American Experience: Season 14 (2001 - 2002)

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Season 14
American Experience

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Episodes

Air date: Oct 1, 2001

"City of Tomorrow (1929-45)" focuses on Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who used his close ties to FDR to make the city "a gigantic laboratory of civic reconstruction"; and master builder Robert Moses, who "adapted a 19th century city to 20th century circumstances," says historian Kenneth Jackson. The biggest one: the car. Says narrator David Ogden Stiers: "It challenged all previous assumptions about urban life."

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Air date: Oct 8, 2001

Conclusion. "The City and the World" begins in 1945, with New York "at the pinnacle," says historian David McCullough. By 1975 it was: "Ford to City: Drop Dead," as a Daily News headline put it. The program charts the city's decline as it follows what narrator David Ogden Stiers calls "a maelstrom of destruction in the name of urban renewal." Part and parcel of it were the highways Robert Moses built, many through vibrant neighborhoods. The city rebounded in the '80s.

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Air date: Nov 11, 2001

One commonality that seems to link every modern war is that soldiers almost invariably write their families and loved ones on a regular basis and their correspondence covers a broad range of human emotions -- funny camp stories, reassurances to worried folks at home, confessions of fear, anxieties about the dangers of the battlefield, and prescient goodbyes from fighting men and women who know they may never return. American Experience: War Letters -- Stories of Courage, Longing and Sacrifice is a documentary produced for PBS which follows America's history in armed conflict through the letters written home by men and women in uniform. American Experience: War Letters features readings from a cast of distinguished performers, including Joan Allen, Edward Norton, Bill Paxton, Giovanni Ribisi, David Hyde Pierce, and many more.

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Air date: Jan 6, 2002

American Experience: Woodrow Wilson -- A Passionate Man follows the development of Woodrow Wilson from his birth in Staunton, VA, in 1857, till the death of his first wife, Ellen Axson, in 1915. Wilson's father, a Presbyterian minister, instilled a sense of mission and righteousness in young Tommy. Still unable to read at ten, Wilson taught himself shorthand, and improved his studies. Eventually he was accepted at Princeton, and during advanced studies at John Hopkins University, he became interested in politics and history. He married Ellen Axson in 1885, became a professor, and returned to Princeton in 1890. By 1902, he had become the university's president, though the stress of the position damaged his already delicate health. In 1906, Wilson was diagnosed with high blood pressure. A doctor recommended retirement, but after much soul-searching, he ignored the doctor's advice. By 1910, he had been nominated, and then elected, governor of New Jersey. After Democrats nominated Wilson for president in 1912, he defeated a split Republican Party with 42 percent of the popular vote. While his administration's early reforms were impressive, 1915 brought the death of his wife and the beginning of World War I in Europe. Woodrow Wilson offers a complete portrait of the 28th president, including historical film footage and commentary by historians.

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Air date: Jan 13, 2002

The Redemption of the World concludes American Experience's biography of Woodrow Wilson. In 1915, Wilson strived to keep the United States out of World War I. Meanwhile, he met and began dating Edith Bolling Galt, a widow who eventually became his second wife. Wilson won a hard-fought presidential race against Charles Evan Hughes in 1916, partially with his appeal as the peace candidate. By April of 1917, however, he asked Congress to declare war against Germany. A new draft sent thousands of American soldiers to Europe, eventually giving the Allies (Britain, France) the advantage. Determined to build a lasting peace, Wilson worked tirelessly on negations in Paris, insisting that all countries join a new League of Nations to assure future stability. U.S. Congressional leaders, however, feared that such a league would threaten national autonomy. Henry Cabot Lodge worked to defeat the league, while Wilson embarked on a campaign-style trip to gain the support of "the people." Wilson's train journey ended prematurely, though, when his health showed signs of rapid deterioration. Back at the White House, it was discovered that a stroke had paralyzed the left side of his body. Unhealthy and bitter, Wilson refused to compromise on the League of Nations and it was defeated. Woodrow Wilson offers a complete portrait of the 28th president, including historical film footage and commentary by historians.

