The Making of the President: The 1960s DVD review - watch history as it happened

Theodore White is the author of The Making of the President series of books that documents United States Presidential elections.  The Making of the President, 1960 is the most notable as it kicked off the series and won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1962.  The book was then adapted into an Emmy-Award winning television special the following year by executive producer David L. Wolper.  White continued writing about the presidential elections and Wolper and his team continued making specials.  The three from the '60s are collected for this amazing set from Athena.

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Disc One is The Making of the President: 1960, which saw Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy and Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon battle to follow Dwight Eisenhower as President.  However, the story began in the primaries.  Nixon had an easy run with an early drop out by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.  On the other side of the aisle, a number of Democrats like Senator Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson are seen jockeying for position as they travel across the country and up through the convention.  Then Kennedy and Nixon are shown making their case to the American people, including their famous televised debate, a first in U.S. politics.  Archival news footage allows modern-day viewers to witness the men campaigning and narration fills in the rest of the story. 

The second disc is The Making of the President: 1964.  After the first few minutes cover Kennedy's assassination, Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson is revealed to be continuing the work Kennedy started.  Incumbent Johnson had an easy time securing his party's nomination.  On the other hand, the Republicans were in a similar position as the Democrats last time around: divided as they searched for a candidate to unify the party.  East Coast liberal Republicans wanted Governor Rockefeller while Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona appealed to the conservatives of the party.  Goldwater was triumphant but his strong ideological beliefs and remarks kept the party fractured.  It also kept him from doing well on Election Day as the Johnson re-election team made him out to be a racist and unstable as seen in news stories and campaign materials like the infamous Daisy commercial.

Disc Three is The Making of the President: 1968.  The special is slightly different from the previous ones being in color and featuring Theodore White as the host.  The country's turbulence from the Vietnam War to the fight for Civil Rights even affected the presidential race.  Johnson lost the first primary in New Hampshire to Senator Eugene McCarthy and then dropped out of the race.  The field opened up as many other Democrats jumped into the race like Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Robert Kennedy, with the latter sadly meeting the same fate as his brother as as assassin took his life.  The anarchy of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, in the building and out on the streets, is on display.  Though challenged, Nixon was the Republican front-runner and had an easier time securing his party's nomination.  Another major player in the election was former Alabama Governor and American Independent Party candidate George Wallace, whose pro-segregation policies had an appeal. 

The set comes with a few extras. "A Thousand Days: A Tribute to John F. Kennedy" (25 min) on Disc One was first shown at the '64 Democratic Convention to honor the former President.  Narrated by William Conrad, "The March of Time: Seven Days in the Life of the President," (51 min) on Disc Two is a week with Johnson.  All three discs have the inaccurately titled "The Contenders After Their Campaigns," which presents brief bios about the political lives of the men who ran for president and isn't restricted to after the campaign.

The Making of the President: The 1960s is as important document of presidential politics as any book.  Getting to see the men in their own words provides a historical record that is hard to argue with.  I was especially fascinated by the party primaries that don't always get the historical attention they deserve.  I was so impressed with these programs that I believe they should be available in schools and libraries.

By Gordon S. Miller

About the author

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003.  Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher.  Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as Blogcritics, FilmRadar, and High Def Digest.  He became the Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Sentries upon its inception in 2011.

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1 Comment
On: Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

I love all of this kind of stuff, and this series sounds great (especially as I'm deep into Mad Men Season One this summer, which takes place in 1960!). 

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