AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: RFK (TV)

Summary

One in this documentary series. Part one and part two in this documentary program about Robert F. Kennedy -- his life in the shadow of his brother, President John F. Kennedy; the profound changes he underwent after Kennedy's assassination; and his own political career, also cut short by an assassin's bullet, as a senator and presidential candidate. The documentary uses archival materials ranging from family photos and film to press coverage and news footage; it features interviews with historians, journalists, and biographers, and firsthand recollections of those who knew him well. Part one, entitled "The Garish Sun," focuses on Bobby's position within the Kennedy family; his role as campaign manager on JFK's 1952 Senate race, then JFK's 1960 presidential campaign; his work for Senator Joseph McCarthy during the anti-communist hearings and as chief counsel on the Senate Rackets Committee; and his role as attorney general and close confidant to the president in JFK's administration. The documentary begins with RFK's appearance at the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City (ten months after JFK's assassination) -- where the crowd roared for 22 minutes before allowing him to speak -- before proceeding chronologically with events in RFK's life. Highlights include film and photos from Bobby's growing up in the Kennedy family (with comments from biographer Evan Thomas and others); footage of RFK's participation in the McCarthy hearings and questioning of Teamster's president Jimmy Hoffa for the Rackets Committee in the 1950s; a discussion by historians Jeff Shesol and Robert Dallek of the roots of RFK's difficulties with Lyndon B. Johnson, which began with RFK's resistance to LBJ as John's vice president at the 1960 Democratic convention; film of family life at RFK's home, Hickory Hill, including a firsthand account by RFK's daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; and discussions of RFK's early positions on such issues as covert operations in Cuba and the Cuban Missile Crisis (featuring CIA operations officer Samuel Halperin and historian Ronald Steel), and the civil rights movement, Freedom Riders, and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. (featuring civil rights activist John Lewis and close associates of Bobby's at the Justice Department, John Seigenthaler and Nicholas Katzenbach). Part two, entitled "The Awful Grace of God," covers the aftermath of JFK's assassination; RFK's successful bid for Senate in 1964, ironically with the help of President Johnson; LBJ's escalation of the war in Vietnam and RFK's developing views on the war; RFK's focus on poverty and racism as a senator; his presidential campaign in 1968; and the assassination of RFK on June 5, 1968. Highlights include footage of Bobby at JFK's funeral and discussion of the profound impact his brother's death had on him from Shesol, Seigenthaler, Thomas, and others; footage and discussion by journalist Jack Newfield and RKF aides/speechwriters Peter Edelman and Adam Walinksy of Bobby on the campaign trail -- first in his Senate race, where he struggled to articulate his own views apart from his brother's, and later in the program, on the presidential campaign, where he focused on racism, poverty, and the war in Vietnam; footage of RFK scaling Mount Kennedy in Canada; footage and discussion of Senator Kennedy's efforts in poverty-striken Bedford Stuyvesant and his support for the grape strike in California; footage of RFK's statements against the Vietnam War, ranging from his questioning of the war on "Face the Nation" in 1967 and his Kansas speech on the presidential campaign trail where he called for the end to it; footage and discussion of RFK's resistance to entering the presidential campaign and the impact of Eugene McCarthy's candidacy and Johnson's announcement that he would not seek reelection; footage of RFK's speech before a crowd in Indianapolis in a black neighborhood on the evening of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (featuring comments by eyewitnesses John Lewis and Adam Walinsky); footage of RFK's last speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and the grieved responses of the attending crowd when it was announced that RFK had been shot; footage of the train cortege that carried RFK's body back to Washington's Arlington cemetery, which drew diverse crowds along the way; and concluding statements from Edelman, Katzenbach, Newfield, and Lewis about what was lost when RFK died.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Details

  • NETWORK: PBS
  • DATE: October 4, 2004 Monday 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:51:30
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:81230
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Biography
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1988-
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • Mark Samuels … Executive Producer
    • Susan Mottau … Coordinating Producer
    • David Grubin … Producer, Director, Writer
    • Sarah Colt … Producer
    • Rachel Buchanan … Associate Producer
    • Michael Bacon … Music by
    • Blair Brown … Narrator
    • Robert Dallek
    • Peter Edelman
    • Samuel Halperin
    • Jimmy Hoffa
    • Lyndon B. Johnson
    • Nicholas Katzenbach
    • John F. Kennedy
    • Robert F. Kennedy
    • Martin Luther King, Jr.
    • John Lewis
    • Eugene McCarthy
    • Joseph McCarthy
    • Jack Newfield
    • John Seigenthaler
    • Jeff Shesol
    • Ronald Steel
    • Evan Thomas
    • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
    • Adam Walinsky