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'Cold War Roadshow' review: Khrushchev comes to America

Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev receives a turkey from

Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev receives a turkey from President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Garth Farm, a turkey farm in Iowa, on Sept. 15, 1959, during Khrushchev's state visit. Credit: Corbis / Jerry Cooke

WHAT IT'S ABOUT On Sept. 15, 1959, an unusual visitor arrived in the United States. Just how unusual this visitor was, Americans were about to find out. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev -- with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge as tour guide -- spent 10 days crisscrossing America, with an army of reporters and camera crews. This Robert Stone ("Pandora's Promise") film establishes that Khrushchev was an early made-for-TV politico who mugged for the cameras and charmed everyone he came in contact with. Or almost everyone -- the mayor of L.A., for instance, prevented a visit to Disneyland.

MY SAY Besides the Beatles, Khruschev's was the era's great celebrity visit. But what kind of "celebrity" would this be? A propaganda-spewer who would elaborate on his "we will bury you" comment? Or some dreary Politburo cog?

As this remarkable film demonstrates, neither. He was more like a Russian Regis Philbin, or in the words of Pulitzer Prize winner William Taubman ("Khrushchev: The Man and His Era"), "a remarkably warm, funny . . . character."

Stone's "Roadshow" is one of those have-to-see-to-be-believed films, because through the magic of ancient kinescope footage and old newsreels, it captures a moment in American life steeped in paranoia and fear and . . . comedy.

And breaking through the anxiety was the unlikeliest of people -- a Cold Warrior who wanted to be liked, but who really -- really -- just wanted to go to Disneyland.

"Roadshow" is full of priceless moments and scenes -- the Iowa corn farmer whom Khrushchev visited, and who was infuriated by newsmen stomping down his corn; or Marilyn Monroe telling reporters that a Hollywood luncheon speech from Khrushchev at which she was present was "interesting . . . interesting."

The interviews here are excellent, and include author (and former LIer) Peter Carlson and Khrushchev's son, Sergei, 79, who immigrated to the United States in 1991 and is now a senior fellow at Brown.

He offers the endnote to this program, and for a fleeting moment, you almost wonder if he's speaking for his father.


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