Elliott Roosevelt stepped off a passenger plane at the Chicago airport on July. 18, 1933 and into a swarm of reporters.
Responding to the newshounds’ first question, the president’s 22-year-old son confirmed he had indeed just returned from Reno, Nevada, where an obliging judge granted him a divorce from his first wife. But he deftly dodged the followup query about a possible replacement.
Rumor had it that Roosevelt had his eye on a pretty socialite he had met in Texas a couple of months earlier. He told the newspapermen that he had no intention of tying the knot so soon after regaining his freedom then added with a sly smile, “I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone yet!”
Four days later, Ruth Goggins of Fort Worth became the second in a long list of Mrs. Elliott Roosevelts.
Elliott was the fourth of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s six children, the third having died in infancy. He was born into wealth and privilege and a home run by his domineering grandmother Sara Delano Roosevelt, who exercised complete control of the family fortune.
She hired and supervised the children’s nannies and often told them, in her daughter-in-law’s presence, that she “only bore you. I am your real mother.”
After a polio-like illness in 1921 left Franklin paralyzed from the waist down, Sara insisted that he forget about a career in politics and permanently withdraw from public life. His decision to go against his mother’s wishes, fully supported by his wife Eleanor, led to his election as president 12 years later.
The year before his father’s landslide victory, Elliott wed his first wife in a brief union that lasted less than two years. Following his second marriage in the summer of 1933, he chose to stay in Texas to take advantage of his new wife’s money and contacts.
He was the vice-president for sales at KTSA in San Antonio, when Hearst Radio bought the radio station in 1935. Taking his cue from the new owner, he came with the idea of putting together a chain of Lone Star broadcasters that is still in business today — Texas State Network.
Elliott’s wife Ruth bought him his first station, KFJZ in Fort Worth, but the acquisition of the next link in the chain was up to him. Naturally he turned to his father, the most popular and most powerful man in the country, for help.
A few phone calls later, Elliott was sitting across from John Hartford, head of the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company better known as A&P. The brash young man explained that in exchange for loaning him $200,000 to buy the station down in Texas, the moneybags would receive stock soon to be worth a cool $1 million.
Hartford was skeptical, to say the least. He had never laid eyes on Elliott nor even met his famous sire. Sensing the opportunity slipping away, Elliott reached across the desk, grabbed the telephone and called the White House. Young Roosevelt received the six-figure check the very next day, and Hartford got the shares sometime later.
Three years passed without a word from the borrower much less a payment on the debt. Then at the president’s request, Jesse Jones, who had shouldered much of the New Deal load, paid a visit to John Hartford.
The Texan explained that he had come directly from the White House to ask Hartford to accept $4,000 as payment in full for the $200,000 loan. And while he was at it, suggested Jones, he might as well give back the “worthless” shares.
Hapless Hartford complied not realizing the stock was actually worth the promised $1 million. President Roosevelt sent the entire amount to Elliott’s estranged wife Ruth, who filed for divorce the next year, with half for her personal use and the other half going to a trust for their three children.
Elliott weathered the storm from this scandal, the subject of sensational press coverage and congressional hearings, in addition to another involving Howard Hughes and the Texan’s bid to build a hundred medium-range bombers during the second world war.
Since his son had distinguished himself as an Army Air Corps aviator, the president faced few objections over his assigning Elliott the stateside task of evaluating proposed war planes. While Hughes’ bomber probably would have won the lucrative contract on its merits, the designer was believed — by two of his own biographers no less — to have improved his chances by slipping Roosevelt a $75,000 bribe and stage-managing Elliott’s romance with actress Faye Emerson, wife number three.
In the early 1970s, Elliott was living in Portugal with his fifth and final wife and writing a tell-all book about the private lives of his famous parents. His siblings as well as the many admirers of Franklin and Eleanor were infuriated by his “anything for a buck” philosophy and flippant dismissal of their criticism.
Late in life, Elliott Roosevelt stated that his sole ambition was to outlive his big brother James. But he failed at that too dying in 1990 at age 80 a year before James.
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