Faerie Tale Theatre: A Closer Look

Christopher Reeve and Bernadette Peters in the "Sleeping Beauty" episode as the Prince and Princess.
Christopher Reeve and Bernadette Peters in the “Sleeping Beauty” episode as the Prince and Sleeping Beauty.

During the filming of Popeye with Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall was inspired to start a children’s television series in the vain of the classic television show Shirley Temple’s Storybook where fairy tales were at the forefront. The production values and the guest-stars were top notch, and in 1982, Faerie Tale Theatre hit the airwaves. With witty dialogue and cultural references that are relevant even today, it’s amazing how popular this show still is. It’s not just a kid’s show either. Like Shelley Duvall said in her intros, it was meant for children of all ages. What’s more impressive, is the sheer amount of all-star guest appearances that graced the screen. Shelley Duvall and her show had a certain appeal that made actors WANT to be on her show. Past, present, and future Oscar-winning actors like Tatum O’Neal, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Anjelica Houston and Helen Mirren all appeared on the show. Numerous character actors, still working today, such as Conchata Ferrel, Christopher Lee, Harry Dean Stanton, Doris Roberts, and John Lithgow, just to name a few, had screen time. The list goes on and on. You can view lists of episodes with guest stars here. What I find fascinating, is these actors, who were and are well-respected, did a so-called “kids” show and gave full-out, amazing performances. It didn’t matter if the audience was all-children, or adults. Faerie Tale Theatre was a show where the quality of the episodes and the quantity of the guest stars were equally matched, and brilliant. Inspiration from illustrations done by famous artists like Norman Rockwell, Gustav Klimt, and Arthur Rackham helped make the back drops and sets unique to each individual fairy tale. In fact, I doubt that in this day and age, a show like this, of this caliber, would even make it onto the airwaves. The acting was superb and it shows. It probably harkens back to the theatrical training of many of the stars of the show. Christopher Reeve was Julliard trained, Bernadette Peters was a Broadway vet,  and Vanessa Redgrave comes from theatrical family for example.

Below is the beginning of Goldilocks and the Three Bears starring Oscar-winner, Tatum O’Neal, Emmy-winner, John Lithgow, and Grammy-winner, Carol King. It’s one of my favorite episodes, and it’s timeless in terms of production values and episode quality.  The full series is available on YouTube for free and worth watching.

Two By Two: The Battle of Jen and Jess-Oscar Edition

I’m starting a new new section, especially due to Oscar weekend. It’s something fun called Two By Two. Essentially, it’s comparing performances of actors and actresses and (if it’s awards season) their chances to take home accolades. Welcome to the Oscar edition. According to various other predictions, it’s down to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. I’m not discounting the other three: Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, or Naomi Watts. They all give fantastic  performances. In fact, Emmanuelle Riva could surprise us all and so could the 9 year old dynamo of talent that is Quvenzhané Wallis. Or, the Academy could just give it to Naomi Watts and really shock us. For the sake of comparison however, I am only focusing on Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.

First up, Jennifer Lawrence. When the Screen Actor’s Guild nominated both Jennifer and Jessica, I’ll admit, it was a difficult decision. With the exception of Naomi Watts also in the category for Best Actress, the list included two other completely different nominees. Helen Mirren was nominated for Hitchcock and Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os.) Several of my colleagues voted for Marion Cotillard and to be quite honest, voting in the SAG awards, especially in the Best Actress category, was a difficult decision because of the pure strength of performances. What’s even more surprising is the fact that Marion Cotillard didn’t get an Oscar nod.

I voted for Jennifer Lawrence in the SAG awards which was surprising to a few people. Let me explain my reasoning. I thought it was more of a stretch (other than Marion Cotillard) for her to portray her specific character. As an actor, I think it’s more difficult to play older than it is to play younger simply because you can remember what it was like to be younger. However, it takes talent to play older, even if you just have exude “older.” An actor’s power for people watching and research come into play. I thought she had emotional depth that was beyond her years (she’s only 22) and she prevailed. She plays a woman just as broken and fragile as Bradley Cooper’s character Pat (who suffers from bipolar disorder.) Jennifer does it with such poise and maturity it’s easy to forget she’s younger than her character. As of this posting, she has won The Golden Globe (in the Comedy or Musical category),  SAG Award and the Independent Spirit Award for her performance and is on her second Oscar nomination (her first was Winter’s Bone.)

In fact, both Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globes for their performances which is why this race is so tough.

Jessica Chastain won the Golden Globe and the Critics’s Choice for her portrayal of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty. The film itself has been the target of extreme controversy ever since it went into production simply due to its subject matter. It chronicles the decade long man-hunt to capture and kill Osama bin Laden and the woman who was in charge. Members of the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have been protesting it from the beginning and especially now that it has actually been receiving praise as some view it as being too violent. Controversy aside, there is no denying that Jessica’s performance is virtually flawless. The Julliard grad, whom I met at an industry event, is a truly talented actor. She may not have had the fancy Southern accent she touted in The Help, but her performance is so understated that it’s hard to tell when she’s acting. As much as Academy voters love physical and vocal transformations, they also love the understated ones as well. There is evidence of Maya simmering with anger and emotion under the surface as well as lack of emotion (which was a clear character choice on her part.) Jessica might take home the Oscar for knowing how to work an understated, subtle performance. And with her second nomination as well, her training has certainly paid off.

I would love both of them to win because both performances were so vastly different. Then again, there are five nominees, so we’ll just have to wait and see.