He was 25 when she died in his arms. It was Valentine’s Day – the anniversary of their engagement. He gave his newborn daughter to his sister and left Manhattan for the Badlands of the Dakotas, privately telling his friend Henry Cabot Lodge he didn’t know when, or if, he would ever return.
It was in the Badlands of what is now North Dakota in the badlands of his life that he began to heal. The raw beauty of the lands and the strenuous life of the cowboy conspired to bring him back to life. It was the love of his childhood sweetheart that drew him back to Manhattan, back to the political arena, and hurled him into the center of the events that launched him as the youngest president in U.S. history and the man who set the stage for the American Century.
“Downton Abbey” meets “Lincoln” meets the Badlands in a new Historical Mini-Series
“Downton Abbey” meets “Lincoln” in the story of a sickly young man who overcomes great physical challenges and battles depression in the Badlands of the Dakotas in the badlands of his life to bounce back and literally take the world by storm.
Where It Began
They say most overnight success takes about 15 years.
Back in the late 90s, North Dakota natives Rich Melheim and Ruth Melheim Brubakken invested a year in writing a novel and a mini-series on the young life of Theodore Roosevelt. They had grown up in the Red River Valley, then moved out west to Williston in late grade school. As teenagers living just an arrow shot from the north unit of TR National Park but within easy reach of the TR Bully Spirit, the siblings had always been intrigued by TR’s grit, integrity, energy and the legends that grew up around his time in the Badlands.
Over a Thanksgiving dinner 1998 in Jamestown, Rich and Ruth were reminiscing about TR’s double tragedy on Valentine’s Day 1884, when both his mother and his young wife died in his arms on the same night.
“That would make one amazing mini-series!” Rich exclaimed. “You couldn’t write fiction better than that! Valentine’s Day? Come on!”
Ruth, a rabid bibliophile, amateur presidential historian, community theater actress and teacher at Jamestown Middle School, dove immediately into researching the project. She scoured dozens of TR’s own books to get a flavor for his speech, and poured over thousands of handwritten diaries entries, newspaper accounts, books and writings of those who knew and were impacted by the young man. Meanwhile, Rich visited the TR Birthplace museum in NYC, the family mansion in Oyster Bay, Long Island, TR’s mother’s home in Roswell, GA, the Wilcox Mansion where he was sworn in as president in Buffalo, and finally, made it back to Medora.
Enter Sheila Shaefer
A Lutheran pastor at the time, Rich was preaching at Good Shepherd in Bismarck on Father’s Day when one of the parishioners, Sheila Shaefer, pulled him aside after church: “You MUST come out to our place in Medora!” Rich’s sermon was on the topic of how great fathers and role models – like Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. – literally shape the world. Sheila was insistent and compelling. By lunch the next day, she was feeding Rich a tuna sandwich in her Medora log cabin kitchen, dragging him around the Badlands in a jeep to view the most beautiful rock outcroppings and vistas, treating him to a Pitchfork Fondue and Medora Musical, and introducing him Kevin Cramer (then State Tourism Director), John Hoeven (then BND President) and Randy Hatzenbuehler, CEO of the TR Medora Foundation.
Next, Sheila introduced Rich to the leaders of the Theodore Roosevelt collection at Harvard and to Dr. John Gable, president of the TR Society in Oyster Bay. Gable read the scripts and gave the project an enthusiastic endorsement, plus a clean bill of historical health. (See letter attached). Gable felt “Young Four Eyes” had all the necessary parts: A great story of historical significance, meticulous research and compelling drama, a marvelous set of cheerleaders (Sheila and her ND Company) and a great state of hardworking people willing to work and hungry for tourism. The one thing the project lacked: A great Hollywood connection.
Over the next years, Rich and Ruth knocked on every door they could find in Hollywood and New York, but to no avail. No one in the film industry was interested in a project from North Dakota – even one of such historical significance. Frustrated and more than dejected, they shelved the scripts. All went dormant for a decade.
After a 2008 heart incident that literally left Rich dead in the recovery room at the St. Paul Heart Clinic, the pastor/author/entrepreneur recovered and decided to resurrect a few of the writing projects that he had invested so much of his heart into – including a rock opera on the life of Simon the Zealot and the mini-series “Young Four Eyes.”
Recalled to Life
Dr. Rich traveled to DC to enlist the blessing of his old friend, now Congressman Kevin Cramer. Congressman Cramer suggested, “Let’s do a dinner at Fort Lincoln!” Rich and Kevin recontacted State Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman, TR Medora Foundation CEO Randy Hatzenbuehler, and his brother-in-law Steve Brevig, a consultant with 35 years in the energy industry to leverage their vision and combined brain power.
He ran the project past his good friend, Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and CEO of MovieGuide (www.movieguide.org). The Emmy-winning “Dr. Teddy Baehr” grew up on Long Island as a huge fan of TR. This Ted had served on board of the national TR Society, and personally acted to save the TR films from oblivion by transferring the nitrate to acetate and video. Two of Dr. Baehr’s best friends, Jim & Philippa Roosevelt, are Godparents of his son Peirce. Ted endorsed the project on one condition: “You should do it only if you demand excellence in everything from the final script to the A-list actors, to the cinematography.”
Ted served on the advisory board of Princebury Productions, a new $75M film fund dedicated to creating inspirational stories with A-List actors, directors and cinematographers. Ted introduced Rich to Christopher Williams, CEO and Chad Robert Stewart, COO of Princebury in February. Rich hosted the Princebury executive team for a thinktank in Aspen, CO, in March.
As Dr. Rich described the beauty of western North Dakota, the multiple stories of historical significance (Sakakawea, Libby Custer, Medora, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse), the hard-working people in the state, and the fact that ND is nearly always at the bottom of the tourism destination sites, Chad and Rich began to see a broader vision for the state than just a one or two shot film project.
The results? A five-day ND Film Fund Initiative exploration event will be held in Bismarck, Mandan and Medora beginning July 3 to discuss the film, the foundation of a family-friendly film industry, and the future of North Dakota . Register here.
Yes, they say most overnight success takes about 15 years.
Young Four Eyes was begun in 1998.
Do the math.
Ruth Melheim Brubakken
Ruth is a presidential historian, 2009 Horace Mann Abraham Lincoln Fellowship, senior researcher and co-author of the “Young Four Eyes” novel and mini-series script, and Jamestown Middle School teacher who retired in May after 38 years dedicated to special education. She enjoys lecturing on the unique aspects and little-known facts of the US Presidents and their wives. More about Ruth at: http://www.jamestownsun.com/event/article/id/140452/
Dr. Rich Melheim
Rich is an international author, speaker, publisher, playwright, record producer, cartoonist and teacher on family/parenting issues. He has appeared on CNN, WNBC, KTLA and 50 national news shows discussing parenting issues. His doctorate is in semiotics, with a focus on “The Meaning of Meaning in a Post-Gutenberg/Neo-Google World.” More about Rich at About.me/melheimrich.
Dr. Rich’s speech “One Father Can Change the World” will be given at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck on Saturday, July 7, at 5:00 PM and Sunday at 8:30, 9:45 and 11 on Sunday, July 8. It can be viewed below.
The Novel: “Young Four Eyes” by Rich Melheim and Ruth Melheim Brubakken. Purchase the novel from iTunes here.