The President in private

Principal Researcher JAMES HAMILTON tells the story of the unique treasure trove of Roosevelt materials that was found in the cellars of the Signet Library.

Winston Churchill once said, “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of Champagne; knowing him was like drinking it”. Few men shared a friendship with Roosevelt like Churchill did, but Arthur Murray MP had that privilege. It was the unlikely late-life friendship between the soldier-diplomat Murray and a librarian that brought Murray’s snapshots of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the WS Society.

 Hyde Park on the Hudson – Roosevelt photographed by Faith Murray (picture © The WS Society).

Hyde Park on the Hudson – Roosevelt photographed by Faith Murray (picture © The WS Society).

After World War II, the Society’s rooms had become a refuge for Murray. He was a widower, his career had ended and his many friends were dwindling away, but in Edinburgh he could fill the emptied days with writing books, articles and memoirs. In thanks, he bequeathed what he called “curiosities” to the Society. They are in fact an incredible treasure trove of private photographs and mementos. Chief amongst these were his photographs of his time with the Roosevelts.

MEETING FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT WAS LIKE OPENING YOUR FIRST BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE; KNOWING HIM WAS LIKE DRINKING IT.

The friendship between Murray and Roosevelt had begun twenty years earlier, when the careers of the two men had crossed in Washington just after the United States had entered the Great War. They were close in age, but Murray, who had seen action in the Boxer Rebellion and the North-West Frontier before winning the DSO in France, and who was a sitting MP, might have felt himself senior to an Assistant Secretary to the Navy in a Wilson administration that had abandoned neutrality only a few months earlier. Nevertheless Murray the Liberal and Roosevelt the Democrat got on famously.

Although they would not meet again until long after the War, they remembered one another well. Both found the 1920s hard going. Murray, out of politics after his election defeat in 1923, suffered a nervous breakdown. Roosevelt’s career was interrupted by polio, and he would not be elected as Governor of New York until 1928.

After Roosevelt carried the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 1932, Murray cabled his congratulations. Roosevelt sent back a typed letter, saying “It gave both Mrs Roosevelt and me a great deal of pleasure to hear from a friend and associate of so many years ago” and added a handwritten postscript: “I do wish you could come over this autumn. It would be grand to see you again.”

 Faith Murray steps from an American Airlines aeroplane during the couple's visit in 1936 (picture © The WS Society).

Faith Murray steps from an American Airlines aeroplane during the couple's visit in 1936 (picture © The WS Society).

The year before, Murray had married a former actress, Faith Celli (Liliam Montrevor in Adrian Brunel’s film The Bump of 1920) and it would be 1936 before the Murrays could make the transatlantic trip. But frequent and friendly correspondence continued between the two men, with Murray keen to use his influence in London to help Roosevelt: Murray played the key role in brokering links between Roosevelt and Walter Runciman, President of the Board of Trade and a British Member of the Cabinet. Runciman’s discreet trip to Washington in 1937 proved vital in strengthening US-UK relations in the run-up to war, and it was almost entirely Murray’s doing.

MURRAY THE LIBERAL AND ROOSEVELT THE DEMOCRAT GOT ON FAMOUSLY.

Murray’s second visit to the Roosevelts took place just after Munich, and it is this trip to the President’s old home at Hyde Park that the WS Society’s photographs show best. The Murrays were there for two weeks, and on most days President Roosevelt drove the party down the Hudson Valley in his own car, before a roadside stop for refreshments. The President’s inscription in Murray’s copy of Roosevelt’s mother’s book commemorates these picnics: “Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chauffeur.”

 “Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chauffeur“ with Faith Murray (picture © The WS Society)

“Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chauffeur“ with Faith Murray (picture © The WS Society)

Despite the warmth and informality of the images, this was an important visit: Roosevelt did not trust Joseph Kennedy, his ambassador to London, and sent a message to Chamberlain through Murray assuring the Prime Minister of the support of US industrial might should war return to Europe. They would never meet again, but Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt would remain friends until both died in 1962. Poignantly, one of the mementos is a personal Christmas card to Murray, by then a widower, signed by Eleanor Roosevelt.