Sunrise at Campobello
Dore Schary adapted his own play about Franklin Roosevelt’s suffering infantile paralysis and rehabilitating himself so that he could continue his political career.
By Campobello Island in New Brunswick on August 10, 1921 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy) is sailing a yacht. His son James Roosevelt (Tim Considine) sees a fire on the island, and Eleanor Roosevelt (Greer Garson) asks him where it is. Franklin says they are going to land. They run to the fire and use branches to put out the fire, coughing in the smoke. Franklin says they did well, and they go swimming. Eleanor takes their clothes to the house. The kids run to the house. Eleanor comes out and calls Franklin and Johnny.
Inside Eleanor gives instructions to the black servant Edward (Otis Greene). Anna Roosevelt (Zina Bethune) talks to her mother about the reading of Julius Caesar and dinner.
Franklin and Johnny run to the house. Franklin gives Johnny a piggy-back ride up the stairs. In the hall his sons wrestle with him. Anna asks Eleanor how she puts up with them. Eleanor says the one girl is the most difficult. Anna says Granny spoils them. Franklin comes down the stairs and says that Mr. Howe is going to be tied up in Washington. Franklin corrects the grammar of his son Elliott Roosevelt (Pat Close). Franklin says he wants no criticism of Mr. Howe, and he does not want to hear Granny’s opinion either. Eleanor urges Franklin to put on dry clothes, but he says he wants to catch up on the mail first. He says that is the first swim he had in a long time, and he feels tired. Franklin is glad his name is not in the paper. He notes unemployment is high under President Harding. He says that Woodrow Wilson once said to him that only once in a generation can people be lifted above material things, which is why conservatives are in power most of the time. He says that Wilson does not like him staying in a Wall Street job, but Franklin says it pays $500 a week. Franklin says a defeated candidate is unpopular in a party, but Eleanor says that Cox should be held responsible as the presidential candidate. Franklin says that Wall Street will not corrupt his political convictions, and he asks her to monitor him. The four children come in, and Franklin assigns the parts for the reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Franklin tells them about what Granny wrote in her letter. She is returning in September and may stay there. Edward announces that dinner is ready, and the kids go into the dining-room. Eleanor tells Franklin to get into dry clothes. They enjoy the sunset. Franklin wishes he could stay until after Labor Day. Suddenly he feels a pain in his back. He goes upstairs.
Eleanor is in bed and hears Franklin knocking and calling her. She gets up and puts on a robe. She finds him on the floor by his bed. He says he got up and could not make it back to bed. He says something is wrong with his legs. She helps him into bed and covers him. He says it is cold for August. She goes to get him a hot-water bottle.
Outside the children are getting ready to leave on a horse-drawn cart for a picnic, and in the house Eleanor gives Anna authority. Louis Howe (Hume Cronyn) asks Dr. Bennett (Frank Ferguson) how Franklin is, and he says that he is the same. Louis asks how he can get better. The doctor says they think it is a clot on the spinal cord, and he advises the same medication and massages. Eleanor says the paralysis is spreading. Bennett says it has only been a few days. He says nurses are busy with the influenza epidemic. He says Eleanor has been doing well. Eleanor thanks Louis for coming.
Louis goes in to see Franklin in bed, and they chat. Louis sits on the bed and massages Franklin’s right leg below the knee. Franklin asks Louis about his new job in Washington, and he says he quit.
In town Eleanor hangs up a telephone in a store and comes out. She and Edward ride bicycles with the groceries.
At home Eleanor tells Louis that the call was from Uncle Fred. She says the doctor is almost positive that it is infantile paralysis. Louis asks about the kids. She says the doctor said that they have already been exposed and are in no further danger. They are to discontinue massage. She says Franklin’s mother will be there on September 1, and Louis says that gives them ten days to get Franklin on his feet, or she will never forgive them.
Eleanor finds Franklin sleeping and lies down on a small bed by him. She closes the shade, and he opens her eyes and takes her hand.
Sara Delano Roosevelt (Ann Shoemaker) arrives at a dock and says she wants to see her son.
Sara hears Louis talking and comes in and kisses Franklin. She says he looks well, and Eleanor welcomes her home. She was glad to hear laughter, and Eleanor says Louis told them a funny story. Sara tells about French cooking.
