The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon is an event dedicated to ... let's be honest... my favorite actress of all time and I'm kinda jealous that I didn't think of doing this myself first, but what the heck, as long as someone's doing it. It is hosted by The Girl With the White Parasol. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the website.
Don't ask me why I watched all those prime-time soaps from the late 70s-early 80s. I don't know! I was a kid; I couldn't have possibly understood half of what was going on - and it's not like I preferred the likes of Dallas and Falcon Crest over The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. I guess the simplest explanation might be that I was a child of TV and I'd watch whatever crap was on. My parents must have thought I'd be okay with watching all these trashy, libidinous tales of adultery and jealousy and revenge. I don't remember them ever telling me no, you can't watch this stuff, even though they came on at 9 or 10 PM, sometimes on school nights. Sometimes I'd watch them with my older sister. Maybe she was meant to be a moderating influence?
They were certainly reflective of the era: the "Me Decade" of the 70s giving way to the Republican 80s. Grab what you can while you can and protect it. Make your way to the top no matter who you have to screw over. That spirit definitely infused those shows. Maybe that's what made them so appealing? Dunno. It's hard to look back at them with a critical eye because I was so young and remember so little about them outside of the "Who shot J.R.?" storyline in Dallas.
I remember Dynasty, of course. Cool theme song (though Dallas' was way better). I remember the clothes, the hair. It was probably the first time I had ever heard the word "bitch" used by adults in reference to a woman. This alone gave the show a forbidden appeal. I never got so caught up in the show that I found myself actually hating Alexis, though. It was more of a curiosity than anything else: what was it about her that made her so hated? If nothing else, it was a glimpse into the adult world, not that I could ever imagine myself being part of it.
Which brings us to Barbara Stanwyck. Some people remember her more as a TV actress than a film legend. In fact, she was a three-time Emmy winner, once for her self-titled TV series from the early 60s, once for her subsequent Western show The Big Valley, and once for her role in the epic 80s mini-series The Thorn Birds. (None of it, though, can compare to her thrilling guest appearance on Charlie's Angels, natch!)
How big was Dynasty? Well, it never won any Emmys (though it did get several Golden Globes), but at its peak it was a top ten show for four straight seasons ('82-'83 through '85-'86) and inspired a line of women's wear. Its impact can still be felt today. Here's an article from earlier this spring that cites Dynasty as a direct influence on modern prime time soap operas.
Stanwyck made three guest appearances on Dynasty in 1985, a show which attracted its fair share of big-name movie stars: Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Ali MacGraw, Billy Dee Williams, Katharine Ross and Ricardo Montalban were among the show's guest stars over its nine seasons. Stanwyck's Big Valley co-star, Linda Evans, was already one of the show's main attractions. Stanwyck played Connie Colby Patterson of the Colby family, in-laws and rivals of the Carringtons through the marriage of Fallon Carrington to Jeff Colby. At one point Fallon gets in a plane crash and is presumed dead...
... but turns up alive in the Dynasty spin-off series, The Colbys. Stanwyck revives her role as the action shifts from Denver to LA. Heston played Connie's brother Jason, the CEO of Colby Enterprises. This show only lasted two seasons as a result of mediocre reviews and poor ratings. Stanwyck left after the first season because she absolutely hated the show, allegedly calling it "the biggest pile of garbage I ever did."
As you can see in this scene from Dynasty between Stanwyck and Heston, traces of the old Stany were still there - the feistiness, along with the sensitivity. This could be a scene from one of her 50s melodramas. This scene from The Colbys has much of that spirit as well. It's a shame that show wasn't better.
Stanwyck died in 1990, but not before the American Film Institute feted her with a Life Achievement Award in 1987. Among those who came out to honor her was Evans. Hers is as touching a tribute as you'll ever find.
All my Stany posts (so far!)
Night Nurse/Ladies They Talk About
Sorry, Wrong Number
The Big Valley
The Lady Eve/Forty Guns
Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman (book review)
Banjo on My Knee/Remember the Night