Loving Eleanor Goes to the Movies?

Contest update, Sat. 1/11: Thanks to all the great readers who helped Eleanor come in close to the top of the pack. But not quite close enough. She was overtaken by projects about an Aussie rollerskating champion and an auto racer. That’s Hollywood for you. 🙂 But over 17,000 people visited the site, so Eleanor was seen by many. As an indie author, I appreciate that visibility. Thanks to TaleFlick for making it possible!

A couple of readers (Sharon and Roberta, below in the comments section) raised interesting objections to film biographies. Take a look–and add your comments/thoughts if you wish.

Thanks again, friends. It was an interesting week!

Some stories beg to be told; some books beg to be written--and some books really want to be movies when they grow up.

For me, the surprising and deeply moving story of the long and intimate friendship of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and AP journalist Lorena Hickok is one of those stories–and Loving Eleanor was a book I had to write. Now, it has been selected (from some pretty stiff competition) to appear in a film-adaptation contest on TaleFlick.com, and I’m asking your help to boost its visibility. Winning titles receive some special attention and publicity in the Hollywood film-production community.

If you think Loving Eleanor should go to the movies, this is your chance to support it. Please go to TaleFlick.com, where you will can vote for it. The contest opens today (Wednesday, January 8) and closes on Friday Jan. 10 at 4 pm PT.

Of all the many responses I’ve had when I’ve discussed this novel with readers, the question I most often hear is some variation of “Why haven’t we heard this story already?”

The most important reason is the most obvious one: the friendship was a profoundly intimate affair between two women, and necessarily secret. We wouldn’t know about it at all, if Hick (as everyone called Lorena Hickok) hadn’t managed to keep some 3300 letters tracing its 30-year span.  (There were other letters, now lost or destroyed.)

In 1962, after Eleanor’s death, Hick understood that the letters in her possession were a record of a quite remarkable friendship and that they ought to be preserved. The most important threat would have come from the Roosevelt children, who would not have wanted the disturbingly romantic nature of their mother’s friendship with another woman to become public knowledge. (The letters ER wrote to her longtime friend, Earl Miller, have disappeared, probably bought and destroyed by the family.) Hick may also have threatened by Joseph Lash, who appointed himself Eleanor’s “official” biographer–there was quite a bit of jealousy there.

Hick chose the best and most prudent course. A curator at the recently established FDR Presidential Museum in Hyde Park urged her to leave her endangered collection to the library. She took his advice, stipulating that the letters be sealed for ten years after her death. She trusted the professional librarians and archivists to keep them safe, and they did–although it should also be said that they had no idea what was in them. Hick died in 1968; the letters were opened to the public, without any announcement, in 1978. The letters were first read and misinterpreted by a woman who looked with great distaste on the friendship. What happened after that (the story I tell in the novel’s biographical afterword) is deeply troubling.

As a writer of biographical fiction, I believe that when we are dealing with real people’s real lives, we are obligated to tell the truth, as nearly as we can. That means digging into the facts of people’s lives: their diaries and journals, interviews and oral histories, and letters. I based Loving Eleanor on the remarkable letters that Hick saved for us, staying as true to the real events as I could. You can read more about the novel, as well as see my Pinterest photo collection for the book, on this page. And if you would like to help boost the story’s screen potential, please go to TaleFlick.com and vote for it. Thank you!

Reading note: The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating [her]self.–Eleanor Roosevelt

45 comments on “Loving Eleanor Goes to the Movies?

  1. Susan, I truly enjoyed Loving Eleanor but I don’t think it should be made into a movie. The story that you researched and told to us is very deep and personal. I feel a movie would try to exploit their deep friendship and love for each other and not portray all factors of their relationship. You would have to find a producer and director that would stay true to your novel about a true icon of our times and a women that we realized how much strength and character it took to live their lives. The subject of Eleanor is great, but would Hollywood do her justice? Just my personal thoughts.

    • Sharon, sensitive narratives are always a challenge to translate into another form–and Hollywood doesn’t always do a good job. But I’m happy to say that there are examples of good work: CAROL, for one; TRU LOVE, for another–and there are still others. And in documentary, the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, which treated the Eleanor/Hick relationship with thoughtful respect. A film adaptation of Amy Bloom’s WHITE HOUSES is in the works–I’ll be eager to see how well that is handled. Thanks for your comment.

    • Dear Susan,
      Would you want your most intimate personal details picked up as a work of fiction (albeit by a talented writer) then further broadcast by Hollywood? Hollywood would sensationalize it. They can’t help themselves even with good intentions because the film has to make money.

      • If I were a public person whose life held an important story, yes, indeed, Roberta! A few examples of excellent biographical films I have enjoyed: Lincoln, Hidden Figures (women of color in mathematics), Truman Capote, Alan Turin, John Nash. Judy Garland is on my list–I’ve read good reviews of it. Each of these films shows us something significant about the individual’s character, purpose/motives, obstacles overcome, lessons learned, contributions to the world. I’ve also enjoyed a few films about private people whose life situations taught me something: Three Identical Strangers, for instance, and Temple Grandin.

        Currently, my book, A WILDER ROSE (about Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder) is under option–and what I’ve seen, I like.

  2. I would love to vote for your excellent book, but I do not have, nor do I wish to have, a Facebook account. They insist that we use Facebook to post our vote. Any other way?

    Dr. Blair McCracken

    • I think you’re looking at the wrong click-box, Blair. The voting box is to the right, with the upward facing arrow. Thanks for asking!

  3. Thanks for letting us know about your movie opportunity and voting for Living Eleanor. I see many other reading suggestions in that list of books to be voted on!!

  4. Whoohoo! I finally figured out how to vote (the arrow to the right of the title and description) an see you are in the lead, as you should be! Love all your books! Keep up the great work!

  5. Will do! I absolutely loved your book. I have recommended it to countless friends. It actually was the “spur” for me to finally (after all these years) to visit Hyde Park. We spent a wonderful 5 days there. We even stopped by Arthurdale also! Thank you for the wonderful book!

    • So glad you were able to have a long visit to the library Hyde Park–it’s in a a beautiful setting, as well as a rich cultural resource.And Arthurdale, too! Thanks for recommending the book, Mary.

    • Thank you–and the respect was deserved, Shirley. Hick and Mrs. R trusted each other even when one or the other might have felt slighted, wronged, even betrayed. To me, that abiding trust is the mark of an enduring friendship.

    • Thank you, Sandy. My first of these contests–interesting to see how TaleFlick has set it up, how it works, etc.

    • I admit that by the end of the book, I admired and respected Hick more than Mrs. R. Hick had staying power. Thanks for your support.

    • That was excellent, wasn’t it? I thought they did a very nice job–and certainly enjoyed Blanche Cook’s comments.

    • Probably in mid-late 2021, Larry. The Dahlias have a story they want told, and they’re next in line–late 2020 or early 2021 for them.

    • Fingers crossed that a producer out there somewhere will agree that it’s a great subject for film. Thanks, Mary Jo!

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