Jon Meacham, author of "Franklin and Winston," why did you think another book on these two would make it?
I think it`s the most fascinating friendship of modern times. There`s nothing else like it, the relationship between the two men. And the more I explored the challenges Roosevelt face, the challenged Churchill faced and the way they had to fight the war together, the more resonance there was with the challenges we face today. You`re talking about two men who had to build tenuous alliances, often against public opinion in their own countries, to project power, to fight battles beyond their borders against tyrants and terrorists, in many, many ways. And I think that as they were the first global leaders, truly global leaders, where the world was intertwined -- the day the war began, or the weekend the war began, on the 3rd of September, 1939, FDR`s fireside chat -- he said that every ship that sails at sea, every plane that takes off, every word that comes through the air does affect America and America`s future. And that`s the world we`re living in. And I thought reexamining how they fought the war would shed light on how we have to proceed now. And I think I was right.
When did you get this idea?
It was 1998. I was looking up Churchill`s eulogy for Roosevelt, which I`d read several years before. I had to do a eulogy for a friend and wanted to see how he had structured that. And the numbers, the sheer scope of the relationship jumped out at me. It was 113 days they spent together, nearly 2,000 letters, and -- all over the globe. They were in Casablanca. They were in Teheran. They were at Yalta. They were -- often meet secretly. And suddenly, just the scope of the relationship suggested to me that there had to be an emotional bond there.
Well, go back to that eulogy because that`s one of the things you write about, is that Winston Churchill was on his way to the funeral and then changed his mind. What happened?
He changed his mind. I think it was a fit of pride. This is at the very end of five, six years of a very difficult, sometimes, relationship. Mary Soames (ph), Churchill`s youngest daughter, told me that whenever she thought of Papa and the president, she thought of the French proverb, "In love there`s always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek." And Churchill was always kissing and FDR was always offering the cheek. FDR was the senior partner in the alliance, the senior partner in the law firm of Roosevelt and Churchill, and that was hard for Churchill. Churchill was an older man. He was eight years older. He had been more senior in government until Roosevelt really took off as president in 1933. And Churchill really wanted, there at the end of the war, I think, to become once again the chief leader of the English-speaking democracies. Truman was an unknown quantity. And I think in the last moment, a last kind of hiccup, in a way, Churchill thought he could make Truman come to London, as FDR had planned to in May of 1945. And in fact, in a letter to the king, Churchill holds that possibility out, saying that he hopes that the president`s successor can be prevailed upon to keep his predecessor`s calendar.
Is there anything new in this story?
There is. There are letters between -- or a letter of Franklin Roosevelt`s great secret love, Lucy Rutherford, to the president, which is the first one of those we have. There are several oral histories and letters that have not been out before, chiefly the World War II papers of Pamela Churchill Harriman, which young Winston Churchill kindly let me have access to, which really also offers the first time a senior British official explicitly mentions the possibility that Truman will become president. One of the interesting things about the emotional connection between Roosevelt and Churchill is despite the fact that from the middle of 1944 on, most observers believed Franklin Roosevelt was sick and was clearly not long for this world, to the best I can find, Churchill never asked about Truman. No one ever was really able to contemplate a world without Roosevelt, even though it was right in front of their faces. And I think that`s one of the fascinating things about the connection between the two men.
The letters shed -- shed new light on the details of the two family circles. Roosevelt and Churchill spent a good bit of time talking about one another`s families through the war. That`s a human dimension of the great men`s wartime lives that we`ve forgotten about. Each of their families were in uniform, facing hostile fire. So when they were moving those pins around the map room, some of those pins were the faces of their own sons and daughters. And they really -- both -- their children were challenging, in many ways. Public men have a hard sometimes with fatherhood. And so they had complicated relationships with their children. And one visitor to Roosevelt wrote a letter to Pamela Churchill, as she was then, saying that FDR inquired with some glee about young Randolph and his problems with his father, quote, "because he had so many problem children of his own."
You went about this in what way?
I read the correspondence, the nearly 2,000 letters. I had had a lifelong interest in both men, so I`d read the great canonical biographies, James MacGregor Burns, Martin Gilbert, William Manchester, Warren Kimball (ph), Michael Beschloss, had studied, just as an avocation, their lives. And then I really wanted to construct day by day what they meant to each other, and then in the end, what that meant to all of us. And that meant beginning a day -- on a July day in 1918, when they met very briefly. It was a Monday in London, July 29. Young Roosevelt was 36 years old. He was the assistant secretary of the Navy. He was there on a tour of the front and was the guest of honor at a dinner at Grey`s (ph) Inn, a splendid old inn of court there in London, which is still standing. And it did not go well. Churchill was there.
He apparently was unimpressed by the rather vain and overeager young Roosevelt. And in fact, Roosevelt later said, nearly 25 years later, to Joe Kennedy that, Churchill was the only man in public life who`s ever been rude to me. At a dinner I attended, he acted like a stinker, lording it all over us. They would not be in contact at all from 1918 until 1939, when on the 11th of September, 1939, Franklin Roosevelt wrote a letter to Churchill, who had just been brought back to be first Lord of the Admiralty, saying that if he had anything he wanted to keep me in touch personally about, he hoped he would send a letter through his pouch and that he would reply, which was an extraordinary thing for a head of state of one nation to write to a sub-cabinet -- or a cabinet member of another.
Go back to the 1918 meeting. Have you, by the way, been to that hall where they met?
Did you go for this project?
