American Masters (1985– )


American Masters (TV Series 1985– )

Since its premiere in 1986, this Emmy-winning documentary series has presented hundreds of hours comprising profiles of outstanding American cultural artists. Past subjects have included Charlie Chaplin, Helen Hayes, pop icon Andy Warhol, singer Billie Holiday, and Composer and Conductor Leonard Bernstein.
IMDb   8 /10
TheMovieDb    8.0 /10
Creator Susan Lacy
Release Date1986-06-21
Runtime1h 30min
GenreDocumentary, Biography
Content RatingTV-14 (TV-14)
AwardsWon 27 Primetime Emmys56 wins & 72 nominations total
CompanyEagle Rock Entertainment, WNET Channel 13 New York
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Carl Reiner
Carl Reiner
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Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson
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Jeanine Basinger
Jeanine Basinger
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Narratoras Narrator…
Milt Hinton
Milt Hinton
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Jacques Pepin
Jacques Pepin
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American Masters

American Masters is a PBS television series which produces biographies on enduring writers, musicians, visual and performing artists, dramatists, filmmakers, and those who have left an indelible impression on the cultural landscape of the United States. It is produced by WNET in New York City. The show debuted on PBS in 1986.

Groups or organizations featured include: Actors Studio, Algonquin Round Table, Group Theatre, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Women of Tin Pan Alley, Negro Ensemble Company, Juilliard School, the Beat Generation, the singer-songwriters of the 1970s, Sun Records, vaudeville, and Warner Bros.


American Masters, a series "devoted to America's 'greatest native-born and adopted' artists", was originally scheduled to premiere in September 1985; for "logistical scheduling reasons" the premiere was delayed until summer 1986, though on October 16, 1985, an American Masters "special" called Aaron Copland: A Self-Portrait was aired.

The first of the 15 first-season episodes was Private Conversations, a "cinema-verite documentary by Christian Blackwood done in that trickiest of cinematic forms: a film about a film, in this instance the television version of Death of a Salesman, directed by Volker Schlöndorff". It aired on June 23, 1986, as one of two episodes not specifically commissioned for the show's first season.

Susan Lacy, American Masters creator and executive producer, selected each subject, matched them to the specific filmmakers, and oversaw a first-season budget of $8 million. Before creating the series Lacy had been the senior programmer for Great Performances and one of the "architects" of American Playhouse, having written the original proposal for the latter. At the time of the show's premiere, she was also the East Coast head of the Sundance Institute.

After the show's first two seasons, American Masters began producing most of its episodes; in those cases, it hires directors, arranges for funding, manages the budget, and supervises the editing; the show reserves the right to make the final cut on every film it produces. The American Masters production company occasionally plays a more limited role and co-produces some of its episodes, such as the 2005 documentary on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, and then in 2010 The Doors, When You're Strange.


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (January 2011)


  • "Miracle on 44th Street: A Portrait of the Actors Studio"
  • Stella Adler
  • "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind 'Little Women"
  • "The Algonquin Round Table: About the Algonquin"
  • "Woody Allen: A Documentary" (November 20 & 21, 2011)
  • "American Ballet Theatre: A History"
  • "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise"
  • "Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built"
  • "Satchmo: The Life of Louis Armstrong"
  • "John James Audubon: Drawn From Nature"
  • "Richard Avedon: Light and Dark" (January 24, 1996)


  • "Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound"
  • "Balanchine"
  • "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket"
  • "Lucille Ball: Finding Lucy"
  • "Ballerina Boys"
  • "Basquiat: Rage to Riches"
  • "James Beard: America's First Foodie"
  • "Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends"
  • "Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note"
  • Bluesland: A Portrait of American Music
  • The Boomer List
  • "Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides"
  • "Mel Brooks: Make a Noise"
  • "James Brown: Soul Survivor"
  • "Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character"


