Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stanwyck on TV: Dynasty/The Colbys

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!)
Baby Face
Night Nurse/Ladies They Talk About
Golden Boy
Sorry, Wrong Number
The Big Valley
Stella Dallas
The Lady Eve/Forty Guns
Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman (book review)
Banjo on My Knee/Remember the Night
Double Indemnity


  1. I don't think that was fair of you to make me cry by linking to the AFI clip with Linda Evans. Not fair at all.

  2. Aw, I'm sorry! But if it helps, I felt the same when I saw it.

  3. Oh, such great memories of Dynasty & The Colbys! I do remember how excited everyone was that Barbara Stanwyck was going to be on the show - and how she wowed everyone by looking so damn glamorous!

  4. I only wish I knew who she was then so I could've appreciated her better.

  5. Thanks for this great blogathon post and for the links to those clips. It is sort of fascinating to watch Stanwyck find these reserves of emotion and strength even when she has to spout some rather simplistic dialogue. Although Heston has it worse in the Dynasty clip, having to bear the brunt of all that exposition ("Just because he married Blake Carrington's daughter"). The Colbys video just makes me sad because she looks so frail. Stanwyck looked so healthy and tough for so long that it always shocks me to see her in those last few years.

    Thanks for sharing thoughts on Stanwyck's foray into the TV soaps. Even if she herself didn't get much pleasure out of it, audiences certainly did. Wonderful job, Rich!

  6. She was still an in-demand actress into her late 70s. Not many stars can say that. But you're right; she shoulda had better material to work with in the end.

    Thanks for having me.

  7. I never watched Dynasty or The Colbys, but Stanwyck is great in those clips - and in the scene with Heston both of them give it so much more power than the dialogue deserves. A fascinating post!

    1. Kinda makes you wish they'd made a movie together, doesn't it?

  8. What a moving tribute by Linda Evans. Like Caftan Woman, I started to get a little emotional.

    Wonderful tribute to Barbara and her television work!

  9. Wow. I've got to be honest and say I've never been the biggest fan of Linda Evans, but the very real emotion shown in that tribute clip by both her and Barbara Stanwyck is truly touching.

    Thanks for sharing that, Rich. Best wishes.

  10. You're welcome. Seeing everyone's reaction to that video makes me glad I chose to write about Dynasty!

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  12. Very worthwhile to check Stanwyck out in the 1970 made for tv film, THE HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE, an above average, well directed supernatural "possession" tale, adapted from a novel. Cult actress Kitty Winn also makes an impression within this film. Stanwyck is very good and the script affords great and sharp dialogue all around with clearly delineated, interesting, and plausible idiosyncratic characterization differentiations. Nice Lewtonesque atmosphere in places, too.

  13. Didn't even know she did traditional horror. Thanks.

  14. Great! You added some cool personal detials to your post, and I really liked it. Unfortunately, Dynasty was never on rerun on TV here in brazil, but someday I hope I can watc the series!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  15. I always try to add cool personal details to my posts. It's kinda my thing.


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