I did. It`s a splendid place, a huge portrait of Elizabeth I. You can see -- it was a -- it`s a formidable kind of Anglican hall.
Where is it?
It`s in the inns of court in London. It was actually hit during the blitz and rebuilt in its original condition. It still serves as the dining hall of Grey`s Inn, which is where London -- where English lawyers are trained. And I found, actually, the first people to -- first person to quote this, transcripts of the toasts from that night in 1918. And one can begin to see why Churchill was a little put out by this. We forget this sometimes, but America was also a latecomer to the First World War, as we were in the Second World War. And all of the war ministers were there -- F.E. Smith, Lord Birkenhead (ph), was the host, Churchill`s great friend, who once said, When Winston`s right, he`s right. But when he`s wrong, my God. That was his best friend, so you can imagine what his many enemies said.
And they were going out of their way to praise, as they put it, this great American with the famous American name. You know, at that point, FDR was much better known for being the cousin of Theodore Roosevelt than for anything else he had ever done. And he was called upon to speak, Roosevelt was. He later told Eleanor it was to his horror. He had not been expected to be called upon at this very formidable gathering. And he stood up, and he began talking, interestingly, about the importance of what he called "intimate personal contact" among allies at war, saying that it`s hard for people sitting 3,000 miles away to understand what people we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with. And it would be a complete reversal in 1939 and 1940, where it would be Churchill who would be arguing for the intimate personal contact in fighting a war, at that point.
In `18, 1918, had he contracted polio yet?
No. He contracted polio in August of 1921.
So he was on his feet...
Thirty-six years old. He was -- he rose to his feet quite -- and gave this speech. Churchill forgot this encounter, much to Roosevelt`s chagrin. When they met again, physically for the first time again in August of 1941, off Newfoundland, Roosevelt brought up that they had met each other and alluded to this evening, and Churchill had no recollection of it at all, which annoyed Roosevelt, who always saw himself as the center of any drama.
How about the physicality of it all, the size of FDR? How tall was he?
FDR was, well, full standing, about six feet tall.
How tall was Winston Churchill?
About five-eight, five-nine, small.
And how much did each one of them weigh?
I don`t -- Churchill was rounder, obviously, and Roosevelt in his prime was much heavier. He liked comparing himself to Jack Dempsey, actually, said that he had envied his upper body strength, which he worked on very hard. Roosevelt was very particular about what he called his "walking," and in his darker moments, he called his "stumping," which is quite a moving and interesting word, around Churchill. On that -- on a Sunday morning in August of 1941, aboard the Prince of Wales, Churchill had arranged for a church parade to really kind of cement the alliance and the atmospherics of the alliance. Remember, we were not yet in the war. And Churchill rather brilliantly saw, I think, that the more of the Anglo-American common hymns he could play, the more music he could provide, the more he might bring Roosevelt closer to the cause. So he organized this very carefully. It was advanced, as we would say now, with great care. They sang, "Onward Christian Soldiers," "Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past," "Eternal Father, Strong to Save (ph)." Churchill wrote several of the prayers, praying for -- one prayer was for the victory of right over -- of right and truth.
And Roosevelt was insistent, as he went aboard that British warship, to walk because the company of sailors were British sailors who`d been in the war since 1939 and had been in combat. And he did not want to be in his chair. He felt that the president of the United States should pay that respect to these fighting men. And he, with Eliot (ph) on one side and a cane in the other, his braces locked, he stumped across that deck, which brought tears to Churchill`s eyes. Churchill later said it was a great hour to live. Every word seemed to stir the heart. And Roosevelt reported back to his cousin, Daisy Suckley (ph), in a letter, how proud he was that he had walked. And again, in darker moments, he called it "stumping." But he saw himself as having done this. And Churchill was fascinated by the physical courage of Roosevelt. He saw it from afar in 1934. Churchill wrote a profile of Roosevelt in England without ever meeting him, just about the new president and the challenges he faced. And from there, he said that not one man -- it was a phrase he echoed in his eulogy years, years later, that not one man in ten millions afflicted as he was in the prime of life, at the age of 39, could have gone back into the hurly-burly of public life and life in the arena. And yet Roosevelt had.
How much education did each of them have?
Roosevelt was a product of Groton, of Harvard College, of Columbia Law School. Churchill was a product of Harrow (ph) School and Sandhurst, the West Point of Britain. Churchill was more self-educated, and quite proud of it. As he put it, "in the long Indian afternoons," when he was a subaltern in the British military in the late 19th century, he discovered Gimlet (ph) and he discovered MacCauley (ph). He discovered some rationalists, late 19th century thinkers, and read more himself -- with interesting implications. And he himself notes this in what I think is his best book, which is called "My Early Life," a memoir he wrote in 1930, which is...
How many books did he write?
How many of those have you read?
Probably 15 or 16. They get to be -- well, maybe more. Maybe more than that. There are the six volumes on -- there are twelve volumes on both world wars, total. There`s the memoir. There are lots of collections of speeches and journalism. As Mary Soames put it, sometimes we live from article to article and book to book. Winston Churchill was one of those fascinating aristocrats who rarely had any money and yet never missed a meal. The Paul Roget (ph) champagne always seemed to be paid for somehow. But he had the pluses and the minuses of the self-educated man. Self-educated men often fail to see much nuance, if that makes sense. They get hold of an idea, of a point of view, and because they haven`t been taught in a more critical way to evaluate those ideas, they can become quite passionate about them. And Winston Churchill could become completely passionate and dedicated to one idea to the exclusion of all others, often driving his associates to distraction.
