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Million Dollar American Princesses

Million Dollar American Princesses

  • Premiered: 
    January 4, 2015
    (Click date to see TV listings for that day)

  • Network: Smithsonian
  • Category: Series
  • Genre: Biography
  • Type: Live Action
  • Concept: 
  • Subject Matter: Historical
  • Tags: royalty

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Plot Synopsis

Hosted by Elizabeth McGovern, MILLION DOLLAR AMERICAN PRINCESSES is a three-part series that uses location filming, historical documents, interviews and re-enactments to chronicle the stories behind the celebrated unions between real American heiresses who wed British nobility at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1880 and 1920, as many as 350 British aristocrats married wealthy American brides -- the so-called "Dollar Princesses" -- by merging cash with class. From Winston Churchill's parents to Princess Diana's great grandmother, the series examines arranged marriages that saved a fading British aristocracy and, in return, gave some American women a title and place in high society. This three-part series reveals the lives of cossetted women whose families craved the social standing, breeding and respect a title would grant. They lived like nobility in America, in marble palaces with legions of staff, while their British counterparts lived in centuries-old family estates that were crumbling. The culture clash was often intense, and the result sometimes extraordinary. Some of these women became not just socialites but Members of Parliament and Suffragettes. They campaigned for enlightened causes and embraced sexual freedom -- setting their mark on everything from the Royal Family and the British Empire to parliamentary democracy. The series begins with the gentility of the late Victorian period and a profile of America's Jennie Jerome, whose son, Winston Churchill, was arguably the most famous statesman of the 20th century. When Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill at a dance -- and it reportedly was love at first sight for both -- the Brooklyn-born heiress grew up in a Manhattan mansion worth $253 million (in today's dollars, accounting for inflation), but still was not accepted by Manhattan society. In the second episode -- more than a century before paparazzi buzzed overhead in helicopters to take photos of celebrity weddings -- Consuelo Vanderbilt (of those Vanderbilts) was reared to be a princess. As an American, she had no claim on title. Instead, her mother, who could give assertiveness training to any stage mother or tiger mom, groomed Consuelo for nobility. Once Consuelo was old enough, her mother sought a world stage for the girl, and so she was married off to the Duke of Marlborough on Nov. 6, 1895, at Manhattan's St. Thomas Episcopal Church. In the final installment of the series, the Jazz Age is in full swing and the Depression sets in. Edward VIII loved the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson more than his birthright. Historians acknowledge that his abdication may very well have been a boon for history. Season 2 of MILLION DOLLAR AMERICAN PRINCESSES premiered on Sunday, January 3, 2016 at 8pm ET/PT on Smithsonian, with four episodes that profile the lives of Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Gloria Swanson, Kathleen 'Kick' Kennedy, and more. The new season focuses on the lives of women who are not just heiresses but also have the drive, talent and originality to make lasting contributions to art, culture and style. It explores the compromises and ultimate choices these legendary women must make between career, family and their newfound nobility. In the season premiere, Elizabeth McGovern profiles Hollywood princesses who became real aristocrats by marrying into nobility. At the height of her career, Hollywood star Gloria Swanson married European aristocrat Henri, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye. On her wedding day, Gloria hid a terrible secret from Henri and she later had an affair with a famous American businessman that will destroy her marriage. Brooklyn-born Rita Hayworth was the first Hollywood star to become a true royal, marrying Prince Aly Khan, son of the Aga Khan. Six years later, she left the prince to return to her career. Then, of course, there was Grace Kelly, who turned her back on Hollywood when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and embraced her new role as princess. She was adored by the people of Monaco, to which she brought a newfound glamour, but her tragic early death in a car crash sent shockwaves around the world.
On Sunday, May 13, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT, Smithsonian premiered a special episode of MILLION DOLLAR AMERICAN PRINCESSES, featuring Meghan Markle. How did Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet? How is the actress changing the face of the Royal family? How will they change her? As another American princess enters the British aristocracy, compare Meghan's story to other actresses and heiresses who crossed the Atlantic to marry into European nobility, such as Grace Kelly and Rita Hayworth. It's a modern royal fairytale that is as much about love as it is about the monarchy's new attitudes on class, race, acceptability, and tolerance.


Production & Distribution

  • Produced by Finestripe Productions