  • "John Cage: I Have Nothing to Say and I'm Saying It"
  • "Alexander Calder"
  • "Cab Calloway: Sketches"
  • Robert Capa: In Love and War"
  • "Unanswered Prayers: The Life and Times of Truman Capote"
  • "Johnny Carson: King of Late Night"
  • "John Cassavetes"
  • "Willa Cather: The Road is All"
  • "Lon Chaney: Man of a Thousand Faces"
  • "Unknown Chaplin"
  • "Ray Charles: The Genius of Soul"
  • "Julia! America's Favorite Chef"
  • "Patsy Cline"
  • "Harold Clurman: A Life of Theatre"
  • "The World of Nat King Cole"
  • "Sam Cooke: Crossing Over"
  • "Aaron Copland: A Self Portrait"
  • "Walter Cronkite: Witness to History"
  • "Bing Crosby Rediscovered"
  • "On Cukor"
  • "Merce Cunningham: A Life of Dance"
  • "Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians"


  • Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
  • "Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me
  • "James Dean: Sense Memories"
  • "Plácido Domingo: A Musical Life"
  • The Doors: When You're Strange
  • "Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
  • No Direction Home: Bob Dylan


  • "Thomas Eakins: A Motion Portrait"
  • "Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter"
  • "Clint Eastwood – Out of the Shadows"
  • "Albert Einstein: How I See The World"
  • "A Duke Named Ellington"
  • "Ralph Ellison: An American Journey"


  • "A Fierce Green Fire"
  • "Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live for"
  • "F. Scott Fitzgerald: Winter Dreams"
  • "John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend"
  • "Miloš Forman:Portrait"
  • Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul"
  • "How It Feels To Be Free" with Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier
  • "Buckminster Fuller: Thinking Out Loud" (April 10, 1996)


  • "Judy Garland: By Myself"
  • "Marvin Gaye: What's Going On"
  • "Inventing David Geffen"
  • "Sketches of Frank Gehry"
  • "George Gershwin Remembered"
  • "Althea Gibson"
  • "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg"
  • "Lillian Gish: The Actor's Life for Me"
  • "Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts"
  • "Goldwyn: The Man and His Movies"
  • "Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing"
  • "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould"
  • "Martha Graham: A Dancer Revealed"
  • "Cary Grant: A Class Apart"
  • "D. W. Griffith: Father of Film"
  • "Broadway's Dreamers: The Legacy of the Group Theatre"
  • "Woody Guthrie: Ain't Got No Home"
  • "Pedro E. Guerrero:A Photographer's Journey "
  • "Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase The Blues Away"


  • "Merle Haggard: Learning to Live with Myself"
  • "Dashiell Hammett: Detective. Writer"
  • "John Hammond: From Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen"
  • "Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love"
  • "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart"
  • "Keith Haring: Street Art Boy"
  • "Helen Hayes: First Lady of the American Theatre"
  • "The Lives of Lillian Hellman"
  • "Jascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler"
  • "Ernest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea"
  • "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin'"
  • "Don Hewitt: 90 Minutes on 60 Minutes" (May 1, 1998)
  • "The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End"
  • "Al Hirschfeld: The Line King"
  • "Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood"
  • Hollywood Chinese
  • "David Hockney: The Colors of Music"
  • "Billie Holiday: The Long Night of Lady Day"
  • "This Is Bob Hope…"
  • "Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice"
  • "Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun"


  • "Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice"
  • "Jasper Johns: Ideas in Paint"
  • "Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance"
  • "John Fogerty:
  • "Philip Johnson: A Self Portrait" (June 30, 1986)
  • "Bill T. Jones: A Good Man"
  • "Quincy Jones: In the Pocket"
  • "Janis: Little Girl Blue"
  • "Juilliard"


  • "Danny Kaye: A Legacy of Laughter"
  • "A Letter to Elia / Reflecting on Kazan"
  • "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow"
  • "Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio with the Red Shoes"
  • "Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer"
  • "André Kertész of the Cities"
  • "Billie Jean King"
  • "B.B. King: The Life of Riley"
  • "Carole King: Natural Woman"


  • "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story"
  • "Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning"
  • "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You"
  • "Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun"
  • "Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird" (The original 2012 episode was updated in 2015 to include information about the publication of Lee's Go Set a Watchman.)
  • "Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens"
  • LennoNYC
  • "James Levine: America's Maestro" and "James Levine: The Life in Music"
  • "Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny"
  • "Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius"
  • "Cachao: Uno Mas"
  • "George Lucas: Heroes, Myths and Magic"
  • "Henry Luce and Time-Life's America: A Vision of Empire"
  • "By Sidney Lumet"
  • "Loretta Lynn: Still A Mountain Girl"