At night Jimmy comes down for milk and talks with Louis. He says the kids are scared. Louis says their father is not afraid and would not want them to be. Louis says their father is tough. Jimmy agrees he is strong. Louis says he was worried, but now he is fighting back. Louis saw him fight Tammany Hall and says he will win this one too. Eleanor comes in, and she tells James to get some sleep. He goes out, and Louis asks her why they can’t get electric lights or a telephone. He says the newspapers are two days late. Eleanor asks him to be understanding of Sara. Louis says she is monumental and hates him. Eleanor encourages him to get along with her. Sara comes in and asks Eleanor about Franklin. Eleanor goes out to make tea. Sara asks Louis about his wife. Sara asks if the doctors know when Franklin can be taken back to New York. Sara commends Eleanor and Louis. Eleanor brings in the tea, and Louis praises what Eleanor has done. Eleanor says the doctor believes that Franklin will recover almost completely. She says at first he lost control of his hands, but now his arms and hands are almost well. They don’t know about his back and legs. Louis says the doctors are sure his back will be all right. Sara asks about his legs, and Eleanor says the doctors don’t know. Sara says she could help with the children. Louis urges Eleanor to get some rest and goes upstairs. Sara says Louis is a vulgar man, but Eleanor says he is dear. She says that Louis and Franklin have a special relationship. Sara thinks Louis likes to ride on Franklin’s coat-tails. Eleanor goes out, and Louis lights a cigarette. Sara says smoking is not good for you. Louis says Franklin will go to a hospital for treatments. Sara confirms that he will be leaving in about three weeks. She suggests that he go to Hyde Park. Louis says Franklin and Eleanor will decide. Sara argues why Hyde Park would be a good place for him to rest. Louis says he does not want Franklin to retire because he has an ordained political future. Sara says he is her son, and Louis says he is Eleanor’s husband and his dearest friend. Sara thanks Louis for his care, but she does not like his grandiose schemes. Louis says he may need those in the next few months. Sara says goodnight and goes out.
They are moving, and Louis tells Missy Le Hand (Jean Hagen) that they have one hour to catch the train. She says the newspaper men may scalp him because he has them on the wrong dock. Louis will not tell them he has infantile paralysis until they get to New York. He has written a press release. Missy says she has been there for two weeks trying to act as if nothing is the matter. She says he is talking about things he is going to do, and she wonders if she will cry. Louis says he may not believe it himself, and he asks her to believe.
Dr. Bennett tells Franklin that his temperature is normal. Franklin in bed says he will get on the train if he has to crawl. The doctor advises Eleanor that he is going to have pain, and he goes out. Eleanor asks Franklin if he can manage the trip, and he says he will try.
Sara says the children should not see Franklin carried out on a stretcher; but Eleanor and Louis disagree, and they argue. Dr. Bennett instructs the two men who are carrying Franklin on a stretcher as they come down the stairs. They set him down in the living-room, and he looks around. Louis lights his cigarette, and Franklin asks Louis about the logistics. He says a good crowd has gathered. He explains his diversionary tactics. Franklin says he used to get a 17-gun salute when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Louis says no guns. Franklin says that Louis’ first love is of the theater. Sara and Missy go out first, and then four men carry Franklin’s stretcher.
They put the stretcher in a boat, and Edward says goodbye. The boat goes to another dock, and Louis says they have a train to catch. The men carry Franklin.
At another dock the press questions Sara and Missy who tells them Franklin’s boat went directly to the railway station.
The men lift the stretcher into a window of a railway car. The reporters arrive, and Louis speaks to them. The family gets on board, and Sara instructs Marie about the children.
On the train Franklin asks Eleanor how he looks, and he smiles and waves at the window as the train pulls out. Then he rests, and Eleanor gives him a pillow.
At the hospital Eleanor and James visit Franklin in his room. Franklin says he will be out of there before the new year, and the nurse says the doctors agree. He shows how he can do pull-ups on a bar above his bed.
