TV: “American Experience: The Boys of ’36 ” – the story of the boys in the boat

TV: American Experience: The Boys of ’36 (PBS, Itunes)

First of all, if you have never read the book “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, you have to do so immediately. It is one of the best books I have ever read and chronicles the uplifting story of the University of Washington crew team, which took the Gold Medal in the 1936 Olympics. Whether or not you have, you can watch a short one-hour documentary on the story of “the boys” which originally aired at the beginning of August on PBS. I missed “The American Experience: The Boys of ‘36” while on vacation and was unable to find it on my local cable “On Demand” service so I rented it ($3.99) from ITunes.

The documentary relies heavily on Daniel James Brown, Timothy Egan who wrote “The Worst Hard Time” (next on my reading list), a few rowing historians and a ton of original footage. Heretofore I had seen only the official Berlin Olympic photographer Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the race, which focused primarily on the German and Italian crews. The documentary footage (likely also from Riefenstahl) showed the Americans for more of the 6 ½ minute race. In addition, there is great footage of some of the Washington collegiate races, practices and for you U- Dub fans, lots of photos of the buildings and area as it was in the 30s. You also get a great feel for just how popular rowing was at the time and the thousands of people who turned out at these rowing venues for races.

This is an epic story that highlights interviews with some of the children of the participants telling their father’s stories along with Daniel James Brown’s commentary. To be able to see film of all the key players after reading the book was really terrific and made them come to life for me. It is an hour well spent to watch the courage and fortitude of these rowers who despite all odds achieved the greatest honor in rowing at the time and made Hitler unhappy in the process. The story of the “Boys of ‘36” is one of heart and achieving goals with every obstacle imaginable put in front of them. These boys came from humble origins in the severely depressed Pacific Northwest of the 30s and with the help of a difficult coach and inspirational boat builder beat the best crews in the world.

See “The American Experience: The Boys of ‘36” and read “The Boys in the Boat”.


2 thoughts on “TV: “American Experience: The Boys of ’36 ” – the story of the boys in the boat

  1. Tim Egan is great. Worst Hard Times was wonderful. My favorite is The Big Burn, which I plan to share with your Dad, I think he’d like it. Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher was good too. Lasso the Wind is next on my list. I missed The Boys Of 36, will download it. Read Boys in the Boat so really wanted to see the documentary. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I gave Dad Boys in the Boat when it came out and he loved it – he was in a frat at U-Dub with a brother of one of the rowers and knew of some of the others! Will have to get him the DVD for xmas if he has a DVD player! Thanks for the other suggestions!


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