Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Scholar to reprise role of Eleanor Roosevelt at Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center

My late father was a proud liberal Democrat, labor union organizer and civil rights advocate, long before people even called it "civil rights advocate."

Our hall closet was often stuffed with picket signs, and we spent glorious summer days caravaning across Texas with politicians like future U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough and U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks. We stopped on courthouse lawns to cheer and wave our homemade placards as they spoke, sometimes only to the little clumps of elderly men playing dominoes under the shade trees nearby, but usually to like-minded Liberals (yes, Texas had them and still does, but they're just outnumbered now) and sometimes a few hecklers, though they were more polite back then than they are now.

One of my fondest childhood memories came right before a local foundry went on strike, when Dad and I went around to local grocery stores asking them to give the union boys credit during the strike, with the unspoken understanding they'd be loyal to the store once the strike was settled. Dad would park me at the grocery store's soda fountain with a 25-cent chocolate malt while he went into the back offices to make his case. I can close my eyes and remember that first taste of malt as it gushed up the big, fat straw. Maybe that's why I'm a chocoholic even unto this day.

Dad often said that if Jesus sits at the right hand of God, then Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits at the left hand.

And he absolutely adored FDR's wife, Eleanor, also a champion of the underdog and supporter of minimum wages, limits on work hours, women's rights, Social Security for the elderly, laws against putting children to work in mines and factories and other Liberal causes.

Perhaps that's why I absolutely fell in love with scholar-performer Susan Marie Frontczak's trilogy told from the viewpoint of Mrs. Roosevelt during and after her husband's years as president of the United States.

I saw the first installment, Eleanor Roosevelt: This is My Story, in April 2009 at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. Ms. Frontczak performs in the persona of Mrs. Roosevelt, wearing time-appropriate clothing and hairstyle, and speaking in her quavering, unique voice. Mrs. Roosevelt was born in 1884 and died in 1962. It's set in 1934, a couple of years after FDR had gone into office, when she served as her husband's eyes and ears in places where presidents usually didn't go — down into the coal mines, and inside dirty city tenements, dangerous factories and understaffed hospitals.

Ms. Frontczak presented a 45-minute monologue in the character of Mrs. Roosevelt, talking about her causes, her husband, her children, her notoriously controlling mother-in-law, then answered questions in character about all that and more. Then she came out of character and answered questions as a scholar. The audience, many of them around when the Roosevelts were in the White House, loved it and didn't want to let her go.

So we were all thrilled when Ms. Frontczak brought the second installment in January 2010, this one set in 1942 in the early years of World War II, and the third part in February 2011, set in 1945 after FDR's death.

Now, she's coming back to start the trilogy again, presenting Part 1 at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Tarpon Springs venue, and I can't wait to see it once more. Anyone with an interest in history, politics or literature should consider doing so, too.

Tickets are $18 for non-members and $15 for members, reserved seating. Call (727) 942-5605.

These days we almost take for granted that women will have prominent roles in public policy (though we're still a long way from a female president, I have hopes for Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren), but in Mrs. Roosevelt's time, her up-front involvement was considered rather scandalous, and not everyone approved. In fact, she was often the object of ridicule and contempt, if not downright hatred.

History, however, has been kind to her memory, and if people hate her now, they tend to keep it to themselves. Or maybe I just don't hang out with those kinds of people these days.

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