Sheridan?

The Siren said...

David, Thank Your Lucky Stars! I love it! I can't tell you how surreal it is seeing these "coeds" in their pennant-adorned room after two hours with The Social Network...I know which set of outfits I prefer, anyway.

Vanwall said...

VP81955 - I can't remember his name, but it wasn't Pegler; I used to hear the guy on AM radio in the mid-sixties, usually in the empty desert late at night, it was pretty eerie. He was kinda like Joe Pyne - but my father would whip over his hand to switch the radio station as soon as he heard that voice.

hamletta said...

Art Bell?

Fresh Air had Sean Wilentz, a historian, on today, and he was talking about the Birchers, and how there were right-wing radio talkers all over the place throughout the Cold War.

I'm so old, I remember when the Birchers weren't allowed in polite society.

As to Gregory Peck, It's never occurred to me that he was a bad actor. Maybe I was just mesmerized by his beauty.

Last Easter, my friend and I watched Keys Of the Kingdom, and we stuck with it for three hours, and marveled at his physicality when his character was old. We were stoned, though, so there is that.

I thought he was brilliant in Duel In the Sun. He's such a delight to watch because he's having such a good time playing an absolute sh*t.

Lynn said...

Thank you, Hamletta. It never occurred to me to judge Gregory Peck's acting talent either. My mother was in love with him, I was in love with him, and had I had children, I would have insisted they fall in love with him. Roman Holiday may be my favorite movie of all time and I watch On The Beach often simply to see Greg and Ava kiss.

I never did agree with Pauline Kael often and, had I known about her attitude towards Peck.....

Karen said...

Oh, David, well done! That's some 24-carat oomph right there, I'll tell you. I would kill for that peignoir, although I could never wear it as well as Our Ann...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Siren I firmly believe that Gore Vidal concieved of Myra Breckinridge after seeing that Ann Sheridan number.

Here's another grat one from the totally insane movie.

Trish said...

Oh David, thank you. Ann is wonderful -- like a gal's best friend! I haven't seen that one in a long time. I love that woven thingy in her hair. If I recall my 1970s well enough, we called a modified version of that a "bun warmer".

DavidEhrenstein said...

It was known as a "Snood."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Thank Your Lucky Stars also features Bette Davis singing "They're Either Too Young or Two Old," and Hattie McDaniels -- and every black actor in the greater Los Angeles area -- in the beyond tumultuous "Ice Cold Katie Won't You Marry The Soldier?" production number.

Trish said...

Thanks, David. "Snood" is a much classier word... ;)

hoppinjon said...

I share your admiration for FL Allen. Only Yesterday, though not always accurate, was a masterpiece of breezy, witty, well written social history. His Lords of Creation and The Big Change are worth a look also.

I took a pilgrimage to Warm Springs with my mother's mother- a WCTU Methodist, South Georgia fallen gentry- about 1961. She revered FDR as did my father's father, a SC mill hand. Now, apart from me and my brothers, my extended family are economic, political, and religious fundamentalists who believe FDR caused the Depression. Sad how your native state was capable of producing and electing a Hugo Black and now foists Jeff Sessions on the country.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Just found the "Ice-Cold Katie" number!

Enough energy to power the west coast's entire electrical grid.

The Siren said...

Hoppinjohn, welcome. I should really take a look at the other Allen books since I love the two histories so much. There is something to be said for being a progressive from a not-terribly-progressive state. It toughens you up. :)

David, oh how I love Ice-Cold Katie, despite...well, as you said, the energy makes up for everything.