Sunrise at Campobello (1960)



Director:     Vincent J. Donehue.

Starring:     Ralph Bellamy (Franklin D. Roosevelt), Greer Garson (Eleanor Roosevelt), Hume Cronyn (Louis Howe), Jean Hagen (Missy Le Hand), Ann Shoemaker (Sara Roosevelt), Alan Bunce (Al Smith), Tim Considine (James Roosevelt), Zina Bethune (Anna Roosevelt), Pat Close (Elliot Roosevelt), Robin Warga (Franklin D. Roosevelt), Tommy Carty (Johnny Roosevelt).

Franklin Delano Roosevelt develops polio, but it doesn't stop his political career.



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Campobello Island, New Brunswick, August 10, 1921.  The Roosevelt family are out sailing.  They see a small fire starting ashore.  They dock and everyone goes up to put out the fire.  Then they go for a swim. 

The children are four boys and a girl.  The oldest boy is James and he is hoping that Mr. Louis Howe, a political adviser to his father, is not coming to stay with them for the summer.  James says Howe coughs and wheezes so much that he can't get much sleep.  Father tells James:  "I want no criticism of or complaints about Mr. Louie Howe from you or anyone else." 

Anna, the oldest child, says that grandmother says that Mr. Howe is . . . She is cut off by her dad who says:  "I know all about granny's opinions of Mr. Howe and I don't want them repeated by you."

FDR relaxes and reads the paper.  He tells Eleanor that there are six million people unemployed.  He adds that President Warren G. Harding is still playing his tuba. 

At this time FDR works for a Wall Street firm as a corporate lawyer.  Howe says that such a position is no place for a progressive. 

FDR reads a letter from his mother.  She writes that she is living in London in order to be close to cousin Muriel who had an operation.  She will be home soon.

The family is called to dinner.  Before eating, Franklin looks out over the Hudson River at the sun as it sets. He starts to go back into the house interior when he feels his legs buckling under him.  At the same time he has pain in his lower back area. 

At night there is a thump coming from the bedroom next to Eleanor's bedroom.  Franklin calls for Eleanor who is sleeping in bed.  She opens the door and finds Franklin helpless on the floor.  Eleanor helps him back to his bed.  He tells her that he feels cold and she goes for a hot water bottle.

Louie Howe is now at the summer house.  He and Eleanor speak to the doctor after he examines Franklin again.  Eleanor says that the paralysis in her husband seems to be spreading.  Dr. Bennett consulted with another doctor and  they decided not to take any specific action right now.  They will watch and wait.  The doctor leaves.  Eleanor thanks Howe for being there to help out.  Louie just goes upstairs to give Franklin's legs a massage. 

Eleanor gets a telephone call from Uncle Fred.  He spoke to a doctor about Franklin's symptoms and the doctor believes it to be polio.  The doctor also told Uncle Fred that the leg massages are to be stopped. 

Granny arrives.  As she climbs the stairs she hears a lot of laughing.   She greets everyone in the room and kisses her dear boy Franklin.

James can't sleep and goes down to have some cold milk.  Mr. Howe is up reading the newspaper.  James tells him that the kids are getting a little scared about not being able to see their father.  He adds that he also gets worried about his father sometimes.  Mr. Howe reassures James not to be worried and not to act frightened.  His father is starting to fight back against the illness.  "He's going to win this one."

Eleanor asks Howe to please not fight with Franklin's mother.  Howe says the woman hates the sight of him.  Mrs. Roosevelt comes in and asks Eleanor about the condition of her husband.  Eleanor explains that he is getting back the control of his hands.  The older woman starts to cry when she realizes that as of yet Franklin can't even sit up on his own.  Howe says he is going to bed and leaves.  Mrs. Roosevelt says Howe is a very vulgar person.  Eleanor says Howe is a "very dear, little man".

Louie comes down and sends Eleanor upstairs to see FDR.  Mrs. Roosevelt tells Louie that when Franklin gets better, she wants her son and his family come to Springwood, her mansion in Hyde Park.  

Franklin's personal secretary Missy unburdens herself to Louie. 

FDR and his family are leaving Campobello.  Workers bring Franklin downstairs via a stretcher.  After a brief rest the workers take him down to the wharf and put him on the boat.  In a town in Maine he gets on the train along with his family. 

New York City, May 1922.  FDR is not in a good mood.  He complains about getting so many letters from people suggesting various cures for his illness.  He tells Eleanor that being so confined he is lonely. 

Anna comes in to complain that Mr. Howe got her big room and she has been forced to live now upstairs in a cubby-hole.  

