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Peter Collier
Peter Collier
The Roosevelts:  An American Saga
ISBN: 0786107472
The Roosevelts: An American Saga
Mr. Collier spoke about his new book The Roosevelts: An American Saga which highlights the life and times of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. The discussion focused on the "loveless" family and the four children of the Roosevelts.
The Roosevelts: An American Saga
Program Air Date: August 7, 1994

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Peter Collier, author of "The Roosevelts: An American Saga," in the middle of your book is a story about Elliott Roosevelt, FDR, an oil man and a loan. Do you remember that story?
PETER COLLIER: I do, actually. It occurred in 1939. President Roosevelt was fielding all of the world's problems at that time, trying to maneuver the United States into the European conflict, trying to still be, as he put it, Dr. New Deal at the same time. Probably his most intractable problem for all his life was his own children. These were the children of basically, as I am sure your viewers know, a loveless relationship with Eleanor, although it was a tremendous partnership. Here you see the four sons of Eleanor Roosevelt.
LAMB: Which one was Elliott?
COLLIER: Elliott is the one second from the right. He was probably the most attractive, charismatic of the boys in a certain way. I think he was the one who most resented, really, and most voiced the resentment of his generation for his parents. It was quite a remarkable story that that generation spent its life complaining about its parents, Eleanor and Franklin -- obsessed with the coldness that they had exhibited toward them, obsessed with the fact that they had not gotten the kind of spiritual and emotional nourishment that they expected. Indeed, this generation would be quite uncharacteristically Roosevelt in that among the five members, the children of Franklin and Eleanor, they would have 19 marriages; they would have two spouses commit suicide -- particularly flamboyant, I think, in the '30s, '40s and '50s, although perhaps not so surprising today.

Nonetheless, in 1939 Elliott was a grown man living in Texas sniping at his father, on the fringes of the New Deal, captivated by the Texas oilmen and their spokesmen. They were very conservative and very much opposed to FDR. At the same time, he was a mouthpiece for these conservatives, attacking his father periodically. [Elliott] was asking for help, as always, in this particular instance that you referred to, and called FDR in the Oval Office and asked him to talk to a department store magnate that [Elliott] had convinced to loan him $200,000 for one of [Elliott's] business ventures. As Elliott later said, "I always wanted to be a big man. That was the only way I could really justify myself inside the Roosevelt tradition." And, of course, Franklin got on the phone, as he always did with Elliott and the other boys, with that sense he had -- I think Eleanor had it as well -- that because of this peculiar relationship between the parents, this partnership that had evolved out of this loveless relationship, that they had let these kids down. So he was always guilty and always stood up and did what Elliott asked, and when Elliott asked him to call this department store magnate and say that, yes, it was a good idea to loan him this money, of course Franklin got right on the phone and did it. It was indicative of the kind of relationship that they had.

LAMB: Now, when did you or when did we as a country find out that this kind of a deal had been made?
COLLIER: Oh, I think that it actually had been known. This book I've written is the story of the arc of the Roosevelt family in America. It's really a remarkable story because, of course, it begins with probably the most clannish, tribal family, not in the narrow and semi-neurotic way as, say, the Kennedys, who have taken that kind of tribalness to an extreme, but tribal in the sense of just a tremendous closeness in this Dutch American family. This arc begins with one great man, Theodore Roosevelt, stepping inside history -- not just deciding to live history, live with history the way most of us do, but stepping inside and trying to bottle the lightning of history as it were. That story that begins there actually completes itself in the generation of Franklin and Eleanor's children. These children, the last of whom, Franklin's eldest son, Jimmy, died about four years ago, complete this arc by selling out the family. They were so angry, so filled with a vendetta against Franklin and Eleanor that they sell every scrap of privacy, every scrap of private information, writing bitter memos, giving bitter interviews. It kind of completes this tragic arc that defines the Roosevelt family.
LAMB: If Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt lived today in this media world, what would happen?
COLLIER: I suppose that they would be relentlessly picked at, their foibles, their peccadillos. The press is, in a certain way, like the flock of chickens who finds some sort of wound on one of its members and then pecks it until it bleeds. I'm sure that they would make the Roosevelts bleed. I think that Franklin probably would have been particularly vulnerable because he was, like John F. Kennedy, tremendously protected by the press in his own day. He was, as your viewers know, generally photographed from the waist up. It was considered bad taste to allude even visually or through imagery to his paralysis. I think that there was a lot that went on in his private life, ranging from the fairly well-known affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherford that had taken place in 1918 and been the storm that finally levered him and Eleanor apart. That was known and never reported. And his flirtatious behavior with other women that Eleanor bitterly referred to as "his blondes" was fairly well-known and never reported. So I think by today's standards he would be fair game.

