After Teddy Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day, he ran west to escape his overwhelming grief, losing himself in hunting, ranching, and other pursuits. In a letter to his sister, Bammy, he wrote, “Black care rarely rides behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.” This becomes the theme of Ken Burns’ new documentary series The Roosevelts: an Intimate History.
Touching briefly on the Roosevelt family’s arrival in the United States in the 1700’s the series truly begins with Theodore Roosevelt’s birth in 1858. What follows are the interlinking stories of three people who left an indelible mark on, some would say changed the course of, American history: Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Being a Ken Burns documentary, there are the typical Burns touches: long pans over still images; the use of personal correspondence; and commentary from prominent historians and biographers, including David McCollough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Clay Jenkinson, and Kathleen Dalton . Written by Geoffrey C. Ward, the series can be quite poetic in places. Also present is the use of celebrity voices. Narrated by Peter Coyote, the series features the voices of Paul Giamatti as Theodore, Edward Hermann as Franklin, and Meryl Streep as Eleanor. Other voices are provided by John Lithgow, Adam Arkin, and Patricia Clarkson, among others.
Covering a much greater span of time than Burns’ The Civil War, The Roosevelts: an Intimate History is also longer, clocking in at around fourteen hours which are divided into seven episodes that begin Sun. Sept. 14 and run through Sat. Sept. 20, from 8 to 10 p.m.
These episodes take us from the Civil War years all the way through to the midst of the civil rights era of the early sixties.
The series accomplishes this by centering on the personalities involved, and how the struggle each one fought informed his or her actions, leading to great changes in American society. Each story is of a person haunted, trying to outrun his or her ghost, accomplishing this by flurries of activity. Highlighted are Theodore’s childhood health problem, overcome by strenuous physical activity, Franklin’s polio overcome nearly by sheer force of will, Eleanor’s difficult childhood, in which her mother thought her ugly and her father was a suicidal drunk. Losing themselves in their work, each of them grew stronger through their struggles. The series takes us along the journey with them and one can’t help but be impressed by their strength.
The series gives us a full picture of each one as a human being, with all their strengths and failings. The series is highly recommended for anyone who seeks to understand the structure of our society today, and three of the personages that had some of the greatest impacts on it.
“The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” airs on KIXE 8 to 10 p.m. Sun. Sept. 14 and Sat.
Chad Grayson has been a gas station attendant, sold video games over the phone, and even was the person who cuts the mold off the cheese in the cheese factory, but spent most of his career as a middle school Language Arts and History teacher. He is now a full-time stay at home dad and writer. You can find him on twitter at @chadgrayson and on his blog at cegrayson.wordpress.com.