One in this documentary series that explores the lives and achievements of America's most celebrated native-born and adopted artists and performers. This profile of composer George Gershwin includes interviews with colleagues and friends along with many of his musical masterpieces. Highlights include discussion of the following topics: Gershwin's childhood in the streets of New York City at the turn of the century; the many different professions his father pursued in order to support the family; his penchant for the streets as remembered by his sister, Frances Gershwin Godowsky; his secret early playing of the family piano, which was originally purchased for his brother Ira; young George's formal piano lessons; his first job as a music plugger on the famed Tin Pan Alley; his use of different rhythms and harmonies to make the same songs sound a little different; his decision to branch out and leave Tin Pan Alley and start composing; his age when his name first appeared on sheet music, for Sophie Tucker; the unique qualities of his first composition, according to singer/composer Michael Feinstein; his collaboration with lyricist Irving Caesar on the Broadway musical "La La Lucille," which produced songs like "There's More to the Kiss Than the Sound" and "Nobody But You"; their composition of a new version of "Swanee," which Al Jolson performed; George White's decision to commission Gershwin to compose music for White's popular theater revues; Gershwin's inimitable drive to compose music, described by biographer Edward Jablonski; Gershwin's fascination with the era of jazz music; his first jazz-dominated concert; the riveting opening notes of "Rhapsody in Blue"; Gershwin's introduction of the performances of American composers into concert halls; the average listener's attraction to Gershwin's music, in the words of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas; the seemingly eternal popularity of "Rhapsody in Blue"; Gershwin's party performances on the piano, remembered by actress Kitty Carlisle Hart and friend Mabel Schirmer; his mode of composition as remembered by fellow composer and close friend Kay Swift; Ira Gershwin's establishment of himself as a top lyricist and his early work with George; the brothers' ease with their often separate social lives; the family's ongoing closeness as revealed in clips from home movies; George Gershwin's use of painting to counter his obsession with music; the premiere of the "Concerto in F" at Carnegie Hall; the ease with which one can recognize a Gershwin composition, according to composer Leonard Bernstein; Gershwin's seeming inability to give himself entirely to one woman; the popular score for "Oh, Kay!"; the challenges and joys of singing a Gershwin tune, in the words of singer Linda Ronstadt; Gershwin's views of life, theater, and music, according to composer Virgil Thomson; Gershwin's travel to Paris to study and compose; the new themes and styles in his music first showcased in "Strike Up the Band"; the apolitical composer's reasons for diving into political topics and satire; his disappointment and dismay in composing for motion pictures; his (and his brother's) reasons for writing a number of scores for films despite those feelings; Gershwin's diffidence on the set of motion pictures, as recalled by film choreographer Hermes Pan; Gershwin's feelings on composing his "Rhapsody No. 2"; the length of time it took to compose the music for the opera "Porgy and Bess"; Gershwin's response to auditions for that opera, as recalled by singers Todd Duncan and Anne Brown; Gershwin's study of Black culture in an attempt to create a life-like opera; audiences' fascination with the details of Black life outlined in "Porgy and Bess"; critics' views of the opera at its premiere; Gershwin's diagnosis with a brain tumor after a performance in which his mind went completely blank; and his memorial service, which was conducted on both coasts. Compositions heard in part or full include "Stairway to Paradise," "An American in Paris," "The Man I Love," and "Funny Face"; performers depicted in clips include Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, 1999.


  • DATE: 1987 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:28:01
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:58620
  • GENRE: Arts documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Biography
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1986-


    • Susan Lacy … Executive Producer
    • John Williams … Executive Producer
    • Kirk D'Amico … Executive Producer
    • Harlene Freezer … Coordinating Producer
    • Debra Hodgins … Coordinating Producer
    • Peter Adam … Producer, Writer
    • Jonathan Tunick … Theme Music by, Composer
    • Patrice Abrams … Researcher
    • Joe Lauro … Researcher
    • Patrick Montgomery … Researcher
    • Clarke Peters … Narrator
    • Fred Astaire
    • Leonard Bernstein
    • Anne Brown
    • Irving Caesar
    • Todd Duncan
    • Michael Feinstein
    • Ella Fitzgerald
    • George Gershwin
    • Ira Gershwin
    • Frances Gershwin Godowsky
    • Kitty Carlisle Hart
    • Edward Jablonski
    • Al Jolson
    • Gene Kelly
    • Hermes Pan
    • Linda Ronstadt
    • Mabel Schirmer
    • Kay Swift
    • Michael Tilson Thomas
    • Virgil Thomson
    • Sophie Tucker
    • George White