‘AE: The Secret Of Tuxedo Park’ Is A Good Introduction To A Much Bigger Story That Needs To Be Told

March 5, 2018 by: Shauna O'Donnell

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

By Philip Sayblack

Alfred Lee Loomis is one of the most important figures from World War II. While he might not have been a four-star general, a politician or even an accomplished soldier, his story is still one that deserves to be told. It is one of a man with a great scientific mind and drive but who was also very flawed. Late last month, PBS and Public Media Distribution brought home that story on DVD in a new episode of its hit history-based series American ExperienceThe Secret of Tuxedo Park. That story forms the foundation of the episode’s presentation. It will be discussed shortly. The interviews that are used to help tell the story build on that foundation to strengthen it more. The program’s pacing and transitions couple to round out the most important of the program’s elements. Each element is important in its own right to the whole of the episode. All things considered, they make American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park another WWII story that will appeal just as much to WWII history buffs as it will to history buffs in general.  That is the case even though the program in whole turns out to not be entirely what audiences might expect.

PBS’ profile of Alfred Lee Loomis and his contributions to the Allied forces during World War II, American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park, is a presentation that will appeal just as much to WWII history buffs as it will to history buffs in general. That statement is proven in part through the story at the center of the program. One part bio and one part historical presentation, this dual-part story follows Loomis’ life while also using that as a basis to explain what made him and his work so critical to the war effort. Audiences learn over the course of the story’s almost hour-long presentation that while Loomis was indeed a great scientific mind, and did quite a bit for the Allies, he was also quite the flawed individual. He was barely there emotionally for his sons and also unfaithful to his own wife. At the same time, his drive to develop technology for the military, audiences will learn, is awe-inspiring. The revelation that Loomis realized after the fact that he preferred working in science to law is just as intriguing. It shows to audiences that — in a roundabout way — we each have a purpose and that sometimes the revelation of that purpose comes when we’re not looking for it. Between that revelation and the story to which it is connected, audiences get an interesting presentation in this aspect. It does leave some question as to whether the program was properly titled, considering the amount of bio info that was incorporated into the program, but that aside, the whole of the story still makes the program one that is thankfully no longer a secret to history buffs across the board. It is only one part of what makes this program appealing to history buffs of all types. The interviews that are used to help tell Loomis’ story give it more depth.

The interviews included in the story are important to the program’s presentation because of the additional background that they add to the story. Those interviews include discussions from one of Loomis’ wives as well as historians and various academics. Loomis’ wife reveals to viewers the true depth of just how much he disliked having his private life being interrupted. She explains that when he saw the couple’s picture in the newspaper following their wedding, he told her it would be one of only two times that she would ever have her face in the paper. The other, as she notes, would be at her death. That statement alone is quite telling about who and what Loomis was. One of the historian interviews illustrates even more the type of person that Loomis was as it is revealed that he was so driven, he used one of his own sons for one of his experiments. The experiment in question was a sleep study of sorts that strived to examine sleep cycles and their connection to the world. That he welcomed his son’s willingness only as a test subject might make some dislike Loomis even more. That is especially when viewers found out what Loomis did to his son as part of his experiment. It leaves one feeling even more torn about Loomis because while it was laudable that he cared about defeating the Axis forces, the things that he did and the person that he was made it seem as if on a personal level, he only cared about himself. This feeling is heightened as another interview reveals the lengths to which he went to be able to marry his second wife — a marriage that came about as a result of an affair with another man’s wife. Even as the story ends and audiences are presented through the interviews, the revelation of Loomis’ comfort with how his career ended, leaving viewers again feeling so torn about him. Needless to say, the information provided via the story’s accompanying interviews noted here, and that not noted here, makes Loomis’ story all the more engaging when coupled with the basic information provided through the narration. When they join together, the interviews and narration develop a story that is certain to keep viewers enthralled from beginning to end. It still is not the last of the program’s most important elements. Its collective pacing and transitions are critical in their own way to the program’s presentation, too.

The pacing and transitions of AE: The Secret of Tuxedo Park are key to keeping viewers engaged because of the amount of ground that is covered over the course of the program’s run time. As has already been noted, this program is more than just a story about the development of the first radar during WWII. It is a story about the man who helped to develop radar at his “RAD Lab” and his life both at and away from work. That means that a lot of time and thought had to be taken to keep everything fluid between the two stories. Thankfully, that time and thought was taken in assembling the program. Just enough time was spent on each item from one to the next, preventing the program from getting bogged down in itself. Between the clear impact of Loomis’ childhood on his adult life to his own view on the privacy that comes with a personal life and more, audiences get a thorough story here and one that sets itself up as an introduction for hopefully a more in-depth look at the radar that would serve to help the allies defeat Nazi Germany and the Japanese forces. That is really what was expected from this documentary. What was presented was less that and more the story of how it came to be. If that more in-depth presentation is ever crafted, it is sure to be an even more engaging program. Even with that in mind, the program presented here is still engaging in its own right, and one that will still appeal to history buffs across the board.

American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park is an interesting introduction to the story of the development of the military’s first radar and its use in winning WWII. While not as in-depth as the program’s title leads one to expect it to be, it is still an engaging presentation about the man who developed the radar, both in regards to his work and personal life. That is due in part to that two-part story. Audiences get in this story a vivid portrait of the brilliant but flawed man who developed what would go on to be one of the Allies’ “secret weapons.” The interviews that are incorporated into the presentation add even more interest to the story because of the additional insight that they offer. The collective pacing and transitions throughout the program puts the finishing touch on the program. Each element is important in its own right to the whole of this program. All things considered, they make it a good introduction to the much bigger story of the radar and its impact on the Allies’ war effort. American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at:

Websitehttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperiencePBS

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/AmExperiencePBS

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