Theodore, on the other hand, was virtually invulnerable. I mean, he had a fairly impeccable private life. In fact, he was a fascinating object for the press in his own day. Theodore Roosevelt came along, and part of the story I tell here is really about his family -- the first family with really boisterous young children to inhabit the White House, the first family that was clearly a nuclear family in a time when America was shifting from being the extended family of the frontier and the plains to the nuclear family of the big cities. This was a nuclear family living in the White House, and he came along at a time when the press had really come of age in America. There were wire services, so that details of his intimate doings and those of his really charming children, all of whom were major figures in the American imagination at the turn of the century, could be reported to every hinterland in America. The press was obsessed with Theodore Roosevelt and followed him very closely because he was, really, in his own time, a larger-than-life character. Our own time, perhaps, sees him as a character and is just beginning once again after this kind of vapid revisionism of the '60s which dismissed him as a genuinist, and is beginning to see him not only as a great character but a great man.

LAMB: You've done the Fords, the Rockefellers, the Kennedys and the Fondas?
LAMB: When did you start this series?
COLLIER: I started actually becoming interested in great American families in the early '70s, great American families in the sense of power or prestige -- families that were under a high-intensity microscope, as it were, which enlarged features that exist in all of our families, the kind of internal drama where there are generational linkages made and broken, where there are inheritances picked up and fumbled, where there is love offered and betrayed.
LAMB: Which was the first one?
COLLIER: The first one was the Rockefellers. Actually, I was the editor of a magazine, a radical magazine called Ramparts in the late '60s, early '70s. This magazine, as most radical publications, ran at a significant deficit and had to raise money to keep going. We found that one of the best ways to raise money was through the Rockefeller kids. They're not kids anymore. They're the children of Nelson, David, Laurance and John D. III, this remarkable group of brothers that burst on the American scene in the '20s and '30s and captivated the country. We were raising money from their children to write these articles and exposes attacking their parents, Nelson and David particularly, as kind of an executive committee of the ruling class -- you know, all the Marxist cliches of the era. It occurred to me, this is really a good story. Here these Rockefeller kids were subsidizing a magazine that was devoting a substantial amount of time to black-guarding their parents. So I got into this business of generational stories and dynastic biographies, if you want to call it that, through this interest.
LAMB: Jay Rockefeller, the senator from West Virginia, is the son of which?
COLLIER: John D. III. He is actually John D. IV, so he's got the famous name stretching back to his great-grandfather's era; that is, the first John D. Rockefeller. He actually told me something very interesting when I interviewed him back in '73, '74. He wasn't a senator then. He was president of a small college in West Virginia. During our interview he, as with most Rockefellers, was very discreet and hedging. He finally said, "You know, there are good books about the Rockefellers and there are bad books about the Rockefellers, but the best books about the Rockefellers are the ones that don't get written," meaning, of course, that this family was very anxious to protect its inner sanctum. It clued me in to the fact that that's what a good biographer had to do in a sense, was write the books that don't get written that would have that kind of authenticity that would penetrate this veil in a sense, that would inhabit that inner sanctum and see what the inner dynamics of the family life were all about.
LAMB: Where do you live?
COLLIER: California.
LAMB: How long have you lived there?
COLLIER: All my life, actually.
LAMB: What city?
COLLIER: I live now in a small city in what is called the California Gold Country. It is where gold was discovered, called Nevada City, one of the great towns of America, I might say.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
COLLIER: UC-Berkeley, during the troubles.
LAMB: What years?
COLLIER: I was there from 1958 well into the '60s, one of the walking-wounded graduate students that keeps taking courses and never gets the thesis done.
LAMB: When was Ramparts magazine on the market?
COLLIER: Ramparts really began in 1964 as a liberal Catholic quarterly, a magazine of the Catholic laity, and by 1966, 1967 had shed that identity and became a kind of interoffice memorandum of the new left. I actually think it will deserve an agate type footnote in the history of journalism to come, if nothing more, for kind of mid-wifing the rebirth of investigative journalism in this country with its expos of the CIA and that sort of thing. I think it became obsolete quickly as publications like the Times and the Post saw that investigative journalism was the wave of future. They had to, particularly after the famous fiasco of the Bay of Pigs where the Times knew about it in advance and withheld information, take a more oppositional stance to government. But Ramparts ran out of gas as did the radical movement and disappeared, thank God, in the early 1970s.
LAMB: What did you study at Berkeley?
COLLIER: I studied English literature.
LAMB: What was your family like?
COLLIER: My own family?
LAMB: No, your mother, father and that environment.
COLLIER: These were people who had come to California in the '30s from disparate places in the country -- my father from South Dakota, my mother from Alabama -- kind of, I think it would be correct to say, in search of the American dream that wasn't available to them because of their class origins and the fact that they felt pigeonholed in the hopelessness in their situation. They had come there here in the '30s and made a good life for themselves -- and a good life -- and they were thankful for it.
LAMB: What did they do?
COLLIER: My mother had a succession of part-time jobs, mainly to get out of the house. My father was an insurance agent.
LAMB: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
COLLIER: I have one sister.
LAMB: Is she out there?
COLLIER: She's out there.
LAMB: Are you married? Do you have children?
COLLIER: I am married with three kids. I suppose one of the upshots of having done these books -- I don't know if it is a cause or an effect actually -- is an appreciation of family, particularly in our own time when families are an endangered species. I appreciate the ties, the thick loyalties, the tragedies. I mean, every family, and these families particularly that I have written about, have victors and victims. The psychological toll that families sometimes take on people is what has led headless and thoughtless and ultimately irresponsible critics to criticize American families.
LAMB: There is a building on the other side of the Capitol called the Longworth Building, and it has something to do with this lady right here. Who is this?
COLLIER: You're seeing a picture of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the eldest daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, who actually was, outside of Theodore, I suppose, the most famous person in the country at the turn of the century during Theodore's presidency. She was called Princess Alice by the press. She was as interesting to the press as Theodore -- and by the way, I didn't get to finish saying something about Theodore and the press that's very interesting. Theodore Roosevelt, of course, left the presidency in 1908 and lived until 1919. From the day he left the presidency until the day he died, there was a pool person, a member of the press stationed in Oyster Bay where he lived, that got up every day and sat around the telegraph office there waiting to transmit news of what Theodore ate, said, thought, felt and experienced. He continued to have this magnetic hold on the American imagination, so that he had his own personal reporter assigned to him until the day he died. He was one of these men, somebody said once, that you come away from him feeling after you've been with him -- the intensity is such -- that he's gotten into your hair and into your clothes; he's saturated your life.

