When “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” from director Ken Burns and writer Geoffrey C. Ward, debuted on PBS last fall, a familiar political dynasty seemed suddenly fresh. Tracing the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor over the course of nearly a century, the 14-hour epic breathed new life into its subjects by switching deftly between world-historical events and and the peculiarities of the Roosevelts’ personalities—and Teddy, advocate of “the strenuous life,” was the documentary’s surprising star. More than a century after he became the 26th President of the United States, it turned out to be TR’s breakout role.
With the news
that Showtime is developing a limited series about the man behind the
“Square Deal,” the Progressive Party, and “Big Stick” diplomacy, written
by David McKenna (“American History X”), Roosevelt is in the midst of
what you might call a post-career resurgence. Along with the Showtime
project and “The Roosevelts,” which nabbed three Emmy nominations
in July, DreamWorks purchased the rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s
popular history of Roosevelt and successor William Howard Taft, “The
Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden
Age of Journalism,” in 2013.
For now, these plans for Roosevelt-inspired fictions remain more potential than real. No actor is yet attached to the Showtime series—and the casting of historical figures is a fraught endeavor that can make or break the whole thing. As for “The Bully Pulpit,” little news has emerged, though the prospect of DreamWorks reuniting with Goodwin, whose book “Team of Rivals” provided the source material for the studio’s Oscar-winning “Lincoln,” is promising. One hitch: with “Bridge of Spies,” “The BFG,” “It’s What I Do,” and possibly “Indiana Jones 5” on the docket, it’s unclear when, if, or how “Lincoln” director and DreamWorks principal partner Steven Spielberg would be involved. Another: DreamWorks just split with Disney.
Nevertheless, the renewed interest in TR—an iconoclastic figure who parlayed his privilege into support for Progressive reforms, a statesman who led the charge at Cuba’s San Juan Hill in the War of 1898 and advocated an interventionist stance for U.S. foreign policy—appears to be rooted in the political debates of our own era, which show no signs of slowing. Roosevelt’s colorful, often controversial career now seems appears quite modern, and the man who coined the term “bully pulpit” may well be around, after a fashion, to see its 21st-century application.