Monday, June 18, 2007

TV Dads III – The Dramatic Dad

For some reason fathers seem more prominent in TV dramas than mothers. I'm not entirely sure why that is but fathers – and usually the father-son dynamic – seem to figure in dramas more than mothers and the mother-daughter dynamic. Here are some famous TV fathers although as you'll see not arranged in chronological order.

1. Ben Cartwright – Bonanza: Westerns abounded with powerful father figures – frequently widowers so there were no inconvenient women hanging around. But even amongst them Ben Cartwright was extraordinary. The man (obviously serving as a model for his sons) had three sons each with a different woman, and all legitimate. He married three very different women, only one of whom lived more than a few months after her child was born. This of course was in keeping with the "curse of the Cartwrights" where any woman who even kissed a Cartwright was well-advised to make sure her will was up to date before she did so, because her heirs were going to need it. Lorne Greene was 44 when the series started but had been a highly respected actor and announcer in Canada who was known as "the Voice of Doom' when he read the news on radio during World War II. He not only looked like an empire builder but he sounded like one too.

2. Commander Adama – Battlestar Galactica: I'm talking about the original here not the current version. Don't get me wrong, Edward James Olmos is a fine actor and Admiral Adama's relationship with his only surviving child (Lee) is far more complex than the original character's relationship with his son Apollo and daughter Athena (by the way Maren Jensen was badly treated with the way that Athena was essentially written off the show). And let's not even mention the fairly weak reaction to the death of his youngest son Zac in the Cylon attack. As was quite common in the Glenn Larson series – and indeed in much of the Universal TV product of the 1970s and '80s – the interpersonal relationships in this show are incredibly one dimensional. And yet Lorne Greene made the role. Not only was this Adama a father to his biological children but he had the qualities of a biblical patriarch – the image that comes to mind is Moses (given that Kobol in the series pilot was Egypt; I seem to recall that the show even shot a few scenes in Giza), although the common belief is that there are aspects of Mormon theology in the show – primarily the lost tribe that disappeared to a previously unheard of part of the world (on in Galactica an unknown part of the galaxy).

3. John Walton Sr. – The Waltons: Based on series creator Earl Hamner Jr.'s own father, John Walton and his wife Olivia were the core of the strong family unit that the series depicted so well. The couple were complete contrasts with each other – Olivia was a pious churchgoer and never drank, while John almost never entered a church, liked an occasional drop of the Baldwin sisters' "recipe" and seems to have been a bit of a hell-raiser before he married Olivia, and he and his brother went in the Army in World War I. While John wasn't perfect he was a strong role model for his four sons and three daughters as well as being a respected member of his community. Things weren't easy for the Walton family, but he was hard working and did everything in his power to keep the family together. Well at least until Michael Learned, who played Olivia, and Ralph Waite, who played John, decided to leave the series, following in the path of Richard Thomas, who played eldest son John Jr. (John-boy).

4. Lawrence Preston – The Defenders: "Who?" I hear you ask. Lawrence Preston was the senior partner of the father and son law firm that was featured in The Defenders. The series began as a two part episode of the anthology series Studio One in which Preston (called Walter Preston in the episode) was played by Ralph Bellamy while his son Kenneth was played by William Shatner. The show became a series and ran for four years with E.G. Marshall playing the renamed Lawrence and a young, pre-Brady Bunch Robert Reed as Kenneth (interestingly William Shatner apparently did five episodes of the show playing various parts). For reasons which I don't even pretend to understand the series is apparently unavailable for reruns in syndication or on home video. I have quite vivid memories of the show, which I saw as a kid, particularly the dynamic between Marshall and Reed. The show was socially conscious and it dealt with The Law rather than the sort of approach that a show like Perry Mason (which of course was a far bigger hit) took.

5. Jock Ewing – Dallas: When an actor leaves a series or dies it is rare that he or she is remembered for more than one episode after the show in which his departure was noticed. However when Jim Davis, who played Jock Ewing on Dallas died from complications from multiple myeloma, the artist Ro Kim painted a portrait of the actor as Jock Ewing and it featured in many episodes of the series. Moreover, JR Ewing was constantly asserting the fact that he was trying to run the company "the way Daddy would have wanted it." The fact is that Jock Ewing was a tremendous influence both of the sons who stayed at home and even on Gary Ewing, the one who couldn't stand the pressure of being Jock's son and fell back into the bottle. But for JR in particular the psychological need to please his father in life, and to live up to his legacy after death was the major motivator for his actions, even (maybe especially) when he deluded himself into believing that a particularly evil action was "something Daddy would have appreciated."

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