PBS Previews: Prohibition

Ken Burns and his co-director/producer Lynn Novick hit the jackpot when they turned their storytelling skills toward Prohibition. In a failed Constitutional amendment – born of high ideals and a singularly powerful political action committee (more powerful than the current NRA) – they found the following intertwining battles:

  • Wets versus drys. Those who wanted their liquor (and America drank A LOT of alcohol in the 1800s) versus the temperance movement, mostly women at first and mostly religious to a fault
  • Small towns (representing purity) and big cities (where sin was dispensed by the pint)
  • A growing Women’s Suffragette movement, which latched onto the Prohibition wagon with mixed motives, versus ‘traditionalists’ (mostly men)
  • Distilleries versus Breweries (who claimed their product as healthy as “liquid bread”). Eventually, the combatants were fighting for their survival,  and whose lob losses and a huge reduction of taxable product were two huge reasons Prohibition failed
  • Politics. Any one who dared ran as a wet, as the luckless presidential candidate Al Smith did in 1924, was crushed.  Campaigning was reduced to a one-issue platform
  • A sexual revolution, fueled by booze and women frequenting bars like never before
  • Immigrants (such as brewers Frederick Pabst and Adolphus Busch) versus the locals
  • And gangsters versus the law, a struggle in which it was nearly impossible to tell who was on what side.

PBS Previews: Prohibition
Thursday, September 29, 8:30 pm WOSU TV
Friday, September 30, 3:30 am WOSU TV

This preview of the six-hour documentary (which begins October 2 at 8pm) goes behind the scenes with filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to discover the true story of America’s “Great Experiment” and go beyond the oft-told tales of gangsters, rum runners, flappers and speakeasies to experience the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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