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Arts & Culture

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

President Theodore Roosevelt with his family, 1903.
Courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
President Theodore Roosevelt with his family, 1903.

Airs Tuesdays, May 5 - 26 & June 9-23, 2015 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Ken Burns’s seven-part documentary weaves the stories of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, three members of one of the most prominent and influential families in American politics. The 14-hour series marks the first time their individual stories have been woven into a single narrative, following the family’s story for more than a century, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962. Over the course of those years, Theodore would become the 26th president of the United States and his beloved niece, Eleanor, would marry her fifth cousin, Franklin, who became the 32nd president. Together, they redefined the relationship Americans had with their government and with each other, and redefined, as well, the role of the United States within the wider world.

THE ROOSEVELTS is written by long-time Burns collaborator Geoffrey C. Ward, who is an authority on Franklin Roosevelt. The author of two biographical volumes, "A First-Class Temperament" and "Before the Trumpet," he is also the editor of "Closest Companion," which revealed for the first time Roosevelt’s close friendship with his distant cousin, Daisy Suckley. Ward’s interest in FDR grew in part from the fact that he, like FDR, is a polio survivor.


Gallery Collection

View an amazing collection of more photos of the Roosevelt family from Ken Burns and collaborator Geoffrey C. Ward. Select one to get the story.

Contribute To The Roosevelts Map

The Roosevelts are one of the most influential families in history. Their legacy and impact on our nation can still be felt through the generations. If you would like to share your connection to the Roosevelts legacy, tell us by posting a photo or video on the Roosevelts map!

Send an E-mail Postcard

Create personalized postcards using photos from THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY and email them to friends or family.

Watch On Demand

Beginning on Monday, September 15th, the entire 14 hours will be available online through PBS stations’ video sites such as, the film website, and PBS station branded digital platforms, including, ROKU, Apple TV and Xbox, and will be available for two weeks, through September 29th.

On DVD and Blu-ray

THE ROOSEVELTS will also be available on DVD and Blu-ray September 16, 2014. The DVD and Blu-ray include special features — 13 bonus videos, making of THE ROOSEVELTS and deleted scenes with an introduction by Ken Burns. This film will also be available for digital download on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, Vudu, Xbox, Target Ticket and Nook.

PBS Film Quote

“THE ROOSEVELTS is Ken Burns at his best. This is a family history that is a sweeping drama, rich with stories of personal and political power, sex, love and death,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming. “We have worked together with PBS member stations to accommodate a wide-range of viewing and recording habits, including special opportunities for viewers who like to ‘epic binge.’ Through these efforts, we hope to connect even more viewers with the film and our PBS member stations.”

Roosevelt Quote

"Get action. Do things. Be sane. Don't fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody..." - Theodore Roosevelt

Ken Burns Media Blitz

Catch Ken's upcoming TV and radio appearances for THE ROOSEVELTS:

“All Things Considered” Wed., Sept. 10 (Robert Siegel to interview);

“CBS This Morning” Fri., Sept. 12;

“Face The Nation” Sun., Sept. 14;

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Mon, Sept. 15;

“Jeopardy” Mon., Sept. 15 (special ROOSEVELTS category) and more!

The New York Times will run a feature article on Sunday, Sept. 14. You can find more articles in the September issues of these national publications: TIME, The Atlantic, Real Simple, AARP Bulletin and Fast Company.

Episode One: "Get Action (1858-1901)" repeats Tuesday, May 5 at 8 p.m. - A frail, asthmatic young Theodore Roosevelt transforms himself into a vigorous champion of the strenuous life, loses one great love and finds another, leads men into battle and then rises like a rocket to become the youngest president in American history at 42. Meanwhile, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, brought up as the pampered only child of adoring parents, follows his older cousin’s career with worshipful fascination and begins to think he might one day follow in his footsteps.

Episode Two: "In The Arena (1901-1910)" repeats Tuesday, May 12 at 8 p.m. - Murder brings Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency, but in the seven years that follow, he transforms the office and makes himself perhaps the best-loved of all the men who ever lived in the White House — battling corporate greed and building the Panama Canal, preserving American wilderness, carrying the message of American might around the world. FDR courts and weds Eleanor Roosevelt, the shy orphaned daughter of Theodore’s alcoholic brother, Elliott. Together, they begin a family. Franklin enters a law firm, but when he is offered a chance to run for the New York state senate, he jumps at the chance.

Episode Three: "The Fire of Life (1910-1919)" repeats Tuesday, May 19 at 8 p.m. - Theodore Roosevelt leads a Progressive crusade that splits his own party, undertakes a deadly expedition into the South American jungle, campaigns for American entry into World War I — and pays a terrible personal price. Franklin masters wartime Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, while Eleanor finds personal salvation in war work. Her discovery of Franklin’s romance with another woman transforms their marriage into a largely political partnership. TR’s death at 60 is almost universally mourned, but provides Franklin with a golden opportunity.

Episode Four: "The Storm (1920-1933)" repeats Tuesday, May 26 at 8 p.m. - Franklin Roosevelt runs for vice president in 1920 and seems assured of a still brighter future until polio devastates him the following summer. He spends seven years struggling without success to walk again, while Eleanor builds a personal and political life of her own. FDR returns to politics in 1928 and, as governor of New York, acts with such vigor and imagination during the first years of the Great Depression that the Democrats turn to him as their presidential nominee in 1932. He survives an attempted assassination as president-elect and at his inauguration tells his frightened countrymen the only thing they have to fear is “fear itself.”

Episode Five: "The Rising Road (1933-1939)" repeats June 9 at 8 p.m. - FDR brings the same optimism and energy to the White House that his cousin Theodore displayed. Aimed at ending the Depression, his sweeping New Deal restores the people’s self-confidence and transforms the relationship between them and their government. Eleanor rejects the traditional role of first lady, becomes her husband’s liberal conscience and a sometimes controversial political force in her own right. As the decade ends, FDR faces two grave questions: whether to run for an unprecedented third term and how to deal with the rise of Hitler.


Episode Six: "The Common Cause (1939-1944)" repeats Tuesday, June 16 at 8 p.m. - FDR shatters the third-term tradition, struggles to prepare a reluctant country to enter World War II and, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, helps set the course toward Allied victory. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to keep New Deal reforms alive in wartime and travels the Pacific to comfort wounded servicemen. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1943 and with the war still raging, FDR resolves to conceal his condition and run for a fourth term.

Episode Seven: "A Strong And Active Faith (1944-1962)" repeats Tuesday, June 23 at 8 p.m. - Frail and failing but determined to see the war through to victory, FDR wins re-election and begins planning for a peaceful postwar world, but a cerebral hemorrhage kills him at 63. After her husband’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt proves herself a shrewd politician and a skilled negotiator in her own right, as well as a champion of civil rights, civil liberties and the United Nations. When she dies in 1962, she is mourned everywhere as the First Lady of the World.

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