Special to the Herald
NEW BRITAIN - Untold stories about living up to the Roosevelt name are addressed in William J. Mann’s recently published book, “The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family.”
“The book is about how siblings and cousins were pitted in a rivalry against each other and how they met and lived up to the demands of that family,” said Mann.
A talk with the author is set for Tuesday in the Special Collections area on the second floor of the Elihu Burritt Library at Central Connecticut State University.
Mann said the original idea was to write a book about Eleanor Roosevelt’s being groomed to run for president because, when Mann’s editor proposed the idea, the assumption was that Hillary Clinton would become the country’s first female president shortly after the book was scheduled to come out, in December 2016.
“Of course it didn’t turn out that way, which was good because, of course, Hillary didn’t win the presidency and the hook we were going to use to promote the book was no longer there. Now we could promote the book on its own and not based on that,” said Mann.
“Fortunately when I started doing research, I realized this is bigger than Eleanor. It was actually a story of a family who is very ambitious and very driven, with many untold stories.”
“I think Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt are two of the three greatest presidents, the other being Abraham Lincoln. However, I’m not always the kindest to them in my book. They were great presidents, but they weren’t always the greatest fathers or brothers or husbands.”
Stories of Eleanor’s father having an illegitimate son with the chambermaid in her house have appeared in previous books about the Roosevelts, explained Mann, a historian of the American film industry and presidency.
“It’s a footnote in some books, and I said, ‘You know what? I think there’s a story behind that footnote.’ Sure enough there was,”’ said Mann.
This led to the back story about how the money was stolen when the Roosevelts tried to pay off the chambermaid, leaving her and her child in a difficult position, he explained.
“He was Eleanor Roosevelt’s brother, Theodore Roosevelt’s nephew. No one knew what happened to this kid,” said Mann. “So I found out. I found his family and I was able to tell that story.”
The Roosevelts are a story of America and were part of the “1 percent,” the privileged upper class, explained Mann.
“By telling this story of how this Roosevelt, in every way but name, had to grow up in poverty and including this kid’s story, this illegitimate kid’s story, I was able to balance that out a little bit.”
When beginning his research, Mann had no idea what to expect of the child’s life. “He could have turned out to be a derelict, he could have turned out to be on poverty row,” said Mann, “but it turned out good because he actually made something of himself.”
As a defining family of the 20th century, the Roosevelts have an endless dynamic, added Mann. “But I do think in terms of this particular family dynamic, there’s nothing else that could be said about it.”
Mann’s talk is set for 7 pm. Tuesday. The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing and reception.
Mann is an 1984 CCSU alumnus and an adjunct professor at the university.
Mann has also published several biographies and narrative fiction works, including “Tinseltown: Murder,” “Morphine” and “Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood,” for which he received the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.