Goodwin is a celebrity in the field of presidential historians. Her tome “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” became the basis for the Oscar-winning film “Lincoln,” and her biography “No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II” won the Pulitzer Prize.
“I always felt this sense of, ‘Oh, I wish I knew George,’” she told The Washington Post. But at the age of 77, she wasn’t sure she had enough time left to spend chronicling the nation’s first president. (It had taken her a decade to write her book about Lincoln.)
“That was the great joy of being able to work on this project,” Goodwin said of the new three-part series, narrated by Jeff Daniels, which combines the classic historian interviews you’d expect of a television documentary with surprisingly epic live-action sequences that feel closer to the style of a blockbuster film. In the relatively short 18 months she spent as executive producer, “I felt like George finally became one of my guys.”
Hundreds of history fans joined Goodwin at the Mount Vernon premiere, which was held inside the theater at the estate’s visitor center. She said the reason for embarking on this project — her first foray as an executive producer — was to engage a wide audience in an exploration of Washington’s leadership style.
“Resilience and humility and empathy” were trademarks of Washington’s character, according to Goodwin. She was particularly drawn to the foresight of his farewell address in 1796 and his warnings about what she described as “the baneful effects of party spirit, of the spirit of revenge, of sectionalism, and the worry that if we endure such things it could lead to foreign influence and corruption” that would threaten the fragile experiment that was American democracy.
“You think about the partisan divide in the country and the fact that it seems at its worst edge now, but it was troubling in that second term of George Washington,” Goodwin said. The partisan newspapers were developing. It was the beginning of the big divide that still is there today. And yet somehow we managed to get through that.”
Read more Retropolis: