Fred Mustard Stewart's sprawling saga chronicling several European immigrants who come to New York just after the turn of the century in search of the American dream. One, patterned after Irving Berlin, is a Russian Jew hoping to develop a career in songwriting; another is an ambitious Italian gardener who eventually marries a wealthy U.S. Senator's daughter; the two others in prominent immigrant roles are Irish sisters, one of whom is blind. Faye Dunaway, as the Senator's actress wife, was named Best Supporting Actress in a miniseries by the International Television Movie Festival in its first awards.
Ann Jillian, as the ambitious performer who strives to further her career by marrying the up-and-coming songwriter (Peter Riegert), won an Emmy nomination. So did Richard Burton (as the Senator), playing his final role -- he died in August 1984, two weeks after filming his scenes, playing opposite his real-life daughter, Kate Burton, as his screen daughter. Other Emmy nominations went to the film itself as Outstanding Miniseries and to sound mixer Tony Dawe. Costume designer Barbara Lane won the Emmy for her work on part one. The entire production, incidentally, was filmed on location in England and Italy -- not in the United States -- with interiors done at Shepperton Studios near London.
When "Ellis Island" was rebroadcast initially by the network in 1986 to coincide with the Liberty Centennial Celebration, it was cut from seven hours to six, running in two hour segments on consecutive nights.