Black Tuesday - October 29, 1929. Described as "Wall Street's darkest hour", the fateful day was remembered as "the day that shook the world" and saw the nation lost $50 billion, some 10 times the Union budget of the Civil War, kicking off one of America's bleakest decades – the Great Depression. Believing a lot of people really did not understand what happened, 20th Century-Fox "spared no expense to make the memory cut deep and true" in recreating the Roaring '20s in a 3-hour TV movie. 

The movie, based on Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts' 1979 book, 'The Day the Bubble Burst', was filmed in September 1980 but kept "in the can" until February 7, 1982. Up against Part I of the 1978 movie 'Superman', 'The Day the Bubble Burst' could only manage a rating of 12.7%. 'Superman' Part I attracted a rating of 29.6% (about 24.2 million TV households) and a 42% share of the audience (roughly 55 million men and women were counted watching). 

Some $750,000 were spent to build the same replica of the New York Stock Exchange as it was on the day the market went mad. Around 600 extras were reportedly hired to appear in the stock exchange. After watching 'The Day the Bubble Burst', viewers would understand – graphically the effect that the inflation, subsequent crash and depression had on average citizens across the country. 'The Day the Bubble Burst' was regarded "a magical piece of remembrance." 

Using the real names of almost all the individuals who played a major role in the financial disaster, David Ogden Stiers (Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester in 'M*A*S*H') played William Crapo Durant, the founder of General Motors. Durant wanted unlimited credit on the runaway market asked Herbert Hoover to ease the Federal Reserve Board's control on Reserve rates, which was putting a brake on credit. 

Speaking to 'United Press International' in 1982, David Ogden Stiers maintained, "It's not 'important' – it's imperative (to undertake different acting projects). I feel the need to expose myself to other experiences, writers, actors and audiences to bring new energy, attitudes and a heightened awareness of my value to an on-going project. It's a matter of need for me. I attended Juilliard as an actor but I also studied music there. 

"I'm slowly opening a second career with a fair working knowledge of music by conducting symphony orchestras. There is tremendous joy in conducting. Everything must be relayed through the tip of the baton. It's an intriguing combination of academic knowledge, style, body language, rhythm, timing and a test of memory. Shakespeare, of course, is what I enjoy doing most. Playing his roles fills up in me what TV erodes. 

"It allows me to use my mind and my feelings and the sum of my experiences. The wonderful part is that you can appear in Shakespeare again and again and never hit it, all the while learning more and more about yourself. Shakespeare is a test like none other for the actor. Working in those classic plays touches me most deeply, uses me most deeply. How can there be anything more useful than dealing with the basic themes of life which were Shakespeare's concerns? Working in his plays gives me more artillery to bear on episodic television which is hard work in itself, more toilsome but less spiritually rewarding." 

Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper in 'Three's Company') played financial astrologer Evangeline Adams who had 100,000 loyal subscribers to her newsletter. Audra acknowledged, "She was amazing. She was very scientific about her predictions. She called it her 'beloved science.' She was no charlatan. She seemed to have psychic powers. And the most important people in the world came to her – J.P. Morgan, Mary Pickford, Edward VII. She got them out of the market before the crash. 

"I only worked in one scene with the other actors. After that, most of my work was spent doing the astrological charts for the cameras (at a mansion in Pasadena, California). The only other actor in the whole film who worked longer than 3 days was Richard Crenna. He worked 4 days. Evangeline Adams was a Marie Dressler type, so I’m not quite sure why they picked me for the role. I couldn't play Evangeline Adams as she really was. That wouldn't mean anything. Joe (director Joseph Hardy) and I had talks about how to play her dramatically and symbolically." 

Donna Pescow of 'Saturday Night Fever' was not even born when the 1929 stock market crashed. She was born in 1954. On 'The Day the Bubble Burst', Donna played a woman who father had lost over $5 million and the business he built. "Gloria was part of a speakeasy lifestyle and a decadent society that did things on impulse, yet she was an intelligent woman who was also a writer and spoke several languages fluently. She actually led two lives. 

"All the insanity that was going on with the margins (stock bought on 90% margin) … It's interesting for people who don’t know anything about it and, of course, for people who do know about it to see it in retrospect. It was all just sort of a big Monopoly game, using real money. They're (referring to the various stories in the picture) totally unrelated except in the final part of the movie, when you see how and why the crash affected each person. It's like a mini-series within itself, or 'The Poseidon Adventure' with tickertape." 

Relying on 14.5 million words of raw material from transcripts of interviews, newspaper cuttings and worldwide research, Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts wrote the 484-page book (with source notes and bibliography) 'The Day the Bubble Burst'. Wendell Cochran then 'Des Moines Register' business editor remarked, "It is one of the days that haunt American history, not unlike December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963. 

"The events of the day were similar to Pearl Harbor, which we regard as having dragges us into a war we had already been fighting for most of two years, and the day that John F. Kennedy died in Dallas, which we mark as the end of Camelot, but which we know had already started to rot in faraway Asian jungles. Still, we Americans like things neat and clean, to have beginnings and ends. So we have come to think of October 29, 1929 as a watershed, as the start of the Great Depression. 

"It was not. It was, precisely, what Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts say it was: The Day the Bubble Burst. And that is one of the most useful points in this readable volume: That things had been careening out of control for months – years, perhaps – prior to the stock-market crash. Somehow, a great portion of the population had come to believe that economic nirvana had arrived, that things only went up in value. It was, after all, the age of unreason. Speculation fever swept the country. 

"Our boys had dashed across the ocean to rescue Europe from the bootheels of the Huns. Prohibition, the noble experiment, was law. Women were given the vote. Anything was possible. Forget that Germany financed its huge war reparations debt by borrowing from those to whom it 'owed' the money, setting off the potential for explosive inflation that would bring a beast to power (Adolf Hitler). Ignore falling corn prices. If American factory output slumps, impose high tariffs to keep out foreign goods. 

"A good many of the events described in this well-researched and well-written account were illegal, even in 1929. A great many more of them are illegal today (1979), thanks to those events (50 years ago). From the standpoint of a business journalist, there’s another troubling theme in the fabric of this book. In short, too many journalists forgot to serve the readers. And we always get into trouble when we do that."

Bobby Ray Miller observed, "It's an exciting book for those who like to read tales about great events. It uses previously untapped memoirs, documents, private papers, and many interviews with survivors of the event. The authors capture the feeling of the era, the hope that ruled the investors before the bubble burst – and the despair of the aftermath. This book focuses on people all over the country whose lives are affected by the market and the crash.

"It also follows many more who wheeled and dealed their ways into and out of millions of dollars. This is not history for the textbooks. Textbooks are too dry for this kind of treatment. This is interesting history, alive with people and the events that affected them. It is both a fascinating story and fascinating history." Larry Eichel added, "'The Day the Bubble Burst' offers its share of images that linger after the reading. It was an event, that, perhaps even more than World War II, would scar a generation, fundamentally altering attitudes about the value of money and the promise of the future. The authors are journalists, not economists, and so can be forgiven the total absence of economic analysis in their account."

Blog Archive