Princetonians (Real)

Documentaries featuring Princetonians begin as early as the 1903 footage of a Princeton-Yale football game, filmed in New Haven by the Edison Company. The political career of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, figured prominently in filmed news coverage of the era — and continues to be of interest, as seen in a 2002 "American Experience" biography. Other documentaries of Princeton people focus on such individuals as writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Class of 1917, and actor James Stewart '32. "Princeton: A Search for Answers," a 1973 documentary that won an Academy Award, focused on education, scholarship and student-instructor relations and featured students, faculty and University employees.

Dramatizations of the lives of real Princetonians include Matthew Broderick's depiction of the early life of Nobel medalist Richard Feynman GS '42 in "Infinity" (1996), and a biography of Alan Turing GS '38 titled "Breaking the Code" (1996). The video of a musical, "Fermat's Last Tango" (2001), takes a less traditional approach to elucidating the work of former Princeton Professor Andrew Wiles by turning him into a fictional character. A more conventional version is "Fermat's Last Theorem" (1997). Documentaries and dramatizations of real Princeton people include:

  • "Wilson" (1944) dramatizes the life of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879 and president of the University from 1902 to 1910; it won five Academy Awards.
  • The 1973 student recruitment film "Princeton: A Search for Answers" won an Academy Award for short documentary. It can be seen online at the University Archives.
  • "The First Olympics: Athens 1896" (1984) is a television series about the founding of the modern Olympics that includes Princeton history professor William Milligan Sloane.
  • Matthew Broderick both directed and acted the lead role in his version of the early years of Richard Feynman, "Infinity" (1996).
  • "Breaking the Code" (1996) helped familiarize audiences with the life and achievements of Alan Turing, whose work would have far-reaching implications for computer science, artificial intelligence and the outcome of World War II.
  • In 1997 the biography "Jimmy Stewart: His Wonderful Life" first aired on TV.
  • "Fermat's Last Tango," a 2001 video presented as a "musical fantasy," uses Princeton professor Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem as the basis for a fictitious story.
  • A 2001 German TV series about the family of Princeton lecturer Thomas Mann is titled "The Manns: Novel of a Century."Perhaps the best-known film about a Princeton person is "A Beautiful Mind" (2001), the Academy Award-winning film in which Russell Crowe plays John Nash, GS '50.
  • "Inside a Beautiful Mind" (2002) is an HBO documentary that has interviews with Crowe and Nash.
  • The 2002 PBS "American Experience" biography of Woodrow Wilson has two episodes, titled "A Passionate Man" and "Redemption of the World," and includes both documentary footage and reenactments.
  • The impostor student James Hogue is the subject of a documentary titled "Con Man" (2002).
  • Princeton professor Cornel West plays the character of Councilor West in the 2003 science fiction movies "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions."
  • A 2005 PBS "American Masters" series entitled "Winter Dreams" focused on F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • The 2008 documentary "Examined Life" includes features of Princeton philosophers Kwame Anthony Appiah, Peter Singer and Cornel West.
  • Josue Lajeunesse, a custodial worker at Princeton, is featured in the documentary "The Philosopher Kings" (2009), which tells the stories of eight janitors at U.S. universities.
  • In the 2011 HBO movie "Too Big to Fail," Paul Giamatti plays the role of former Princeton professor Ben Bernanke.