Eleanor Roosevelt on Film

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First Lady of the United States, America’s initial delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, civil rights activist, journalist, wife, mother, friend — Eleanor Roosevelt died after a full and active life, on this day, November 7, in 1962, at age 78. Her legacy is enormous and inspiring, and even before she passed, a play and then film adaption showing an episode in her life had been produced. Since then, innumerable movies and TV series have showed where she fits into history. Below these photos of the real woman are some of the fictional highlights.

Eleanor Roosevelt on her wedding day, 1905.

Eleanor Roosevelt on her wedding day, 1905.

Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs, 1928.

Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs, 1928.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1932.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1932.

Eleanor Roosevelt, King George VI of England, Sara Ann Delano, Queen Elizabeth, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1939.

Eleanor Roosevelt, King George VI of England, Sara Ann Delano, Queen Elizabeth, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1939.

Eleanor Roosevelt flew with one of the Tuskegee Airmen, 1941.

Eleanor Roosevelt flew with one of the Tuskegee Airmen, 1941.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940s.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940s.

Eleanor Roosevelt visited soldiers in the South Pacific with the Red Cross, 1943.

Eleanor Roosevelt visited soldiers in the South Pacific with the Red Cross, 1943.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940s.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940s.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1950s.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1950s.

 

Eleanor Roosevelt in Movies and TV

Sunrise at Campobello (1960)

Sunrise at Campobello (1960)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Greer Garson

Focus in this movie is on how Franklin Roosevelt courageously faces his polio diagnosis, with Eleanor in the role of saintly supportive spouse. The play and especially the film was produced with Eleanor and the Roosevelt family’s cooperation, so it has the air of praise-filled hagiography more than thoughtful, critical history. Still, this movie was probably the first time the general public heard much about the former president’s disability at all, so was refreshingly honest of the time.

Sunrise at Campobello (1960)

 

Eleanor and Franklin (1976) and
Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (1977)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Jane Alexander (adult) / Mackenzie Phillips (teenage)

These two TV miniseries tell the story of both of the Roosevelts’ lives, from their childhoods through their adulthood and marriage, with the first series ending at Franklin’s election as President. The second picks up where that left off, telling of the couple’s time in the White House, featuring the same leading cast. This is the first costume designer credit for Joe I. Tompkins, and for a 1970s historical costume series, it looks damn good! Compare Eleanor Roosevelt’s actual wedding gown with that in the TV series for an idea.

Eleanor and Franklin (1976)

 

Eleanor, First Lady of the World (1982)

Eleanor, First Lady of the World (1982)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Jean Stapleton

Apparently the only full-length movie (if on TV) with Eleanor Roosevelt as the real focus. Of course, that’s because this one is about her life after Franklin dies. I have vivid memories of watching this on TV and being impressed by Stapleton’s performance (now it’s available for streaming). Later in her life, Stapleton created a successful one-woman show based around her portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt.

 

Annie (1982)

Annie (1982)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Lois De Banzie

Fulfilling your singing-dancing Roosevelt needs! A New Deal indeed!

 

The Winds of War (1983) and
War and Remembrance (1989)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Elizabeth Hoffman

These two TV miniseries were based on the very popular and very thick Herman Wouk historical-romance novels of the same names. Between the 40th and 50th anniversaries of D-Day, a ton of World War II media popped up, so Eleanor Roosevelt appeared as a minor character in many dramatizations.

 

Crossings (1986)

Crossings (1986)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Alice Hirson

Another cameo, this time in a cheesy TV soap opera set during World War II and based on a Danielle Steele book.

 

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Rosemary Murphy

Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. are among the cast in this historical TV movie about the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. Eleanor Roosevelt famously flew with one of the pilots in 1941, providing positive publicity and helping to raise funds for the early program.

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

 

Truman (1995)

Truman (1995)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Marian Seldes

Gary Sinise plays the new President in this TV movie, while Eleanor has about four lines.

 

Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Irene Richards

A charming little TV miniseries about England’s George VI (aka Bertie) and his wife Elizabeth, featuring their meeting with the Roosevelts in the U.S. in 1939 (not that Eleanor says a word, but the show got the photo right).

 

Warm Springs (2005)

Warm Springs (2005)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Cynthia Nixon

Starts in the same period as Sunrise at Campobello, but instead covers how the Roosevelts rebuilt the rehabilitation facilities at Warm Springs, Georgia. This TV movie includes Kenneth Branagh as Franklin and Jane Alexander (who previously played Eleanor) as Sara Delano Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother.

Warm Springs (2005)

 

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Olivia Williams

This movie concerns the start of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s affair in the 1930s with Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, at least the second of his major, long-term dalliances away from Eleanor. Bill Murray plays the prez.

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

 

Another Period (2016)

Another Period (2016)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by June Diane Raphael

Our favorite historical fuck-ups, the Bellacourts invite President Teddy Roosevelt over for some political wheeling and dealing, while FDR and fiancee Eleanor tag along. Beatrice and Eleanor bond in a very special way.

 

Drunk History (2016)

Drunk History (2016)

Eleanor Roosevelt played by Busy Philipps

In one whole drunken episode about the Roosevelt family, Eleanor gets a segment about her pre-World War II propaganda tour with a female Soviet soldier.

 

 

Who’s the best Eleanor Roosevelt in movies or TV? Did we miss your favorite interpretation?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

5 Responses

  1. Kelly

    When they did the Roosevelt episode of another period, I was soooo hoping they’d do there. And they did. And we got a bi #confirmed Beatrice.

    Reply
  2. M.E. Lawrence

    I’ve seen very few of them, because i revere E.R., and no one can really capture her. (I realize this is a silly attitude.) Olivia Williams has the look. Try Google-imaging “Eleanor Roosevelt young”–she’s lovely in her own way.The weird teeth and jaw came later in life; as I recall, her biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook theorizes that her dental problems were stress-related as a result of the crisis in her marriage (when FDR found someone else).

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Mahon

    I will always have a fondness in my heart for Jane Alexander’s portrayal of Eleanor. I watched Eleanor & Franklin, and Eleanor & Franklin: The White House years as a child, starting my life long love affair with the 2 of them.

    Reply

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