Wednesday, February 5, 2020

‘Dynasty’: Catfights, Cliffhangers, & Clothes, Oh, My! 1981-89

Why is Linda Evans, 5'8", the shortest person in the photo? Hair & high heels, baby! That may include Mr. Forsythe! 

FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Part 1 of a 3-Part Piece: The Show
As a 20-something waiter who alternately worked and partied nights during the great ‘80s, I missed most of Dynasty during its original run. 30 years later, I found myself constantly sick while working with school kids. Looking for some mindless fun to watch, I decided on Dynasty.
The first season of Dynasty is often described as a dud, which isn’t totally true. The ratings were middling, finishing 24th for the first half season. The problem was that it was about the super rich, and an expensive show to produce; also, Dynasty was created to compete with CBS’ established hit Dallas, which was the #1show for that season.
'Dynasty' producers proclaimed that audiences were not interested in the working class Blaisdel family of Season 1. Out with the poor, in with the super rich!

Dynasty began as a blend of thoughtful epic, like Giant, and a Ross Hunter-type gloss on the glamorous rich. The two sides never really meshed. With Season 2, the sudsy rich took over, and the working folks were sent packing—just like real life! The show then caught the wave of the super rich Reagan era. Still, it’s a shame Dynasty turned into a mindless cartoon, because in the era of Dominick Dunne and Kitty Kelley, it could have been a smart soap. The more serious takes on wealth, ethics, women, and gays fell by the wayside, and replaced by plot gimmicks that were stale soap clichés: amnesia, kidnappings, cliff hanger accidents and murder, and the biggest one of all, replacing actors by melodramatic means. Through the entire run of the show, all four of Blake and Alexis’ offspring were gradually replaced by other actors, to lesser effect.
The Season 1 cliffhanger featured a model, incognito as Alexis, because the producers hadn't cast the role yet! Joan Collins got the part and finally became a genuine star at nearly 50!

Dynasty was a bit like ABC’s Happy Days in its early seasons. The sitcom was low-key and its first two season ratings went from good to so-so. Creator Garry Marshall noticed that the show’s bad boy, Arthur Fonzarelli, captured the audience’s attention. Once Fonzie was the focus, Happy Days got hella ratings. As the show progressed, it became a caricature, and Fonzie’s “jumping the shark” on a motorcycle became a catchphrase for a show whose antics have gone beyond the pale. Dynasty would follow a similar trajectory. The second season introduced Joan Collins as Alexis, Blake’s vengeful ex-wife. In Collins’ words, Alexis became the female JR Ewing.
'Dynasty' stars Joan Collins, John Forsythe, & Linda Evans are all smiles, at the show's peak.

In its prime, Dynasty did break some new ground. First, despite all the pretty young scenery, veteran stars held the show together. Joan Collins became a bonafide star at 50, while John Forsythe and Linda Evans got another hit series. Diahann Carroll, as Dominique Deveraux, made television history again, as TV’s “first black bitch,” as the star herself put it. Women characters in professional positions of power were also forward-thinking for the era. Dynasty was the first time a TV series had a gay character in a starring role. Despite the flip-flopping over Steven Carrington’s sexuality, his character was never a stereotype or portrayed negatively.
As Steven Carrington, Al Corley played the groundbreaking role of the gay son for two seasons. Corley left when the show's creators kept flipflopping on his character's sexuality.

Critics and viewers say that Dynasty jumped their shark after the over-the-top “Moldavian massacre” cliffhanger. While Dynasty was all downhill after that, earlier moments like vixen Alexis doing a hoedown to seal an oil deal, with an encore of Marlene Dietrich’s ‘See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have,’ was just one campy sign of things to come.
Rock Hudson joined 'Dynasty' for Season 5, as wealthy horse breeder Daniel Reece. He's madly in love with Evans' Krystle, natch. Hudson's later AIDS revelation brought real life soap opera to the show.

