Customer Reviews: NOVA - Typhoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman in America
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This Nova episode is something I saw on TV last evening.I knew about Typhoid Mary from historical legend but knew nothing about the facts.And as the actress portraying her so bluntly put it her NAME was Mary Mallon,an Irish immigrant cook living in New York at the turn of the 20'th century.And as this show so properly points out was responcible for one of the most mysterious and often deadly epidemics of the day.Only trouble is that in some significant ways Mary Mallon didn't come off as a particularly sympathetic character-she attacked Dr.Soper,who inicially informed her of her health status with a fork and constantly avaded the attentions of health service officials trying to track her down,while having killed three people and infecting others,unintentionally of course.
Mary was what was known as a healthy carrier.She was infected with Typhoid and was able to spread it to others but experienced no symptoms herself.There were in fact at least several dozen more like her but because of her unique case she got the most publicity by far.That was all compounded by the fact that dues to sexism and social Darwinism of her time she also became the literal poster child for Typhoid.
She died in the 1930's,near 70 years old and having been exhiled for years on North Brother Island,the American equivilent of a leper colony.The story itself as well as that of much of Mary's life is a tragic and sad one.But all sides made serious errors in judgement,and perhapes Mary's lack of respect over the years may have been due to her constant denials about having carried the disease and lack of remourse for those she's infected.Maybe the idea horrified her too much to bare and it drove her close to madness.She was afterall something of a caregiver by trade and likely resented having been blamed for causing so much misery.That's my personal opinion but nobody,as this shows really knew what was going on inside her head.And if this is to prove factual I don't know if we'd want to.So was she a victem or victemizer?Probably both but as such likely too frightened to live with it but to proud to admit it.But anyway this will prove very educational and eye catching.
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This is another well produced NOVA offering that this time centers on the infamous "Typhoid Mary!" I've heard the name/ phrase all my life but never really knew it referred to a real person with a real story until viewing this DVD. Her story is well told through dramatic reenactments supposedly using the character's real words, vintage photos, and modern day health and historical experts. And whether Mary was an unknowing victim or a vindictive villain is given fair coverage without reaching a real conclusion.
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on November 2, 2006
Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who worked as a cook to several wealthy families. Unfortunately, she was also a healthy carrier of typhoid and most of the families she worked for became sick, some people actually died. As a result she was quarantined twice on an island for individuals similar to herself, the second time was for the remainder of her life.

This was a good documentary: it interweaved re-enactments, interviews from historians, mock interviews from the character actors as the real life participants, and photos from the actual participants and time period covered.

The documentary not only covered the life of Mary Mallon but the social and economic issues of the time that affected the outcome of her life so dramatically. For example, attitudes towards Irish immigrants at the time are examined, advances in medicine, class relations and biases, sexism, urbanization, etc Had any number of these factors been different the legend of "Typhoid Mary" may not have existed or may have been significantly altered.

One problem I had with the documentary was that it was biased and not objective for the most part. I agree that Ms.Mallon was subjected to prejudices which were exacerbated by her being a typhoid carrier, but as another reviewer commented it was hard to sympathize with her on some levels and in many ways she was not a victim but contributed to her own persecution. She refused to acknowledge she was a carrier of the disease in the face of overwhelming evidence which resulted in more people getting sick and in some cases dying. She may have refused to acknowledge this for many reasons, indeed perhaps its what kept her from giving up on life.

At the end of the day it will all boil down to one question for many viewers:is it right to deny a person their civil liberties in order to protect the general public? For many people I think the answer will be yes when that person refuses or is unable to acknowledge the consequences of their actions (although unintentional)resulting in more people getting hurt. The story of "Typhoid Mary" is tragic in that she was not just a captive of the Health Department, but of her own self denial.
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This fascinating documentary tells the story of one of the most well known healthy carriers of typhoid fever, Mary Mallon. The documentary is well done with a pace that flows along smoothly; I never felt that they rushed through the story even though it's a relatively brief one hour film. The filmmakers also used very good actors to help re-enact certain critical times in Mary's life; and in particular I was struck by just how good the actors were at portraying Mary Mallon and some doctors who wanted to make sure that she was quarantined to prevent others from catching typhoid fever. In addition, the cinematography is very good and I like the use of archival footage and still photographs to enhance the documentary.

What we get (and no, I won't spoil it for you) is a fine account of how Mary was raised in a very poor area of Ireland; we also learn how she came to America and was essentially on her own after her aunt, uncle and boyfriend all passed away (none of them from typhoid fever, I assume, or else the film would almost certainly have mentioned it). We also see that Mary was able to obtain relatively high status work as a cook for wealthy families in New York City; and that she was extremely well liked and even trusted with the care of any family members who became ill with either typhoid or something else. This part of Mary's story is most admirable. Unfortunately, however, Mary certainly was adverse to the notion that she might be a healthy carrier of the typhoid fever bacteria; and we also get a not so pretty picture of how she resisted working with the health department and how she was eventually quarantined on North Brother Island in Manhattan's east river close to the South Bronx.

In addition, the film explains how there was also some discord between the wealthy and the incredibly poor people in Manhattan at that time; and we are shown how that impacted on Mary's case in particular.

The DVD comes with a "teaching materials" extra available in PDF file form using a DVD-ROM drive; and there's a link to the NOVA website, too.

It may appear that I've already written too much; but I assure you that I haven't told you the entire story. This story is presented in a humane way that is also very attention -grabbing and if this topic interests you I think you'll like it very much. I also recommend this film for anyone studying urban life in the early 1900s.
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on August 17, 2014
My 7th grade students really get into this event/infamous person in history. It brings up great arguable issues such as: "Did the NY Health dept. have the right to quarantine Mary Malon?" Mary was a carrier of the disease, but had never been sick herself. The video recreates the drama and action of the cook being tracked and confronted using actors and sets. The students are interested in contagious diseases and like to think through the grey areas of taking away 1 person's rights for the safety of many.

The video moves at a good pace and clearly gives information. The actors occasionally talk straight to the audience posing questions and sharing their "feelings" and it is effective.
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on August 6, 2007
This is a solid film about Mary Mallon (aka Typhoid Mary) and the efforts of the New York Board of Health to prevent her from spreading typhoid fever. Mary's is an interesting story. She was a poor Irish immigrant who worked as a cook for upper class New Yorkers in the early 1900s. Although she was a carrier for typhoid fever, she was not herself sick. Over the course of her career she gave a total of 47 people typhoid fever, 3 of whom died. Although she was identified as a potential carrier early on, she was never sick and did not accept the idea that she was the cause of typhoid outbreaks. Eventually forced quarantine was required to keep her from cooking and spreading the disease.

NOVA does a commendable job of telling Mary's story. It uses still photos (Ken Burns fashion) and enacted dramatizations to provide a balanced view of Mary's case. Viewers gain insight into to probable viewpoints of all concerned parties including Mary and the various involved doctors. The video also raises the interesting question of the value of an individual rights compared to public good in the face of a public health crisis. This DVD be good for the classroom - probably high school or college level - although it's a bit slow for the first ~15 minutes. Those looking for videos about infectious diseases in general, or who are interested in the real work effects of disease outbreaks, may be more interested in Ebola: The Plague Fighters, also produced by NOVA.
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VINE VOICEon November 2, 2007
The picture on the disc's case is a plain drawing, in brown and white. But what we find on the disc is a glitzy, professional production. Roughly equal amounts of time are spent showing these three things:

(1) Two actors, representing Typhoid Mary and George Soper, giving monologues, (2) Archival generic black and white motion pictures and stills showing squalid living conditions in New York City or Ireland, and (3) Interviews with present-day academics filmed in color.

Usually, Typhoid Mary and George Soper are shown filmed in color, where the backdrop is a tinted photograph from the early 1900s. There are a few scenes taking place in real rooms (not just with a photo for a backdrop), for example a kitchen where Typhoid Mary is cooking, an apartment building where a group of actors dressed as policemen are hunting for Miss Typhoid Mary, and a bathroom where a man with typhoid fever is being treated with an ice bath. The main point of the movie is that Typhoid Mary was not able to understand, or accept, the concept of a "carrier." A "carrier" is a human host who shows little or no sign of a disease, but sheds bacteria causing other people to get sick and die. The disc lists a number of extra features: Printable materials for educators, cloased captions, and described video for the visually impaired.