Another person, William Allen White, a famous newspaperman, once said, trying to explain the effect Theodore Roosevelt had on him, "When I was a young man Theodore Roosevelt bit me and I went mad." So it is an extraordinary story. And part of the story is Alice, his daughter. She had this long kind of antagonism with her cousin, Eleanor. They had certain similarities in a way. Alice was the daughter of Theodore by his first wife, who died tragically when he was a young man 24 years old or so. She died right after Alice Roosevelt was born, hours later. Theodore was a young promising Republican legislator in the New York state assembly. He came rushing home to see the birth of his daughter and saw his daughter, but saw also his first wife dying. She died in his arms a few hours later.

This became part of that remarkable epic of self-creation which is Theodore Roosevelt, which began when he was a young man, a boy of 8 or 9 years old, feeling so sick from asthma that his parents feared he might die. At one point his father came to him, in a fairly famous story, knowing that he had this charisma and magnetism, told him that he needed a kind of vessel to contain this luminous intelligence, said, "You have the intelligence, but you must make your body." In other words, you must make this container that will allow you to survive. Theodore manfully started working out on this gymnasium, creating himself. This process of self-creation kept going and going right after his wife died and Alice was born, for instance. He was so heartbroken he just threw up everything and left for the Badlands of South Dakota and North Dakota, in a fairly famous episode, and became a cowboy. He went there thinking he might just live whatever life was left over to him but actually found in that American frontier the strength to go on, the strength to feel that he could survive and, indeed, not only endure but prevail, to use Faulkner's words, among these rough-hewn American frontiersmen.

LAMB: How did Alice Roosevelt become a Longworth?
COLLIER: She was Princess Alice. She was the most eligible woman in America. She had people following her doings, her quick wit, her biting wit. She was the only person that would take her father on, probably in the country. She did it quite well, quite successfully, and beat him to a standoff and developed this mordant wit. She was paired in the public imagination with every eligible crowned head of Europe. They had her marrying royalty. But she finally found, after a long period of eligibility, herself marrying this squat, sort of charismatic but not particularly handsome congressman from Ohio named Nicholas Longworth, who was a powerful figure in the House. It was fairly clear, and should be clear from the picture you just flashed there, that he had a strong resemblance physically to her father, and people at the time noted that. They had a vexed relationship which paralleled that of Franklin and Eleanor, although it had less depth to it obviously, less depth of field, because Nicholas Longworth was a very famous womanizer.

Alice would come home, and in one particular case found that he had been in flagrante, shall we say, in their own bedroom. She knew the woman, a society dame. She wrote her something to the effect, a bitter letter, about I found your hairpins in my bed. This woman, Cissie Patterson, wrote her back a letter saying, "Yes, and if you look hard, you'll find my underwear up on the chandelier." So their relationship was carried on at that kind of a level. He was a famous womanizer. Nicholas Longworth became speaker of the House and had a lot of enemies in the House. One particular congressman, knowing his reputation for being a philanderer, thought to have the best of him one day and came up to Nicholas as he was sitting at the speaker's desk and said sneeringly, looking at his bald head, "Your head looks like my wife's behind." Nicholas kind of looked at him, everybody waiting for his answer. He rubbed his head and said, "Yes, it kind of feels like your wife's behind, too." That was his way of dealing with these rumors, which was to say yes.

