A compulsively readable account of the decadeslong rivalries, grudges, and battles between and within the Roosevelt families of Oyster Bay and Hyde Park.
The most direct link between the two distant clans was Eleanor, daughter of Theodore’s younger, philandering, alcoholic brother Elliot. Pitied by the family for her timidity and homeliness, Eleanor grew up to marry Franklin of the Hyde Park Roosevelts and become the most consequential first lady ever. Mann (Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood, 2014, etc.) sketches the career progress and high achievement of the three Roosevelt titans, but he focuses on the private history and the cost of their unceasing quest for political power to themselves, their spouses, lovers, children, and close friends: how Teddy Roosevelt’s fear of scandal caused him to spurn his brother; how his example, his drive, and ambition distorted the lives of his sons, particularly Ted Jr., whose political career never quite measured up, and Kermit, whose shady business dealings and alcoholism led to suicide; how his troubled bond with daughter Alice led to her own hollow marriage, her thwarted ambition for her brother Ted, and her bitterness at the rise of the usurpers, Franklin and Eleanor. Eleanor’s refusal even to meet her illegitimate brother, Elliot Roosevelt Mann, whose story will be new to most readers, her vexed relations with her mother-in-law and her own children, and her complicated, intimate attachments to female friends all receive Mann’s close attention. He also spotlights FDR’s affairs and the unconventional life of his cousin Jimmy. Kermit’s doomed son, Alice’s affair with Sen. William Borah, Eleanor’s remorseless taunting of cousin Ted—the stories tumble out until no skeleton remains closeted.
Perhaps best known for his popular film biographies and histories, and thus no stranger to tales of scandal and coverup, feuds and intrigue, Mann writes sympathetically about all the Roosevelts but particularly the black sheep, the nonconformists whose births into this powerful family imposed special burdens.