  • "Mailer on Mailer"
  • "Bob Marley: Rebel Music"
  • "Sanford Meisner: The Theatre's Best-Kept Secret"
  • "Menuhin: A Family Portrait"
  • "Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan & The Blacklist: None Without Sin"
  • "Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind"
  • "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel"
  • "N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear"
  • "Marilyn Monroe: Still Life"
  • "Robert Motherwell and the New York School: Storming the Citadel"
  • "Rita Moreno:Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It"
  • "John Muir In The New World"
  • "Edward R. Murrow: This Reporter"


  • "The Negro Ensemble Company"
  • "Willie Nelson: Still is Still Moving"
  • "Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned"
  • "Nichols & May: Take Two"
  • "Mike Nichols: An American Master"
  • "Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis: Nik and Murray"
  • "Isamu Noguchi: Stones and Paper"
  • "Novel Reflections on the American Dream"


  • "Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune"
  • "Flannery"
  • "Georgia O'Keeffe"
  • "Eugene O'Neill: The Glory of Ghosts"
  • "Orozco: Man of Fire


  • "Jack Paar: As I Was Saying"
  • "Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker"
  • "Les Paul": Chasing Sound"
  • "Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam Twenty
  • "A Conversation with Gregory Peck"
  • "I.M. Pei: Building China Modern"
  • "Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft"
  • "Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself"
  • Edgar Allan Poe: "Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul" (March 22, 1995) "Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive"
  • "Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul" (March 22, 1995)
  • "Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive"
  • "Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light"
  • "You're the Top: The Cole Porter Story"
  • "Katherine Anne Porter: The Eye of Memory" (July 7, 1986)


  • "Robert Rauschenberg: Inventive Genius"
  • "Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde"
  • "Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart" (April 29, 1998)
  • Frederic Remington: The Truth of Other Days
  • "Diego Rivera: Rivera in America"
  • "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work "
  • "Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About"
  • "Paul Robeson: Here I Stand"
  • "Norman Rockwell: Painting America"
  • "Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sounds"
  • "Rediscovering Will Rogers"
  • "Philip Roth: Unmasked"
  • "Rothko: Pictures Must Be Miraculous"
  • "Arthur Rubenstein: Rubenstein Remembered"


  • "Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future"
  • "Mort Sahl: The Loyal Opposition"
  • "Augustus Saint Gaudens: Masque of the Golden Bowl"
  • "Oliver Sacks: His Own Life"
  • "J. D. Salinger: Salinger"
  • "Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey"
  • "The Day Carl Sandburg Died"
  • "Good Ol' Charles Schulz"
  • "Martin Scorsese Directs"
  • "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song"
  • "Maurice Sendak: Mon Cher Papa"
  • "Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval"
  • "Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story"
  • "Simply Simon: Not Just for Laughs"
  • "Paul Simon: Born at the Right Time"
  • "Isaac in America: A Journey with Isaac Bashevis Singer"
  • "W. Eugene Smith: Photography Made Difficult"
  • "The Source: The Story of the Beats and the Beat Generation"
  • "Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye"
  • "Isaac Stern: Life's Virtuoso"
  • "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey"
  • "Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer"
  • "William Styron: The Way of the Writer" (January 24, 1996)
  • "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records"
  • "Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice"


  • "Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir"
  • "Paul Taylor: Dancemaker"
  • "Twyla Moves"
  • "Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll"
  • "Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is"
  • "Troubadours: Carole King, James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter
  • "Trumbo"


  • "Unladylike2020: The Changemakers" (July 10, 2020)


  • "Vaudeville"
  • "Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One"
  • "The Education of Gore Vidal"


  • "Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth"
  • Andy Warhol: Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film "Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol"
  • Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film
  • "Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol"
  • "The Brothers Warner"
  • "You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers Story"
  • "Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution"
  • "Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied"
  • "Decoding Watson"
  • "Mae West: Dirty Blonde"
  • "Billy Wilder: The Human Comedy" (February 4, 1998)
  • "Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page"
  • "Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues"
  • "Ted Williams: 'The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived'"
  • "Tennessee Williams: Orpheus of the American Stage"
  • "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand"
  • "Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip"
  • "Women of Tin Pan Alley"
  • "The Women's List"
  • "Tyrus"
  • "Wyeth"
  • "Directed by William Wyler"


  • "Neil Young: Don't Be Denied"