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American Experience Season 12 Episodes

15 Episodes 1999 - 2000

Episode 1

New York: A Documentary Series - The Country and the City (1609-1825)

Sun, Nov 14, 1999 120 mins

"The Country and the City: 1609-1825" (Part 1 of seven). New York, notes narrator David Ogden Stiers, "was a business proposition from the very start," when Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch East India Company, sailed into its harbor. Part 1 also focuses on New Yorker Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary; and Gov. DeWitt Clinton, who built the Erie Canal. "All America," says Stiers, "now met in New York."

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Episode 2

New York: A Documentary Series - Order and Disorder (1825-1865)

Mon, Nov 15, 1999 120 mins

"Order and Disorder: 1825-1865" (Part 2 of seven) recalls a period of tremendous growth and ferment. Most of the new arrivals were Irish immigrants (100,000 by 1842—and that was before the potato famine), and the subsequent overcrowding led to the construction of Central Park (1857-58). But that didn't quell the ferment, which exploded in 1863 with the racially charged draft riots. "It was the largest incident of civil disorder in U.S. history," notes historian Mike Wallace.

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Episode 3

New York: A Documentary Series - Sunshine and Shadow (1865-1898)

Tue, Nov 16, 1999 120 mins

"Sunshine and Shadow: 1865-1898" (Part 3 of seven). During the Gilded Age, New York "was home to the greatest concentration of wealth in human history," says narrator David Ogden Stiers. And, he adds, "the greatest concentration of poverty." This episode surveys that dichotomy, from Fifth Avenue mansions to slums documented by Jacob Riis in "How the Other Half Lives." Also recalled: the fall of William H. "Boss" Tweed ("he took a fall for the system," claims Pete Hamill).

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Episode 4

New York: A Documentary Series - The Power and the People (1898-1914)

Wed, Nov 17, 1999 120 mins

"The Power and the People: 1898-1914" (Part 4 of seven) recalls the era of mass immigration. "The entire world would arrive on the city's doorstep," says narrator David Ogden Stiers (1.2-million in 1907 alone). "There was a message," says writer Pete Hamill. "Come here, everything is possible." The program also follows the political career of "Happy Warrior" Al Smith; and charts the construction of the subways and the rise of skyscrapers in the clogged city.

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Episode 5

New York: A Documentary Series - Cosmopolis (1914-1931)

Thu, Nov 18, 1999 120 mins

"Cosmopolis: 1914-1931" (Part 5 of seven) recalls the WWI years and the "Roaring '20s" in the city that F. Scott Fitzgerald called "the land of ambition and success." Of course, an egg was laid on Wall Street in 1929, but before that happened the city gave rise, narrator David Ogden Stiers says, "to a new culture, a mass culture" that was broadcast live on radio networks headquartered in New York.

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Episode 6

Eleanor Roosevelt

Mon, Jan 10, 2000 150 mins

Profiling Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), the wife of one president, the niece of another and, says historian Geoffrey Ward, "one of the best politicians of the 20th century" in her own right. That's a remarkable achievement considering that she was also an implacable social reformer all her life. This biography recalls Roosevelt on the public stage, and delves gently but forthrightly into her complex private life. Alfre Woodard narrates.

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Episode 7

Nixon's China Game

Tue, Feb 1, 2000 60 mins

Charting the tortuous three-year gambit that led to Richard Nixon's historic February 1972 visit to the People's Republic of China. What it did, says narrator David Ogden Stiers, was "alter the global balance of power." How he did it is chronicled in vintage footage and interviews with major players, including Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, as well as Chinese and Soviet officials, and Nixon himself (in a 1977 TV interview).

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Episode 8

Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory

Tue, Feb 8, 2000 60 mins

Former slaves spread the gospel of African-American music in an inspiring 2000 chronicle of the 1870s Tennessee vocal group Jubilee Singers that introduced such songs as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "This Little Light of Mine" into popular culture. Dion Graham narrates the hour, which follows the Jubilees as they tour the U.S. and Europe. They had to battle racism and internal strife, and in the process saved their school---Nashville's Fisk University---from bankruptcy. More important, they permanently broadened American music.