I have two criticisms. First, the disc should have spent at least one minute showing a drawing of Salmonella typhi, that is, a drawing depicting the flagella, plasma membrane, bacterial chromosome, and so on. The disc shows a movie of bacteria busy with cell division, but it is not a very detailed movie, and it serves merely as an amusing thing to look at (and not particularly informative to anyone). Second, the film fails to disclose, in any detail, the mechanisms by which S. typhi makes people sick.

I found the following information from the published literature, regarding these mechanisms. Salmonella typhi pentetrates the ileum and enters the macrophages. The macrophages then carry the bacterium to the spleen, liver, and other organs. Also, in the ileum, the bacterium causes perforation, where the perforation occurs during the second week of infection. Intestinal performation, which results in bleeding ulcers, is one of the most serious complications in typhoid fever (see, e.g., Nguyen, et al. (2004) Clin. Infect. Dis. 39:61-67; Huang, et al. (1998) Infection Immunity 66:2928-2937; Lee, et al. (2004) Dig. Liver Dis. 36:141-146).
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This incisive hour is a presentation of the PBS NOVA series. It explores the story of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who was a cook for many wealthy NY families.

In 1907, it was determined that Mary was a healthy carrier of the typhus germ, and that she had infected 25 people. Hers was the first-ever described case of such a condition in medical history. To protect the well-being of potential employers, Mary was isolated on an island for two years, until she promised to cease working as a cook or food handler. It was a vow the stubbornly recalcitrant Mary soon broke.

Dozens more got sick and Mary was condemned to North Island's Riverside hospital, where she remained in quarantine for the rest of her life. She died in 1938, never admitting to or believing that at least 49 people contracted typhoid fever from her (three of them died as a result). An autopsy determined that she had active typhoid germs in her gall bladder.

Compounding matters is that all of these cases could've been avoided if Mary had fastidiously disinfected her hands after every restroom visit, for healthy carriers spead typhoid after the slightest contact with germ-laden excretia. In her defense, unschooled laborers of a century ago knew little about sanitary practices.
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on April 1, 2005
Some of us must remember when a character in "The Fly" (1986) said, "I'm sure Typhoid Mary was a nice person when you met her socially." For those people and several others, this is a must-see documentary.

As the centennial of Mary's infamy nears, so many issues are true to this day. When diseases arise, society still wants to point fingers. Those afflicted with diseases are often in denial and just make things worse. This film mentions AIDS twice, but it never mentions Patient Zero from Randy Shilts' "And the Band Played On." But this documentary will remind you of that controversy.

Of course, Mary Mallon is a victim of fin-de-siecle sexism, xenophobia, and classism. Like Ms. O'Leary and the Chicago Fire, Irish immigrant women got the blame in that time of eugenics and social Darwinism. Still, Mary is not a sympathetic character. Wash yo' nasty hands, girl! Her bad manners killed 3 people and made dozens of others suffer and yet she never seemed to show remorse, just denial.

There are actors here that may help non-academic viewers enjoy this historical work. However, others may find it cheesy. The actress playing Mary has red hair. However, actual photographs of Mary Mallon suggest that she had brown or black hair. I think the Titian look of the actress is supposed to signify Irishness. Dr. Swoop is played by an actor with the phoniest mustache ever. He may as well have just used a brown magic marker over his lips.

Most of the experts interviewed are from the New York City area. Was this because the controversy arose there? Were they the historians who had evidence most readily available to them? Does the NOVA series and the world center around NYC, anyway? Who knows, but this documentary is very NYC-focused.

There is cool detective work here. One really gets to see how Public Health as a field emerged one hundred years ago. This reminds me of what Allen Berube said about the birth of psychology and how it played a role in homophobia in the military. Public health major should definitely catch this documentary.
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on April 4, 2011
Excellent way to emphasize need for handwashing to prevent food borne illness and how far we have come throught the years.
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