By Nancy Kelsey
A new documentary, Jim Thorpe: The World’s Greatest Athlete, to be released to PBS stations this fall explores the life of the iconic sportsman of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma in a way that would not romanticize him posthumously but would show audiences that he was a real-life person too, faults and all.
“Because Jim Thorpe is a legend in many ways, you have this sort of interesting problem of trying to figure out who he really was,” Co-Producer Tom Weidlinger said.
The film delves into Thorpe’s rise to sports popularity at the Carlisle Indian School, then follows his record-setting feats in the 1912 Olympics and controversy regarding his amateur status, which led to him being stripped of his gold medals, as well as his baseball success. The documentary also touches on his tumultuous marriage, at-times strained relationship with his children and his struggle with drinking, in addition to highlights Thorpe’s eventual work as an advocate for American Indians until his death in 1953.
“Actually, we had enough to do a 12-hour documentary, which is what my first script would have needed,” joked Co-Producer Joseph Bruchac, who also wrote a book about Thorpe prior to the film. “In many ways he was emblematic of the American Indian experience in the 20th Century.”