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Depression-Era Delight Curtis Roosevelt, Half Of Buzzie and Sistie, Dies At 86

October 2, 2016

Those who read history will know some of this story about Curtis Roosevelt.  It is a truly special and mostly warm memory from the past.  His memoir, Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of My Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor rests along the shelf with my other FDR books.  It is one I would much recommend.


Curtis Roosevelt, who with his sister, Eleanor, charmed Americans in the mid-1930s as Buzzie and Sistie, the towheaded children who lived in the White House with their grandparents Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, died on Monday at his home in St.-Bonnet-du-Gard, France. He was 86.

But it was as a child that he became well known. To Depression-weary Americans, he was Buzzie, the younger of the siblings who experienced what newsreels and fan magazines depicted as a fairy-tale existence frolicking at the White House.

When they were not vacationing at the Roosevelt family’s estate at Hyde Park, N.Y., overlooking the Hudson River, Buzzie, Sistie and their divorced mother lived in the White House for several years.

The children snuggled with the president while he interrupted a bedside conversation with Dean Acheson, then the assistant secretary of state, about the daily price of gold to read the funnies to them.

They invited Shirley Temple over for lunch.

They were treated to an impromptu concert by the contralto Marian Anderson, who sang “Comin’ Through the Rye” accompanied by their great-grandmother Sara Delano Roosevelt’s out-of-tune piano. Their grandmother Eleanor championed Anderson’s efforts to break barriers for black artists.

For Christmas in 1944, Curtis Roosevelt got a large model submarine from his grandfather, a gift that had been given to the president by Charles de Gaulle, by then the head of the provisional French government during World War II. When Eleanor protested that gifts from heads of state should not be given away, the president replied that de Gaulle was “just the head of some French committee or another.”

In his memoir, Mr. Roosevelt revealed that his mother “usually spoke about us but not to us, over our heads, as if we were not there.” The person he loved the most, he wrote, was his nursemaid.

As for his grandmother Eleanor Roosevelt, he found that her charitable instincts did not necessarily begin at home. While acknowledging her “genuine desire to be of service” and “the broad concern she evinced” for other people, he wrote that “empathy eluded my grandmother when it came to family members, or anyone else for whom she felt responsibility.”

The woman he called “grandmere” may have “felt strongly that too much loving attention could actually inhibit a child from achieving the independence needed as he or she matured,” Mr. Roosevelt wrote. But, he added, “This seems to me a veneer, an intellectual cover for my grandmother’s difficulty in being close to others.”

Mr. Roosevelt grew up apart from his father, Curtis Bean Dall, a Wall Street broker who lost his seat on the stock exchange and much of his fortune when the market crashed in 1929. For Curtis, President Franklin D.  whom he called Papa, was his “father figure,” he wrote.

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