Eleanor, First Lady of the World (1982)




Director:     John Erman.

Starring:     Jean Stapleton (Eleanor Roosevelt), Kabir Bedi, Coral Browne (Lady Reading), Dorothy Dells (Dulles' Secretary), Michael Ensign (Ship steward), Freddie Jones, Kenneth Kimmins (Durwood Sandifer), Jeffrey Marcus (Buzz Roosevelt), E.G. Marshall (John Foster Dulles), Arlene Martel (Madame Jahar), Lin McCarthy (Vandenberg), Richard McKenzie (Harry S. Truman), Gail Strickland (Anna Roosevelt), Joyce Van Patten ('Tommy' Thompson), Peter White (James Roosevelt).

former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt begins a new life after the death of her husband




Spoiler Warning: 

Washington, D.C.  April 1945.  President FDR has died and Eleanor is packing up and leaving the White House.

Hyde Park, New York.  Eleanor walks her Scottish terrier dog Fala on the lawn at Hyde Park, overlooking the Hudson River.  Her daughter Anna comes over to see Eleanor.  She tells her mother that she should retire from public life.  Eleanor doesn't like that idea at all.  She calls it "vegetating".  Anna says mother should close up her apartment on Washington Square and go on living here "as you have been".  It's soon evident that Anna still holds a lot of resentment against her mother for being gone so much when she was a child.  And now she says she came all the way from Seattle just to have the door slammed in her face.  She says that mother didn't even cry when father died.  Eleanor says she did cry.  But not in front of us, complains Anna.  She goes on:  "I am your only daughter, and I have never seen you cry."  Anna remarks:  "I'm sorry I came."

Anna's son Skipper joins his mother for dinner at Eleanor's place.  Tommy, a female aide and friend to Eleanor, is also present.  It is Eleanor's birthday and a cake is brought out to celebrate the day.  Anna is still bitter and she makes her mother cry just before she and Skipper leave.  Tommy works to console Eleanor, who hugs Tommy. 

President Truman telephones Eleanor.  And soon Eleanor is back in the White House to see the President.  Truman tells Eleanor that he has chosen her to be one of the delegates to the United Nations.  Eleanor tells him no, she couldn't possibly accept the position.  She says she knows nothing about international law.  Truman tells her to think it over for a few days as a favor for him.  The meeting over, Truman introduces Eleanor to one of the men who will be her assistant, a Mr. Sandifer.  Eleanor tells him that she's not qualified, but Sandifer does not agree.  He says what this position needs is a little humanity, and Eleanor has plenty of that. 

Dulles tells Truman that he is opposed to having Mrs. Roosevelt as one of the U.N. delegates.  Eleanor and Dulles don't get along.  On his way out, Dulles tells Sandifer:  "The Russians will bury her."

Eleanor telephones Truman and tells him that she will accept the position.  Tommy is thrilled and looking forward to the adventure in London, but Eleanor says she thinks she should go it alone this time.  She says she can't arrive with an entourage.

Dulles speaks to the press about the role of the U.N.  He's not too crazy about the U.N. saying it will have a limited role.  Eleanor shows up and the press has her stand next to Dulles.  Eleanor says:  "Well, I believe the United Nations to be our one hope for a peaceful world.  My husband placed great importance on it and I consider it a great responsibility and honor to be a delegate."  Dulles tells Senator Vandenberg that he thinks Eleanor is the worst possible candidate to be selected for the United Nations.  "She's more dangerous than the Russians."

Eleanor goes by ship to London.  Sandifer accompanies her on the voyage and is of helpful assistance.  Dulles and the Senator are also on board. 

Senator Vandenberg says that Dulles and he have discussed the matter and decided that Eleanor should serve on Committee Three.  Dulles says it's the Humanitarian Committee.  Later, Sandifer tells Eleanor that the Committee has no agenda.  That makes Eleanor very angry.   

Dulles gets a bit sea-sick on the voyage. 

London, December 1946.  An old friend comes to greet Eleanor.  She, Lady Reading, is a member of the House of Lords.  Eleanor tells her friend that she feels unwanted and surrounded by enemies.  Her friend asks Eleanor what does she mean by "enemies"?  Eleanor answers that the Republicans see her less as an American and more as a Democrat.  And she has been put on a committee that doesn't even have an agenda.  Her friend says that's wonderful because now Eleanor can create her own agenda. 

Eleanor's friend has a project for her.  She says there are literally millions of displaced people without homes on the European continent.  And no one know what to do with them.  The refugees are starving.  350,000 fled to the United Kingdom.  There are 10 million people virtually homeless.  Eleanor is moved by watching films of these poor people.  She says:  "I'll do anything I can to help."

Lady Reading takes Eleanor to a run down area to show her how the other half lives.  Eleanor starts making friends with one of the little girls living in a small apartment.  She is moved to tears when she sees the serial number tattooed on the little girl's left forearm. 

On Committee Three Eleanor explains the massive problems of the displaced in the world and urges the committee to draw up a Bill of Rights, a Magna Carta of sorts to insure the basic human rights for all the peoples of the world.  Some committee members object, but Eleanor tells them that while this will be a difficult task to do, it is not an impossible task.  She adds:  "And what must be done, can be done."

