He was raised as an American aristocrat. As the eldest grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt (niece of Teddy and 5th cousin to her husband) he’s twice a Roosevelt, a name which means wealth and status. With his sister, he moved into the White House at age three and became a child celebrity.
Now at 79 and bearing a remarkable resemblance to his presidential granddad, Curtis Roosevelt was at the Boston Athenaeum recently promoting the paperback release of his childhood memoir “Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of my Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor.” During his visit he talked about his family and shared some thoughts about the differences between FDR’s presidency and the challenges facing Barack Obama.
Sistie and Buzzie
His book talks about growing up in “the goldfish bowl” of public attention. He writes that even before his grandfather was elected “we were used to the intrusions of waving newspaper reporters and the flare of flash bulbs.” Once he moved to the White House:
The press milked the phenomenon of the towheaded Roosevelt moppets, and we became a full-blown, pint-sized double act. My family called me Buzzie and our tabloid moniker became “Sistie and Buzzie” — we were as familiar as five-year old movie star Shirley Temple to a nation hungry for distraction from breadlines and boxcars.
But he also describes his boyhood as a strange and lonely one. He was raised in palatial surroundings by Black nannies in white uniforms. His dad was out of the picture. His sister, three years older, was the only child he played with. He hungered for affection from the frosty Roosevelt women, especially grandmother Eleanor who maintained an “arm’s-length relationship with her children” and with little Buzzie as well.
Advice for Mrs. O?
I asked Curtis Roosevelt if he has any advice for Mrs. Obama that might benefit her daughters’ experience in the White House. Speaking with a posh accent like one rarely hears outside of movies he told me, “I wouldn’t dare give advice. Those children are different as all children are different. They certainly are very different than my sister and I.”
He added “it was totally different era” and said that even intense attention given to him and his sister “doesn’t compare with the intrusiveness of the media today.”
The difference between our era of the Obama First Family and the days of Roosevelt are as dramatic as history itself. “You probably forget,” he told me in answer to a question about his nanny, “that when I grew up, the nation’s capitol, Washington DC, was a Jim Crowe town — that’s the way it was in Washington.”
Bay State Roosevelts
Boston Athenaeum and the Adams House at Harvard University were Curtis Roosevelt’s last stops on a tour across the United States. While the Roosevelts are generally associated with New York State, and France is now home to Curtis Roosevelt, Massachusetts has been home to a few Roosevelts as well (besides those that just passed through to attend Harvard).
Among these local Roosevelts are three of Teddy’s great-grandkids: Mark Roosevelt (1994 Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate), Tweed Roosevelt (Chairman of Roosevelt China Investments, a Boston firm), and Susan Roosevelt Weld (wife of former governor William Weld).