He did it with Franklin Roosevelt, with various ideas for military operations and matters of strategy and diplomacy during the Second World War. Very sweet story -- at Yalta in late 1945, really the true twilight of their friendship and, in fact, of Roosevelt`s life -- he would be dead in two months -- Roosevelt came back after a very long day at the conference and complained to Jimmy Burns, saying, Winston has developed a tendency to deliver long speeches which he has delivered before. And Burns said, Well, yes, but they were good speeches. And Roosevelt had to chuckle and admit, Well, Winston doesn`t make any other kind.
They were the sons of rich and beautiful American mothers, both of them. Jenny Jerome, the son of Leonard Jerome, was a New York belle who was one of those "dollar duchesses," as they called them, was taken -- quite rich American woman, taken to England, fell head over heels in love with Lord Randolph Churchill. They were married the same year Churchill was born, in 1874. Sarah (ph) Delano was the second wife of James Roosevelt, FDR`s father, a beautiful woman, grown up in Duchess County in the Hudson valley, quite a formidable mother. They were quite different women, and I think with intriguing implications for all the rest of us. Both Jenny and Lord Randolph were pretty dreadful parents, actually. They were -- even by the standards of the time. In fact, I asked Lady Soames, Mary Soames, this question about were we right to think that Churchill`s parents were so neglectful and so absent.
And Lady Soames said, Well, I once asked a very old cousin of mine who had known both of them that question, and the old cousin had paused and said, Were Jenny and Randolph really so bad? Yes. And I think what happened in reaction to that is Churchill learned to live in his imagination. He was -- he loved his nanny, Mrs. Woom (ph) -- Woom, as he called her -- Mrs. Everest (ph). He had thousands and thousands of toy soldiers. He idolized the great duke of Marlborough, his most noble ancestor, and really began a lifetime, I think, of re-imagining reality that upset him. He wanted more from his parents than they were willing to give, and instead of folding emotionally, he learned to cope. And so he re-imagined them as heroic figures, saying of his mother, "She shone for me like the evening star, brilliantly but at a distance."
What had Lord Randolph Churchill done in his life to make money?
He was a -- he was a Tory politician. He was very briefly the chancellor of the Exchequer. He was an erratic politician in late Victorian politics, very, again, erratic, high -- great personality, believed that he would someday be prime minister, also had drunk deeply of the cup of Blenheim (ph) Palace and the great duke, who was a great military hero on the continent and the founder, really, of the modern Churchill dynasty, as we would think of it. He contracted syphilis as a young man, which drove him mad and then killed him. And some of the crueler letters that he wrote to Churchill when Winston was at school and as a young man, really bitter letters -- whether Churchill had broken a watch or -- it took Churchill three times to get into Sandhurst, so he was not the best of students. As he once put it at Harrow, he was not considered bright enough for Latin or Greek, so he was taught mere English.
Is Sandhurst like West Point?
West Point. West Point. It`s a military academy. And so basically, Randolph was a politician who had -- whose star has risen very fast and fallen very fast. And -- but Churchill himself could never see the down side of his father. He wrote a two-volume biography of his father that was quite defensive and filial and loving. He wore his father`s robes when he himself became chancellor of the Exchequer. And in a very poignant scene, after he`s won the Second World War -- this is 1947 -- he has what I would call a -- what he called a dream. I`d call it more a mystical experience, where he was -- Churchill was at Chartwell (ph), his retreat in the Kent countryside, repairing a portrait of his father that he`d bought at a second-hand store, when he envisioned his father appearing to him as though you were sitting -- as though he were sitting where you are, and quizzing Winston on what has happened in the world since he had died on the 24th of January, 1895. So this is 1947.
And Churchill gives an account of the slaughterhouse that Europe had become, of the rise of Bolshevism in the east, of the rise of America in the west, what Britain had done, the challenges that faced now, the clash between communism and the free world. And Randolph, who has taken his son to be a journalist and a painter, says, You know, it`s too bad you didn`t go into politics. You might have made a name for yourself. And then he disappears and Churchill snaps out of it. So even in death, even after he has become what Isiah (ph) Berlin called the largest human being of our time, Winston Churchill could never do enough to please his image of his father.
When did his father die again?
January 24, 1895. I mentioned the date because Churchill always believed that he would die on the same date, and he did, in 1965.
So he died in 1895?
So how old was Winston Churchill then?
He was 21. He was born on the 30th of November, 1874, at Blenheim Palace. Franklin Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882...
Eight years difference.
... at Springwood in Duchess County.
And when did FDR`s father die?
He died in 1904, right after Roosevelt left Harvard.
Now, the story...
Right before he graduated from Harvard because Sarah actually moved to Harvard -- moved to Boston to be closer to Franklin.
You also tell the story that she lived side by side in townhouses on, what, 65th Street or something like that in New York.
East 65th Street. You had the opposite experience with the Roosevelt family than you did with the Churchill family. Sarah Roosevelt was a smothering presence in Franklin Roosevelt`s life. He very rarely was apart from her in his childhood. He bathed in her company and in her supervision for years and years and years. He developed a secret code in his diary because presumably, he felt she was reading it. And I think his reaction to this -- whereas Churchill`s reaction was to re-imagine that which upset him, I think Roosevelt`s reaction to his mother`s intense micromanagement was to keep secrets and to learn how to balance different emotions and different experiences and different feelings behind a very cheerful exterior.