Season 5 was the beginning of the end for Dynasty, though nobody realized it at the time, as is often the case. First, the entire season was wasted prepping for the absurd Moldavia royal marriage between pouty Amanda Carrington and the Prince Charmless. Also, the fanfare that greeted genuine movie star Rock Hudson as guest star turned to tabloid gossip over his gaunt appearance, furthered by his abrupt departure from the show. Rock played Daniel Reece, the millionaire/horse breeder who loves Krystle. While Rock brought his usual authority to the role, it’s beyond sad watching this giant of a leading man, a shell of his former self. That summer it was revealed that Rock was ravaged by AIDS. Dynasty finally became the #1rated show, in its 5th season, but got dinged in the ratings next season, and dropped rapidly each season after.
George Peppard played Blake in the 3-hour pilot, 'Oil.'
Producers were displeased with Peppard's performance & behavior.
He was replaced with John Forsythe.
If George Peppard had continued to play Blake Carrington beyond Dynasty’s pilot, it would have just been a retread of his tycoon bastard Jonas Cord in The Carpetbaggers. Peppard was considered problematic for a number of reasons and the producers decided to scrap George’s performance and cut him loose. In the early seasons of Dynasty especially, Blake almost feels bipolar, alternating between gentlemanly and stately, to temperamental and tyrannical. It’s a shame that Dynasty’s writing was often so cartoonish, since the veteran stars like John Forsythe bring empathy to their roles. Forsythe’s warmth, class, and intelligence somewhat alleviate Blake’s actions, like physical violence to anyone who thwarts him, or drunkenly raping his loving wife. (I recall watching this back in the early ‘80s and thinking it was an ugly dramatic twist even then.)  
John Forsythe became Blake Carrington, bringing warmth to a difficult role.
Critics point to the Moldavian Massacre as when Dynasty’s plots went downhill. I beg to differ, but the writing was bad from the start. Aside from the typical soap absurdity, the repetition was mind numbing. Of course, this show was made before the age of recording shows and binge watching. So maybe writers then felt they had more leeway in repeating plot points: kidnapped babies; Krystle constantly suspected of adultery; family members and former flames coming out of the woodwork; Alexis’ constant cock blocking Blake’s business deals; Blake lunging to choke anyone who disobeyed his commands; car accidents; trials; etc.
I love the 'National Enquirer' headline about Steven's rescue, so obviously fake. Also amusing is the Carringtons share the cover with their show's competition, 'Dallas!'

Forsythe and Evans were a great team as Blake and Krystle. But like all nice characters on soaps, they were the show’s punching bags, with everyone scheming against them. I get that no one likes to see characters happy all the time, but the Carrington couple barely survived one calamity before the next crisis, to the point where they barely had one episode of domestic bliss.
No, Blake didn't join the Witness Protection Program. Here, the tycoon is afflicted with trauma-induced blindness. Later, he suffered amnesia. Later still, shot. But then, so did other members of the Carrington family!

That repetition trickled right down to characters’ behavior, like Joan’s Alexis constantly dropping by the Carrington manse, like a glam Gladys Kravitz, to snoop around. How many times did Alexis barge into Blake’s office to have it out? Didn’t he have security? Then there were the famed catfights. The first few were campy fun, but soon everyone but household cook Mrs. Gunnerson was rolling around the mud, pool, or pond. And frankly, the catfights between Linda Evans and Joan Collins were mostly obvious male stunt doubles!
This photo sums up Joan Collins disdain for the 'catfights' the show became famous for. 

Speaking of repetition, it is one thing for daytime soaps to repeat, since they are on five days a week, year-round. Recently, I was watching early Dark Shadows episodes with my Mom. We were laughing at the redundant dialogue between the Collins clan, which sounded like Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure’s refrain, “I know you are, but what am I?” Dynasty started repeating tropes right off the bat and seems very lazy for a show that was supposedly so planned out.
Before Alexis Carrington became oil tycoon Alexis Colby, her official talent was as an artist. Judging from this effort, her paintings were aimed at Acapulco tourists!

What I always found hilarious about soaps like Dynasty is how totally unqualified family members are hired to run an oil business or start an upscale hotel, and instantly succeed! The greatest example is Alexis, whose life as a jet setter apparently prepared her to compete in the oil biz with ex-hubby Blake. Of course, Alexis’ skill set mainly involves seducing the competition, scheming, lying, and blackmail.
The cliffhanger for Season 3 took place in a burning cabin, yet Alexis & Krystle's
style differences are on display: glam for Collins, sporty for Evans.

When Dynasty hit its stride in the early seasons, both Linda Evans and Joan Collins looked amazing. Designer Nolan Miller played to their strengths—sleek and sporty for Linda, old-time glamour for Joan—and was a smart and professional designer, if not truly inspired or tasteful. This was apparent in later seasons, as the shoulder pads and furs grew and grew, and costumes that were supposed to be glam started to look drag queen garish.
George Hamilton, Robert Evans-lite as showbiz type Joel Abrigore, makes over aging starlet Rita to replace Krystle Carrington! Why didn't they just call Linda Evans' ex, John Derek?!

I think Season 6 of Dynasty was the worst, when Sammy Jo enlists crazy “director” George Hamilton to kidnap Krystle, with the help of a floozy double, Rita, amateurishly played by Evans. Linda, tarted up with big red hair, hard makeup, and bulky sweaters that would make Bill Cosby envious. Then the Colby clan came along, to use Dynasty as a springboard for its own TV show. Their characters were all either irritating or innocuous, except the great Barbara Stanwyck. Heston was still playing the aging alpha stud, bad toupee and teeth, pot belly and all. Brittle Stephanie Beacham reads all her lines like she’s snapping off celery with her teeth. The young folks were all a bland bunch, except for hunk Maxwell Caulfield, as Miles. On top of all this, the show was still mopping up cheesy characters’ fates from the Moldavian massacre—IMO, the assassins should have been better aims! All of this top-heavy, but not especially satisfying story-telling, caused Season 6 to drop to #7.
Double vision, and double shoulder pads, as quarterback Krystles get ready to rumble!

