Three-night docuseries ‘FDR’ premieres Memorial Day on History Channel

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'FDR' with Doris Kearns Goodwin (Part 1)

Last Memorial Day, Doris Kearns Goodwin executive produced the History Channel docuseries “Teddy Roosevelt.”

This Memorial Day, she tackles another Roosevelt with “FDR,” premiering Monday on the History Channel.

“We’ve lived through a difficult economic time these past couple of years through COVID, then at the same time we’re dealing with Ukraine and the largest land war since World War II, so to go back to the Great Depression and World War II and see the leadership of FDR in action … it just should make us feel confident about our own future in that we’ve been through it before and we can do it again,” Pulitzer Prize winner Goodwin told WTOP.

Based on her best-selling FDR biography “Leadership: In Turbulent Times” (2018), the three-part docuseries is co-executive produced by actor Bradley Cooper. It opens with Roosevelt’s formative years before his presidency.

“The documentary starts with his marriage to Eleanor where Teddy Roosevelt is presiding as Eleanor’s uncle and FDR is afraid of Teddy Roosevelt stealing the attention,” Goodwin said. “Then, it talks about the early days of FDR running for state office when Eleanor sees that he’s not a great communicator. Then when he gets confident, she’s afraid he’ll never go off the stage. You watch him developing as a leader, then we see what polio does to him.”

Goodwin says FDR knew what it was like to be paralyzed just like the nation was paralyzed economically. Elected president in 1932, his inaugural speech told the country: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He later launched New Deal programs to get the country back to work, while holding “Fireside Chats” on nightly radio.

“He’s able to give them hope, confidence and optimism that he’ll take action and responsibility, he’ll provide the leadership, and he certainly does in those 100 days to get the country mobilized again,” Goodwin said. “When he took office, one out of four people were out of work, people couldn’t get their money out of banks because the banks didn’t have the currency, starving people were wandering the streets, there was no safety net in that day.”

Roosevelt won reelection in 1936 and an unprecedented third term in 1940 before the attack on Pearl Harbor, calling Dec. 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.” As America entered World War II, FDR forged a bond with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and won reelection for a fourth term before his death in 1945.

“You’ll see the importance of that relationship with Winston Churchill,” Goodwin said. “They said it was fun to be in the same decade with each other. … Most importantly is the factory mobilization that Roosevelt was able to achieve by forming a partnership with the business community to produce what the allies needed: the planes, tanks, weapons, Jeeps to win the war … and mobilize the American people on the homefront to accept rationed supplies.”

In addition to outlining FDR’s achievements, the docuseries also explores unfortunate blemishes on his record.

“Certainly the internment of the Japanese Americans … is a stain on his legacy, as is the failure to bring more Jewish refugees into the country before Hitler closed the door forever,” Goodwin said. “None of these people are perfect, you wish they were, but on the other hand, you have to judge them on the span of what they did. For this leader to have guided us through those two great crises … I think he’ll be remembered for a long time to come.”

She says The New York Times put it best: “People would look 1,000 years from now and put themselves on their knees for having had this man in power at that time.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'FDR' with Doris Kearns Goodwin (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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