He learned how to control the flow of information, how to let his mother know what he wanted her to know on his terms. He managed to court and become engaged to Eleanor Roosevelt, for instance, without his mother having any inkling about it. She called it quite a shock when he told her at Thanksgiving that he was engaged to his cousin. And those two contrasting emotional experiences with their parents I think fundamentally shaped how they dealt with each other, and it came to characterize most of the relationships in their lives. Where Churchill was open, hungry for affection, able to take a slight or take a snub and just roll forward, incredibly magnanimous, incredibly forgiving, and Roosevelt was -- as he put it himself, "I am a juggler. I never let my left hand know what my right hand is doing."
When did the two mothers die?
The two mothers died -- Jenny died about 20 years after her husband, and Sarah died right after Roosevelt came back from Newfoundland, from having met with Churchill. She died in early September, 1941, with her son at her side at Springwood. And in fact, one can imagine -- can`t prove this -- that some of their last conversations were about Roosevelt`s being with Churchill because it`s the meeting had -- the meeting, which had been secret, had just been revealed. So there is this notion that they might have been discussing Winston Churchill as she faded in those last days in Hyde Park.
Where did you start in your career with interest in reading in history? Remember?
Sure. I`m a -- I`m a Southerner. I grew up on Missionary Ridge, a battlefield where Arthur MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur`s father, won his Medal of Honor when he was 17 years old.
Where? What state?
Tennessee. Missionary Ridge is a battlefield that overlooks Chattanooga. I went to excellent schools, went to a small Episcopal College called the University of the South in Sewanee (ph), Tennessee, which is a literary center, in many ways, for the South.
Where is that physically?
It`s half-way between Nashville and Chattanooga, on the Cumberland plateau. It`s a 10,000-acre domain there. It`s sort of "Brideshead Revisited" dropped in the middle of Tennessee. And my grandfather was a judge and a writer in Chattanooga and was a big fan of Churchill`s, would read and reread his own way through Churchill`s books throughout his life. Both my grandfathers fought in the Second World War, one in the Pacific and one in Europe. And so Roosevelt and Churchill were always figures in my childhood. They were -- had been the commanders-in-chief of what -- these fundamental shaping experiences of my grandparents. And they were intrinsically dramatic figures, you know? They capture one`s imagination even yet.
Your grandfathers, did you know...
Yes, I did.
... in your life? How well?
Very well. One died in 1988 and one died in 1998.
What year did you graduate from the University of the South?
And then what?
Then I went to "The Chattanooga Times," which was the first paper the Ochs family ever owned, before they bought a second and slightly better-known paper called "The New York Times" in New York. I was a reporter there for about 18 months. Then I went to "The Washington Monthly" and worked for Charlie Peters here for two years and then went to "Newsweek" in New York in 1995.
And your job there is?
I`m now the managing editor of the magazine. I was a writer and I was the national affairs editor prior to that.
If I calculate right, you`re about 33 or 34. Which is it?
Is it often that somebody 34 is managing editor of "Newsweek" magazine?
It`s a young man`s business -- a young person`s business. People have done very well there. I`m lucky that it`s a meritocracy, and I`ve been -- they`ve been very kind and generous to me, and I hope that continues.
You dedicate this book to Keith (ph). Who`s that?
Keith is my wife, a woman from the Mississippi delta and a graduate of the University of Virginia, which causes some problems with the University of the South and the University of Virginia, but we work that out.
You say you had a child in the middle of all this.
Yes, Samuel Ellis Meacham was born in the middle of it. He began literally gnawing on a copy of Martin Gilbert`s Churchill war papers when I was doing fact-checking. So at that point, I decided we needed to send in the manuscript.
Now, this has been on the best-seller list a number of weeks when this is being recorded, early January. Do you happen to know how many weeks it`s been on the best-seller list?
About six, I think.
Are you surprised at that?
Pleasantly, but -- pleasantly and very. Yes, I am. I think that -- I love doing this. What I wanted people to do was sit at the table with these two men for these 113 days they spent together. What I tried to do was reconstruct their -- all their contacts, both epistolary and personal, throughout the war. But it is a well-worn path, as you put it. Churchill himself realized this. In 1950, Virginia Cowells (ph), who was young Winston`s godmother, an American journalist, went to Churchill and said she wanted to write a biography of him, which she did, a quite good one. And he looked over at her and said, Well, there`s not much in that field left unplowed. And he himself had done it. Churchill wrote a lot about himself. I just think that the two men themselves and what they meant to each other was one angle of vision that was worth revisiting because I think we have a tendency to think that the great men of the past are Rushmore-ian. They`re monuments. They`re in black and white. They`re the scratchy voices on the newsreels. And you know, I know, most of your viewers know that they were flesh and blood. They were a lot more like us, perhaps, than either we or they would like to admit, if you could do that. They were prone to jealousy. They were prone to sickness. They were prone to fits of pride and rage, and they got their feelings hurt.
At Teheran in 1943, they`re planning D-Day. They`re planning the United Nations. It`s the first meeting with Stalin. The teasing of Churchill -- Roosevelt had decided he needed to tease Churchill to impress Stalin, that he was not this old imperialist, like Churchill was, and that if the post-war world was going to be Washington and Moscow, London would be properly in the second rank. And Roosevelt -- Roosevelt believed that, so he thought he had to make that point in a personal way at the conference. The teasing got so bad one night that Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain, bolted from the room, literally got up from a dinner table and walked into a darkened room, and Stalin had to go and fetch him back. Now, the idea that there would be an emotional storm of that dimension raging at the very highest levels, at the moment when we`re deciding some of the fundamental events that shaped the way we live now, is really remarkable. I mean, it`s a terrific story. And I think that`s what people are responding to.