In May 1922 Franklin is living in New York City. He sits in a wheelchair and works on his stamp collection. Missy brings in letters, and he notes corrections. He says he cannot wear his leg braces because they do not fit. He is going to Boston for new ones and is afraid they will not fit either. Eleanor comes in and says the trip to Boston is arranged. She says he got letters from Jimmy and Woodrow Wilson. He is cheered by the note from Wilson who commends him for helping the Wilson Foundation. Franklin says the world needs peace. He tells Eleanor that he apologized to Missy for losing his temper. They agree the household has been busy. He says that invalidism is lonely, and he feels left out when he sees others moving around. He says Louis went out to get the newspapers. Eleanor asks what else she should know about his loneliness. He says fears seek him out. He has nightmares about fire and being unable to move. He has been practicing crawling so he could get out. He shows off the model yacht he made. He says he misses the sea. He admits that in the first days at Campobello he had deep despair. His body would not obey him, and he turned to his faith for strength to endure. She puts her head on his lap, and he says it is a hard way to learn humility. He has been learning by crawling. Anna calls and comes and says she has to talk to Eleanor. Franklin says he has work to do and goes in another room. Anna complains about her small room while Howe was given her room. She says Granny asked her a direct question. Louis comes in with a flourish. Anna is angry and excuses herself as she goes upstairs. Louis shows Eleanor a news article on Franklin as the Democratic Party’s first choice for governor. Eleanor says he gets those articles published. Louis says this work has to be done. He says Eleanor must be his eyes, ears, and legs to go where he cannot go yet. He says she only has to read the speeches. She does not like to read a speech. Franklin comes in on his wheelchair and shows mock concern for Eleanor being driven into the political wilds. She goes out, and Louis tells Franklin they have to edit his list of organizations. Franklin refuses to give up helping the Boy Scouts. Louis gives him that one and says he has to trim his sails. Congressional elections are coming up, and Louis wants him to keep his hand in. He says they can write and tell them about Franklin’s opinions. He agrees to limit the organizations.
Mr. Brimmer (Lyle Talbot) comes in and gives the information on the dirigibles as he paces back and forth. The phone rings, and Louis gets up to answer it. Franklin asks him why he is always moving around. Franklin thanks Brimmer and asks him to leave. Brimmer shakes their hands and goes out. Louis asks what is this scheme. Franklin says a line from New York to Chicago could be expanded and make a fortune. Louis says Brimmer could get to Chicago on helium, and Franklin laughs. Franklin shows him that he can go upstairs on his own. He slides his body on the floor and uses his arms to lift his body up the stairs, dragging his legs. Eleanor says it is wonderful.
Sara comes in with two boys, and Eleanor tells her that Franklin crawled upstairs. Sara says it is bad for him, but Eleanor says it makes him independent. Sara insists on speaking to him about it, and she goes out. The boys ask Eleanor to read them a story, and they sit down. She reads a story about blue shoes. During the story she starts crying and runs upstairs.
She sees Sara talking to Franklin about patience and turns on water. Louis comes in and offers to help. He says she is entitled to a good cry. She says she will never do that again.
At Hyde Park in July 1923 Sara comes out of the house, and she drives a carriage on a dirt road. When she returns, she sees Franklin wrestling with three boys. She says she will talk to him later. He tells them about muscles he is developing. He sends them off and then races them to the ramp in his wheelchair. They push his chair up and open the door.
Inside Eleanor advises him to be more careful. He finds Louis and Missy. Louis shows him a printing of the poem “Invictus.” He asks Eleanor if she has agreed to make this speech. He says she is keeping his head above water. Franklin discusses his business investments in lobsters and gas. He dismisses Missy and suggests she take a swim. Eleanor asks him not to rush. He says he is learning patience. He says that lately he feels sure-footed. They talk about how their Roosevelt relatives feel about their marriage. He admits he had a lot to learn and that he was a mean cousin at first. He had ambition but had to learn about the human heart. She says he always knew about her heart. He puts his arm around her and calls her dearest. She says she feels needed by him. Anna comes in, and Franklin reprimands her for not knocking before entering. She came to put books back and drops them. He calls her clumsy, and she runs out. Eleanor goes out to talk to her before she runs to Granny.
Eleanor finds Sara hugging Anna and says she needs to talk to Anna alone. Granny goes out. Anna says it has been very difficult, and she feels alone. Eleanor says it is difficult for everyone in the family especially for the one who is sick. She is going to tell her things and ask her to apologize to her father.