LAMB: When did all this become public? How many years after the actual event, and where did it begin popping up in the public media?
COLLIER: This sort of thing -- you're really, as a biographer in a sense, one part 1940s detective with your Speed Graphic's camera up over the transom catching people in various revealing states in the next room. You're also one part, I suppose, paramedic, as it were, doing artificial respiration on people who have disappeared from the scene, and in this case really much of the story in this book is about the children of Theodore Roosevelt aside from Alice -- including Alice, but also including the famous boys, who were very, very important figures in their own day, Theodore Jr., Kermit, Archibald Roosevelt. These were major figures in their own day and have, in a sense, disappeared from the public consciousness. They were elbowed out of the way in the really significant drama of this family, which was an almost Homeric civil war between the two branches that erupted after Theodore's death; that is, the Oyster Bay branch, his own children, and the Hyde Park branch, the family of Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore's beloved niece Eleanor who was the daughter of his much-loved brother, Elliott.

There are many little dramas, mini-dramas. This large story of the Roosevelts is a series of vignettes, as it were. Elliott Roosevelt, Theodore's brother, had been considered more promising when the two of them were young. But as Theodore got his body, got his health, he really outstripped Elliott so significantly that Elliott wilted in his shadow and became a drunk, self-destructive and died early, leaving this remarkable physically unattractive but emotionally expansive young woman Eleanor behind, an 8- or 9-year-old who was passed around then like a bad penny from aunt to aunt inside that Oyster Bay family and finally married this pampered only child of the Roosevelt family that had moved up into the Hudson River Valley in Hyde Park.

LAMB: What numbered cousin was Eleanor of her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
COLLIER: They were fifth cousins, and, interestingly enough, they were not the only fifth Roosevelt cousins to be married in their generation. There were two other fifth-cousin marriages, and I suppose what this suggests, if you were querying a Roosevelt of that era about it, they would say, "Well, who else was there?" That's the story of this family that there were, in a sense, only Roosevelts. This was a huge clan of Dutch Americans that were intensely involved with each other, almost obsessively involved with each other, and obsessively close. The story, as I said really the drama of this family, is its coming apart at the seams and dividing into two warring factions during the '20s and '30s as a power struggle to harness this kind of legacy of Theodore Roosevelt that hung like a charge of static electricity over American politics at the end of his life after he had died. Who was going to be the next Roosevelt? There was no question at that time there would be another Roosevelt, but who is it going to be?
LAMB: Some other little connections. Joseph and Stewart Alsop. Who were they and what was their connection with the Roosevelt family?
COLLIER: Well, Joseph and Stewart Alsop were probably the most prominent political commentators, I think, of their generation, particularly in Washington in the '50s and '60s. They were the grandsons of Theodore Roosevelt's sister Corrine. They were the sons of her daughter. They were Roosevelts by blood, in a sense, which accounts for the fact that Joseph Alsop, particularly, was so close to Franklin Roosevelt and his legacy.
LAMB: The current governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, has a wife who is a Roosevelt?
COLLIER: Right. Actually, there's an interesting situation. One of the FDR heirs, Mark Roosevelt, is running as a Democrat for governor against Governor Weld, whose wife is the great-granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt.
LAMB: Had any book like this been done before?
COLLIER: No. Certain things had never been done before. For instance, a man named John Gable who is kind of the head of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, who, I would argue, knows more about the Roosevelt family than anybody in the country, said of this book, "Well, this is the rest of the story," after he read it. That was his response, and I think that's probably right. Everybody knows the story of Theodore Roosevelt. It's become almost a kind of myth, and, like a myth, it bears retelling over and over again because it's always interesting. And the same is quite true with Eleanor and Franklin. That story, I think, the story yet to be done, is of the most interesting marriage in American history and the people who inhabited this kind of dark undergrowth of hidden, denied, suppressed emotion filled with a kind of suppressed and oppressed love and also a kind of anxiety and despair about each other, a feeling that they could never have their lives dovetail. That marriage has been written about, notably by Joseph Lash, but I think it still bears constant reexamination as we change as a society. It's a kind of constant that, in a way, defines us by what we say about it. But what had never been done before is following out the arc of this entire family, seeing what happened to the children of Theodore Roosevelt, for instance. All four of his boys immediately enlisted. Theodore actually tried to get into the war himself. Even though he was an old man, he insisted on it.

