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Published: 11/6/2005

Editor takes a close look at a historic friendship

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It was the 1941 Christmas season, and Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House.

Fresh from a hot bath and as bare as the day he was born, Britain s boisterous prime minister summoned his male assistant and began giving dictation. President Roosevelt knocked on the door and Churchill bade him enter. Surprised, the president apologized and quickly retreated as Churchill called out, You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide from you!

The more staid Roosevelt loved it.

The fascinating relationship between the two men, whose combined efforts helped win World War II for the Allies, is chronicled in Franklin and Winston, an Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, a meticulously detailed and wonderfully readable story by Jon Meacham. He takes the podium at Authors! Authors! Tuesday evening in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater, an event sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Meacham, 36, wrote the book on weekends and summer vacations over five years while working as managing editor the No. 2 spot at Newsweek magazine. He directs overall editorial operations, including coverage of politics and international affairs.

I thought it was the most remarkable political friendship of modern times, said Meacham. Not only were Roosevelt and Churchill fond of each other, but they shared a common mission.

I m a great believer that character is destiny and with these two men at the center of the [war] effort, I wanted to see what their emotional lives, what their political lives, what their daily lives had been like as they were taking on this monumental task.

He began the project knowing there were already hundreds of books about each man and several on the two of them together. Indeed, Churchill once observed about a new effort to write of his life and work: There s nothing much in that field left unploughed.

But Meacham s aim was to tell the personal tale of what they meant to each other, and ultimately, to us.

Roosevelt and Churchill became friends under the force of circumstance. Between 1939 and 1945, they exchanged nearly 2,000 letters and spent 113 days together.

Churchill was the suitor, begging to enlist America s help beginning in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland. Roosevelt, the elusive quarry, was initially skeptical. He knew Americans needed time to be psychologically prepared for and supportive of a war across the sea.

Like most friends, Churchill and Roosevelt were sometimes affectionate, sometimes cross, alternately ready to die for or murder the other. But each helped make what the other did possible, he wrote.

Meacham concluded that Churchill was the warmer person, and the cool, wily Roosevelt, the better politician.

His research included interviews in England with Churchill s daughter Mary Churchill Soames, books, diaries, articles, interviews, and letters, including unpublished letters of the lovely Lucy Mercer Rutherford.

She was hired to be Mrs. Roosevelt s social secretary in 1913, and shared a romance with Franklin until Mrs. Roosevelt discovered the affair in 1918. In subsequent years, Rutherford and Roosevelt kept in touch, and she was with him when he died in 1945.

Meacham also hired a researcher to review manuscript collections and other sources, largely to learn the state of mind of the key players.

Meacham, an only child, grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., and attended an Episcopal elementary and a private high school. His father worked as a labor negotiator for construction companies and his mother was an elementary school teacher.

He had the unusual experience of often accompanying his grandfather, the city s judge, to court, preceded by a stop for coffee with a group of politicians and lawyers.

I loved it, he said. I grew up listening to their stories, some of which were true.

He previously edited a 2001 anthology of articles by poets, novelists, critics, and journalists about the great domestic drama of the 20th century in Voices in Our Blood: America s Best on the Civil Rights Movement. Contributors include Maya Angelou, David Halberstam, and Walker Percy.

What I wanted were pieces that were written in the heat of the moment, he said. I started collecting the best nonfiction on the movement that I could find that had been written in a contemporary way.

He learned that the writing of that passionate time had remarkable breadth and depth, which speaks well of journalism in general. I think we get a lot of things right in real time.

At Newsweek, which has an international circulation of about 4 million, he has written cover stories on the controversial Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ, on guns, sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic church, and Ronald Reagan.

Meacham and his wife, Keith, live in Manhattan and are parents to Sam, 3, and Mary, 1.

Jon Meacham will speak and sign books Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets ($10; $8 for students), can be purchased at the door and at all branch libraries. Books will be available for purchase. Information: 419-259-5266.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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