There are some figures that you give in the middle of your book that, no matter how many times you see them, jump out. And those are the figures -- because you brought up Joe Stalin -- on how many Americans were killed in World War II, how many Brits were killed in World War II and how many Russians were killed in World War II. You remember the numbers?
It`s something like eight million, I think.
I think it`s twelve.
Was it twelve? Twelve million...
... broadly defined, Soviets. About 300,000 Americans and about 400,000 Brits.
This -- that, I mean, that`s hard to comprehend. Because we`re -- you`re talking about Franklin and Winston, but Joe Stalin was at these. How often was he at the table with them?
And those places were?
Tehran in November to the 1st of December of 1943, and Yalta in February of 1945.
You tell a story in the book about FDR trying to have a private meeting with Joe Stalin somewhere. Can you go over that?
Sure. It was -- it`s a fascinating moment, because it`s -- it shows how Roosevelt operated on different levels at once. Churchill has come to Washington. He has got -- they`ve gone to Shangri-La, which is what Camp David was known as before President Eisenhower renamed it. They`ve been fishing together; they are having a marvelous time. Anna Roosevelt was taking snuff with the president - with the prime minister. It was all very cheery. Lord Beaverbrook was there, who was a Churchill aide. All very intimate, sort of a big house party, sort of "Gosford Park" meets C-SPAN in some ways. And Roosevelt is assuring Churchill of his great affection and great esteem. All the while, Joseph Davies, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, is on his way to Moscow with a letter from Roosevelt to Stalin suggesting a private meeting, a private tete a tete .., literally saying it`s some - it`s easier to meet two -- with two than with three. As literally the same week they`re sitting there together. And it just shows how Roosevelt could operate.
Did Winston Churchill ever find out about it?
He did find out about it shortly thereafter, and was openly wounded. Quite wounded, wrote, you know, letters that expressed a deep kind of hurt. Basically saying, this is a turning point in world history. A meeting of the big three will be seen as a great event, and I must be part of it. And I think you have to understand, both - about Tehran and about the Davies letter -- where Churchill was coming from, if I can be allowed that cliche . He had stood alone against Adolf Hitler at a time when Franklin Roosevelt was sitting protected by an ocean and not moving very fast to help, and Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with the man. So Churchill is looking at this from the 11th of December, which is the day Hitler declared war on us, through the end of the war with Stalin and Roosevelt as the one who had been longest in the war. Winston Churchill had been the one who had looked across the Channel and said he`s gone that far, but no farther -- about Hitler. And it was that courageous stand that saved democracy. There were strong elements in London in those weeks and months in 1940 who would have arranged some sort of settlement perhaps, with the Axis, perhaps just to rearm and try to go back to the continent. But can you imagine what would have happened, given what happened already, with what we know, if there had been some kind of diplomatic sanction given to Hitler`s holdings on the continent in 1940?
On that meeting that never happened -- what was in the end the reason?
Churchill and Roosevelt had once again delayed a cross-Channel operation, which was Stalin`s great wish throughout the war. That the Anglo-American forces would come across the Channel into northwest France, which was the most direct point to Berlin, relieve the pressure on the Eastern front, where the Germans and the Russians were chewing each other up. And we -- though George Marshall and others had recommended it as early as 1942, obviously, as we know, it didn`t take place until June of 1944. And it was Stalin`s fury at Churchill and Roosevelt`s decision to once again delay it that caused Stalin to cut off connections with Roosevelt for a while. The reluctance, particularly Churchill`s reluctance to go across the Channel, which was based on a number of factors, one of which was his great fear of a repeat of Gallipoli, which had been an amphibious operation in the First World War, for which he had been largely responsible. And it had been disastrous in terms of the human lives it cost. Churchill was very wary, and I think this is something we should salute in leaders. He was very wary of sacrificing yet another generation of American and British youth on the coasts of Europe. He -- a joke circulated, his reluctance to do this -- that the phone rang at Downing Street one day, and Churchill picked it up, and then voice on the other end said, this is Uncle Joe and Churchill said, Uncle Joe, where are you? Oh, I`m at Calais, while Churchill was still in London.
On the coast of France already?
Right. That they have pushed through.
I`m not sure with so little time how you can get any of this stuff in, but I want to keep asking some of these incidents that you write about. The - the story of the Wendell Wilkie approach from Winston Churchill?
Yes. In - in ...
And certainly the time, yeah.
January 1942. This is -- Churchill has come - this is after Pearl Harbor, after Hitler declares war on us, we`re suddenly together. Everything is rolling, and the narrative we know of as World War II is taking place. Churchill was a lifelong politician, remember. He was first elected to Parliament when Queen Victoria was on the throne. He understood that you reach out to leaders in opposition, because he had been so often in opposition himself. And Roosevelt had asked him not to call Wendell Wilkie. Wilkie, had, of course, been the 1940 Republican nominee. Churchill decides to do it anyway. He is vacationing - he is taking a few days off, he is in Florida, flopping around on the beach, literally. Actually, he had to fight off a shark that was off the - off the coast there, too. And there`s a mix-up with the British telephone operator as Churchill is placing his call to Wilkie. And he gets FDR. And begins to say, is this not Mr. Wendell Wilkie, and President Roosevelt says no, you have reached Franklin Roosevelt, and Churchill is very embarrassed, very chagrinned and Roosevelt is very cool about it. Very -- very put of, I think, that this has happened. Also, that Churchill had failed to recognize his voice. And it is true that Franklin Roosevelt probably had the most recognizable voice in the world at that point, besides Hitler`s and Churchill. And he cut it off with the kind of cool and correct, no, you`ve not given offense, and Churchill then did what lovers and friends the world over have done. He went to a third party, Harry Hopkins, who was kind of the James Baker of that era, a troubleshooter, you know, sometime cabinet member, to go to Roosevelt and make sure everything was OK.
