Prohibition (2011– )
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A Nation of Hypocrites 

With gangsters terrorizing the public and profiting from the sale of alcohol, many citizens believed Prohibition was unsuccessful, which led to its repeal.


Ken Burns, Lynn Novick


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Peter Coyote ... Himself - Narrator (voice)
Pete Hamill ... Himself - Writer
Jonathan Eig Jonathan Eig ... Himself - Writer
Michael Lerner Michael Lerner ... Himself - Historian
Catherine Gilbert Murdock Catherine Gilbert Murdock ... Herself - Historian
Ruth Proskauer Smith Ruth Proskauer Smith ... Herself - Resident of New York
Joshua Zeitz Joshua Zeitz ... Himself - Historian
Margot Loines Wilkie Margot Loines Wilkie ... Herself - Resident of Massachusetts
Jack Clarke Jack Clarke ... Himself - Resident of Chicago
John Paul Stevens ... Himself - Resident of Chicago (as Justice John Paul Stevens)
Daniel Okrent ... Himself - Writer
William Leuchtenburg William Leuchtenburg ... Himself - Historian (as William E. Leuchtenburg)
Noah Feldman Noah Feldman ... Himself - Legal Scholar
Jack Roche Jack Roche ... Himself - Resident of Chicago
Pauline Sabin Smith Willis Pauline Sabin Smith Willis ... Herself - Granddaughter of Pauline Sabin


By the mid-1920s, a great many people had become convinced that prohibition was a serious mistake. Alfred E. Smith, the Governor of New York, was unsuccessful in getting the Democratic nomination for President in 1924 but succeeded in 1928. Smith was adamant that as President, he would repeal the 18th Amendment. He was not successful in seeking the Presidency though the fact that he was a Roman Catholic likely had more to do with his defeat. While alcohol consumption continued to rise, nothing demonstrated the failure of prohibition as did the rise of organized crime and the man who became the poster boy for crime and bootlegging, Al Capone. Soon, Pauline Sabin organized a national movement to restore the legal sale of alcoholic beverages. By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932, beer was being sold and in less than a year, the 19th Amendment was repealed. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

4 October 2011 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Florentine Films, WETA See more »
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Did You Know?


The episode won an Emmy Award Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming. See more »


References The Killers (1946) See more »


She's Funny That Way
Music by Neil Moret
Lyrics by Richard A. Whiting
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User Reviews

A worthy conclusion to an excellent series.
19 June 2012 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

This is the latest documentary series from Ken Burns--the docu-god for Public Broadcasting. Not surprisingly, with his amazing reputation for perfection, he was able to once again get many of America's top actors to provide their voice talents to the shows--such as Tom Hanks, Sam Waterston and Blythe Danner. And, like so many PBS documentaries, Peter Coyote narrates more than capably.

This final part of the three-part series on Prohibition concerns the disintegration of the popular support for Prohibition. As the episode begins, while there is quite a bit of non-compliance with the law, the country still is behind the law. After all, the country is going well, life is good and most Americans seem willing to back the status quo. When Al Smith runs on an anti-Prohibition platform, he's savaged by the combined forces of Prohibition, anti-Catholicism and anti-immigration movements. It's hard to imagine that within a decade, the public would be rather solidly behind repeal of the law. Other topics covered in the show include the rise and fall of Al Capone, the FDR election, the complete inflexibility of the Prohibitionists and how this led to the downfall of the law and the subsequent women's movement for repeal.

Part Three is well made and interesting throughout--and another worthy episode that wraps up the topic quite well. Worth seeing and well-crafted.

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