Oct. 1, 1936 is snug in Pare Lorentz's looseleaf notebook. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is in Pittsburgh defending the nation's deficit as an investment in human welfare. Al Smith is in New York, breaking with the administration, urging support for Alf Landon. Later, FDR is riding over the new Tygart River Dam to Grafton, W. Va., where he receives a gold medal from the United Mine Workers.
"Now remember, we're in an election year here," says Lorentz. "This, of course, is the historic break with Al Smith."
Election day is there too. And the World Series. In all, there are more than 3,000 typewritten pages and 5,000 photographs chronicling Roosevelt's life and times in binders, files and folders at Lorentz's Armonk, N.Y., home.
But Lorentz would rather the materials be published and distributed by Congress as a centennial tribute to Roosevelt, who was born Jan. 30, 1882. Last October Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W. Va.) and Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.) introduced a resolution in Congress that would provide for publication of 25,000 copies of the work, as well as a joint session of Congress and an address by a scholar. The resolution, however, remains in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee while the time available for the Government Printing Office to complete the job by 1982, is short. Further impeding the project is its estimated cost of more than $1 million.
A prize-winning documentary filmmaker and chief of the U.S. Film Service from 1938 to 1940, Lorentz, now 74, began the Roosevelt project in 1947 under contract with a New York editor.
"Than I realized there were all kinds of fast books being put out that were capitalizing in some way on the president's life and death," said Lorentz. "I preferred to go at it in depth."
And so he freed himself of his contract and hired a researcher to help him sift through letters, newspapers and personal interviews for two years. Lorentz then typed up the materials in two parts -- the 900-page daily chronicle of Roosevelt's life and the 2,100-page running account of world events which he planned to publish in columns alonside the chronology. In 1952, he received a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt praising his work.
For the next 15 years the project remained on the back burner because, according to Lorentz, of the costs of publishing and the nation's -- and Congress' -- preference for more theoretical, revisionist history.
But six years ago, while touring college campuses and lecturing about his documentary films of the 1930s and 1940s, including "The River" and "The Plow that Broke the Plains," Lorentz saw a whole generation that did not know the day-by-day events that made up the Roosevelt years of war and depression.
"People were out there asking for the facts," he said. "There was a feeling of 'Let's go back with the facts, not all this theory and bombast.'"
And Lorentz took his dry, factual chronology to the Hill for sale. But despite his tenure in the Roosevelt administration, Lorentz is unfamiliar with the legislative branch and says he has met with great frustration. "All I can do is assure them [Congress] it is worthwhile."
Lorentz blames a penchant for "cost-effectiveness" for inhibiting experimentation and ingenuity in America. "We seem, in one way or another, to be beset by accountants. And it is not ideas or people that are important. tIt's numbers. Human art or beauty are not the areas of the Army Corps of Engineers."