The above is the newly discovered clip of FDR being driven in his wheelchair. The news is spectacular in the sense that no such material was available before. Roosevelt was keen not to be filmed or photographed in his wheelchair and had a famous “gentlemen’s agreement” with the press that they would not shoot such material (hard to imagine in today’s world of paparazzi and omnipresent smartphones, but still). You don’t actually even see the wheelchair in this clip, but it remains an interesting find, to more people than just me, it turns out. About 10 different people addressed my attention to it, which goes to show that it is really front page news, even here in the Netherlands. I find that rather striking: surely nobody in America would ever know if new film footage of Colijn turned up here, regardless of what intriguing or compromising thing he’d be doing in the clip.
To my mind, this – the fact that the clip’s discovery is apparently such major news – is actually the most intriguing thing about it. It does not only show how successful FDR was in not being filmed, but also how well this occlusion has worked to create a persistent interest in his “secret”. The “fact” that FDR tried to hide his wheelchair is so well-known that footage like this is newsworthy, even if everybody nowadays already knew he was disabled and knows what a wheelchair looks like. I don’t think the clip gives any actual new information about anything, as a clip of Colijn doing something unexpected might have done, and yet everyone wants to see it, precisely because it was meant not to be seen (and hasn’t been for nearly 70 years.