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.

VHS Vault: Brighton Beach Memoirs

Back in the day, the motto of every video store yes, VIDEO store, was “Be Kind. Rewind.” Embracing the current movement to be “retro” I’m going to talk about a little movie called Brighton Beach Memoirs. Adapted from the play by Neil Simon of the same name, Memoirs chronicles the life of Eugene Jerome as he reaches puberty. It’s heart-warming, hilarious, and semi-autobiographical.

“Eugene, a young teenage Jewish boy, recalls memories from his time as an adolescent youth. He lives with his parents, his aunt, two cousins, and his brother, Stanley, whom he looks up to and admires. He goes through the hardships of puberty, sexual fantasy, and living the life of a poor boy in a crowded house.”–via IMDB.

The popular play is still being produced to this day by community theaters and pubescent high school drama departments all over the country. If you don’t believe me, do a YouTube search of the title and watch what comes up. I got it on VHS when my college was selling “old movies.” Jonathan Silverman does justice to the role and his voice-overs as Eugene are seared into my brain’s  association of the role for all time. However, I would have loved to see Matthew Broderick reprise his Tony-winning role on film.  Blythe Danner, the outstanding actress that she is, plays a Russian- Jewish mother more convincingly than anyone given the fact that most associate her with the WASP-y mother type. The fact that Danner didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this role escapes me. Equally as impressive is well-known stage actress Judith Ivey. Other than Designing Women,  growing up, my associations with Ivey and her work included Memoirs. It wasn’t until I got into the business myself and started seeing more New York theater that I truly gained an appreciation for Judith Ivey and her work as an actor and director. She’s slated to direct the revival of The Miss Firecracker Contest and I saw her perform the role of Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie which was amazing. A young Jason Alexander plays a bit part in the film as well, long before his days on Seinfeld. I do wonder what happened to the actor who  plays Stanley. But alas, a “Where Are They Now” post is one for another day.

The movie is humorous, heart-felt and still relevant today. Put it in your Netflix queue and if you can find a video store that doesn’t just sell porn, rent it. Pin-ups and puberty are the main themes of the movie and Eugene’s “wet dream” monologue will forever be considered one of the funniest speeches in theater and film history.