Ellis Island is a television miniseries, filmed in the United Kingdom, broadcast in three parts in 1984 on the CBS television network. The screenplay was co-written by Fred Mustard Stewart, adapted from his 1983 novel of the same title. The series tells the story of several immigrants from the late 19th century until the early 1910s, trying to achieve the American Dream and arriving on Ellis Island, hoping for a better life. Ellis Island highlighted numerous important events which occurred up to and during World War I, and many of the characters are based on real persons, such as Irving Berlin. The series marks the final appearance of Richard Burton, and was dedicated to his memory.
|Written by||Fred M. Stewart|
|Directed by||Jerry London|
Gregory Paul Martin
|Theme music composer||John Addison|
|Country of origin||USA|
|No. of episodes||3|
|Editor(s)||John J. Dumas|
|Running time||420 minutes|
|Original release||November 11 –|
November 14, 1984
In 1907 Jacob Rubinstein, a Russian Jew leaves his village after it is attacked by cossacks and his father, the local Rabbi, is murdered. While he was fleeing he is shot in the leg by the same cossack who killed his father. Jacob though, scares the cossack's horse, causing the horse to throw the cossack off. Jacob takes his revenge, shoots the cossack and takes the horse. He arrives in Hamburg, Germany, with the aim of emigrating to America. Even after selling the horse he is still short of the cost of a steerage class ticket. Depressed, Jacob walks around Hamburg docks and is persuaded into a brothel after hearing piano music. When inside, he meets an African American called Roscoe Haines, the piano player. Jacob is impressed by the Ragtime that Roscoe is playing and asks if he can try to play. Jacob is, to Roscoe's surprise very good at it. Roscoe organises a collection from everyone inside the brothel to raise the money Jacob needs for his ticket. Roscoe also tells Jacob to go and see a music publisher called Abe Shulman when he gets to New York City.
Marco Santorelli is the gardener for the English actress Maude Charteris on her estate in Sicily. When she announces that she is returning to London, she offers Marco a job there, which he turns down as he believes she wants him to be her lover and he wants to go to the US and make his fortune.
When the ship arrives at Queenstown, Ireland. Jacob and Marco introduce themselves to each other, they notice two young women ready to board. The women are sisters, Bridget and Georgiana O'Donnell. Bridget had been working as a maid at Wexford Hall using the pseudonym of Mary-Ann Flaherty. She was sleeping with the British landowner Jamie Barrymore the Earl of Wexford and when he complains of having a cold she took him for a walk outside claiming it would do him some good. However, she had arranged with some Fenians to have the earl kidnapped. One of the Fenians, Kevin Murray, promised that Wexford would only be kept hostage and not harmed. Georgiana, while walking to the boat, expresses her disappointment that they are travelling steerage class as their Uncle Casey in New York had sent them enough money to go by second class, Bridget tells her that in America they will need every penny so she was just thinking about the future. Just before they board, a police officer questions Bridget, as he has a wanted poster for Mary Ann in connection with the kidnapping of the earl, but he is satisfied when she tells him her and Georgiana's names.
During the crossing Jacob is told that criminals aren't allowed to enter America and reveals to Marco that he murdered the cossack so is worried he will have to return to Russia, Marco assures him that his new best friend will become an American. Georgiana also tells Bridget that when they get to Ellis Island, inspectors stick button hooks in people's eyes. One night the steerage passengers, watching the first class passengers dancing on deck decide to mimic them. Georgiana and Marco and Bridget and Jacob dance together, with Marco saying that Georgiana is the most beautiful woman in the world.
After the crossing, the ship's captain tells the steerage class passengers that they must go through Ellis Island while first and second class passengers go straight to immigration. Bridget voices complaints that there is still a divide in class. Jacob passes after he has to see the doctor for the limp he has from his untreated gunshot wound. Marco also passes, as does Bridget. Georgiana however, is denied entry after she is diagnosed with trachoma, an eye disease that can lead to blindness. Bridget sticks up for her sister and tells Doctor Travers that their uncle is a powerful businessman and he will get the doctor sacked.