First of all, he wanted the United States in that war immediately, not only because of what some of his critics then and now would call his obsessive desire for action, but also because he had been a warrior himself at San Juan Hill. He knew battle; he knew what it did to define men and nations. He also had a very strong political sense of what the U.S. interests were and what the interests of the world were in stopping that conflict in Europe. So he tried to get in, and, of course, [Woodrow] Wilson had denied him the right to go to Europe and sacrifice himself as he wanted to at the head of a volunteer regiment like the one he had raised to go up San Juan Hill. But he sent his four kids, his four boys, one of whom was perhaps his favorite child, Quentin Roosevelt, whose very poignant love story with Flora Whitney is a kind of Capulet and Montague story, I guess you could say, because of Theodore Roosevelt's well-known distaste for those he called the male-factors of great wealth; that is, the plutocrats whom he really despised because they had done, he felt, nothing with their lives. He initially felt that way about the Whitney family, but he came to admire them in a way, particularly Gertrude Whitney, the mother of Flora Whitney who had started this museum [the Whitney Museum].

Anyway, I was able to chronicle this love story between these two people. It's a perfect metaphor of what war does to people, how it blights their hopes. Quentin was his son that was lost in the war. He was lost in a dog-fight over France after shooting down a German airplane. The other three boys came home war heroes, and Theodore Jr. came home ready, really, to seize the legacy of his father and to move toward the White House to become the next Roosevelt. He assumed that he would have a good shot at it, but there was this other Roosevelt in the way, and that was Franklin, who had spent the war at home as assistant secretary of Navy under the Wilson administration, an act Theodore Roosevelt Jr. always thought of as treachery, but, in fact, Franklin had always wanted to be, in a way, the surrogate son of Theodore and had fed him private information from this listening post inside the Navy Department during the war as a kind of mole. He, too, felt that the Wilson administration was dragging its feet. The stage was really set in 1920 for this contest between Theodore Jr. and Franklin.

LAMB: When you go to the Normandy Cemetery you find a Theodore Roosevelt Jr. buried there. Is that the same one pictured here?
COLLIER: It is. What happened, to make a long story short, was that Eleanor and Franklin each at this point -- that affair with Lucy Mercer having ended any kind of husband-and-wife relationship between them -- had perfected the beginning of a political partnership. Both for their own reasons saw that Theodore Jr's ambitions had to be beaten back. At this point, when he finally made his run for the governorship of New York in 1924, which he figured would be his stepping stone to the presidency as it had been for his father, Franklin was really on the shelf, suffering the aftereffects of polio. It wasn't clear that he would ever become a political factor again.

Eleanor, in a most uncharacteristic gesture, set out to really destroy the political hopes of her cousin Theodore Jr. As he went around the state of New York campaigning, she followed him. She had a car made with a papier-mache bonnet in the shape of a teapot, and in order to associate him with the scandal of Teapot Dome, she just dogged him all over the state of New York. Every place he spoke, she showed up with this teapot-shaped car spouting steam, and she would speak afterwards with some of her lady friends indicating that she felt this was a not a chip off the old block, that he was an immature and easily used man. It was really a sort of baptism into politics for her. It was also a subject that she was always embarrassed about forever after. She could never explain satisfactorily to anybody else, least of all to herself, why she had stepped forward. This shy, retiring woman who had been oppressed by her mother-in-law, who had been a semi-orphan dependent on the kindness of strangers all her life, had stepped up and really smacked her cousin so viciously. She said it was a rough act. It was something she never really understood.

