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Ellis Island 

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The lives and struggles of some of the countless immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island during the 19th century in search of the American Dream.




Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win & 7 nominations. See more awards »





Series cast summary:
Peter Riegert ...  Jacob Rubinstein 3 episodes, 1984
Gregory Paul Martin ...  Marco Santorelli 3 episodes, 1984
Claire Bloom ...  Rebecca Weiler 3 episodes, 1984
Judi Bowker ...  Georgiana 'Georgie' O'Donnell 3 episodes, 1984
Kate Burton ...  Vanessa Ogden 3 episodes, 1984
Joan Greenwood ...  Madame Levitska 3 episodes, 1984
Ann Jillian ...  Nellie Byfield 3 episodes, 1984
Lila Kaye ...  Kathleen O'Donnell 3 episodes, 1984
Stubby Kaye ...  Abe Shulman 3 episodes, 1984
Alice Krige ...  Bridget O'Donnell 3 episodes, 1984
Cherie Lunghi ...  Una Marbury 3 episodes, 1984
Melba Moore ...  Flora Mitchum 3 episodes, 1984
Milo O'Shea ...  Casey O'Donnell 3 episodes, 1984
Emma Samms ...  Violet Weiler 3 episodes, 1984
Ben Vereen ...  Roscoe Haines 3 episodes, 1984
Richard Burton ...  Sen. Phipps Ogden 3 episodes, 1984
Michael Byrne ...  Dr. Carl Travers 3 episodes, 1984
Faye Dunaway ...  Maud Charteris 3 episodes, 1984
John Moulder-Brown ...  Terry Billings 3 episodes, 1984
Liam Neeson ...  Kevin Murray 3 episodes, 1984
John Barrard ...  Guido 3 episodes, 1984
Ellen Blueth Ellen Blueth ...  Mrs. Fleming 3 episodes, 1984
Mark Burdis Mark Burdis ...  Sean 3 episodes, 1984
Jonathan Burn ...  Al Jolson 3 episodes, 1984
Edward Burnham ...  Seamus 3 episodes, 1984
Jason Carter ...  Jamie Barrymore 3 episodes, 1984
Peter Childs Peter Childs ...  Dan O'Leary 3 episodes, 1984
Frances de la Tour ...  Millie Renfrew 3 episodes, 1984
Billy Ehninger Billy Ehninger ...  Mark Santorelli 3 episodes, 1984
Doug Fisher Doug Fisher ...  Harry Epstein 3 episodes, 1984
Clark Flanagan Clark Flanagan ...  Denny 3 episodes, 1984
Stephen Greif ...  Jesse Lasky 3 episodes, 1984
Michael Harbour Michael Harbour ...  Gene Fairchild 3 episodes, 1984
Adam Henderson ...  Eddy Forbes 3 episodes, 1984
Julian Holloway ...  Florenz Ziegfeld 3 episodes, 1984
Helen Horton ...  Miss Pringle 3 episodes, 1984
Ian Jentle Ian Jentle ...  Ike Ferguson 3 episodes, 1984
Chuck Julian Chuck Julian ...  William Morris 3 episodes, 1984
Leo Kahle Leo Kahle ...  Little immigrant boy 3 episodes, 1984
Victor Langley Victor Langley ...  Yates 3 episodes, 1984
Mark Lewis Mark Lewis ...  Albertini 3 episodes, 1984
James Lister James Lister ...  Dino Frascati 3 episodes, 1984
Isabelle Lucas Isabelle Lucas ...  Stella 3 episodes, 1984
William Merrow William Merrow ...  Hoffemeister 3 episodes, 1984
Christopher Muncke ...  Travis Crane 3 episodes, 1984
Sarah Peterson Sarah Peterson ...  Laura 3 episodes, 1984
Natasha Richardson ...  Young whore 3 episodes, 1984
Bernice Stegers ...  Renata 3 episodes, 1984
Ian Tyler Ian Tyler ...  Peter 3 episodes, 1984
Sydney Arnold Sydney Arnold ...  Call boy 3 episodes, 1984
Richard Aylen Richard Aylen ...  Backer #1 3 episodes, 1984
Peter Banks Peter Banks ...  Election clerk 3 episodes, 1984
Gay Baynes Gay Baynes ...  Ria 3 episodes, 1984
Gita Denise Gita Denise ...  Rally singer 3 episodes, 1984
Vernon Dobtcheff ...  Rachmaninoff 3 episodes, 1984
David Gibson ...  Bridget's son 3 episodes, 1984
Jeff Harding ...  Young reporter 3 episodes, 1984
Bill Hutchinson Bill Hutchinson ...  Official 3 episodes, 1984
Douglas Lambert Douglas Lambert ...  Richards 3 episodes, 1984
Stephen Lubman Stephen Lubman ...  Tutor 3 episodes, 1984
Robert MacLeod Robert MacLeod ...  Marty Sontag 3 episodes, 1984
Ted Maynard Ted Maynard ...  Backer #2 3 episodes, 1984
Duncan Preston Duncan Preston ...  Pat McCay 3 episodes, 1984
Shane Rimmer ...  Duffy 3 episodes, 1984
William Roberts ...  Shepherd #2 3 episodes, 1984
Kenneth Waller Kenneth Waller ...  Shepherd #1 3 episodes, 1984
Derek Lyons ...  Immigration Officer 3 episodes, 1984


The lives and struggles of some of the countless immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island during the 19th century in search of the American Dream.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | History







Release Date:

11 November 1984 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Ellis Island See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


It marks as the first time real life couple Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson would work on a same project, though they only met for real when they starred in Eugene O'Neill's play "Anna Christie" (1993) and later in Nell (1994), the year in which they finally married. See more »

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User Reviews

Fascinating mini-series with an outstanding cast but too many plotlines!
5 January 2004 | by mark.waltzSee all my reviews