Howe tells Eleanor that she must now be her husband's eyes and legs.  He wants her to make speeches for the benefit of Franklin's career. 

Later Franklin shows Eleanor and Howe how he can get himself out of his chair and upstairs to his bedroom.  He basically pulls and pushes his legs along with the use of his arms pushing himself backwards on his rear end while dragging his legs along with him.   When Eleanor mentions this to Franklin's mother, Eleanor is reproached for letting him do this.  She says she will speak to Franklin.  "There are times when a son will listen only to his mother."  The two youngest boys come running in to get their mother to read them a book.  Granny goes upstairs to talk with Franklin.  This upsets Eleanor a great deal.  She tries to read to the boys but soon breaks down crying.  She runs upstairs to the laundry room. 

Howe hears her crying and goes to comfort her.   He says:  "I don't know anyone who's more entitled to a good cry."  When she recovers she tells Howe:  "I won't ever do that again -- not ever."

Hyde Park, New York, July 1923.  Mrs. Roosevelt comes back to the house to find her son outside on the ground wrestling with his three younger boys.  She reproaches him about overdoing his activities. 

Franklin loses his temper with Anna sending her running out of the room in tears.  Eleanor says she must go speak with Anna before she goes straight to grandmother.  But when she finds Anna, the girl is already crying on granny's shoulder.  Eleanor asks granny for some time alone with her daughter.  Grandmother tells Anna that she has some things to do and leaves the room.  She wants Anna to apologize to her father for crying and running out of the room.  Anna does come into the study and apologizes to her father.   Dad is very happy she came back and he tells her a story. 

New York City, January 1924.  Mrs.  Roosevelt comes to see her son.  She reproaches Franklin for working too hard.  And she's not happy that Eleanor, accompanied by Howe, is off giving a speech. Eleanor is slowly getting better at her speeches. 

Mother reproaches Eleanor and Howe for pushing him too hard.  FDR gets angry with his mother and in a loud voice tells her to stop criticizing Eleanor and Mr. Howe.  Granny says she objects to Franklin's tone of voice.  Franklin says he doesn't want to fight with her, but she simply must stop criticizing Mr. Howe.  And he insists that he is not going to stay at Hyde Park and rusticate.  He is going to stay active.  He won't give up on himself.  She tries to charm him, so Franklin tells her that's enough talk. 

Now FDR starts practicing on how to stand by himself with crutches.  On his first try he hits the floor.  But he doesn't give up.  He tries to stand again. 

New York politician Al Smith will soon be at the nominating convention for him to be governor of New York.  Al tells his staff that he is going to speak with FDR alone.  His advisers warn him that FDR might not even be able to stand with the use of crutches.  They also ask if Al can control what Roosevelt is going to say. 

A man named Lassiter comes to speak with FDR.  His membership is upset about electing a Catholic: namely, Al Smith.  Roosevelt chases out the anti-Catholic Lassiter by dictating a note that criticizes anti-Catholic prejudice.  Lassiter leaves the room. 

Al Smith is coming to speak with FDR this afternoon.  Howe warns him that Smith has been going around listening to speakers who might also be good as a running mate.  The adviser says he thinks this is what Smith is going to talk to him about.  Howe urges FDR to go to the convention and speak to the audience.  He even tells FDR that he thinks God is behind him.  FDR laughs at this, but does like the suggestion of speaking to the convention on behalf of Al Smith. 

They ask Eleanor about placing Al Smith's name in nomination.  She says that is Franklin's decision to take.  He is the one who bests knows if his body will stand the strain of campaigning. 

Al Smith shows up.  They talk about politics. Franklin says he most likes the times when he is standing on his crutches.  With that assurance, Al asks Franklin to give the nominating speech. 

Howe says it's only 10 steps from where Franklin will be seated to the lectern.  FDR feels sure he can walk (with the aid of crutches) to reach the lectern. 

The day of the nomination arrives.  FDR slides into the back seat of a convertible.  Eleanor rides beside him. James rides up front with the driver.  FDR is greeted by a hall full of well-wishers.  He goes into the war room to get into his leg and back braces.  He puts his pants on over the leg braces and his coat over the back brace. 

FDR is wheeled to the platform to be ready for his walk.  Franklin with his crutches slowly, slowly walks to the lectern.  During his walk, there is a big applause for FDR. 


Good film and mostly accurate.  The very important thing left out was that in 1914 Lucy Mercer became Eleanor's private secretary and soon FDR was having an affair with her.  He also had a 20-year affair with his private secretary Marguerite "Missy" LeHand.  In 1918 Eleanor found letters revealing the affair between her husband and Lucy in Roosevelt's luggage.  This was about three years before FDR developed what they then diagnosed as polio.  She offered to allow Franklin a divorce, but this would have hurt his political future.  So Louie Howe mediated an agreement between them so they could go through the motions of a marriage.   Intimacy vanished between husband and wife, but the business of politics went on and on.  (Thank goodness for us.) 