You interviewed people, you mentioned Lady Soames, the daughter of Winston Churchill. How many principals or second-level people are alive that you were able to get to to tell this story?
There were about seven or eight that were crucial. There was Patrick Kinna, who was the dictation secretary, who was in the room at the White House that Christmas 1941, when Churchill was in his bathtub dictating his speech to Congress, which he delivered on the 26th of December. And he was on a roll, and as all writers know when you`re on a roll you don`t want to stop. So he gets out of the tub; his towel falls away. And as Mr. Kinna put it to me, he was walking around "completely starkers," as the British say, when there was a knock on the door and Roosevelt came in, sees this -- Churchill in all his naked glory and begins to leave, and Churchill says, oh no, no, Mr. President, as you can see, I have nothing to hide from you. Which Roosevelt loved, he loved that kind of humor and that kind of intimacy. And later told the secretary Grace Tully, you know, he`s pink and white all over. There was George Elsey, who was a young reservist in the map room who would sometimes be sitting there as Roosevelt and Churchill came down after dinner to work.
This is the map room on the first floor of the White House?
The first floor of the White House. Roosevelt, actually, stole - not stole -- borrowed the idea from Churchill. Churchill had a map room, and he brought it that first time, and Roosevelt had not had one to that point. And so they found a ladies` drawing room, a ladies waiting room and converted it. And Elsey was often there when they came down.
What`s he doing now?
He was a very important figure, as you know, in the Truman national security team. He`s now retired after a long life in public service.
And now ....
He lives in Washington, must be 80.
Who is Robert Hopkins? You talked to him?
Yes. Robert Hopkins is Harry Hopkins` son, who was a signal corps photographer during the war. And he also lives in Washington now. He was a guest of the Churchills off and on during the war. He took many of the photographs that we think of as the iconic pictures of Yalta and Tehran. One of the most moving moments I had in interviewing Mr. Hopkins and anyone was when he showed me the scroll that his father had received from Winston and Clementine Churchill when his brother, Peter Hopkins, had been killed in combat in 1944, which was a quotation from "Macbeth." "Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier debt; he lived but till he was a man, but like a man he died." And Churchill had this scroll made up as a tribute to his friend Hopkins, and it`s hanging in Mr. Hopkins` house in northwest Washington.
How many different places did you go? I noticed you said you got a special tour of Hyde Park and some of the private rooms?
I did. I took the baby, actually who was eight months old. I did Hyde Park, which is a little office that`s closed to the public, which is where Roosevelt and Churchill basically decided to share the atomic bomb, critically. I went to Chartwell, which is Churchill`s great house in Kent, which I recommend to everyone.
How far is that from London?
About 40 minutes.
Southwest, I believe. And quite - quite wonderful. You get a real sense of the man there.
Does that belong to the prime minister or does it belong to ...
No. Chequers is the official - Chequers is their Camp David. The Churchill family gave Chartwell to the national trust some years ago, and it`s been the nice thing about both the Roosevelt and Churchill historiography is that they left most of the places where they lived and worked as they were as if the great man had just left. That`s true of Warm Springs, where President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. It`s true of Hyde Park; it is true of Top Cottage, which is a where - a little hide-away on the grounds at Hyde Park, where Roosevelt hosted Churchill at several different picnics. It is true of Val-Kill, which is Eleanor Roosevelt`s retreat at Hyde Park, where Churchill went swimming and went to a picnic once.
You have this picture in the book I love from Val-Kill. Who gave him a hat?
It was his - he loved hats. I believe I`m right, that that`s the first time that picture has been reproduced. It`s from Marion Dickerman, who was one of Eleanor Roosevelt`s good friends. And that was his 10-gallon Stetson. It is a picnic in August of 1943. Mary Soames was there too. And Churchill brought a bottle of scotch and a little pail of ice to the picnic. Ate hot dogs, finished what he wanted - he`d have half a hot dog left and threw it out for Fala, who went out and got it and then spent the rest of the picnic chasing a muskrat around the little pond there.
When we started, you talked about something that you found that was new. And it`s not the relationship of Winston and Franklin, but I`m sure folks would be interested in it. It`s the Lucy Mercer Rutherford letter.
Where did you find the letter and why hasn`t anybody seen it before now?
It was unsealed at Hyde Park in October of 2001. It is - it`s a fragment of a letter, it`s eight pages, handwritten. We`re missing the first -- at least the first page, because there`s no salutation or no date. My best guess is it was 1941, given the allusions in the letter. I think what the letter does -- this is Lucy Rutherford, who had a love affair with Franklin Roosevelt beginning probably in 1916. She was Eleanor Roosevelt`s social secretary, when he was assistant secretary of the Navy. The love affair was discovered, interestingly, when Roosevelt returned from the trip to Europe, on which he`d met Churchill. It was that fall of 1918. Eleanor found letters from Lucy. She gave FDR his choice, it was Lucy or her. He chose Eleanor and I think not coincidentally his career as well.