Between the cardboard Colbys, the two Krystles/kidnapping, and Moldavian aftermath, I lost serious interest in Dynasty. From Season 7 onward, I skipped over the repeat plots: cliffhangers involving car crashes; staircases, murder trials, or getting shot. What did that leave?
'The Colbys' were too carbon copy to successfully cash in on 'Dynasty.'

Well, Alexis’ final wedding, to crazy Sean Rowan, is amusing. Their tacky Mexican wedding, with Joan in a red poufy dress, is nearly worth the whole storyline. The ‘Who killed Roger Grimes?’ plot was fun and the resolution made me smile. TV has always lifted plots from classic movies. Though hardly a classic, I love the theft from Hitchcock’s Marnie, in regard to Fallon’s memory of who killed Roger. J. Eddie Peck as cutie from the past Roger, with Joan as young Alexis, photographed from a discreet distance.
Did it seem like by 'Dynasty's' demise, every character was arrested for murder, or the victim in question?

Producer Aaron Spelling loved old-time stars and veteran actors. His many shows were a haven for aging actors for several decades. Many young actors were brought on board, but it was the older actors who provided the foundation for Dynasty. Lee Bergere, as Joseph, the domineering major domo of the Carrington household, was a versatile scene stealer for the first four seasons. The same is true of Peter Mark Richman, as Andrew Laird, Blake’s long-suffering lawyer.
Somehow, I don't think John Saxon as Mideast oil tycoon,  Rashid Ahmed, would fly today!

Valley of the Dolls’ Paul Burke played Neal McVane, the crooked politician. Burke was another aging actor arriving on Dynasty, toupee and tux at the ready. The Six Million Dollar Man’s Richard Anderson was Blake’s business pal, Buck Fallmont, with Pat Crowley as his wife, with a secret. Diana Douglas, Kirk’s ex-wife and Michael’s mom, plays wacko Mother Blaisdel. Kevin McCarthy shows up to play yet another sleazy shyster. So does Bradford Dillman. Along with Lloyd Bochner as Cecil Colby, they make a slimy TV villain trifecta!
Oily oil tycoon Cecil Colby, played by Lloyd Bochner, with
demure bride in white, Joan Collins' Alexis.
Amidst an army of capable actors, just how bad were the actors playing the pivotal parts of Thomas Carrington and Adam’s adoptive mama? Both characters in their respective stories are on their deathbed, but they inspire hilarity instead of heartbreak. Surprisingly, both accomplished actors! Veteran British actor Harry Andrews played Blake’s estranged patriarch, and is so hammy, he recalls the latter day Orson Welles. And veteran actress Lurene Tuttle as Adam’s “grandmother,” who actually kidnapped him as a baby, is so amateurish, it’s comical. 
You will be amazed at how many familiar names appeared on Dynasty. Here’s the IMDB link to the full cast and crew:
Diahann Carroll & Billy Dee Williams were one of the very few black couples on TV in the 1980s.

When Dynasty was at its peak, the stylish soap had energy, humor, and style. Even when the later seasons were a letdown, you could enjoy the cast and the show on a camp level. The less said about the depressing, two-part TV reunion movie, the better! And the recent Dynasty reboot looks tacky and cheap. If you’re going to go for the cheese, go with the tasty original.
Alexis get your gun! A classic 'Dynasty' moment, with ex-wife taking the new bride on a ride!
Krystle loses her baby after getting thrown from her horse,
and bitch Alexis shows no remorse! 


  1. And yet there was someone who didn't make the "Dynasty" cut--the man who seemed to be in everything back then, Roddy McDowall! I saw your comment elsewhere on Blogger from a few years ago, about Roddy's book signing in Chicago. I had my own powerful "deer in the headlights" moment with Roddy at "Dial 'M' for Murder" in Detroit:

    1. Hi, what a great vignette! I'll never forget about my near encounter with Roddy McDowall. And yes, Roddy would have made a great Joseph, for instance. Or a great villain, with his quirky, latter day style. Do you have a current blog, your writing is quite good. Cheers, Rick

  2. I hated that Miss Carroll was so criminally underused as the series progressed. She was originally supposed to be Kirby’s mother, but the network chickened out on that. It would have been fascinating, almost like IMITATION OF LIFE.

    1. Considering that Carroll was gorgeous and a good actress, it is indeed a shame. Didn't know that she was supposed to be revealed as Kirby's mother... fascinating! Rick

  3. There was a brilliant "Dynasty" parody on the "Big Gay Sketch Show" which covered everything was the camera filters employed to "soften" Joan Collins' 50+ face, Steven's gayness, the stuntmen who filled in for Joan and Linda during their "fights", and even Dominique D. Not sure if it is on YouTube or not. I tried to post but got blocked by the copyright police.

  4. It would have been delicious if Elizabeth Taylor had been a guest playing Rock Hudson's ex-wife, and had gotten into cat fight with Linda Evans.

    1. Ha! Next, on a very special episode of "Dynasty"... I'm really surprised that Spelling didn't get ET on the show as at least a guest star. But by the middle of the show's run, "Dynasty" was already starting to cut back on the money lavished on the show. Hence, Joan's hard-won fight for a raise, or guest stars who were less than enthralling... ET never came cheap!