Eleanor Roosevelt to Orson Welles4

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Orson Welles4

30 December 1945 [New York City]

Dear Mr. Welles:

It seems to be the fate of the Yugoslav people to fight with odds massed against them. In war, they held back twenty Axis divisions with captured weapons and with bare hands.5 In peace, they are forced to fight hunger, disease and cold without even the barest essentials of food, medicine and clothing.

During the four years of their Resistance, we were unable to supply them with a single gun, a single tank. Today they need our help more. You can conquer an enemy with bare hands. But can you feed a child with empty hands?

It was with such thoughts that I recently accepted the honorary chairmanship of the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief, an organization that is doing a vital job well.6 I would like, before leaving tomorrow for UNO conference in London,7 to do some one thing that will enable the committee to work even more effectively.

I am convinced that it is people who are the ultimate explanation of achievements in any field. Therefore, I am inviting a few distinguished fellow-Americans to join our Board of Trustees and I would welcome your association with us in this worthy work.8

I know you are engaged in many other admirable activities,9 but I hope you will nevertheless accept since so much can be done in exchange for so very little of your time.

If you would write me in care of the Committee (235 East 11th Street, New York City) while I am in Europe, your answer will reach me promptly.

Best wishes for the New Year

                                          Eleanor Roosevelt


1. Spelling error in the original.

2. MD, 24 December 1945. For a sample of ER's previous statements on Yugoslavia see MD, 11 September 1945.

3. "Welles to Head Jazz Concert," NYT, 31 December 1945, 12; "Program of Jazz Traces Its History," NYT, 2 January 1945, 28.

4. Orson Welles (1915–1985), the actor, co-writer, and director of the landmark American film Citizen Kane and the star of the radio play "The War of the Worlds," which convinced thousands of Americans that Martians had successfully invaded New Jersey, first met FDR through his work with the Federal Theatre Project. Welles lent his directorial skills to the administration by editing some of FDR's speeches, serving as script consultant to the Treasury Department, and promoting the fifth War Loan drive. Recognizing Welles's unique ability to attract voters, FDR asked him to broadcast a nationwide address for the Democratic National Committee the night before the 1944 election (Leaming, 185-86, 280-84, 291-94).

5. In the spring of 1941, the German invasion of Russia stalled when the Yugoslavs refused to honor the agreement their government signed making Yugoslavia a satellite of Nazi Germany. Following an internal coup and a subsequent German invasion in April, the Nazis divided Yugoslavia among their allies (Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania). However, a Yugoslav Communist, Josip Broz ("Tito") (1892–1980) organized a joint Serbo-Croatian resistance movement that with Western aid waged a remorseless guerrilla war that led to the liberation of Yugoslavia—and the destruction of Tito's enemies—in 1944. In 1945 Tito established a Communist government in the country with Soviet help (OEWH, 739; Dziewanowski, 251, 288; Leckie, 225-26, 724-26; "Tito: The Fighter-Survivor Who Unified a Country," NYT, 5 May 1980, A13).

6. The committee began its work May 10, 1941, when twelve Yugoslav fraternal groups joined forces to raise money to send relief supplies to Yugoslavia in the immediate aftermath of what FDR termed the "barbaric invasion" of their homeland. By the time ER joined the organization, Zlatko Balokovic served as president. In addition to collecting supplies and raising monies, the committee also urged UNRRA to address the Yugoslav crisis. By summer 1946, Welles and several other of ER's associates had joined the board: Jo Davidson, Melvyn Douglas, Fiorello La Guardia, Philip Murray, Mary McLeod Bethune, Mrs. Marshall Field, Channing Tobias, and Miriam van Kleeck (Michael N. Nisselson to ER, 25 September 1945, AERP).

7. The first session of the UN General Assembly, which opened on January 10, 1946 (Meisler, 358).

8. Early in January 1946 Welles spoke on behalf of the committee in New York (Higham, 227).

9. Welles harbored his own political ambitions. In October 1943, he published the first in a series of articles for Free World, a political journal "devoted to democracy and world affairs." He then began an unsuccessful stint as a daily political columnist for the New York Post (which had ended in November 1945) and was preparing to put his political views on the air with a nationally syndicated weekly radio broadcast. His fame led to much speculation, ranging from Free World publisher Louis Olivet's suggestion that he should be secretary-general of the United Nations to several rumors that he would seek to represent California or Wisconsin in the US Senate (Leaming, 299-304, 306-9, 316-17).

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Orson Welles4