Mrs. Roosevelt talks to many of the United Nation delegates in person.  She also talks with many influential women about the need for a Bill of Human Rights. 

Sandifer rushes over to tell Eleanor that Dulles and Vandenberg are on their way over to tell her that the Russians have picked one of their best spokesmen to speak against her on the displaced persons issue in the General Assembly.  And this will be the key issue of the whole session.  Furthermore, Eleanor will be the key speaker on the primary issue. 

Dulles and Vandenberg insist that one of them take over and make the speech for Eleanor.  Eleanor stands up to the men and says it's her right to speak on this issue  --  an issue on which she is extremely well-informed.  Nevertheless, Eleanor is anxious about presenting such an important speech before the General Assembly.  She is especially concerned about the highness of her voice. 

Eleanor's speech is a success.  Her apartment is filled with flowers from admirers and well-wishers. 

Hyde Park, September 1948.  There is a family get-together.  James Roosevelt, one of Eleanor's sons, is thinking about running for office.  He asks his mother if she would campaign with him?  Eleanor says she is presently very bogged down with her work on Committee Three and the Bill of Human Rights.  During the get-together Eleanor offers to take one of her  grandsons, Curtis, to Paris, France with her.  The boy asks permission from his mother Anna and she gives it.  Both Eleanor and the grandson are elated about going. 

Paris, October 1948.  Eleanor shows her grandson around Paris.  Dulles advises Mrs. Roosevelt not to be seen with the Russians too much.  In spite of this advice, Eleanor goes to the Russian ball with her grandson in honor of the October Revolution.  The Russian, Dr. Palov, invited Eleanor to come.  At the ball, a delegate explains to Eleanor that the Russians and Dr. Pavlov are asking for a going over of every word of the Declaration of Human Rights as a delaying tactic.  They want to delay it until after the next American presidential election.  They think Thomas Dewey will win the election and Truman will be out of office.  With Truman gone, so will be Eleanor. 

Eleanor is furious and she decides to launch a counter-attack on Pavlov in Committee Three.  She has Dr. Malek of Lebanon offer a suggestion that they limit each delegate to just 10 minutes speaking time for each issue being dealt with.  Pavlov asks that they switch from Issue 17 back to Issue 1.  He watches as Eleanor sets her stop watch in action. 

Dulles is waiting to hear the election results.  He is waiting to hear that Thomas Dewey has won and that, therefore, Eleanor Roosevelt is out.  Dulles gets the phone call.  The message is that Dewey has won.  Mrs. Roosevelt goes over to congratulate Dulles.  Then Dulles gets a telegram.  He can hardly believe it.  Truman has been re-elected.  Eleanor stays at the head of Committee Three. 

Eleanor holds many teas with women.  There she learns a lot of new insights on the problems of women around the world.

Curtis decides to take his grandmother and Tommy out to dinner.  They go out to a fancy restaurant.  Sandifer goes with them.  Curtis dances with his grandmother and he tells her that he will never forget this fantastic month in Paris.  And now Curtis has to go back home, while Eleanor works on for awhile longer. 

For Eleanor there is nothing left but the final vote.  At virtually the last moment, Madame Jahar of Pakistan tells Eleanor that she cannot support her Human Rights Declaration because it does not mention a deity.  Eleanor is now no longer certain her declaration will succeed. 

She is worn out and a bit depressed.  She tells Lady Reading that the declaration will not pass.  The Lady says Eleanor still has some time to save her declaration.  She goes to see an expert on Islam.  She says:  "I'm told that the Koran is reputed to have the answer to every question and that you were an expert on it.  . . . Does it matter if God's name is mentioned, as long as He's in the room."  Eleanor gets the go-ahead from the expert.  She now meets with Madame Jahar and tells her this.  Jahar says she will think over what Eleanor has told her. 

Dr. Pavlov tells Eleanor some discouraging news about the Soviet Union's stand on the declaration.  By this time, however, Eleanor has about had it up to her neck with all this negativity.  For Pakistan, Madame Jahar votes in favor of the declaration.  Now the key vote coming is that of the Soviet Union.  Pavlov does not show up, and in his absence, the vote for the country is "abstain".  The Declaration of Human Rights is accepted!  Eleanor Roosevelt is mentioned specifically for her outstanding work on the Declaration of Human Rights.  Even Mr. Dulles says something nice about Eleanor and says he was wrong about her. 

Eleanor retired from the U.N. in 1952.  She died in 1962 at the age of 78.  She was admired by millions as the First Lady of the World.   


With this movie we get a better feel of just how good and talented a person Eleanor Roosevelt was.  Of course, at first she was a bit nervous being a key representative of the USA to the United Nations, but she met and overcame every challenge and obstacle she faced.  She came to head the Humanitarian Committe of the United Nations and she was the key to forging an acceptable Declaration of Human Rights for the majority of the world's countries.  Eleanor had to deal with sexism and opposition from her own male colleagues and then resistance from other countries such as the Soviet Union to her efforts.  She persevered through every problem and got the Declaration approved by the General Assembly.  Jean Stapleton (as Eleanor Roosevelt) was just great.  E.G. Marshall was very good as the very objectionable John Foster Dulles.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.   



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