Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Eric Rauchway's "Winter War"

Eric Rauchway is a distinguished historian and expert on the Progressive and New Deal eras at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of several acclaimed books on the subject, including The Money Makers, The Great Depression and the New Deal, and Blessed Among Nations, and has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, Dissent, and The American Prospect.

Here Rauchway dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal:
Winter War covers the conflict between Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover in the months between the 1932 election and Roosevelt's first inauguration in March 1933. It was an especially fraught period in US and world history: the depression worsened into a crippling bank panic, Hitler took power in Germany, and Japan rejected the League of Nations—all while the defeated Hoover still held the presidency and Roosevelt remained a private citizen.

If I were making it into a movie, I would write it from the point of view of the aides to the two men, as indeed for the book I relied largely on the diaries and correspondence of their aides. Making the staff the story helps us, I think, to understand what kind of people flocked to these leaders' political agendas—much as The West Wing sometimes did. Roosevelt's aides were, many of them, marginalized figures: Jews, Catholics, disabled people (like Roosevelt himself) and politically active women. Hoover, by contrast, tended to attract and employ middle-aged white men with firm views. Over the period of time the book covers, Roosevelt's people had to learn to move out of the margins, and to wield power; Hoover's men learned that while they had to give up power, they did not have to accept defeat.

So now the fun part: casting; just for fun, keeping myself to living actors. I'd like to see Alec Baldwin and Stephen Root as Roosevelt and Hoover, respectively. They both have great range, and about the right look, and I have tremendous respect for actors who have both comic and dramatic chops, as I think they do. But as I say, if I were writing a movie I'd put the two presidents into important, but not point-of-view, roles.

In the Hoover camp, I'd want to see Garret Dillahunt as James MacLafferty, Hoover's informal liaison to Congress and a real political operator; Kurt Fuller as Edgar Rickard, Hoover's business partner (who, while Hoover was not addressing the bank panic, quietly withdrew the president's money for emergency use); Ray McKinnon as Ray Lyman Wilbur, the pious Secretary of the Interior; Michael Stuhlbarg as Hoover's press officer Theodore Joslin, who was deeply afraid for the president's life; and John Goodman as Ernest Walker Sawyer, a political operative who was sure the Republican Party's future in California lay in forgetting about the black vote and going after the Klan, small businessmen, and white evangelicals.

In the Roosevelt camp: John Turturro as Louis Howe, the loyal aide who began working with Roosevelt in the earliest days of his political career (no slight on Turturro, but Howe described himself as "one of the four ugliest men, if what is left of me can be dignified by the name of man, in the State of New York"); Noah Segan as the fixer Bob Jackson (not the later Supreme Court justice; this Bob Jackson partied with Joe Kennedy and arranged to get illegal liquor during Prohibition); and Cherry Jones as Molly Dewson, the head of the women's division and, as another Roosevelt aide said, the best "she-politician" in the business.

And for good measure, for the First Ladies, Margo Martindale as Lou Henry Hoover and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Eleanor Roosevelt.
Learn more about Winter War and follow Eric Rauchway on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Eric Rauchway's Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America.

--Marshal Zeringue