Driving With Daisy

It’s ironic that Daisy Suckley (Margaret L. Suckley) should have found her way into today’s rumor mill. She was a scrupulously private person. You may know her as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s love interest played by Laura Linney in Hyde Park on Hudson. The movie rests upon the premise that they were “intimate.” If you read Daisy’s published diaries, Closest Companion, however, you’ll realize that this question remains open for debate. Geoffrey C. Ward, who edited that elegant collection, believes that the pair’s relationship was a sustained flirtation that settled into a deep platonic friendship.

Daisy was no ravishing beauty, but “comely.” As a spinster of thirty-one she was summoned to Hyde Park in the spring of l922 from her own family’s estate of Wilderstein, to be a companion for her distant cousin, Franklin. He had been stricken by polio and was recovering there. Over the next twenty-three years, she would come when beckoned, whether to Hyde Park or D.C., and was utterly devoted to him. The secret to their long association seems to be that she adored him without reservation and he could relax completely in her company, even confiding in her details of impending D-Day.

It’s hard to imagine the pair carnally entwined as Daisy had a rather antiseptic attitude toward sex. (Her mother had successfully instilled in her the conviction that it was the most ghastly part of marriage.) But there may have been some significant touching. He would take her on drives in the hills along the Hudson in his hand-operated roadster. They were go to a spot they called “our hill.” Of one of these drives she wrote “The President is a MAN – mentally, physically and spiritually – What more can I say?”

I’d say, friends with benefits.

On one other point, however, the movie makers wrongly underestimated Daisy’s influence stating frankly that FDR’s inner circle wrote her off as a harmless dowd. They were deeply concerned by FDR’s precipitous physical decline before the Yalta Conference in February 1945. And they were dubious of Daisy’s influence, specifically her frantic quest to find a cure. She schemed madly with an ex-boxer named Harry Setaro (AKA “Lenny”) who had retired from the ring and become a healer. Daisy, who was a mystic at heart, believed in him completely and thought he could be the president’s salvation.

In one of Daisy’s entries published December 20, 1944 (New York Diaries: 1609-2009. p. 413.) she describes having told Lenny how the president had high blood pressure and felt that his muscles were weakening. Based upon a photograph Lenny concluded that the spleen was culprit. Daisy concocted an elaborated scheme outlined in this entry .

…When the Pres. can fix an afternoon, I will telephone Lenny & he will take the 2 P.M. from Grand Central. He will be smuggled into the library & the President will come up “for tea” with the family [at Wilderstein.]. Just as soon as the S.S. have gone out the front door, the family will leave the library and Lenny will start working on F.’s feet – I am almost afraid of this meeting, for so much depends on it

There are indications that this reflexology session did actually take place, but without any improvement in the president’s condition. He attended that Yalta Conference in February 1945 and died two months later of a cerebral hemorrhage. Daisy was by his side.