LAMB: Let me ask you some quick questions on little details so that we can get the scenario. Hyde Park is located where?
COLLIER: Hyde Park is located in upstate New York in the Hudson River area.
LAMB: About how far from New York City?
COLLIER: Let's see, as a Californian, I would have to say three hours by train. That's all I know.
LAMB: Have you been there?
COLLIER: I have, actually.
LAMB: Who lived there? Whose estate was it originally?
COLLIER: It was originally the estate of Franklin D. Roosevelt's father, James Roosevelt, who was from a collateral branch with common great-great-grandfathers to that of the Theodore branch and very close, actually, to the Theodore branch which is settled in the Long Island area of Oyster Bay.
LAMB: What is Oyster Bay?
COLLIER: Oyster Bay is just an area there on the Sound of Long Island, I guess you'd say.
LAMB: How far is it from New York City?
COLLIER: I guess it's maybe and hour and a half.
LAMB: And if you go to both of these places today, what can you see there?
COLLIER: If you go to Hyde Park you can see the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, which is, I think, fairly exceptional. You can see the house where he was born and, as a very solitary only child of a tyrannical mother, whom Alice Longworth called in her own inimitable fashion a "domineering Tartar," where he lived and where he grew up. You can see the actual house that he inhabited as a mature man when he came back to visit his mother and used as sort of a retreat, outfitted with ramps as an early kind of independent-living situation. I find it a really interesting library and shrine, but it doesn't really convey, of course, the sort of life. I would urge your viewers, obviously, if they want to see something that will body forth a whole idea of how a family and how a man lived, to go to Sagamore Hill, which is the Theodore Roosevelt family estate which is now a national monument, national park, I guess, on Long Island. The house has been recently rehabilitated back to pretty much precisely what it was when this remarkable family with six children lived there. All the pets are buried there in the pet cemetery, each with their own name, including the horse that Theodore rode to glory on San Juan Hill.
LAMB: Theodore Roosevelt was married how many times?
LAMB: How many children total did he have?
COLLIER: He had six.
LAMB: How many of them married?
COLLIER: They all married, actually. He had two daughters, Alice and Ethel, and four sons. They all married except Quentin, who was really on the verge of marriage. He had been engaged to Flora Whitney and then died in aerial combat before he got a chance to marry her.
LAMB: How many of those ever ran for political office?
COLLIER: Only Theodore Jr. ever ran for political office. People often said that Alice would have made a great president, which she probably would have, in a sense. But Theodore Jr. really followed his father's footsteps. He ran for the assembly in New York and was elected overwhelmingly and became a kind of maverick assemblyman the way his father had been. He became assistant secretary of the Navy as his father and Franklin had been. It was almost like a Roosevelt family sinecure. In 1924 he made the decision to run against Al Smith for the governorship of New York, to take the bit in his teeth and to go for it.
LAMB: On the FDR side, how many times had he been married?
COLLIER: He was married only once.
LAMB: How many children did he have?
COLLIER: He had five children.
LAMB: How many of them got divorced?
COLLIER: They all got divorced in multiples. His son John only had two marriages; the rest had from three to five. Franklin Jr. and Elliott both had five marriages.
LAMB: You mentioned early that there were suicides.
COLLIER: There were suicides of spouses. That Roosevelt family was a tough act to be in -- not because of the demanding, moral imperatives the way it was in the Theodore family, but because of the moral degeneracy and the moral chaos. For instance, Ethel Du Pont, whom Franklin Jr. married, came to live briefly in the White House in the late '30s. The White House maids always talked about her walking around looking distracted and pulling her hair out as she heard rumors of her husband, Franklin Jr., having brought women into the White House itself to be with. It's a hothouse atmosphere that these Roosevelts inhabited.
LAMB: On the cover you say "Peter Collier with David Horowitz," but inside you write that he has been a full co-author with you before but this time was not.
LAMB: And why?
COLLIER: I guess he had other fish to fry. We began the book together, and he had to move on to other things. He did make a contribution to the book, and he remains my collaborator in life, as it were.
LAMB: Who is he?
COLLIER: He's a friend of mine who was with me at Ramparts magazine in the old days and who has had a political odyssey that mine has paralleled somewhat; that is, going out of the left, becoming critics of the new left and to some degree of the radicalism of the '60s. We maintain that position together. I am sure we'll probably write other books together, but this one he was unable to because of other commitments he had to cover.
LAMB: Where does he live?
COLLIER: He lives in Los Angeles.
LAMB: There's something out called Heterodoxy that he puts out.
LAMB: Do you have anything to do with that?
COLLIER: I do. We put it out together. It's a little publication we do with our right hand in a way. It's a monthly, a kind of journal de combat attacking political correctness, which we both take to be one of the truly ominous developments in our culture.
LAMB: What does Heterodoxy mean?
COLLIER: It means basically the opposite of orthodoxy. That, I suppose, is the point. We worried about what George Orwell called -- rightly, I think -- the "smelly little orthodoxies," referring to socialism, Trotskyism and communism in his day. They, in a sense, apply to those codes of behavior and the kind of coercive atmosphere that exists, particularly in the American college campus today.
LAMB: When were you the most liberal in your life?
COLLIER: We didn't call it liberal. We scorned liberals. In fact, it would be quite inadequate for people looking to look back at the '60s and understand the history of that time to think that people were liberal then. The people that David and I particularly ran with were radicals, if not revolutionaries, and considered the liberals the target. It was never the right that was the target of the radicals in the '60s. It was the liberals, the liberal center. It's no accident, obviously, that all those institutions associated with liberalism -- the Democratic Party, the university, the media -- were the targets of attack by radicals in the '60s.
LAMB: When you most radical?
COLLIER: Probably 1968, 1969.
LAMB: Who did you vote for in those years?
COLLIER: We didn't vote. Voting was collaboration with the system. It was complicit with the system. You didn't vote. What you did was acted in a way to, in the obnoxious Marxist cliche of the day, maximize the contradictions to bring the system down.
LAMB: How would you define your politics today? Are you a member of a party?
COLLIER: Not really. I've always been a registered Democrat but I would find it hard to vote for the Democratic Party today. Indeed, beginning in 1980, I voted for Ronald Reagan. I think that the Reagan presidency, in spite of the fact that it's gotten the abuse that it has, was a great presidency. This transition that David and I particularly, but others, made out of the left and into a position of not really being members of the right so much as being anti-left, is, I suppose, how I would characterize my position today. It was a long process. It wasn't a road to Damascus epiphany. It was a process that took four or five years, and, in a way, it's like leaving a church. That's what the left is. That's what the semi- or fully communist left was particularly, a sort of secular church. It had all the punishments and disincentives for apostasy that any church has, so it's very hard to leave.
LAMB: Of all the books you've written -- the Kennedys, the Fords, the Rockefellers, the Fondas, the Roosevelts -- which one sold the best?
COLLIER: The Kennedys sold very well, actually. It was the number one best seller for about 12 or 13 weeks. It sold 300,000 copies in hard cover, which is a very good sale. It's not apocalyptic by today's standards. Rush Limbaugh apparently sold 2.3 million of his last book. But it was something that I never expected to happen to me.
LAMB: What do you think this book will do?
COLLIER: I think this book will do well. This is a very good book. I must say, I think it's the best book that I've ever written. I suppose people will discount that because I am, indeed, promoting it, as it were. But this is a really interesting family and this reads, I think, as one critic said, like one of the old triple-decker novels of the past, one of these family-saga novels, because there are so many intriguing characters.