In the film, the family seemed extremely happy with comparatively little discord.  This was not the case passed 1914.  So it's a feel-good move with an uplifting tale of success, but the family was very damaged. 

Bellamy was great as FDR and Greer Garson great as Eleanor.  Also very good was Hume Croyn as the political adviser Louis Howe. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

1882  -- birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York, north of Poughkeepsie.   

From 1883 onward  --  the Roosevelt family made Campobello Island their summer home.  FDR, future President of the United States, would spend his summers on Campobello from the age of one until, as an adult, he acquired a larger property - a 34-room "cottage" - which he would use as a summer retreat until 1939.

Roosevelt attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Massachusetts; ninety percent of the students were from families on the social register. He was heavily influenced by its headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who preached the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate and urged his students to enter public service

FDR went to Harvard College.  While at Harvard, his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt became President.  Teddy became a role model for FDR. 

1902  --  FDR meets his future wife Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodore's niece, at a White House reception (they had previously met as children). They were fifth cousins, once removed.  At the time of their engagement Roosevelt was age twenty-two and Eleanor nineteen.

1903  --  Roosevelt graduates from Harvard in 1903 with an A.B. in history.

1904  --  Roosevelt enters Columbia Law School.

1905  --  Roosevelt married Eleanor despite the fierce resistance of his mother.  The young couple moved into Springwood, his family's estate, where FDR's mother became a frequent house guest, much to Eleanor's chagrin.

1906  --  birth of Anna Roosevelt. 

1907  --  FDR drops out of Law School after passing the New York State Bar exam.

1907  --  birth of James Roosevelt. 

1908  --  he takes a job with the prestigious Wall Street firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, dealing mainly with corporate law.

1909  --  birth and death of FDR, Jr. 

1910  --  birth of Elliott Roosevelt. 

1910  --  in the State election, Roosevelt ran for the New York State Senate from the district around Hyde Park in Dutchess County.

1911  --  FDR became the leader of a group of "Insurgents" who opposed the bossism of the Tammany machine dominating the state Democratic Party.  This brought Roosevelt national exposure.

1912  --  re-elected for a second term in the State election.

1913  --  Roosevelt resigns from the New York State Senate to accept his appointment as Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Navy.

1914  --  birth of the second FDR, Jr.

early 1914  --  Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer begins working.  Soon FDR is having an affair with Lucy. 

1914  --  Roosevelt loses in a run for the U.S. Senate seat for New York.

1916  --  birth of John Aspinwall Roosevelt. 

1918  --  Eleanor finds letters revealing the affair between her husband and Lucy in Roosevelt's luggage, when he returned from World War I.  She offers Franklin a divorce, but they reconcile to some extent with the informal mediation of Roosevelt's adviser Louis McHenry Howe. FDR promised never to see Lucy again.  He and Lucy maintained a formal correspondence, and began seeing each other again in 1941(or perhaps earlier).

Franklin also had a 20-year affair with his private secretary Marguerite "Missy" LeHand.

Eleanor established a separate house in Hyde Park at Valkill, and increasingly devoted herself to various social and political causes.

1918  --  with the end of World War I, Roosevelt was in charge of demobilization.  He opposed plans to completely dismantle the Navy.

1920  --  overshadowed by the Newport sex scandal, Roosevelt resigns as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to run for Vice President.  The ticket was headed by Governor James M. Cox of Ohio.  They lost and Roosevelt then returned to New York law practice.

1921 (August)  --  while the Roosevelts were vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, Roosevelt contracted an illness diagnosed then as polio which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down.  [A 2003 retrospective study gave a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome and not polio.]

1922  --  FDR helps Alfred E. Smith win the election for governor of New York.

1924  --  FDR was even a strong supporter of Smith against his cousin, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  FDR gave the nominating speech for Smith at the convention.

1926  --  FDR purchases a resort at Warm Springs, Georgia, where he founded a hydrotherapy center for the treatment of polio patients which still operates as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.

1928  --   FDR gave the nominating speed for Al Smith at the Democratic convention.  He runs for the governorship of New York State and narrowly wins.  Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins were two of his advisers. 

1929  --  the Wall Street crash leads to the Great Depression.

1930  --  FDR runs for a second term as New York State governor.  He was re-elected.

1932  --  FDR runs for the presidency and wins. 



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