Segments in this Video

Reconciling Popular Memory with Personal Experiences of the Twenties (02:28)


America's romantic memories of the 1920 include heroes, celebrities, prohibition, gangsters and fashion--and they ignore its less romantic side: hard work, prejudice against radicals, labor and Blacks.

Reflecting on the Hard Times (02:29)

Celebrities and others describe their memories of the small pleasures and great hardships of the 1920s.

Novelty: the Key to Twenties Excitement (02:05)

Beauty pageants and races, horse, bicycle, foot, speedboat, and auto abound. Marathon dancing is blamed for deaths before its own collapse. The Charleston is the dance of the decade.

Flappers the Ultimate Twenties Woman. (01:49)

Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Babe Ruth clown around. Necklines plunge as hemlines rise. Flappers, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald are, "Lovely, expensive, and about 19."

Prohibition & Rise of the Gangster (02:53)

Prohibition turns average Americans into law-breakers. Celebrities and others describe bathtub gin and home brews of the times. Federal agents fight bootlegging and the increasing crime that results from Prohibition.

Dark Side of the Twenties (01:53)

Farmers struggle while native poor and immigrants live shoulder to shoulder in tenements. Work for most Americans is hard and tedious. Ten hour days with no overtime is common. Livestock butchering is grueling labor.

Moving Pictures Revolutionize News and Entertainment (02:57)

Americans turn out to watch films with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Rudolph Valentino becomes the fantasy lover of millions of American women.

Achievers Captured on Film (02:51)

Athletes Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Johnny Weissmuller, Bobby Jones, Helen Wills, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Knute Rockne, and Gertrude Ederle capture the hearts of America. Charles Lindbergh makes his famous solo flight.

Machinery is the New Messiah (02:49)

America is soon a consumer society. Most families find a way to afford a car. Electric light and power come to all but rural areas in the 1920s. Appliances are marketed to women and 10 million phones are in use. Radio programs are family entertainment.

Free Wheeling Prosperity Ends in 1929 Crash (03:53)

Wall Street's bull market hits its stride in 1927 and those who are involved in the market enjoy unparalleled prosperity. But most Americans do not participate in the stock market. Actress Ruth Gordon offers a perspective on the times.

Twenties: The Have Nots (02:38)

Americans who lived through the twenties without affluence echo the "contentment" of the times. Financing offers a new way of getting things for those without cash.

Warren Harding Presidency (02:23)

Warren Harding's presidency is remembered for his good looks, ineptness, and scandal. Upon his death vice president Calvin Coolidge became president.

Calvin Coolidge Presidency (01:36)

Coolidge was a taciturn unsmiling president who maintained the status quo. Coolidge understood the value of his quiet image. He thought Washington should let big business run unchecked.

Herbert Hoover Presidency (01:50)

Herbert Hoover entered office with an awesome reputation, swamping his Catholic opponent Al Smith. Within a year came the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression

American Religious Fundamentalism. (01:18)

Jews, Catholics and Blacks are the chief victims of religious fundamentalism in 1920s America. Vigilantes might threaten anyone of any race, religion or profession suspected of harboring subversive ideas.

The Twenties: A Decade of Labor Unrest (01:31)

Returning troops hope to rebuild their lives, but face unemployment and the Depression. Steel and Coal workers strike. Radical labor groups are blamed for the unrest. One man recalls a 3 year prison term after he was found guilty of being "an organizer."

Red Scare: Sacco and Vanzetti (01:33)

Attorney General Palmer conducted raids to deport Bolsheviks, communists and anarchists. The decade long "Red Scare" is epitomized by the case of Sacco and Vanzetti who, despite public protests and multiple appeals, are executed.

Scopes Trial: Bigotry on Display (01:17)

Accused of teaching evolution, biology teacher John Scopes is defended by Clarence Darrow in a packed courtroom. Prosecutor William Jennings Bryan dies less than a week after winning the case against Scopes.

1920s Morality (01:36)

The Twenties are a time of discretion. While the "new woman" can vote, she remains a second class citizen whose "place is in the home." Women keep their "liberated" lifestyles to themselves.

Black Americans (02:42)

Americans reflect on segregation and their varying degrees of awareness of interactions between Black and White races in the 1920s. New York City's first Black fireman Wesley Williams is ostracized by his White counterparts.

Rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan (02:36)

The Klan has 1 million members in 1921. Throughout the decade 281 Blacks are lynched. Tearful, poet Sterling Brown reads his poem "Oh Limb."

Faces of the Twenties (02:10)

Some who lived through the Twenties manage to do the best of things in the worst of times. The names and professions of the many Americans interviewed for this production are listed.

Credits: The Twenties (01:09)

Credits: The Twenties

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The Twenties

Part of the Series : A Walk Through the 20th Century with Bill Moyers
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $149.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $224.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $149.95



Conventional wisdom enshrines the 1920s as the decade that roared—a time in which Americans kicked up their heels to the Charleston and went for one long joyride before the Wall Street crash of 1929. As this Bill Moyers program illustrates, those things did happen, but so did many others—not all of them fondly remembered. Nineteen Americans who lived through those years talk about their lives in the 1920s. From labor strikes to the Scopes trial to the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti… from poverty to racial segregation to political scandals… Moyers and his guests reveal the complex realities behind the glitter of the times. (52 minutes)

Length: 52 minutes

Item#: BVL42071

ISBN: 978-1-62102-065-3

Copyright date: ©1984

Closed Captioned

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