There will be quite a bit of attention paid in a year or so to a movie, adapted from a British play with the above title centered around a visit of King George VI to Hyde Park. I am sure it will be well written well produced and well acted as Bill Murray and Laura Linney will be playing the featured roles. The movie asserts a physically intimate "incestuous" relationship between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Suckley. (I might point out here that the the second most influential man in FDR's life after his father, Reverend Endicott Peabody, was married to his first cousin).
The facts of the matter, though, are far from the reality. Whether or not FDR and Margaret Suckley ever physically consummated their relationship is still a matter of great speculation. By far the leading expert on the relationship is the renowned historian Geoffery Ward, who has not publicly opined on the matter. I'm sure after all the hoopla the press will be beating a path to his door to find out what he thinks.
My take is that Daisy, as FDR called the spinster Suckley (pronounced sook-lee), and the President were never physically intimate, though clearly she filled a very special emotional role in FDR's life. FDR, for all the public aplomb, was a very lonely man and enjoyed gossip. Daisy was the vehicle to share his intimate thoughts and kept him up on all of the goings on in Hyde Park. Their correspondence and her famous diary reveals that Daisy had a deep and enduring love for her distant cousin. I'm not sure that FDR was capable of loving anyone other than himself, though he surely had a great affection for her and let down his guard with Daisy as much as any person that can be documented.
Until 1941, FDR was intimately involved with Marguerite Alice "Missy" Lehand. He also had a fling with publisher Dorothy Schiff. FDR liked woman and was a flirt but it would be doubtful that Missy would have tolerated her "FD" having another steady bedmate. In the mid-twenties, as the great historian Frank Costigliola points out, FDR spent far more time alone with Missy rehabiliating from polio on the houseboat Larooco than he did with Eleanor. Unfortunately, all of the pertinent correspondence between FDR and Missy has been destroyed (unlike FDR's medical records!) Just to add another twist to this amazingly tangled web of intimacy, Missy was also in love with FDR confidante William Bullitt, who himself was concurrently involved in a homosexual relationship! (see Costigliola). Admittedly, this all sounds very strange, but it is indeed the case.
After 1918, Eleanor evolved into a role of a sister rather than a wife. She had a great respect for FDR and his ambition to be the POTUS and did what she could to assist him to that end. They entered into a peculiar, even bizarre by some standards, relationship, whereupon he set her up at Val Kill, where he established a furniture business for her and she lived in a blissful menage a trois with a well known lesbian couple, Nancy Cook and Marian Dickerman. The three women all taught at a prominent NYC girls school. Of course the love of Eleanor's life was the cigar-smoking reporter Lorena Hickok. One needs to go no farther than Rodger Streitmatter's 1998 publication of their correspondence "Empty Without You" to fully appreciate this. During FDR's Presidency, Eleanor would dutifully show up for ceremonial events and knit during a fireside chat, but other than matters of the children and Eleanor's "causes", that was about the extent of their relationship.
Now let's go back to the weekend of "Hyde Park on the Hudson." Daisy's diary, which I will address in more detail later, finds her to be an interested yet distant observer of the pomp and circumstance. It is doubtful that she played any greater role than that. The real female hero of the event was FDR's favorite daughter-in law, Betsey Cushing (yes, her father was the neurosurgical icon, Harvey Cushing) Roosevelt, who was more or less the official hostess. Eleanor wanted little to do with the whole event. Betsy was charming and filled the bill with great success.
Betsey was married at the time to FDR's oldest son Jimmy. After Jimmy took up with his nurse, they divorced (the first of four for him) and married the exceedingly wealthy and accomplished Jock Whitney. Whitney later became ambassador to the court of St. James where Betsey established a close and unique relationship with queen to be Elizabeth (who, with Margaret, did not make the 1939 trip). Betsey was truly one of the great women of the twentieth century as a patron of the arts and philanthroper. Interestingly and perhaps tellingly, her children with James were adopted by Whitney and abandoned the Roosevelt name! Hopefully someone will write a long overdue biography of Betsey.
Now that I've shocked most of you with the facts, I am going to enter into some educated speculation about Daisy and the "P" as she referred to him in her diary. "FDR's Closest Companion" edited and wonderfully annotated by Geoffery Ward is really all we have to historically assess their relationship. It is an exceedingly valuable tool and a must read for anyone attempting to understand FDR. The diary does, though, raise almost as many questions as it answers.
Virtually the most important years of the relationship between FDR and Daisy were from 1939 to 1941. In these years, Daisy gave FDR Fala, whose activities she virtually obsessed on. Likewise, the time included FDR's decision to run for an unprecedented third term and all of the monumental events that occurred prior to America's entry into World War Two. It also included the years that his pigmented lesion was cosmetically removed and the time he nearly died from a massive gastrointestinal bleed. In fact, the only entry into in the usher's diary on the night that FDR was nearest to death was, yes, Margaret Suckley. Yet for all of this, Daisy's diary is notably silent. It is also notable that nowhere does Daisy address the seizures that were observed and recorded by dozens of people with far less access to the president.
OK, now for the speculation: Of course, Daisy knew about all of FDR's medical problems. After FDR opened his library in 1941, he gave Daisy the job of "archivist", a position she occupied for many years after his death. While FDR was alive, he, with Daisy's assistance, made sure that not an iota of evidence about his health problems made it to the shelves. After he died, it was Daisy's mission to continue the job. Either she destroyed the sensitive parts of the diary or Doctors McIntire and Bruenn went over the diary together with her.
There is not a doubt in my mind that if Daisy knew of FDR's wishes to suppress the knowledge of any notion of his illness, she absolutely would have done everything in her power to follow them- and there is little doubt that she knew, though with a highly unsophisticated fund of medical knowledge. What remains of her diary is a sanitized version to best comport with FDR's wishes. I suspect the final product is a collaboration between her and Bruenn, who after 1970 created the presently accepted fairy tale of FDR's health.
OK. Now I've said it. I doubt many will believe what I just committed to cyber-posterity but somewhere down the line perhaps it will be appreciated.
Thanks for listening. comments appreciated.
My reward for an unedited video of the March 1, 1945 speech is now $15,000. (like the scientist who recently offered a cash reward to Michelle Bachman to produce a single person who is mentally retarded from an HPV vaccination, I have no expectation whatsoever that I will ever have to pay!)