During the golden age of the television mini-series (1975-1988), network TV produced dozens of epic dramas covering everything from the plight of slaves in the Civil War to the plight of Jewish prisoners of the Holocaust. "Ellis Island" was promoted as a tribute to all of those brave people who came to the United States from Europe to pursue the American dream between the late 1800's and the start of World War I. The story focuses on two men and two women who come to America to pursue their dreams and find more than they've bargained for. Jake Ruben (Peter Riegert) is a Russian Jew who escaped from his burning village and has arrived in America, hoping to become a popular composer; Marco Santorelli (Greg Martyn, now known as Greg Martin), an Italian immigrant and former gardner to famous actress Maude Charteris (Faye Dunaway), has arrived in New York, hoping to become educated and move up in the business world. Feisty Bridgette O'Donnell (Alice Krige) and her more innocent sister Georgie O'Donnell (Judi Bowker) come to America to escape the law after Bridgette helps Irish rebels in a kidnapping scheme. Circumstances bring them together on the ship to America where Marco falls for Georgie but circumstances beyond his control prevent him from pursuing her.

Over the course of about six hours, we are introduced to other characters who cross their paths: Bridgette and Georgie's aunt and uncle (Milo O'Shea and Lila Kaye); Senator Phipps Ogden (Richard Burton in one of his final roles), the man who marries Maude Charteris and leads Marco into a political career by marrying him off to his rebellious plain jane daughter, Vanessa (Kate Burton, his real-life daughter); Ragtime piano player Roscoe Haines (Ben Vereen) and music agent Abe Shulman (Stubby Kaye) who assist Jake in pursuing his dream of becoming a Broadway composer; and finally, musical comedy star Nellie Byfeild (Ann Jillian) who marries Jake to further her own career. There are others who come into the storyline later on (such as Emma Sams as a dance teacher, Claire Bloom as her mother, Cherie Lunghi as a Bohemian artist, Melba Moore as a Cotton Club type performer), but these are the main characters who handle the majority of the plot. Then, there are also some surprise appearances as well. Liam Neeson, way before he became famous, plays an Irishman who knows about Bridgette's past, and even more briefly, Natasha Richardson as a prostitute.

While the first half of the mini-series focuses on the struggles of the immigrant's first years in America, the second half quickly moves into the area of where their successes take them. We only see briefly the squalour these immigrants lived in, and before you can say "Upper East Side", they have moved not only up past middle class, but into the lap of luxary. There are glimpses of some of the real-life celebrities of the time (brief appearances by actors portraying Al Jolson and Florenz Ziegfeld, plus one funny bit involving an up and coming real-life Broadway composer), and there are also some nice little musical numbers sung by Melba Moore and Ann Jillian. (Her "Ziegfeld Follies" production number seems small compared to what the real "Follies" really were like, and her spoof of the bad Florence Nightingale musical brings on groans, not chuckles; Moore fares better with her "Raggedy Ragtime Man" number, although Jillian is outstanding in her dramatic scenes, a performance which won her an Emmy Nomination.)

More fascinating is the Marco Santorelli storyline; Faye Dunaway, who won a Golden Globe for her performance, proves that she can do more than just be melodramatic; She plays all sides of the spectrum of this character. We get to see her love, her lust, her greed, her hunger, and her own ambition. She obviously decided to underplay the part to take away some of the bad press she had with "Mommie Dearest" and such clinkers as "Supergirl" and "A Wicked Lady". This should have taken her career into better parts, but it would be a decade before her career would begin to recover. Richard Burton is perfectly matched with Dunaway; They are a class act. Kate Burton, now a respected Broadway veteran, brings a complexity to the troubled Vanessa who goes from plain jane artist to shy politician's wife to reformed alcoholic, and ends up in a scandal of her own that could destroy Marco's career. The scenes involving Burton and British actress Cherie Lunghi are a fascinating look at a part of early 20th Century New York that has not been dealt with. Lunghi may be more familiar to audiences with her brief bits in films such as "The Mission" and "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein", but will definately always be remembered for her showy performance in this and as Guenevere in "Excalibur".

Judi Bowker and Alice Krige are perfectly cast as sisters. They are as different as night and day, but seem like they could be related. As their aunt and uncle, Milo O'Shea and Lilla Kaye offer excellent performances; O'Shea plays a character obviously influenced by real-life New York crook Boss Tweed from 50 years earlier, while Kaye reminds me of the lovable 30's film star, Marie Dressler. It is too bad she wasn't featured more, but there was already too much going on and too many storylines to follow. Also wasted were Ben Vereen and Melba Moore, fine with what material they have, but placed so far in the background, they are almost impossible to remember when they do show back up. Emma Sams and Claire Bloom also seem out of place here, as does 1950's British film star Joan Greenwood as an aging dance instructor. Riegert's character goes through far too many changes in a period of a decade to be believable; He does the best he can with it, but it would have been more realistic to see more of Jake and Marco's struggles rather than their quick rise to success.

When "Ellis Island" focuses on political drama and the struggles of the immigrants, it succeeds very highly; When it lapses into soap opera (Jake's affair with Sams' Violet; Bridgette's past catching up with her), it lags. There were simply too many ingredients to make it totally come together. All of the production design is outstanding; The period costumes and sets make the viewer feel they are in pre-war New York. Some of the musical numbers seem a bit silly to represent the hits of the era, but do manage to capture the innocence of the times.

If one can overlook the shortcomings I mention above and take it as just one aspect of the immigrant lifestyle of that time, it can be an interestingly nostalgic look back at something many of our grandparents might have experienced. It also reminds us of how much has changed in such a short time in history. Films like "Gangs of New York" and stage musicals like "Ragtime" delve into different aspects of their lives.

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