Series Blog

Why We Made "Walt Disney"


Mark Samels, Executive Producer of American Experience, has wanted to make a biographical documentary of Walt Disney for many years. As Samels says, the iconic animator's pervasive influence on American culture made him "a perfect subject for American Experience."

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Rebuilding Radio Clinic


Radio Clinic was one of the 1,616 stores looted during the 1977 Blackout in New York City. In the days after the blackout, the chances of Radio Clinic’s survival looked pretty grim. In the wake of a large-scale disaster the precipitous event might be over; the fires put out and the hurricane waters receded. But for the small business owners whose stores were destroyed, the fight to survive was just beginning. Jen Rubin, the daughter of Radio Clinic's owner, writes about her father's experience after the Blackout.

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Walt Disney Comes to American Experience in September


American Experience is very excited to announce a project that our Executive Producer Mark Samels has had in the forefront of his mind for years. A four-hour biography of Walt Disney will premiere on PBS this September (see the preview and the press release below), before which we will share a huge collection of stories, images and factoids on our social media pages and our web site. Stay tuned! 

(BOSTON, MA) June 4, 2015 -- In 1966, the year Walt Disney died, 240 million people saw a Disney movie, 100 million tuned in to a Disney television program, 80 million bought Disney merchandise, and close to seven million visited Disneyland. Few creative figures before or since have held such a long-lasting place in American life and popular culture.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE offers an unprecedented look at the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential storytellers in Walt Disney, a new two-part, four-hour film premiering Monday and Tuesday, September 14-15, 2015, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Executive produced by Mark Samels, directed and produced by Sarah Colt, and written by Mark Zwonitzer, the film features rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from some of his greatest films, and interviews with biographers and historians, animators and artists who worked on Snow White and other early films, and designers who helped create Disneyland.

"Walt Disney is an entrepreneurial and cultural icon," said AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Executive Producer Mark Samels. "No single figure shaped American popular culture in the 20th century more than he."

From Steamboat Willie to Pinocchio to Mary Poppins, Disney's movies grew out of his own life experiences. He told stories of outsiders struggling for acceptance and belonging, while questioning the conventions of class and authority. As Disney rose to prominence and gained financial security, his work became increasingly celebratory of the American way of life that made his unlikely success possible.

Yet despite the success he achieved, he was driven and restless, a demanding perfectionist on whom decades of relentless work and chain-smoking would take their toll. He wanted his films to make people feel deeply, yet often buried his own emotions. Aspiring to create great artistic films, he felt he wasn't taken seriously by the movie industry, and was stung when critics panned his productions. Never satisfied with his previous efforts, he always pushed forward to a "new adventure," but his attention to detail and quest for innovation frequently meant delays and cost overruns. When his employees organized and went on strike, Disney felt betrayed, not able to understand how people who worked for him could be unhappy; years later he called them "communists" before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

A polarizing figure -- though true believers vastly outnumber his critics -- Disney's achievements are indisputable. He created one of the most beloved cartoon characters in history, Mickey Mouse; conceived the first ever feature-length animated film,Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; pioneered the integration of media and marketing with thousands of branded products; and conceived Disneyland, the world's first theme park and a three-dimensional realization of his own utopian universe.


Vietnam: 40 Years On


Forty years after the fall of Saigon, debate continues concerning the reality on the ground in Vietnam in 1975. Below are two varying accounts written by Jim Laurie and Stuart Herrington, both of whom were in Saigon in April 1975. At the time, Laurie was a reporter for NBC News, and Herrington was a captain in the U.S. Army. Both men were interviewed for and appear in the film Last Days in Vietnam, which played in theaters nationwide in 2014 before premiering on PBS April 28, 2015. Read both posts here.


"The day the sky fell on us"


PCL left Vietnam and came to the U.S. after spending three years in a "re-education camp." He shared the story of his first days in America with us.