While walking around New York, Jacob and Marco are approached by a landlord who offers them accommodation. The room they rent is also the home of several other people. The landlord also gets Marco a job as a labourer. Jacob goes to see Abe Shulman who refuses to give him a job playing the piano, instead he tells him to go to Coney Island where his cousin owns a music hall to get a job. Bridget and Georgiana live with their aunt and uncle in Brooklyn. Georgiana was allowed into America after Casey bribed an official at the immigration department. Bridget is shocked when she reads in the newspaper that Jamie Barrymore has been found dead.
Two years later, Jacob is a waiter in Abe Shulman's cousin's music hall. He had continued to try and convince Shulman to give him a chance to get his music published. While working, Jacob is called over by Abe Shulman to his table. Shulman has Al Jolson with him. Jolson encourages Jacob to perform a song on the music hall piano, which gets an encouraging round of applause and Shulman gives Jacob a job selling his music.
Marco, who is a labourer, is encouraged by a prostitute to go to a loan shark to borrow money to set up his own business, after he complained to her that the only way to make money is to be your own boss. After he had bought a horse and cart he races around the city, accidently crashing and destroying his cart. He goes to see the loan shark again asking for more time to repay which he agrees to but only after torturing Marco. When Marco is thrown out of the loan shark's apartment, he notices a poster for a Maude Charteris play which is currently on in New York. He goes to see her and she agrees to give him the money for a new truck, clean clothes, and new apartment for him and Jacob to live in. He however, is to be her lover, despite there being a large age gap between them.
One day Georgiana, who is now blind, is out shopping with Bridget. She hears Marco, who is talking to a customer of his, and recognises his voice from the crossing. She approaches him and Marco asks her out, which she agrees to. They go to the pictures, with Marco narrating the story for Georgiana. Georgiana's aunt and uncle, Kate and Casey O'Donnell do not trust Marco and have counterfeit money planted on Marco's truck. When the police find the fake money, he is taken to Ellis Island to be deported as he isn't an American citizen the immigration department don't need to go through court to repatriate him. Jacob takes Georgiana to the detention centre and Marco tells her to forget about him as there's nothing he can do, they will never see each other again. Marco finds out from another inmate; Guido, that they are going to be deported the next day and he is going to escape and swim across the harbour. When Marco tells him it's too dangerous, Guido says that he's dead if he returns to Naples anyway so he has nothing to lose. Marco agrees to go with him and they across New York Harbor that night. Guido dies in the water but Marco makes it to New Jersey.
Bridget met Doctor Travers one day and apologised for the way she spoke to him on Ellis Island and he offered her a job as his secretary on Ellis Island as he is now chief doctor there. Over time they fell in love and married, Georgiana now lives with the couple as she found out that Casey was responsible for Marco's deportation. One day at work, Bridget saw Kevin Murray, who had emigrated having only just escaped the British authorities. When he finds out that she used an assumed name and her husband knows nothing about her past, he blackmails her. After blackmailing her twice he promises her that the money he wants is the last as his cousin has promised him a job in Chicago.
Jacob Rubinstein has become a successful Broadway writer and has married one of his performers, Nellie Byfield. Despite her not wanting to they have a child, Laura. The child is constantly poorly and suffers from learning difficulties. As Jacob becomes more and more successful, their marriage comes under more and more strain, with the death of Laura, still only a toddler, Nellie admits that she only married Jacob to further her own career. Nellie suggests they try for another baby but Jacob wants a divorce, which Nellie won't grant.
After he landed at New Jersey, Marco headed for Long Island, where Maude Charteris was living. After Marco got serious with Georgiana, he had gone to Maude to finish with her, but she too wanted to finish their affair, as she was engaged to a wealthy senator, Phipps Ogden. Phipps agreed to sort out Marco's immigration issues and Maude volunteered to pay for him to go to university. After his education, Marco was introduced to Phipps' daughter, Vanessa, who had returned from her education in Paris, France, because of the outbreak of the First World War. Vanessa had shown no interest in men, so Phipps and Maude hoped that Marco could change that. After they married, they had a child, Frank, but Vanessa developed an alcohol problem and after Marco announced that he was running for the New York State Senate, she made an exhibition of herself and was taken to a hospital in Rhode Island.