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American Experience, Season 12 Episode 8 image

Episode 9

The Duel

Tue, Feb 15, 2000 60 mins

The duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, narrator Linda Hunt says, was an 1804 gunfight between "the founder of American capitalism and the first modern American politician." Included: profiles of Burr (1756-1836) and Hamilton (1757-1804), and sketches of the political differences between them. In the Nation's early days, the political parties had not yet taken root and, as historian Joanne Freeman puts it, "the political and the personal mixed in." Voice of Hamilton: Rene Auberjonois. Voice of Burr: Brian Dennehy.

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Episode 10

John Brown's Holy War

Mon, Feb 28, 2000 90 mins

John Brown could be seen as a hero or a madman (perhaps both), but either way, there's no doubt he played a role in igniting the Civil War. Actor Joe Morton narrates a chronicle of Brown's life (1800-59), which features archival stills, atmospheric re-creations and the comments of historians. Interviewed: Russell Banks, Bruce Olds, Margaret Washington, Dennis Frye, Edward Renehan, James Horton, James Stewart, Paul Finkelman and Charles Joyner.

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Episode 11


Sun, May 7, 2000 60 mins

Mandy Patinkin narrates a biography of Harry Houdini (1874-1926) that focuses on his amazing feats (later ones are seen in clips; others are re-created) and the obsessions---notably his mother and death---that shaped his personality. "Escapology" was also high on the list. "He was so insanely devoted to what he did," observes author E.L. Doctorow, "that the ultimate insanity of his life never occurred to him."

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Episode 12

George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire

Mon, Apr 24, 2000 90 mins

A haunting two-part profile of George Wallace, who, says narrator Randy Quaid, "divided a nation and launched a conservative movement that transformed the country." Part 1 covers Wallace's career up to the death of his first wife, Lurleen, in 1968, just as he was embarking on his second Presidential bid. But it begins by concentrating on what Quaid calls "the devil's bargain" he made to gain the Alabama governorship. Interviewed: lawyer J.L. Chestnut and Wallace biographer Dan Carter, as well as journalists, Wallace aides and two of his children.

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Episode 13

George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire

Tue, Apr 25, 2000 90 mins

The conclusion of a two-part profile of George Wallace (1919-98) focuses on his Presidential campaigns and the 1972 attempt on his life, which left him paralyzed. "He loved power," says his daughter Peggy, and the shooting didn't stop him from regaining the Alabama statehouse or from running for President in 1976. But it did lead to reflection, and when he ran for governor again, in 1982, he sought black votes. "He's repented," says one black voter. Also interviewed: Wallace's ex-wife, Cornelia; Wallace biographer Dan. T. Carter. Randy Quaid narrates.

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Episode 14

Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life

Mon, May 8, 2000 90 mins

An atmospheric profile of Joe DiMaggio (1914-99), baseball's "Yankee Clipper," explores how and why he played what narrator (and co-writer) Richard Ben Kramer calls "the hero's game" by projecting---and zealously guarding---an image of effortless elegance on and off the field. On the field, the Yankees won nine World Series in the 13 years he played for them. Off the field, former teammate Jerry Coleman describes DiMaggio's short-lived marriage to Marilyn Monroe this way: "She was the greatest woman in the world and he was the greatest man."

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Episode 15

The Wizard of Photography

Tue, May 23, 2000 60 mins

Profiling George Eastman (1854-1932), whose Kodak and Brownie cameras "forever changed the way people see their world," says narrator Judith Light. The hour uses interviews with historians and, of course, vintage stills and clips to recall the autocratic Eastman, whose business strategy bypassed professional photographers. "You press the button and we do the rest," was Kodak's slogan, and when he introduced the $1 Brownie in 1900, the "you" was everybody.

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