[The movie is adapted from a 3 act play by writer-producer Dore Schary which was first presented by The Theatre Guild in NYC on January 30, 1958 at the Cort Theatre.]
Mr. Schary discloses that once he decided to write the play, he knew that it would end with the powerful image of FDR at the podium at the Democratic National Convention in NYC. "On June 26, 1924, FDR stood at the podium in Madison Square Garden and nominated Alfred E. Smith as the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party."
(Sunrise at Campobello: a play in three acts, Dore Schary, 1958, inside notes)
This movie covers 34 months in the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the day he gets sick at Campobello to the day FDR "stands" to deliver the nominating speech for New York Governor, Alfred Smith. Ralph Bellamy captures the essence of FDR just as he did in broadway hit. Hume Cronyn plays Louis Howe, FDR's friend and political advisor. The movie garnered 4 Academy Award® nominations: Best Actress for Greer Garson as Eleanor, Best Interior Decoration, Best Sound, and Best Costume Design. You can see the beginnings of what author Hugh Gregory Gallagher calls "FDR's Splendid Deception" in his book of the same name. (More on FDR's plans to do the nomination in Gallagher's book, FDR's Splendid Deception, p. 59-62)
FDR got infantile paralysis (called poliomyelitis, or polio) while vacationing at his family's summer home at Campobello, New Brunswick, Canada, in August 1921. Although totally paralyzed by polio, FDR gains back the use of his arms and develops great upper body strength. To the outside world, he appeared robust and healthy when in reality he was unable to walk unassisted. He needed to use braces on both legs as well as crutches. He mastered the art of appearing able-bodied (when he was not) by using a cane and the arm of a companion (often his son). This deception was born of necessity especially for anyone with political aspirations, like FDR. Though unsure that he could deliver the nominating speech on his feet, FDR assures NY Governor Smith: "You certainly can't make an effective speech sitting down." The movie exteriors were filmed at Campobello in NB, Canada, as well as in Manhatten and Hyde Park in NY. The interiors were duplicated from the real Roosevelt homes. There are ramps that FDR needed in order to accommodate his wheelchair (he used a kitchen chair with no sides that was fitted with wheels). Also, shown is FDR's challenge to master his heavy metal braces which were admittedly hard to fit and often uncomfortable. And, you see the pride FDR felt after learning how to pull himself upstairs by upper body strength and sheer determination. Even though his mother was not at all as impressed with his "accomplishment." The movie gives a glimpse into FDR's life as he deals with the truth of his disability. He faced many challenges, defeat, and ultimately despair as he tried in vain to strengthen his flail legs as he had his arms. FDR was lucky to have the support he needed to get on with his life. The press also respected his privacy to a greater degree than is possible today. Few still pictures were taken that show the extent of FDR's disability. Most pictures show him either already seated or "propped" at the podium in such a way that he "appears" to be standing normally. That takes tremendous effort and skill (something those with Polio often learn to do very well). As we know, FDR was elected a record four terms as US President. And, he was a well respected world leader in spite of his tremendous disability. In March 1957, Dore Schary wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to ask for permission to write the play:
"What I propose to tell is the story of a man and the people around him who, after an ordeal, emerged strong and triumphant. I hope to write a tribute that will do justice to a phase of his life. I pledge my devotion and whatever skill I may have to do the task." And then he adds, "I hope, with all my heart, that the task is well done." (This excellent docudrama, adapted from an award winning broadway play, is well worth watching. It is sometimes shown on the movie channels, and was released on video in 1992.) Related Books: FDR's Splendid Deception, Hugh Gregory Gallagher, 1999.
"The moving story of Roosevelt's massive disability--and the intensive efforts to conceal it from the public."
Sunrise at Campobello, a play in three acts, Dore Schary, 1958:
"This is a story of spirit and stamina and great personal courage. It is the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fight to break free from the illness that crippled him...a fight, that was destined to determine the course of his life--and the lives of millions of Americans."
Pictures of FDR "standing":
FDR standing at a podium in GA.
FDR "braced" at podium (holds the lectern with his left hand and makes gestures with his right hand).
FDR standing with both braces, holding onto another person, and using a cane.