Coming to PBS’s American Experience tonight, Tuesday, November 18: COLD WAR ROADSHOW
Robert Stone and Tim B Toidze’s look back at the unprecedented tour of the US by a Soviet leader has traveled the festival circuit under the title KHRUSHCHEV DOES AMERICA, with stops at Hot Docs and Hot Springs, among other events.
Toidze and Stone’s film recaptures a clear sense of 1950s America in all of its anti-Communist hysteria, and how Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s two week visit unexpectedly precipitated a cautious thaw in the Cold War. In the Fall of 1959, the leader of the USSR touched down in Washington DC with his family, and his unexpected gregariousness prompted a media circus through the then-relatively new medium of television, with regular news coverage following Khrushchev to NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Iowa, and Pittsburgh before a series of talks with President Eisenhower at Camp David. Though his initial reception in NYC , shown here, saw the Premier greeted by thousands of silent onlookers, unwilling to cheer for the leader of the country’s number one enemy, Khrushchev soon upended the average American’s expectations of the Godless, evil Communist. The rotund, jocular man knew how to turn on the charm for the camera, generating proto-reality television fascination as he visited a farmer’s cornfield or hugged a little girl presenting flowers. Still, as noted in the film, Khrushchev wasn’t one to brook insult, leading to tense exchanges with the jingoistic Mayor of Los Angeles, and exasperation when a trip to Disneyland was cancelled for security reasons. Utilizing fantastic archival footage, as well as interviews with Khrushchev’s son and Ike’s granddaughter, among others, Toidze and Stone present a revealing, unusual slice of Cold War history.