Anna and Eleanor come to Franklin, and Anna says she did not understand what he had been through. She says she likes her room upstairs in New York. Franklin tells her a story about a wise old man and a woman with a sad story. He advised her to put chickens, cows, and their horse in their cabin. After she removed the animals, she said they were comfortable at last. Anna thanks and hugs him.
In New York in January 1924 Sara is assisted by the black servant Charles. She sees Anna and says she looks lovely. Anna says that her mother is making a speech with Louis.
Franklin dictates a letter to Missy, and Sara comes in and says he does not look well. Sara asks if Eleanor is making another speech and considers this shocking for a woman.
Eleanor speaks to a group of women while Louis listens in the back. She says they each must apply their energies to political work in the next two years. She says they must remain flexible like a good corset. The ladies laugh, and Louis shakes his head.
In the car Eleanor tells Louis that she thought she was better than before, and he agrees. She says the corset analogy came to her in a dream.
Louis and Eleanor report to Franklin who asks how it went. Louis says she is not giggling as much and can make points. She says they signed pledges to work and that his statement about the League of Nations was applauded. Franklin asks if the corset joke got a laugh and admits he gave it to her. Louis says he is going home for a day or two. Eleanor goes out, and Louis puts on his heavy coat. Franklin reflects on Louis, and he thanks him for everything. Louis performs a reading of the “Invictus” poem, hamming it up, making Franklin laugh. He seriously quotes, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Then he says goodnight and goes out.
At dinner Franklin gives them a problem with two moving trains that meet. Then he tells them to get to bed, and the children leave the table. Sara gives instructions to Anna before she goes out.
Franklin and Sara go into the living-room. He says he needs to exercise his arms. She says he is doing too much physically, but he wishes he could do more. She says Eleanor and Louis push him too rapidly. Franklin disagrees and objects to how she refers to Louis. He says he is going to get over this. If not, he will have to become accustomed to braces and wheelchairs. He says Louis told him he had two choices. He said he could write books or become president of the United States. He thinks those dreams may be too bright, but he has no intention of retiring to Hyde Park. Sara says his father took him to meet President Cleveland who wished for him that he would never be president. She says his cousin Teddy died because he did not know when to stop. She says he cannot make it the same world for all people, but he says that at least one can try. She says the world is not so bad. He has no complaints because he had rich parents. He sold mining stock because of what the miners suffered. She says running for public office would be absurd. He says he is not running and will not until he can stand on his feet. She urges him to stay at Hyde Park, but he does not want it to bury him. She calls him stubborn, and he says he will not go down the drain. He will not settle for the life of an invalid. He says getting angry is good for him. She asks if he thinks she wants him to be an invalid. She says she has felt his pain and does not want to see him hurt. He says that is enough talking. Eleanor comes back and tells Sara that the children want to say goodnight to her. Sara goes out. Eleanor asks if he needs anything, and he says nothing. She goes out and closes the door. He picks up two crutches and tries to stand up but falls on the floor. He moves his legs with his hands and slides back to the wheelchair. He picks up the crutches, locks the wheelchair, and tries again.
At an Al Smith for President campaign office Governor Alfred E. Smith (Alan Bunce) asks his advisors how it looks for him against McAdoo. One man says he will win on the first ballot, but Smith says that will not happen. Smith says he will talk to Roosevelt alone about him nominating him. They say a campaign manager has never made the nominating speech, and an advisor says he is not as good a speaker as Bourke Cochrane. Smith says Cochrane is dead, and he hopes Roosevelt can do it. He is going to talk to him to find out if it will work. He does not want him to mention the League of Nations because that issue does not win votes.
