Coming to PBS’s American Experience tonight, Tuesday, August 2: THE BOYS OF ’36
Margaret Grossi’s chronicle of the US rowing team that upset Hitler’s plans for Olympic gold makes its debut on the long-running public television strand. Special promotional screenings have been held in Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angles over the past month.
Timed to correspond with the upcoming Summer Olympics, and inspired by the New York Times bestselling THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown, Grossi tells the tale of the nine young men from the University of Washington’s rowing team who participated in the contentious 1936 Games, hosted by Nazi Germany, and their coach and shell builder who led them to victory. While the sport was widely popular across America at the time, this Pacific Northwest team differed from their East Coast counterparts, coming largely from poor and working-class backgrounds. Individual biographies, like that of Joe Rantz, reveal particularly poignant histories of poverty, abandonment, and resilience, in many ways serving as a microcosmic representation of a nation still contending with the Great Depression. While hewing close to the PBS strand’s conventional storytelling format, the film zeroes in on the U of W’s underdog story, revealing how the team beat the odds – even with stroker Don Hume nearly incapacitated by sickness – to claim the gold medal over Hitler’s Aryan athletes.