You mentioned Theodore Roosevelt Jr. I would not want to leave here without telling what happened to Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Like all Theodore's sons, he was pushed to the margins by Eleanor and Franklin in the '30s, and he really, in a way, became a reflexive critic of Franklin and Eleanor. He saw Franklin in the New Deal, as he put it, making himself into an American Mussolini. Rather than guiding his efforts by what he thought, everything was instinctively opposed to what Franklin thought and what Franklin was doing. Theodore Jr., and to some degree his brothers, became the disloyal opposition in a way.

A lot of the opposition of the New Deal coalesced around them, and Theodore Jr. particularly spent the '30s really attacking Franklin and Eleanor. He was kind of the pit bull of the Republican Party during those days. In fact, his father's widow worried that he was allowing himself simply to become a pawn in their hands. When war was in the offing, uncharacteristically, given the fact that he was Theodore Roosevelt's son, Theodore Jr. became part of America First, became perhaps the most effective spokesman against the involvement in the European situation, and yet, as one of Theodore Roosevelt's sons, when it became clear to him four or five months before Pearl Harbor that there was going to be a war come what may, he immediately, even though he was in his mid '50s, enlisted. He had maintained his commission from the time when he was in World War I. He enlisted and came back in as a general.

He became one of the few fighting generals in the American Army. He fought through North Africa, through Italy, and at the age of 57 on the eve of D-day, this man crippled by arthritis, having to use a cane to get around, demanded that Gen. Eisenhower allow him to go ashore with the first wave at Utah Beach. He said, "You know, my men expect it of me. I'm the son of Theodore Roosevelt." He struggled ashore there on his cane on Utah Beach that morning and stood there on the beach shuttling his men back and forth to a sea wall for protection from the German fire. He stood there with the bullets zinging around him, smiling that famous smile of his father's, that famous Roosevelt dentition.

General Omar Bradley later, when asked at the end of his long military career what the bravest thing he'd ever seen in his military life was, he said without hesitation, "Theodore Roosevelt Jr. at Utah Beach." Theodore Jr. got his men together, broke through the German lines, pushed quickly into the inland part of France, just rushing to keep a German counterattack from forming and died a few days after Utah Beach of just exhaustion, heart failure. He spent himself to the maximum. Indeed, he found a kind of closeness at the end of his life, as all the Roosevelt boys did, with Franklin, who also proved to be that real surrogate son of Theodore that he had always wanted to be. He spent himself, too. He died, as the Roosevelts say among themselves, spending and being spent. There was a closeness. Another one of Theodore's sons, Archibald, was wounded in the war. He was the only man, I think, in the history of the U.S. military to be 100 percent war wounded in World War I and 100 percent again in World War II. An amazing story.

