THE GILDED AGE – Review by Susan Granger

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If you enjoyed Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey, stream his latest mini-series, The Gilded Age, a period drama set in the Fifth Avenue mansions of New York City, where old money is suddenly confronted by new, threatening the aristocratic social hierarchy.

Set in the 1880s, the title refers to the economic boom between the Civil War, which ended in 1865, and the first decade of the twentieth century. Mark Twain coined the term ‘Gilded Age’ in his satirical novel, poking fun at how the crass ‘nouveau riche’ covered wood and other decorative objects with a thin layer of gold to make them look more lavish and expensive.

This saga begins as young, penniless Marion Brook (Louisa Jacobson, Meryl Steep’s youngest daughter) arrives from rural Pennsylvania to live on East 61st Street with her arrogant, snobbish aunt, Agnes Von Rhijn (Christine Baranski), son Oscar (Blake Ritson) and spinster sister Ada (Cynthia Nixon).

Across the street, the Russells move into their gaudy, newly-built Stanford White-designed mansion. George Russell (Morgan Spector) is a ruthless railroad tycoon, while his wife Bertha (Carrie Coons) is an ambitious social climber. Completing the Russell family are Harvard-educated son Larry (Harry Richardson) and eligible daughter Gladys (Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera Farmiga).

Of course, these grand houses must have servants, providing continual upstairs/downstairs subplots and gossip. When Marion arrives, she introduces Peggy Scott (Denee Benton), a college-educated Black writer from Brooklyn who becomes Agnes’ secretary.

Because Covid closed many shows, Julian Fellowes was able to cast top Broadway stars like Donna Murphy (as formidable Mrs. Astor), Audra McDonald (as Peggy’s mother) and Kelli O’Hara (as socialite Aurora Fane) in pivotal roles, along with Nathan Lane, Debra Monk, Jack Gilpin, Katie Finneran, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Bill Irwin, and Michael Cerveris.

Immigrants believed “the streets are paved with gold,” because the owners of these ostentatious Fifth Avenue manors came to America with nothing and amassed great fortunes. To learn more, read Anderson Cooper’s Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Gilded Age is an erudite, elegant 8, streaming on HBO

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.