REVIEW: One man changes the course of WWII history

Courtesy of PBS / Provided by press agent.

Tuxedo Park, New York, is less than hour’s drive from New York City. One look at the municipality’s interesting architecture and it becomes obvious that this historic town has many stories to tell.

One of the most profound tales involves Alfred Lee Loomis, a Wall Street tycoon who lived in Tuxedo Park in a beautiful development of impressive mansions and jaw-dropping estates. Unlike the other houses in the neighborhood, Loomis’ abode was decked out as a scientific laboratory for the wealthy man’s experiments.

Loomis was a man eternally obsessed with science and the scientific method. He would employ the help of his sons and friends to carry out trials for a variety of inventions and theories. Eventually, his curious mind fell on the advancement of radar technology and how it might help the effort to stop the Nazis in World War II.

The amazing story of Loomis, his house, his fellow scientists, his laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his professional ambitions are the subject of the new American Experience documentary The Secret of Tuxedo Park. The PBS program, running one hour, is now available on DVD and digital HD.

The documentary, based on the book by Jennet Conant, splits Loomis’ life into two easy-to-follow parts. The first half details his rise to wealth, including his time on Wall Street during the well-known chapters of the early 20th century. He came of age during the Great Depression and stock market crash, and yet he walked away relatively unscathed by the national crises. In fact, the film states that he was wealthy enough to leave his career in the 1930s and pursue his science hobby full time.

As the flames of war ignited in Europe, Loomis’ experiments in his Tuxedo Park house took on a new importance. He had a knack for bringing the best minds together to solve some of the toughest equations, and he was a man of many inventions as well. When he realized his efforts (his obsessions) could be used for patriotic purposes, he jumped at the challenge.

The American Experience series has just about dominated in this marketplace and knows how to spin an engaging yarn, and The Secret of Tuxedo Park uses most of the well-worn techniques of historical documentaries. There is archival photography coupled with present-day expert interviews. The so-called Ken Burns effect is utilized to give the still photos some life.

Of the interviews, the daughter-in-law and granddaughter of Loomis provide the most personal information about the complicated man at the center of the film. He was professionally dedicated to the cause, but it certainly came at the expense of his family, especially when considering the tragic story of his first wife. Conant, an interviewee, also provides the necessary backstories to fill in the blanks surrounding Loomis’ rise and continued success.

Taken together, the film is an interesting history lesson that marries the personal and intimate with the patriotic and global. The Secret of Tuxedo Park has been exposed, and it’s a secret worth checking out.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park is now available on DVD and digital HD from PBS. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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