LAMB: Another book that we've discussed on this program by Blanche Wiesen Cook, you refer to in your book in a footnote -- the issue of whether or not Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian. What's your take on this?
COLLIER: Well, my take is, I guess you would have to say the jury is out. I think that Blanche Cook's book, which I find quite an interesting book in many ways, really kind of overstates the case. It seems to me almost a sort of genital reductionism; that is, I can remember my own grandmother having lady friends, them holding hands, them writing letters of incredible endearment to each other, and she was not a lesbian. Lesbianism was not rife in that generation. I think that Eleanor Roosevelt found a solace, obviously, in these independent-minded women lesbian friends, whom actually Franklin cynically refers to as her "she-males." She found a solace with them. She found a emotional warmth with them. She was drawn to their independence. But I think her children were right. They were asked this question. Her children, particularly her son Elliott and to some degree James, were capable of selling almost any shred of anything sensational about their mother to make money, and they always denied this quite vehemently. Their position was not that they were worried about it being a stigmatizing revelation. Their position was very clear, and that is that this was a woman who had been so badly wounded over her life by a succession of people starting with her father, her mother-in-law and her husband and she was incapable of those sorts of profound physical connections.
LAMB: You say that Alice, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, was the one who told Eleanor Roosevelt about Lucy Mercer?
COLLIER: There had always been a symmetry between these two girls, Alice and Eleanor. Alice had been semi-orphaned by the death of her mother at her birth, and Eleanor had been semi-orphaned by the death of her father when she was nine or 10 years old. They grew up in that same family together, passed around among the Theodore family and the family of his brother Elliott and his two sisters Bami and Connie as they were known in the codes names by which this family went. They were all together there, and there's both this competition and thwarted love that existed between Eleanor and Alice. Alice, all her life, particularly as Eleanor outstripped her -- in some sense their story together was a story, in a way, of the tortoise and the hare, because Alice began way, way ahead of her and then Eleanor gradually overtook her and became a fairly famous newspaper columnist while Alice's own column was stillborn.
LAMB: You're talking about while she was First Lady she had a column?
COLLIER: Before and while, yes. Alice was picked up to do a column, too, but that incredible wit and vivacity that she had didn't translate itself to the printed page. She could never really quite get her intellectual regimen onto the printed page, even though her publisher would have her do various things to overcome the block, like dictate or talk aloud and then have the secretary who was taking down the thoughts out of the room so she wasn't seen. It never really worked for Alice, and she saw Eleanor outstrip her and become First Lady. There had always been this competition between them, and she always was fairly viscous to Eleanor. She had this imitation she would do of Eleanor with a bucktooth look, making her chin recede and she did it in front of all audiences.

In fact, Eleanor, with this self-lacerating quality that she had, would invite her to the White House and at some point during the evening would say, "Alice, don't you think it's time that you did your imitation of me now?" And Alice would oblige and do this terribly wounding imitation of her facial inadequacies. She did this on into her 90s when she was a major society figure still in Washington, one of the original cave dwellers who lived on into the '80s. She died at the age of 96, still obsessed with Eleanor. Eleanor was long gone, and as Alice was wondering in senility, she would ask, "Where's Eleanor? What's Eleanor doing?" LAMB: When did you start this book?

COLLIER: Oh, I guess about four years ago.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
COLLIER: I wrote it in my home, but where I went to research it I was fortunate to get the daughter of Flora Whitney to give me the love letters between her and Quentin, so I went to New York for them. I went to the Library of Congress and saw this remarkable collection of papers I don't think that have ever really been examined with any kind of adequacy that Theodore Roosevelt Jr. left. They really show that the arc of his life -- how he was the crown prince, how he was displaced by Franklin and how he spent his afterlife, as it were. And up to Hyde Park, to Harvard where the Theodore Roosevelt collection exists, one of the truly remarkable manuscript collections, I think, in America showing really the development of this charismatic, magnetic figure, showing him coming of age and all of these letters that he wrote to this remarkable brood of children who continued to be his prime preoccupation even when he was in the presidency, writing them sometimes twice a day, each of them, to tell them about doings in the presidency, but to keep them close to him.
LAMB: Is writing hard for you?
COLLIER: Writing well is hard for me.
LAMB: How long did it take once you sat down to write this book to complete it?
COLLIER: Probably a year and a half, I would say.
LAMB: And when you write, do you write on a typewriter?
COLLIER: Typewriter? Gee, that's like chiseling out in stone these days. You have to have a word processor now. That's technology that is indispensable. I can remember -- somebody was talking about this the other day -- it seems like a century ago, sitting at a typewriter and making a couple of mistakes, ripping the paper out, doing this over and over again. My first child, somebody asked him when he went to school what his father did. He said something like, "He types and throws stuff away into the wastebasket." I can't believe we ever tried that.
LAMB: What's the next book?
COLLIER: I'm not sure. I'd like to do a memoir of the '50s, which I think is a much maligned era. My daughter actually took a course that touched on the '50s in college and learned that it was simply about grey flannel suitism and Ozzie and Harrietism and Leave It to Beaverism. That's kind of a monochromatic view of the '50s. I'd like to write about the '50s. I think there's one more great American family to do and that is the Adams family. I said that to my kids and they got all excited and I said, "No, John Adams," that remarkable family that begins with the second president of the United States and terminates with Henry Adams, arguably the greatest American intellectual.
LAMB: Of all these people you write about in this book, give me your first, second and third choices of who you would like to sit down and actually interview.
COLLIER: I suppose clearly it would have to be Theodore Roosevelt. He was perhaps the greatest interview in American history. I suppose secondly it would have to be Franklin, who was a magician who learned to use words, like a magician's misdirection, elegantly to make people forget his disability. And third it would have to be Eleanor, one of the truly remarkable women in our time.
LAMB: This is the book, "The Roosevelts, An American Saga." Our guest has been Peter Collier. We thank you for joining us.
COLLIER: Thanks for letting me.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.