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On September 14, 2014, PBS stations across the country will begin broadcasting the latest film by Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. This seven-part documentary weaves together the stories of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, three members of one of the most prominent and influential families in American politics.
The 14-hour series marks the first time their individual stories have been woven into a single narrative, and it is the first time that PBS has premiered such a film in two-hour blocks over seven consecutive nights.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, assisted Burns’ Florentine Films production team throughout the entire process of making the film. The first visit to the Roosevelt Library by Florentine staff happened in May 2009. Over the course of the next five years, the Roosevelt staff helped the crew in researching, understanding, and filming the Library’s archival and museum collections. The Library staff also assisted renowned Roosevelt biographer Geoffrey C. Ward as he honed the film’s script and wrote the accompanying book. The entire process was collaborative and collegial, with the Florentine team sharing the digital by-products of their labors and the Library offering suggestions for documents, photographs, and objects to use in the film. And it can be said that the Florentine crew survived the Library’s three and half year renovation right along with the Library staff. During the film project, the Florentine team worked in the pre-renovation research room in 2009, moved right along with the staff to the temporary research room in the Library’s Wallace Visitor Center in 2010, and moved back to the renovated Library in 2013. Burns’ team also worked closely with the National Park Service, which operates the Home of FDR National Historic Site on the same grounds as the Library.
Ken Burns made a special visit to Hyde Park on June 12, 2014, to preview the excerpts from the film to a packed audience in the Wallace Visitor Center. Afterwards, Ken Burns and Geoff Ward hosted a special lunch where they personally thanked the staffs of the Roosevelt Library and the National Park Service for their assistance in creating The Roosevelts: An Intimate History – an epic documentary that will bring the world of the Roosevelts to a whole new generation.
The Library lost a dear friend and favorite researcher last week. Joseph Persico, best-selling author, historian and speechwriter for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller died at the age of 84. Persico wrote 12 books, including biographies of Rockefeller, Edward R. Murrow, CIA director William Casey and Franklin Roosevelt. He was selected to write the words etched in granite at the National World War II Memorial: “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
Of Persico’s writing career, Eric Sevaried described his Edward R. Murrow: An American Original as “the definitive” biography of the broadcast pioneer. The New York Times said of Persico’s The Imperial Rockefeller, “No one has written a book like this about Nelson Rockefeller before.” His Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial was described by the broadcast journalist, Howard K. Smith, as “Simply the best account of the trial.” This book was adapted by Turner Network Television as a miniseries that won two Emmy awards. Persico was the collaborator on former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey which remained twenty weeks on the New York Times best seller list.
His Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage also reached the best seller list and was chosen as one of the notable books of the year. His, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour, on Armistice Day, World War I, has been described by historian, Richard Norton Smith as, “The single finest work I have read on the Great War.” The Washington Post’s Book World said of his Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, “Persico… understands that Lucy Mercer helped FDR awaken his capacity for love and compassion, and thus helped him become the man to whom the nation will be eternally in debt.” “Roosevelt’s Centurions,” a detailed history of his World War II commanders — a 650-page volume published last year, was his final published book and his most ambitious.
His articles have been published in American Heritage Magazine and the Military History Quarterly. He was a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post Book World and was a commentator on several PBS and History Channel documentaries.
Joe Persico was a wonderful scholar and a true gentleman. He was generous with his time and his expertise, appearing at five of our annual Roosevelt Reading Festivals. His program here at the Library in December 2001 on the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor–coming just weeks after the 9/11 attacks–was one of the most memorable and meaningful events in the Library’s long history.
He will be greatly missed by his friends in Hyde Park.