Hot Dogs and Cocktails: When FDR Met King George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson

Hot Dogs and Cocktails: When FDR Met King George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson

by Peter Conradi

View All Available Formats & Editions

From the coauthor of The King's Speech, the story behind the historic meeting between FDR and King George VI on the eve of World War II, a meeting that is now the subject of a major Hollywood movie, Hyde Park on Hudson

Between June 9th and 12th 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were the guests of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at


From the coauthor of The King's Speech, the story behind the historic meeting between FDR and King George VI on the eve of World War II, a meeting that is now the subject of a major Hollywood movie, Hyde Park on Hudson

Between June 9th and 12th 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were the guests of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his country estate in Hyde Park, New York, during what was the first ever visit by a reigning British monarch to the United States. Coming at a time when Britain desperately needed U.S. help in the conflict that now seemed inevitable, the meeting was front page news on both sides of the Atlantic and imbued with huge political significance. This fascinating book recreates the backdrop to the royal visit, analyzing the political background and the media's reaction, and tells the back stories both of the King and of Roosevelt, whose colorful personal life became entwined with the visit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 12/23/2013
The first official visit of a British monarch to the United States since colonial times was a widely publicized event. Apart from improving the relationship between the two powers, the short stay of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Hyde Park-on-Hudson in June 1939 had significant political impact: it set the stage for a partnership between the two countries during WWII. Conradi (coauthor of The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy) eloquently lays out the setting for the event and concisely and thoroughly establishes the backgrounds of the individuals and countries involved. The media also play a notable role in gauging America's reaction to royalty, represented well by the question asked in the weeks leading up to the visit—"would the King and Queen be served hot dogs during the picnic that their hosts planned to hold for them?" Conradi even details the logistics of travel as well as the event's disasters—including F.D.R.'s toast to the Queen's health—and its successes—both the King and Queen asked for second hot dogs. It's an amusing read with substance, revealing how important seemingly trivial diplomatic overtures can be in determining the course of history. 16 page b&w photo insert. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Perfect for both history buffs and fans of The King's Speech, the vivid details and political exploration in Hot Dogs and Cocktails provide a fresh perspective on a historical event that will gratify readers. The result is a lively and riveting account of a defining moment in recent world history." —

"It's an amusing read with substance, revealing how important seemingly trivial diplomatic overtures can be in determning the course of history." — Publisher's Weekly

" enjoyable read."  —The Washington Times

Product Details

Alma Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Hot Dogs and Cocktails

When FDR Met King George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson

By Peter Conradi

Alma Books Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Peter Conradi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84688-294-4


Hyde Park on Hudson

No one could remember when they had last flown the Union Jack in Hyde Park, Dutchess County, but the chances were it had been back in colonial times. Now, all those years later, the British flag and the Stars and Stripes were strung in alternate rows between the trees along a short stretch of Main Street. There was a large welcome sign on the approach to the village from the town of Poughkeepsie and smaller ones on several other buildings. The post office, immediately opposite the village garage, strewn with bunting, looked especially festive.

Although home to just eight hundred people, Hyde Park had grown accustomed to its unlikely role as summer capital of the United States. Whenever the opportunity arose, the town's most famous son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often known simply as FDR, would slip away from the stresses of Washington DC and pitch up at Springwood, the colonial-style clapboard house set in 1,300 acres of woodland with glorious views of the valley leading down to the Hudson River, which had been in the family for more than seventy years.

Since Roosevelt's election as president almost seven years earlier, this was where he had entertained visiting princes, prime ministers and presidents. Like American leaders before and after him, Roosevelt appreciated the usefulness of a place away from the formality of the White House to which he could invite allies or opponents and pursue politics and diplomacy in a beautiful, relaxed setting. He also loved this house and this particular corner of New York State. It was in his blood. "All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River," he once declared.