By the way, did Winston Churchill ever know about Lucy?
I don`t believe so. I don`t believe so. He never -- she was an interesting figure, in that Roosevelt would stop in New Jersey at her farm to see her, for instance, on the way to the second Quebec in September of 1944.
On his train?
On his train. On his train. It`s such Henry James, this love affair. It is absolutely fascinating, because it was open in a sense that both family -- kind of aristocratic family circles knew about it. And this -- this September 1944 stop, Roosevelt brought his cousin, Lucy had her stepsons and their wives. There were people around, there were reporters sitting back on the train playing cards, and it was all rather open. And...
The public didn`t know it?
The public didn`t know, but it was within a fairly large official circle, it was known. Large, if you think about what`s going on. Now, I don`t know whether Franklin Roosevelt and Lucy Rutherford ever had sex, and there are only two people who do know, and they`re both dead. But what is clear from this correspondence and from what we know from witnesses around, is that Mrs. Rutherford provided Franklin Roosevelt with a kind of comfort, and a kind of solace, and a kind of friendship that he found enormously important and necessary, in many ways, to the work he did. And for that, I think, we owe her a great debt.
So they got together in 1916 originally, he would have been about 34 then.
And you`re talking about a letter ...
A letter ...
A letter that was written like in `41?
`41. That`s what`s interesting about it. The letter itself is fascinating ...
Before you do that, where did you find -- how did you get that letter?
We were doing research at Hyde Park, and it`s simply in the Rutherford file or the R.U. file of Anna Roosevelt`s papers. As you know, Anna Roosevelt was FDR`s daughter, who played a kind of intermediary role in facilitating Mrs. Rutherford being able to see her father in the White House and around during the presidential years. And what I think happened, was after the president`s death, I believe Mrs. -- Ms. Roosevelt, Anna Roosevelt probably took care of many of the letters. This one seems to have slipped through the cracks, and it was ...
And no one had found this in the file up until the time you got there?
No, not to my knowledge.
Did the archivist say to you, hey, there`s quite a letter there, you ought to check it out?
Well, what I was doing was chasing a trail of evidence that began with a letter that Lucy had written to Eleanor, because Eleanor, after FDR died, sent Mrs. Rutherford, via Daisy Suckley, a watercolor.
Who is Daisy Suckley?
Daisy Suckley was FDR`s cousin in Dutchess County who was really, in this story, in Jeffrey Ward`s (ph) phrase, FDR`s closest companion in the last years of the war.
And you quote the diary a lot in the book.
I quote a diary a lot. It was found in 1955 at a wonderful place, Daisy`s household, Weldersteind (ph), in the Dutchess County, which is still open there. And it`s another one of those places where you walk in and you can feel the -- still feel what happened there. What was remarkable about this was -- my friend Arthur Schlessinger had suggested looking at the letter from Lucy to Eleanor. And what that letter revealed is that in the weeks after the president`s death, Eleanor had sent a watercolor of Madam Shoumatoff - Shoumatoff was the portrait painter who was painting the president on the day he died, and had painted him before. And Eleanor had sent this to Lucy. That gave me great pause for a moment, very late in the research, because if, in fact, so shortly after the president`s death, sometime in those two weeks, Eleanor had been able to send something to Lucy whom -- about whom the historical consensus had been that Eleanor had known nothing about the resumption of contact in the previous 26 years, could it have been that big a deal? That is, had most historians gotten this slightly wrong?
And the more -- so that started me out on a rabbit hunt, really, to get all the correspondence between Anna, between Daisy, between Lucy, between Eleanor from that period right after the president`s death, which was a largely unmined field. Partly because the Suckley papers had only become available in the last five or six years, and partly because of this Rutherford letter, which had just been unsealed by happenstance in October of 2001. And what it revealed was I think that Eleanor had sent this watercolor as a way of saying, I know what was going on. I`m still Mrs. Roosevelt, but this is in my gift and I`m going to be gracious and rise above any kind of pettiness. And Lucy wrote her a remarkable thank-you note. And I think it`s - it`s really an elegant epilogue to one of the most fascinating presidential romances, where you have two women who loved Franklin Roosevelt, treating each other with civility and grace. And I think this letter, the letter from Lucy to FDR, which is from four years earlier, really reveals that they were much closer in that period between 1918 and late in the war, than we`ve previously thought. It`s an enormously chatty, intimate, personal, informed letter about his health, his whereabouts. She`s recommending people for him to bring into the government. She calls him "my poor darling." She talks about how they have talked on the telephone. He has a cold, she`s doing a P.S. to a letter. She says, now I have a cold, (caught over the phone?) I think that what this reveals is that they were much closer and in much closer contact throughout the years, perhaps.
Well, the last line of the letter, before it gets to the P.S., says "the smallest" in quotes, sends you her love. Bless you as ever, L. What does the smallest mean?
The smallest was Barbara Rutherford. Now Barbara Rutherford Knowles (ph) of Aiken, South Carolina. She was the one child that Lucy had with Winthrop Rutherford himself. Mr. Rutherford had sons and one daughter from a previous marriage. But Lucy had married in February 1920, had married Winthrop Rutherford.
How long did the marriage last?
Until his death in 1944, March of 1944.
And you say that the phone calls back and forth, and some of the favors done by FDR to Lucy Rutherford`s family and even her husband included what?
