Featuring exclusive interviews with all 20 living White House chiefs of staff. Spanning 50 years and nine administrations, it is an unprecedented series that pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of the Oval Office.
Runtime: 85 minutes
The Presidents' Gatekeepers - Marguerite LeHand - Netflix
Marguerite Alice “Missy” LeHand (September 13, 1896 – July 31, 1944) was private secretary to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) for 21 years. According to LeHand's biographer, Kathryn Smith, in “The Gatekeeper,” she eventually functioned as White House chief of staff, the only woman in American history to do so. Born into a blue collar Irish-American family in upstate New York, LeHand studied secretarial science in high school, took a series of clerical jobs, and eventually began to work for the Franklin Roosevelt vice presidential campaign in New York. Following the Democrats' defeat, FDR's wife Eleanor invited her to join the family at their home in Hyde Park, New York to clean up the campaign correspondence. FDR subsequently hired LeHand to work for him on Wall Street, where he was the partner in a law firm and also worked for a bonding company. After FDR was partially paralyzed in August 1921, LeHand became his daily companion and one of the main people to encourage him to return to politics, along with Eleanor and his political strategist, Louis McHenry Howe. She remained his secretary when he became Governor of New York in 1929 and when he became president in 1933, serving until a 1941 stroke left her partially paralyzed and barely able to speak. She moved to her sister's home in Somerville, Massachusetts and died after another stroke in 1944. The exact nature of LeHand's relationship with FDR is debated by historians. It is generally accepted that their relationship contained a romantic element, though scholars remain divided on whether the pair had a sexual relationship. LeHand was romantically involved with William C. Bullitt Jr., U.S. ambassador to Russia and later France, from 1933 to 1940, but apparently never contemplated marriage to him. Her devotion to the Roosevelt family and dedication to her career were the most likely impediments to marriage, though she once asked a friend, “How could anyone ever come up to FDR?”
The Presidents' Gatekeepers - Relationship with Roosevelt - Netflix
The question of whether LeHand and Roosevelt's relationship contained a sexual component was widely discussed among their contemporaries and continues to be debated by historians. Hazel Rowley argues that “there is no doubt that Franklin's relationship with Missy was romantic”, but notes the possibility that the relationship could not have been consummated due to FDR's disability. Roosevelt biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin states that “beneath the complexity, it is absolutely clear that Franklin was the love of Missy's life, and that he adored her and depended on her for affection and support as well as work”. Doug Wead wrote in his work on the parents of presidents, The Raising of a President, “Some Roosevelt historians insist that their relationship was never consummated. Eleanor and the children accepted the relationship, which speaks for its innocence. Sara [Roosevelt] spoke favorably of Missy's family and upbringing. Years later, only Elliott, of all the children, would declare that it had not been as benign as historians like to believe.” In 1973, FDR's son Elliott published An Untold Story: The Roosevelts of Hyde Park, in which he recalled seeing LeHand in his father's lap and alleged that she “shared a familiar life in all its aspects with father”. His eldest brother Jimmy disagreed, arguing that FDR's illness had made sexual function too difficult for him to have a physical affair. “I suppose you could say they came to love one another”, he wrote, “but it was not a physical love.” Kathryn Smith, the author of the only biography of LeHand, could come to no conclusion, but wrote, “As far as evidence goes, there is not a single written account of anyone seeing them in a compromising position, despite the hundreds of Secret Service agents, staff members, political cronies, family members and friends who traipsed through FDR's bedrooms—which he used as an auxiliary office—during their twenty-one years together.” She quotes LeHand's great-niece, Jane Scarbrough, who said, “We have no reason to believe they did [have a sexual relationship], but we don't know.”
Eleanor and LeHand remained on good terms. Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook describes the First Lady as treating LeHand warmly, “as an elder daughter or, in the manner of Asian matriarchs, as the junior wife”. The two women went shopping together, and Eleanor took a solicitous interest in LeHand's smoking and general health. Eleanor also accompanied LeHand to her mother's funeral in Potsdam during the first presidential campaign in 1932, helping the family make arrangements. Elliott later stated that he believed “Missy alleviated Mother's guilt”, allowing her to travel without worrying that Franklin would lack for companionship. In one of her later books, Eleanor wrote that she occasionally failed to “meet the need of someone whom I dearly love”, stating, “You must learn to allow someone else to meet the need, without bitterness or envy, and accept it.” Cook reads these passages as veiled references to LeHand's role in Franklin's life, and Eleanor's acceptance of that role.
The Presidents' Gatekeepers - References - Netflix