Franklin welcomes Mr. Lassiter (David White) and introduces him to Mr. Howe. Lassiter says they hope to have a national pattern of activity, but they are worried about his chairmanship of Smith’s campaign. Lassiter says Americans fear a Catholic president because of the dominance of the Church over its members. Franklin says he could make a statement on this issue. He calls Missy and asks her to type up a statement. Lassiter says they will print it and circulate it. Franklin dictates the statement that if a Catholic could not be elected president, then we should say he could not be governor or hold any other office. Lassiter says good day and leaves. Missy says many people agree with Lassiter. Louis says Smith is running at the wrong time. Franklin asks her to type the statement right away, and she goes out. Louis wonders what Smith wants to talk to him about. Louis says Smith is looking for good speakers, and he asks Franklin if he would be up to speaking. Louis believes God cares about Franklin’s future. Louis says he could show he was available for active service, or he could fail. Eleanor comes in and says what she does at each stop. Franklin says they think Smith may want him to nominate him. She says only he can make that decision. She knows he would make a wonderful speech, but only he can decide if he is ready. She says she is not a politician. She says one should pursue principles without considering consequences, and Louis agrees she is not a politician. She says Franklin would have to stand for three-quarters of an hour. Missy brings the statement, and he tells Eleanor to take a copy and use it.
Governor Smith comes in and speaks to Eleanor and Missy who takes him to Franklin and Louis. She asks if he wants a drink, and he recognizes the law but asks for a Scotch. Franklin says Louis has been helping Eleanor with speeches, and Smith suggests that Louis start a political school. Smith asks Franklin why he withdrew from his law firm, and Franklin says it was too boring. Missy brings the drinks and goes out. Smith says there is much McAdoo money in town. He says it could be a stalemate. Franklin says he cannot do it on the first ballot, and Smith agrees. Smith says he will never let McAdoo get it. Franklin reads a letter from Babe Ruth that supports Smith. Franklin urges Smith to argue as a progressive, but the main thing is to keep the party together. Smith refuses to temporize on the issue of the clan. He says the League of Nations is dead, but Franklin urges him to support a resolution on the League so soon after Wilson’s death. Franklin would write his own speech and would praise Smith. Franklin agrees that a man would have to stand for about forty minutes, and he says he has come to love the time he spends each day standing on his crutches. Smith asks Franklin to have him put him in nomination, and he pretends to be surprised and consents. Franklin says he will say what he wants, and Smith understands that. Smith thanks him, shakes hands, and goes out. Franklin calls in Missy and says he is going to nominate Smith. Louis says he will flood him with congratulations. Franklin says he needs to know how far he has to walk to the lectern, and Louis says it will be about ten steps. Franklin says he must take them or fall on his gluteus maximus.
The family is dressed up, and Franklin says this will be his first time at bat after a long time on the bench. He goes out.
Franklin gets into the back of a motorcar with Eleanor, and James rides in front.
At the convention Louis is in an office waiting. Missy is typing and says she delivered copies of the speech to the pressroom.
Franklin comes in pushed by James. He and Eleanor go into the office, and Louis tells them what will happen before New York is recognized for the nomination of Smith. Louis sends Daly out to check out the crowd, and he goes out. Louis advises Franklin on a way to change the end of his speech, and they discuss it. James is putting the braces on Franklin’s legs. Eleanor asks if he wants her opinion, but he only wants her to agree with him. He does not want to change his speech. Sara comes in, and Franklin welcomes her to the smoked-filled rooms of politics. He hopes their conventions will never turn into high school pageants. She asks for God to bless him and tells him to speak loudly and clearly, and she goes out. Daly comes in and says the crowd is enormous; it is time for Franklin to go to the platform. Louis sends Daly out, and Franklin checks his leg braces. He tells Jimmy to pick him up quickly if they slip. Eleanor hugs Franklin, and he says he is ready. Jimmy pushes his wheelchair.
Jimmy tells Franklin to worry about his speech, and he will handle the ramp. They stop a few feet behind the lectern. Franklin has Joe test the stability of the lectern. An announcement of mail for the delegates is made, and they laugh. The chairman of the convention uses his gavel to get their attention. He calls on Connecticut which yields to New York. The chair then recognizes Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He stands up, and Jimmy hands him his crutches. Franklin walks slowly forward as he leans on the crutches. People on the platform applaud, and others cheer. When he gets to the lectern, he hands his crutches back to Jimmy. He holds up his right hand and waves. People sing “East Side, West Side” during the cheering.
This biographical drama portrays the difficult struggle Franklin Roosevelt had after he got infantile paralysis and how he was supported by his wife Eleanor and his political advisor Louis Howe. He was born into a family with many advantages, but through this experience he learned humility, patience, and determination.