David Pietrusza’s non-fiction book from 2007, “1920: The Year of the Six Presidents,” is being looked at by Hollywood producer Charlie Matthau as a six-part television series to be aired on the eve of the 2020 election.
“We have an option agreement to buy and go forward with development, and that is tremendously exciting,” said Pietrusza, an Amsterdam native and Glenville resident. “He’s had this project in mind for a while, and with the centenary of the 1920 election coming up it could happen. Centenaries are very big right now in TV, movies and books.”
Pietrusza’s book tells the story of the 1920 presidential election when six either past, current or future presidents were all entertaining thoughts of running for the country’s highest office. Woodrow Wilson was finishing his second term as U.S. president, and was joined in the fray by past president Theodore Roosevelt as well as future office holders Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Harding turned out to be the eventual winner.
Pietrusza, who was also involved in an option to buy deal with his 2003 book, “Rothstein: The Life, Times & Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series,” is hopeful this offer reaches fruition.
“My ‘Rothstein’ book had been optioned for films three times,” he said. “An option is no guarantee for success, but you don’t win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket. So now the whole process begins in earnest, but we’ll have to see if he can bring it to development.”
Matthau, the son of actor Walter Matthau, told “Variety” Monday why he was interested in Pietrusza’s book.
“I was struck at how similar the 1920 election was and how it contained so many parallels to the current political environment,” Matthau told the weekly entertainment magazine. “1920 is considered the first modern election and one of the most dramatic. Six once and future presidents jockeyed for the White House. Amazing characters, amazing roles for actors.”
Pietrusza, whose most recent book is 2018’s “TR’s Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, The Great War, and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy,” graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1967 and then went to the University at Albany where he got a degree in history. He produced several non-fiction books on baseball before switching to presidential history with his book on 1920.
“I was looking around for an idea after writing my book about Rothstein, and the 1920s and presidential politics had always been interesting to me,” he said. “In most presidential elections you might have two or three presidents actively in play in the election, but in 1920 you had six. It was, ‘wow.’ Combined with everything else that was going on in that time, woman’s suffrage, prohibition and other things, it seemed like a very interesting topic with some real amazing characters.”
Pietrusza said his agent agreed to a deal with Matthau last Friday.
“A few years ago I got a nibble or two from Charlie, and then nothing really happened,” said Pietrusza. “Then he got in touch with me again and wanted to know if the property was still available. So we went back and forth and came to an agreement.”
Pietrusza said if the film is made, he’s not sure what role he would play in the process.
“That will be up to them,” he said. “He may want to pick my brain a bit and use me as a consultant. Not having it go beyond the option stage previously I’m not really sure how it will work if we get that for. But he has been very easy to talk to and to communicate with.”
Next Monday, July 23, at 12:15 p.m., Pietrusza will deliver a presentation entitled “100th Anniversary of the Death of Quentin Roosevelt,” at the Colonie Town Library.
More from The Daily Gazette: