The career of William M. Tweed has become a New York, even a national legend. The head (or Grand Sachem) of Tammany Hall in the 1860s and early 1870s, Tweed is discredited for having stolen $500 million from the citizenry of New York City (and state) through questionable public works and land tax increases, etc. Typical of this was his turning a courthouse (worth $500,000) into a $13,000,000.00 boondoggle. And it was not completed even when Tweed was finally put into jail.
His career has not been the subject of many films. The Deanna Durbin musical UP IN CENTRAL PARK was, for many years, the only accessible film about the Tweed Ring, but the music was second-rate Sigmund Romburg (and not the complete score of his Broadway show), and while Vincent Price's performance was pretty interesting, he was too much the elegant type - not at all like the fat, family man the real Tweed was. More recently he was portrayed in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Physically he was correct - but he is shown making a deal for support with a Nativist (anti-foreign) gang leader. Tweed would not have done that - he would have been working with Irish gangs perhaps, but he was in favor of spreading the franchise to new immigrant groups. They were the supports for Tammany Hall.
This episode of THE GREAT ADVENTURE followed the story in it's main outlines: Tweed (Edward Andrews - he is a familiar "corrupt" politico actor, but his performance while good just lacks the zest required for a real Tweed) is at the height of his power, and the only one attacking him is George Jones' New York Times. The episode did not deal with the advent of Thomas Nast, who brilliant cartoons of Tweed and his cohorts turned the public against him) but shows how the failure of Tweed to properly reward the Sheriff of New York (Frank Faylen) led to the delivery of the comptroller's books to the TIMES who reprinted them. It was not the full story of the fall of Tweed, but it gave a good part of it.
Recent scholarship (TWEED'S NEW YORK by Leo Hershkovits is a good place to begin) has balanced the picture a bit. Yes there was big time corruption, but the Boss did massive improvements in city services (fire fighting and police) and public health. He also was instrumental in such innovations as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Bridge. All of this was hidden over the years in building up the corruption story. Even Tweed's name was changed by "historians". He was called William Marcy Tweed (even in this show) because William Marcy, a leading Democratic figure in the Jacksonian period, used the phrase, "To the victor belongs the spoils." Tweed's birth middle name was "Magear", his mother's last name.
Finally, about that $13,000,000.00 courthouse swindle. The courthouse stands behind City Hall to this day. They have completed nearly fifteen years of restoration on it, and (while there are defects on some of the carving on the facade), the building is considered something of an architectural jewel. You can see it too on television: it is usually popping up for courtroom sequences on LAW AND ORDER. In fact, use of the building for film and television is showing that for a boondoggle it is more than paying back it's original cost!
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