It was also where he played, enjoying the company of the various women who had assumed a special role in his life since an affair two decades earlier that had taken the passion out of his marriage to Eleanor, turning their relationship into one of friendship and mutual support. And it was into the surrounding countryside that he would go careering off in his open 1936 Ford Phaeton, which was custom-built with special hand controls that allowed him to drive it without using his feet. Usually, one of those women, maybe Marguerite "Missy" LeHand, his long-serving secretary, or Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, a distant cousin, would be by his side.

Yet the visit this weekend was to be something different: on the evening of Saturday 10th June 1939, Springwood would play host to the King and Queen of the United Kingdom. As the New York Times put it, Hyde Park was preparing for a "new and unique role in its history – to serve for one brief weekend as the unofficial capital of the entire Englishspeaking world".

As citizens of a nation born of a struggle against an earlier British monarch, the people of the United States could have been forgiven a feeling of indifference towards George III's great-great-great-grandson, a quiet and tongue-tied man of forty-four who owed his place on the throne to the decision of his elder brother, Edward VIII, to give up his crown to marry Wallis Simpson.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Since King George VI and Queen Elizabeth had arrived in Canada just over three weeks earlier, the US newspapers, radio and newsreels had recorded their progress across North America with a growing sense of frenzy. The Americans had been led to expect an uncomfortable, stuttering monarch obsessed with formality and protocol. Instead they encountered a smiling and relaxed man who seemed in many ways just like them – and beside him a charming young woman who dazzled everywhere she went with her beauty and style.

This frenzy had reached a crescendo three days earlier, when the Royal Blue train on which they had been travelling through Canada crossed Niagara Falls and they set foot on American soil – making George VI the first reigning British monarch to do so. Their visits to Washington and New York had drawn crowds of more than a million people, more even than had turned out to see them during their many stops north of the border. Now, after a short drive through a part of the United States that had seen some of the fiercest fighting during the war waged by the American colonies against the British Crown, they were due to arrive in Hyde Park.

The locals had initially been slow to latch on to the significance of the occasion, not least when it came to decorating their town. The Town Board had no power to appropriate money for official decorations except on Memorial Day, which had already passed. After much thought, the problem was solved by Elmer Van Wagner, the Hyde Park supervisor, who asked the seven members of the board to stump up $5 each and appealed to village merchants to pay their bit, too. In total, some $80 had been spent on decorations, Van Wagner told the New York Times: most of the flags had been rented and a special welcome sign had been made to order at a cost of $4; a special large Union Jack for display in the Town Hall had set them back $4.50.

Asked what he would do with the flag after the visit, Van Wagner paused. "I don't know," he said. "Guess I'll present it to the King." In total, some five to ten thousand people were expected to crowd into the town for the occasion; fields and side streets were to be converted into parking lots to accommodate the influx of cars.

The paper's reporter found the people of Hyde Park taking things in their stride. "While not of the temperament that gives much outward expression to enthusiasm, the inhabitants of this community are giving every indication that they are aware of the role that history has assigned to them for the weekend," he wrote.

So, too, was Roosevelt. Unlikely as it may seem, given the radical nature of his politics, the Democrat President had been brought up with a strong interest in monarchy. As his son, Elliott, wrote later: "He was fascinated by kings and queens, half amused, half impressed by the pomp and pageantry that enveloped royalty." This was due in large part to Roosevelt's mother, Sara, by then a grand old lady of eighty-four, but no less domineering and imperious than she had always been. Sara's own obsession with royalty has been traced back to 1866 when, visiting Paris at the age of twelve, she watched as Empress Eugénie drove past her in the royal coach. Many years later, Sara's husband, James, bought her as a present the red velvet-lined sleigh that Tsar Alexander II had given to Eugénie's husband, Emperor Napoleon III. Sara used it to ride around Springwood during the winter.

In July 1918, when he was a thirty-six-year-old assistant secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt had fulfilled his mother's dream and, during a visit to Europe, was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet King George V. Theodore Roosevelt, a distant cousin, had become a friend of the royal family while he was president before the First World War, and what was meant to have been a formal meeting to discuss the war effort assumed a more personal character. Conversation quickly turned to the twin passions shared by the King and Roosevelt: the Navy and collecting stamps.

