Legendary Film Director Orson Welles Acted As Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Ghostwriter

Published March 24, 2017
Updated July 11, 2019

The director behind what's widely regarded as the greatest film ever made helped Roosevelt with speechwriting and campaigning.

Franklin D Roosevelt

AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president of the United States four times — an unmatched feat. Turns out he had a secret weapon helping him for much of that time.

According to Smithsonian, Roosevelt employed Orson Welles, the famed American director and producer who shot to fame with 1938’s radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” and stayed there with the 1941 film Citizen Kane, as a ghostwriter and campaigner.

Roosevelt was so taken with Welles that he even suggested that Welles run for office himself, which Welles supposedly loved hearing.

Orson Welles Microphone

Wikimedia CommonsOrson Welles.

Welles was a necessary part of Roosevelt’s campaign for re-election in 1944. In fact, Roosevelt once sent a telegram to Welles when he was sick urging him to power through and hop back on the campaign trail, Smithsonian reports.

“I have just learned that you are ill and I hope much you will follow your doctor’s orders,” Roosevelt wrote. “The most important thing is for you to get well and be around for the last days of the campaign.”

Welles response came back two days later: “Dear Mr. President: This illness was the blackest of misfortunes for me because it stole away so many days from the campaign. This is the most important work I could ever engage in.”

Roosevelt’s telegram invigorated Welles and pushed him back onto the bully pulpit. According to Smithsonian, two days after sending this telegram, Welles would give a ten-minute speech on the radio advocating for Roosevelt’s re-election.

The filmmaker followed this up by spending more than a month on the road campaigning for Roosevelt, a man he truly believed in.

Welles also gave Roosevelt advice and offered input for his speeches. Including, Smithsonian reports, an infamous joke in a memorable 1944 speech about a man and his dog.

Welles’ punchline was the speech’s main highlight, and “[Roosevelt] loved it,” Welles told a biographer in 1985, according to Smithsonian, “and he asked me afterwards, ‘How did I do? Was my timing right?’ Just like an actor!”

Next, check out this before-and-after photo comparison that reveals the effects of the Great Depression and World War II on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s aging, before reading these inspiring Eleanor Roosevelt quotes.

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All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out stories that illuminate the past, present, and future.