It`s fairly clear that Roosevelt helped straighten out some details of military service for one of the Rutherfords. He helped -- or tried to help Winthrop Rutherford himself get to see the right doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital when he was sick. He -- one -- part of the letter from 1941 is about Guy Rutherford, who is now a great old counsel lawyer in New York, who is going to that UVA law school at the University of Virginia, and Mrs. Rutherford writes rather charmingly that she wants him to go to Washington and not New York, because in New York young lawyers work themselves to death. And that could she possibly prevail upon the president to talk to - talk to him about ...
Did he ever talk to him?
He didn`t about that, but he may have talked to Mrs. Rutherford.
And did you try to get a hold of Guy Rutherford?
I did. I spoke to him.
You did speak to him. And what was his attitude about all of this?
The Rutherfords are intensely private family about all of this. Understandably so. Barbara Rutherford, Mrs. Knowles (ph), was incredibly gracious. And in fact, I went to see her in Aiken and showed her the letter, showed her her mother`s handwriting all these years later. And, you know, she has to grant permission to publish something like this. And so she did, very graciously.
You mean even though it`s in the file at the FDR library?
If I write you a letter and your biographer wants to quote it, they have to come to me, not to you, to do it. That`s the way copyright law works.
Is the actual letter itself in that file?
The original was, as they say, retired for preservation, but the photocopy is there.
And you, again, are the first person to get this letter?
To the best of my knowledge.
And did you know you had something special when you got there?
What was your reaction?
Wow! To use a technical, historical term.
Yeah, so, what did you do then?
Well, it`s --it was a remarkable document, because her handwriting is quite distinctive and it had been seen -- there had been other letters, so I knew what that was. And -- it filled in an enormous question mark in the life of Franklin Roosevelt, and that doesn`t happen much 65 years on. But there it was. And it added something completely new to what we know about the man who served as our president the longest.
As we run out of time, I`ve got to get you to tell the story of Marrakech.
Marrakech, yes, January 24, 1943. It was a Sunday. The day began with Roosevelt and Churchill holding a press conference in the garden of the villa where they were staying in a suburb of Casablanca, where Roosevelt declared the doctrine of unconditional surrender, and they revealed their plans for 1943. Churchill had said -- Churchill spent some time in Marrakech. He had told Roosevelt, you cannot come this far without seeing the sunset of Atlas Mountains. It`s the Paris of the Sahara, he put it. So they got in the car together, with a picnic lunch that had wine and scotch, and drove the 100 miles or so to Marrakech. They stayed in something called "the Villa Tailor" (ph) or "the Flower Villa" depending on who you talked to. And carried -- Roosevelt was carried to the top of a tower 80 steps up.
Physically by ...
His Secret Service agents carried him up. Churchill`s doctor noticed how flaccid his legs were, that he looked like a ventriloquist`s dummy being carried up the steps. So here is the president of the United States on the eve of his birthday, which was in a week, being carried to the top of this tower at sunset. The sun sets on the other side, so you`re watching the reflected rays off the Atlas mountains, and there`s a picture of them taken at that moment where Churchill is staring at Roosevelt with a kind of - a kind of a love and a kind of longing, a deep affection and respect, and Roosevelt`s seated and looking out at the sun setting. And Churchill the next day painted the view for Roosevelt, and it was the only picture the prime minister painted during the war. As they dressed for dinner afterward, that night, Churchill told his doctor "he is the greatest man I have ever known," and Roosevelt stayed up most of the evening, almost all night with Churchill. They had sandwiches; they had a grand dinner, and then they had sandwiches and beer and worked on a letter to Stalin. And as they parted, that night, Roosevelt was leaving early the next morning, Roosevelt said, "Winston, don`t bother getting up to come over and, say, go to the airport with me. I`ll roll by and kiss you good-bye." And the next morning, Churchill, hearing FDR, leapt out of bed, put on a dragon dressing gown and what one observer said was the weirdest outfit I`d ever seen, and with a cigar and a night vest, and went to the airport with him.
Did you go to Marrakech?
I did not go to Marrakech.
Are there other places that you`ll remember that you went through to help tell the story?
I think standing in the rooms where -- particularly at Hyde Park -- where they really -- the push and the pull and the tug, always. There was an amazing dinner in 1943, right before the Quebec conference, where they were together and Eleanor was bringing up some - some concerns. And Roosevelt just hung back and watched Churchill and his wife argue. But then -- when they would go down the hill afterward, drive down that hill at Hyde Park to the railroad tracks where I stood, Roosevelt could feel the emotion rising in Churchill as they were parting at this very important moment. And Churchill leaned in the car and said, "God bless you." And Roosevelt said, "I`ll go over with you, don`t worry. I`ll always be with you."
This picture on the cover of the book is from where?
That that`s morning, on the day we were just talking about.
That is Sunday morning, January 24, 1943. And the midpoint - really the high point of their relationship.
And why did you use that for the cover?
It was in color, to be honest. Very few color pictures of them, and it goes back to our point. They were men before they were monuments. These are not black and white figures. These are human, complex, wonderfully contemporary people, whom I really can imagine sitting down at a table with even until this hour.
Are you the first person to add up the 113 days they spent together?
No one had ever done that?
Churchill got it wrong, but I think you can give it to him. He called it 120 in his eulogy, and I went back and figured it up, and he was off by a week. I think given the fact that he wrote more than 50 books, won the Nobel Prize for literature and defeated Hitler, we can forgive him a week.
Here`s the cover of the book. Our guest has been Jon Meacham. "Franklin and Winston," as he said, 113 days together and 2,000 letters exchanged. Thank you very much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.