And so, two decades later, in the run-up to the royal visit, despite the many other pressing political, economic and military problems facing him, Roosevelt had thrown himself into the organization of the trip and, in particular, the twenty-four hours that the King and Queen would spend at Springwood. From seating plans to choice of furniture and gifts, no detail was too small for the President's attention. Eleanor, although no lover of pomp or formality, had no alternative but to get caught up in the preparations too.

For newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, though, one small detail of the arrangements mattered more than anything else: would the King and Queen be served hot dogs during the picnic that their hosts planned to hold for them? Since Eleanor had dropped a casual mention of the proposed menu into a press conference a few weeks earlier, the question had assumed almost an iconic importance. There was no better culinary symbol of American classlessness than the humble hot dog. The idea of feeding it to royalty amused and appalled in equal measure – especially after Sara, who never shied away from a public spat with her daughter-in-law, made clear her horror at the very idea of such a "vulgar" food being presented to the King and Queen.

Roosevelt's mind was necessarily on weightier matters. The royal visit came at a sensitive time both for America and for Britain: the future of freedom in Europe was in doubt as Hitler's aggression pushed the Continent towards war. Roosevelt cared deeply about maintaining that freedom, for the sake of both Europe and the United States. Yet he found himself in a difficult position: many Americans remained deeply suspicious of the Europeans and the British in particular, despite a shared language and culture. Deep-rooted animosity dating back to the War of Independence had been fuelled in recent years by anger at Britain's failure to pay back all its debts from the First World War and by the policy of appeasement that Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, pursued towards Hitler. Whatever the rights and wrongs, many ordinary Americans simply wanted to keep out of an impending conflict thousands of miles away from home.

But the President's hands were tied: although he was personally keen that the United States should play a part in the coming struggle – or, at the very least, help Britain and his allies to arm against Hitler and Mussolini – he knew he would have to carry Congress and the American people with him. What better way to enhance the image of the British at such a sensitive time than by hosting a visit by its two most prominent representatives, the King and Queen?

Just after six o'clock that evening, Roosevelt, Eleanor, Sara and their children sat in the library of Springfield waiting for the royal party to arrive. The President had a tray of cocktails ready in front of him. His mother, who was sitting on the other side of the fireplace, looked disapprovingly across at them. The King would much prefer tea, she said. Roosevelt, who, according to his wife, "could be as obstinate as his mother", refused to back down and kept his tray ready.

Finally, at just after eight o'clock, the waiting was over. The sounds of motor cars announced the arrival of the royal party. One of the most extraordinary twenty-four-hour periods in the history of Anglo-American relations was about to begin.


The King

King George VI was not fond of trips, especially those that involved making many speeches. As a young child, he had developed a debilitating stammer that turned even ordinary conversations into an ordeal. This impediment, which began to manifest itself when he was eight, was only one of many problems that turned his life into what often seemed a constant stream of challenges.

Born on 14th December 1895 at York Cottage, on the Sandringham estate in East Anglia, Albert Frederick Arthur George – or Bertie, as he was known to the family – was the second son of the future George V and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, then into her fifty-eighth year on the throne. His early life was spartan and typical of English country life in that era. The estate, which spanned twenty thousand acres, had been bought by his grandfather, the future Edward VII, in 1866 as a shooting retreat. The cottage, given to his father and mother, Mary, was a modest place, situated a few hundred yards from the main house on a grassy mound, built by Edward as overflow accommodation for shooting parties. "The first thing that strikes a visitor about the house itself is its smallness and ugliness," wrote Sarah Bradford, the royal biographer. It was also extremely cramped, becoming home not just to the couple and what were eventually to be their six children, but also to a number of staff.