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Air date: Jan 20, 2002

Mount Rushmore narrates the story of the one of America's most beloved monuments and the artist who crafted it. Driven by ego and self-confidence, sculptor Gutzon Borglum made a reputation for himself by carving a bust of Lincoln that Teddy Roosevelt displayed in the White House. When offered a chance to fashion a 1,500 feet Confederate memorial at Sand Mountain in Georgia, he eagerly accepted the commission. Ten years later, with little progress made, he quarreled with the backers, destroyed the models for the project, and walked away. He received another chance to execute his vision writ large when Doane Robinson suggested a similar project in South Dakota. The two decided that portraits of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt would be carved on Mount Rushmore. Because of a shortage of funds, scarcity of skilled workers, and extreme weather, it would take Borglum and his son 14 years to complete the project. Interviews with family members, project workers, and writers supplement historical film footage and narration by Michael Murphy.

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Air date: Jan 27, 2002

Miss America provides a detailed history of the longest-running beauty pageant, from its inauguration in 1921, to its attempt to adjust to the changing roles of women in the '80s and '90s. Born as a ploy by Atlantic City businessmen to hold tourists after Labor Day, the profitable procession quickly turned into an annual event. Despite its success, the carnival atmosphere and occasional scandal gave the pageant an air of seediness. Businessmen brought in Lenora Slaughter, a 29-year-old Southern Baptist, to clean up Miss America's reputation. Contestants would be required to be 18 years old, white, and chaperoned at all times. A scholarship prize also lent respectability to the pageant. Miss America did not become a national phenomenon, however, until 27 million people watched the procession on television in 1954. The annual event continued to garner high ratings until the late '60s, when many felt that the pageant was out of step with American women. After remaining in the doldrums for much of the '70s, the pageant opened a new chapter in 1983 when it crowned the first African-American Miss America, Vanessa Williams. Miss America includes film clips from past pageants and interviews with former winners.

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Air date: Feb 10, 2002

American Experience: Zoot Suit Riots covers the explosion of violence between military personnel and Mexican-American youth in Los Angeles in the summer of 1943. Baggy pants and long coats defined the "zoot suits" that became the calling card for young Mexican-Americans who, unlike their parents, defied traditional barriers. Racial tension came to the forefront of the Los Angeles community in 1942, when a young Mexican-American was killed at a party. The LAPD arrested 600 Mexican-American suspects and the ensuing trial, along with sensational coverage by the press, intensified strained relations. Finally, at the beginning of June in 1943, sailors armed with gun belts and chains began to seek out Mexican-Americans. When Mexican-Americans struck back, the situation escalated into the worst race riot in Los Angeles' history. On June 8, officials declared the city off limits to military men and the rioting ceased. The following day, zoot suits were outlawed. American Experience: Zoot Suit Riots includes historical film footage and interviews with participates.

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Air date: Feb 17, 2002

The Scopes Trial of 1925 was a defining moment in American political and religious history. A Tennessee school science teacher, John Scopes, volunteered to be the defendant in a test case on the legitimacy of teaching evolution in the public schools. The lines were drawn between the fundamentalists and the scientists, the former using the Bible to refute the scientific evidence produced by the latter. Each side had a powerful advocate: William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. The two great trial lawyers sparred over the issue of evolution before a transfixed nation that received the news in a media blitz. In the end, the forces of progress won out -- a temporary victory in a war that continues to this very day. Archival film footage, photographs, radio reports, newspaper accounts, interviews, and scholarly commentary tell the story of the famous Monkey Trial.

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Air date: Feb 24, 2002

While John Dillinger's crime spree lasted only 14 months, he became a folk hero whose exploits were admired by the Depression era public. He was considered daring, handsome, and dangerous. Dillinger also crossed paths with J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover believed that catching public enemy #1 would prove the worth of his new scientific crime-fighting bureau. The son of a well-respected farmer in rural Indiana, Dillinger's early attempt at robbery landed him in jail for ten years. In prison, he met hardened criminals who taught him how to rob banks. Out of prison, he formed a gang with his new friends and they embarked on a celebrated crime spree. He thumbed his nose at law agents, sending them post cards, and, according to legend, even escaped from prison with a wooden gun. His luck, however, eventually ran out when the Lady in Red turned him over to federal agents. Public Enemy #1 includes film clips and photographs of the era along with interviews with historians.

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