Did Eleanor Roosevelt really feed King George VI and Queen Elizabeth hot dogs? The question seems to linger at the end of “Hyde Park on Hudson,” perhaps more so than any sordid curiosity about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tangled love life.
In a discussion for Post Live following a screening of the film Wednesday, Christopher Brick, editor and principal investigator of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, said the much-discussed meal option was a factual excerpt from the royals’ visit.
“[Eleanor] does write about this in ‘My Day’,” Brick said, referring to the syndicated column the first lady wrote from 1936 to 1962. “There is bad press about it in certain quarters.”
A brief search of the Post archive confirms that the casual fare made headlines. On May 18, a few weeks before the official visit, the Post ran a piece titled “British Rulers May Feast On Hot Dogs,” depicting Eleanor Roosevelt’s indecision over whether to throw a picnic or garden party.
“As for what they will eat, Mrs. Roosevelt revealed she was inclined to the picnic with hot dogs, while the President’s mother, Mrs. James S. Roosevelt, favored a garden party. Hot dogs will be on the menu anyway, she said, if the weather isn’t too warm,” the article reads.
The occasion was not the first time the Roosevelts served hot dogs to dignitaries. A Post headline from April of the same year says the president chose a similar menu for Crown Prince Olaf and Princess Marth of Norway during their stay in Hyde Park, N.Y., introducing the couple “to that modern American meal — a picnic on hot dogs and potato salad.”
“In the wooded surroundings of the Chief Executive’s new Dutch Colonial bungalow, three miles from the Roosevelt home, the royal couple joined two score Roosevelt friends and relatives at a festive board piled high with hot and cold American and Scandinavian dishes.”
Based on the pertinent scenes from the film, it would appear the first lady was the mastermind behind the diplomatic gesture and the now ubiquitous snapshots of foreign diplomats and politicians biting into the American culinary staple.
“[Eleanor] said the things people remember when they travel overseas are the things that are different. We shouldn’t try to replicate what dinner at Buckingham Palace would be like, that’s not our job,” Brick says.
Brick says he wouldn’t be surprised if there were a political subtext to the Roosevelts’ choice of picnic food, but he is unsure whether the couple discussed the likelihood of it endearing them to the royals.
Regardless of the diplomatic role played by hot dogs, the Post recounted the visit in glowing terms, calling it a “spectacular triumph for Britain’s rulers.”
“King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, a hard-working royal couple, are at Hyde Park today, enjoying a rest and making more page-one news by eating hot dogs. This sojourn on Squire Roosevelt’s ancestral acres will ring down the curtain on their American visit, for tonight they start out for Halifax and Blighty.
The royal tour, seemingly jinxed at the beginning, has turned out to be the most smashing triumph of its kind in the 900-year history of what is now the British Empire.”
Read more of the Post’s coverage of the 1939 trip here.