Like other English upper-class children of the day, Bertie and his siblings had only a distant relationship with their parents. What contact he had with his father was often harsh. An unbending Victorian who had spent his formative years in the Navy, the future George V believed in inculcating a strict sense of discipline from an early age – as was clear from a letter he wrote to his son on his fifth birthday. "Now that you are five years old I hope you will always try & be obedient & do at once what you are told, as you will find it much easier to you the sooner you begin. I always tried to do this when I was your age & found it made me much happier," he wrote. Punishment for transgressions was administered in the library – which, despite its name, was largely devoid of books and filled instead with George V's stamp collection, to which he devoted his leisure time when he was not taken up with his other pursuits of shooting and sailing. The room was remembered by his children as a "place of admonishment and reproof".

Bertie was a sickly boy: suffering from an early age from poor digestion, he had to wear splints on his legs for many hours of the day and at night to cure him of the knock knees from which his father suffered. He was also left-handed, but, according to the practice of the day, obliged to write with his right hand. Furthermore, he was constantly in the shadow of his elder brother, David, the future Edward VIII. Just eighteen months older, David was good-looking, charming and fun – and destined one day to become king. The two were inevitably close, but it was an unequal relationship: "When we were young, I could always manage him," David wrote years later in his autobiography.

It is difficult to pinpoint the cause of Bertie's stammer, but it was certainly exacerbated by the attitude of his father, whose response to his son's struggles could be summed up with a simple phrase: "Just get it out." The stammer proved to be a problem at the Royal Naval College, based at Queen Victoria's former residence Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, where he and his elder brother were sent for their education. Although good at practical subjects such as engineering and seamanship, Bertie was poor at mathematics, often coming near the bottom of the class. His problems were compounded by his stammer: on one occasion, he failed to respond when asked what was a half of a half because he was unable to pronounce the initial consonant of "quarter" – which produced an unfortunate reputation for stupidity. In the final examination, held in December 1910, he came sixty-eighth out of sixty-eight.

On 15th September 1913, aged seventeen, he began his naval career, after he was commissioned as a junior midshipman on the battleship HMS Collingwood. Like his father before him, he expected this to be his life for the next few years. Although he worshipped the Navy as an institution, he did not much like the sea itself – and was plagued with seasickness. He was also shy. One fellow officer, Lieutenant F.J. Lambert, described the Prince as a "small, red-faced youth with a stutter", adding: "When he reported his boat to me he gave a story of stutter and an explosion. I had no idea who he was and very nearly cursed him for spluttering at me." Proposing a toast to his father, who had become king in 1910, was a torment because of the initial "k" sound.

Days before Britain declared war on Germany on 3rd August 1914, Collingwood was sent to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, to guard the northern entrance to the North Sea. Bertie's wartime career was not an especially glorious one, however: after just three weeks he began to experience violent pains in his stomach and suffer difficulty with his breathing; he was diagnosed with appendicitis and sent to Aberdeen for surgery. Although he subsequently returned to his ship and took part in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, he endured repeated stomach problems that were eventually diagnosed as an ulcer. By July 1917, ill once more and transferred ashore to a hospital near Edinburgh, he reluctantly accepted that, after eight years of either training or serving in the Navy, his career was over. "Personally, I feel that I am not fit for service at sea, even after I recover from this little attack," he wrote to his father.

Following the end of the war, he returned to civilian life, and after a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history, economics and civics, he became drawn into the public side of royal life: he developed a special interest in industrial welfare, visiting coal mines, factories and rail yards; and, in July 1921, instituted a series of annual seaside summer camps designed to bring together boys from different social backgrounds.

Bertie was also beginning to rise in the estimation of his father, who was having misgivings about David and his apparent disregard for duty and tradition and love of the modern – as well as his predilection for married women. On 4th June 1920, aged twenty-four, Bertie became Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney. "I know that you have behaved very well, in a difficult situation for a young man & that you have done what I asked you to," his father wrote to him. "I hope you will always look upon me as yr. best friend & always tell me everything & you will always find me ever ready to help you and give you good advice."


Excerpted from Hot Dogs and Cocktails by Peter Conradi. Copyright © 2013 Peter Conradi. Excerpted by permission of Alma Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Peter Conradi is an author and a journalist who works for the Sunday Times. He is the author of Great SurvivorsHitler's Piano Player, and Iris Murdoch: A Life and the coauthor of The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >