Friday, May 10, 2013

David Farber's "Everybody Ought to Be Rich"

David Farber is Professor of History at Temple University. He is the author of The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism; Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam; and Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Everybody Ought to Be Rich: The Life and Times of John J. Raskob, Capitalist:
My man, John Raskob, couldn’t sit still. He ran through life reinventing himself every few years. He got bored easily. He had a prodigious gift for numbers and for risk-taking. He started off as a newsie in the little Erie Canal support town, Lockport (the very same place Fitzgerald has Dick Diver land after his alcoholic fall from grace), and ended up managing the DuPont Company and General Motors. He was a famous—then infamous—King of the Bull Market during the Jazz Age. He thought up the Empire State Building, built it, and owned most it. He was a devout Catholic and was made a Knight of Malta by Pope Pius. He had thirteen children but after he became very rich he enjoyed the life of a New York City boulevardier, far from his wife and family.

Raskob’s mid-life adventure in politics, I think, is the chapter of his life best fitted to silver screendom. And, alas, my protagonist would play the part of the heavy. In 1928, Raskob managed the presidential campaign of his fellow Irish-Catholic, New York Governor Al Smith. After Smith lost to Hoover, Raskob stayed on as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He wanted to make the Democrats the party of Big Business. Naturally, he worked hard to deny Franklin Roosevelt the 1932 nomination. That’s the background to our picture show.

In 1934, Raskob decided to lead the charge against the New Deal. With a bevy of other extraordinarily wealthy men, featuring his best friend Pierre du Pont and a who’s who of Brass Hat industrialists, Raskob founded and organized the American Liberty League. For two years the League mounted the largest reactionary political campaign the United States had ever seen. It was a war between the forces of Big Money and New Deal Liberalism. Roosevelt relished the fight. As he stoutly proclaimed to rapturous applause during his 1936 campaign: “I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces have met their master.” Guess who wins this fight? The stakes for the future of the nation could not have been higher.


Al Pacino as John Jakob Raskob

Bill Murray (he already has the cigarette holder) as Franklin Roosevelt

Jeremy Irons as Pierre du Pont

Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Learn more about Everybody Ought to Be Rich at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Everybody Ought to Be Rich.

--Marshal Zeringue