Remembering Mrs. Roosevelt

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(The following questions and answers are drawn from talks between Mrs. Gurewitsch and the editor of this magazine and from other interviews conducted by Emily Williams of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York.)

How did Mrs. Roosevelt react when she learned that M. M. you and Dr. Gurewitsch planned to marry?

David told me he had discussed his wish to marry me with Mrs. Roosevelt and she had encouraged him. Nevertheless, according to Maureen, who was with Mrs. Roosevelt when she received David’s telegram telling her the date had been set, she grew pale. Mrs. Roosevelt replied by offering to give us our wedding, and we accepted. She told David she would be in California around the time of our wedding date, but that if she could not get back to New York in time, we were not to worry. Everything would be arranged. We were to have a religious service in Mrs. Roosevelt’s Sixty-second Street apartment, followed by a small luncheon.

Of course she was there. She met us at the door. She was very pale. She stood with a small leather box in her hand and said to me, “This is a necklace for you. It is not valuable, but it is something that has always been close to me. ”

The wedding could not have been easy for her. I believe she thought she would lose him. She needn’t have worried. I loved her, and he respected their confidences. The relationship changed but remained close differently.

How often did you see Mrs. Roosevelt once you were all living together in the house on East Seventy-fourth Street?

Almost daily when she was in town. She telephoned David every morning at eight when she was at home and often at night on her return. We dined together before going to the theater, opera, or concerts, usually downstairs in Mrs. Roosevelt’s apartment. David came home from his office around 8:00 P.M., and so we would have to eat fast and run. Mrs. Roosevelt served many courses. In those days the curtain went up at 8:40 and we arrived barely in time. We were too breathless to really enjoy the first part of anything.

So on one such evening when I was downstairs before David arrived, I asked Mrs. Roosevelt, “Do you think that sometime we will not rush out to any place? Couldn’t we just have dinner and stay at home at times?” She had gotten up to give me a Dubonnet, and coming very close to me, she said, “Do you mean, dear, you think you wouldn’t be bored?” Only then did it occur to me that many of Mrs. Roosevelt’s theater and concert invitations were due to the fact that she was afraid she would bore us. Because I was so taken aback by her question, I tried to make light of it and facetiously said, “Let’s try it and see.” To my further consternation, she took me seriously.

The truly wonderful evenings then began for me. Meals were leisurely and filled with interesting talk. There were medical consultations with David on behalf of others. After dinner Mrs. Roosevelt would take out her petit point or knitting. She would recall, for example, how she had sat frozen, wrapped in a blanket in the bomb bay of a plane going to Guadalcanal, typing out her “My Day” column with one finger. She spoke of how awkward she always felt when she arrived at a military base. News had gone out that a woman was arriving. For security reasons it couldn’t be told that it was the President’s wife. Mrs. Roosevelt was sure they were expecting a Hollywood beauty. She said she felt she was such a disappointment. More than twenty years later, when she and I would be walking in New York, taxi drivers would come up alongside and shout, “Hello, Mrs. Roosevelt. Do you remember me? I was in that hospital you visited in the Philippines during the war.” And she would wave and smile, “Oh, yes, yes. How-dy-do?” She would then say to me, “How could I remember him? On that trip I visited nineteen thousand men, all wearing white. ” But they remembered her.

 
 
 

How was she able to accomplish so much?

Dedication, determination, and truly phenomenal organization. Her possessions were so superbly organized that she could call Hyde Park from New York and say, “I want a pair of my white leather gloves sent down, which are second in the third drawer on the left in my bedroom dresser.”

On the morning she moved into the Seventy-fourth Street house, I went down to her apartment to find Mrs. Roosevelt, Maureen, the moving men, and an actor friend, Charles Purcell. Mrs. Roosevelt often gave Charles odd jobs to do for her to help him earn extra money between stage roles. He had been asked to arrange the library—to index books as they were being unpacked. Never before have I seen anyone move into a new apartment and have books catalogued as they were put on shelves. Carpets were laid, furniture put into immediate order. She had thought out all details in advance. Mrs. Roosevelt presided over it all wearing an elegant velvet Sally Victor hat. She had even arranged to have lunch sent over for her staff from the Park Sheraton Hotel.