By michael • News • 16 Aug 2009

The Kennedys on PBS

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents The Kennedys, a dramatic portrait of America’s most famous political family and their repeated pursuit of the presidency. “Ought to keep viewers riveted to their seats, even those who think they know everything about the bloodstained Camelot dynasty. Shapely and implacably revealing. American Experience has outdone itself again.” — The Wall Street Journal

“There are few dates in recent American memory with the same magnitude on the Richter scale as November 22, 1963 — the day John F. Kennedy was killed,” says Elizabeth Deane, executive producer of The Kennedys. “Especially for those who are too young to remember the events of that day, our film shows how the Kennedy family became both legend and lightning rod for several generations of Americans.”

The founding father, Joseph Kennedy, rose to wealth and power by way of Boston, Wall Street, Hollywood and Washington. Then, moving on to London as Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to the Court of St. James — his popularity greatly enhanced by his large, photogenic family — Joe Kennedy seemed poised for the pinnacle, the presidency, his lifelong goal.

But, ironically, the man who had so long prided himself as a publicity genius was undone by his own remarks to a reporter, to the effect that democracy was finished in Britain — and possibly in America, too. In the parlance of a later time, Joe Kennedy sounded soft on fascism. His presidential prospects in ruins, he vested all in the next generation. By 1960, son John had at last attained the White House — “the long of arm” of Kennedy power, as was said, plus a seemingly endless fund of Kennedy family charm having played a part all the way.

What followed was a human drama as powerful and painful as any in our history, a compounding national tragedy, as one violent, senseless act followed another.

Taken in all, the long Kennedy quest for the presidency can be seen as a chronicle of evolving political ideology from the isolationism of Joe Kennedy to the cold warrior stance of John to the fierce social activism of Robert Kennedy and, finally, to Edward, who would serve as a senator for 47 years. Drawing on a wealth of still photographs, archival footage, and home movies, The Kennedys features extensive interviews with family members, friends, and first-hand witnesses to the many chapters of the Kennedy story.

“The Father”
The first episode of The Kennedys tells the remarkable story of patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy and his creation of a dynasty that would enable him to realize, through his sons, his own failed ambitions to become America’s first Roman Catholic President. The program traces Kennedy’s rise on Wall Street, which made him the richest Irish American on earth; his marriage to Rose Fitzgerald his years in Hollywood as a film producer and his affair with actress Gloria Swanson; and his involvement with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government and subsequent ambassadorship to Great Britain.

“The Sons”
The conclusion of The Kennedys follows the Kennedy story from the glamorous imagery of Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s White House — carefully cultivated by both the president and first lady — through the national tragedies of the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, to the dark days of Edward Kennedy’s accident at Chappaquiddick and his unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign, which may have finally freed him of the burden of his father’s ambition.

Original music by Michael Bacon

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