Georgiana, who read about Marco's engagement in the newspaper was furious as she felt betrayed and thought that he was in Italy. She starts to write screenplays and is very successful. One night in her bed in her sister and Doctor Travers' house she heard her sister crying out, when she went downstairs she had a rifle and fired it. Kevin Murray was back from Chicago and had waited for Doctor Travers to leave the house and broken in and attempted to rape Bridget, until her sister intervened. Bridget's husband had reacted badly to the news that she had kept from him. He admits to Georgiana that if not for their children he would consider divorcing her sister. Georgiana talks to the doctor and convinces him to give her another chance.
Jacob starts an affair with a ballet dancer called Rebecca Weiler, even though Nellie knows he has cheated, she refuses to grant a divorce. Roscoe Haines is also back in America because of the war in Europe. He introduces Jacob to his girlfriend, also African American, Flora Mitchum. Jacob writes a musical especially for Flora to star in. He puts his reputation on the line when producers are reluctant to finance a show with a coloured performer as the lead. The show is an overwhelming success so when Jacob writes his new show, he offers the producer 100% of the rights to the show; if he gives Nellie a contract to perform in his Hollywood productions, which he agrees to.
Rebecca Weiler consults her ballet instructor, Madame Levitska about being a mistress as she claims to have been the mistress of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. She is told to not allow him anything unless she gets something out it, like an apartment. Rebecca's mother, Violet, disapproves of Jacob alltogether. In her mind Jews from Eastern Europe are going to cause troubles for the Jews from Germany, like her, who have been in America for several generations and are fully established in the country.
Nellie gets the telegram telling her that she has been given a contract to perform in Hollywood and announces she is leaving Jacob and has signed the divorce papers. Jacob immediately proposes to Rebecca, who accepts and is much more happier that she doesn't have to be his mistress. Mrs Weiler too, is happy her daughter is marrying Jacob. She approves that Jacob, like her and her husband, gives a large amounts of his income to Hebrew societies helping Jews all over the world who are in poverty.
While she is in hospital, Vanessa Ogden is befriended by an artist called Una Marbury. They stay friends when they are discharged. Una encourages Vanessa to embrace her lesbianism. Vanessa living with Una threatens to ruin Marco's political ambitions as well as bring shame to the Ogden name. Phipps offers Una $50,000 to leave his daughter alone. When Vanessa discovers that Una accepts the offer she shoots Una and then herself. Despite Phipps asking Marco to withdraw from the election he goes ahead with it and wins, becoming the first Ellis Island immigrant to be elected to the state senate. Marco also talks to Georgiana and admits he was a fool to put money and power over her, they reconcile and get married.
The series ends by saying that millions of Americans can trace their roots in the country back to an immigrant at Ellis Island.
Ellis Island was nominated for several Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. Costume designer Barbara Lane received the Emmy for Outstanding Costume Design for a Limited Series or a Special. Additionally, the series itself was nominated, along with the actors Richard Burton and Ann Jillian, but the miniseries lost in all three categories. Faye Dunaway is the only actor to have been awarded for her role. She beat five other actresses when winning a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. Ben Vereen was nominated in the male equivalent category, but lost to Paul Le Mat for his performance in the made-for-TV film The Burning Bed (1984).
Kevin Murray isn't in the novel, the character is replaced by a fellow member of staff at Wexford Hall called Denny Flynn, whom Bridget fears will tell the authorities about her past mistakes. The character of Tom Banicek also doesn't appear in the TV show. Marco's troubles with the counterfeit money is Kate O'Donnell's idea in the novel while her husband, Casey, is to blame in the miniseries. Georgiana works at the New York Library for the Blind in the novel while in the show she is a screenwriter. Georgiana also has to temporarily return to Ireland in the book after being refused entry to America.