Thursday, January 18, 2018

Guest Who: Gary & Val... IN S-P-A-C-E!

Of all the prime-time soaps that flourished during the 1980s, Knots Landing held on the longest before cancellation. It's parent series Dallas ran for 14 seasons (and 357 episodes, making it the more prolific in terms of hours) before ending in 1991, but Knots also ran for 14 seasons and aired until 1993 with 344 episodes in all. At the center of the series from the beginning were Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark as Gary and Valene Ewing.

Gary was the black sheep of his oil-rich Texas family and had been estranged from the rest of the Ewings for years after having married Valene and had a daughter, Lucy (who lived at Southfork and was being raised by her grandparents.) Val had also been persona non grata to the rest of the Ewings, but after a time Lucy got her parents back together and Gary's mother, Miss Ellie, bought them a house in California where they could begin life anew. (Strangely, though she did appear as a one-time guest, Charlene Tilton's Lucy remained in Texas on Dallas and didn't join the spin-off as had once been the plan!)

Needless to say, it wasn't long before a new series of problems plagued the temporarily happy couple. As they attempted to readjust to life together after years apart, as well as grapple with Gary's drinking problem, a new neighbor in the form of Abby Cunningham (played by the inimitable Donna Mills) came between them, eventually winning Gary for herself! But she didn't win him forever. The saga of Gary and Val became a theme throughout the show's run, with their looks (particularly hers) varying through the years.

As the series went along, the cast grew (and grew!) and many changes took place. Shackelford remained with the show for its entire run and Van Ark for 13 of the 14 seasons. Costar Michele Lee emerged as the most durable star of the show, appearing in every single episode of the show from start to finish and in time winning a certain amount of prominence over Van Ark. Nevertheless, this was good, steady work for any actor and Shackelford was smart to stick with it. It almost hadn't happened at all!

At the very start of Dallas' second season, Gary appeared in the form of actor David Ackroyd in a two-part episode. He was established as a troubled outsider with alcoholism and failure in his background. The apple of his mama's eye (and the bane of elder brother J.R.), he simply couldn't exist in the heady atmosphere of Southfork. When the spin-off was being launched (which, in an "it can only happen in Hollywood" twist had actually been created first! The network asked for the creators to come up with Dallas after reading about The Ewings in the Knots Landing treatment!), Ackroyd wasn't available to take part in it.

That brings us - finally - to the reason for this post. Producers were searching for a new Gary Ewing and at the prompting of Joan Van Ark they considered an actor who'd been on Another World for two years along with occasional prime-time series and TV-movie appearances. Even better, this actor was blond, which matched not only Van Ark's hair, but their on-screen daughter, the very blonde Charlene Tilton. Van Ark had worked with Ted Shackelford on an episode of Wonder Woman the year before. IN S-P-A-C-E!!

Early in the third season of Wonder Woman, Van Ark and Shackelford played people from Earth's future, working on a spaceship with time machine capabilities.

After a bit of discussion, it's increasingly clear (from some aggressive overacting - perhaps due to the comic book nature of the show and it's projected audience of youngsters) that Van Ark has her own ideas about the usage of the machine.

When Shackelford walks away, she doffs her voluminous cape to reveal a carefully-selected outfit that will fit right in with the year 1978. She steps into the time machine and projects herself all the way back there (with Shackelford hot on her heels a few moments after.)

As you can see, they appear in the middle of an outdoor shopping mall (purportedly in downtown Washington, D.C., but I could swear I once saw The King Family bobbing around within it during one of their musical specials, thus making its location Los Angeles?!) There isn't a soul in sight as they materialize...

...yet, in a moment of sheer hilarity, there is a significant crowd reaction showing all sorts of people crammed wall-to-wall on one side of this suddenly heavily populated shopping center. Bad business day for Gibraltar Savings & Loan and the jewelers, I guess!

Van Ark declares that she has come back to 1978 in order to make a fortune in speculations. She implies that money is no longer important in the future, so I don't know why it would matter to her so much in 1978, but anyway... She darts off to coerce a business man she's investigated into helping her schemes. Shackelford is left (in his silver space suit) without so much as a thin dime to use to call for help.)

He manages to bang that problem out and calls the IADC's Diana Prince (secret identity of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, though he doesn't know that.) After an attempt is made on his life, she takes him home and (apparently) offers him a shower. WHO on earth was ever as stunning as Lynda Carter during this period in her career? Those lips, those eyes...
Anyway, she makes up some BLT sandwiches and we get to see Shackelford without the outer covering of his spacesuit. Look carefully at these shots and you'll see quite a bit of Ted Jr! You know, you could drag me to more of these omnipresent superhero movies if spandex was still the material of choice and not pleather, plastic and whatever else they are making these dreary costumes out of now.
While Shackelford and Carter team up to thwart the evil plans of Van Ark, she is busy pairing up with businessman Allan Miller, a familiar face to '70s and '80s TV viewers for his many guest roles on top series of the day. As a matter of fact, he later showed up on seven episodes of Knots Landing as Laura Avery's (Constance McCashin) boss!

Van Ark and Carter don't even cross paths until the climax of the episode when the baddies manage to capture Shackelford and Carter, threatening to blow them up in a cavern as part of their scheme.

But this is Wonder Woman we're dealing with (who, apart from a very brief sequence near the beginning, hasn't been shown until the closing minutes of this episode!), so before long Van Ark is being roped in and sent packing, back to the future.

Gary and Val, sorry, Adam and Cassandra, head to their own time period again, though Shackelford does send back the handcuffs he'd borrowed for use on Van Ark as well as a letter addressed to Carter, with a slight romantic tinge to it. (She clearly makes a mean BLT!)

One other guest tidbit that might please fans of The Poseidon Adventure: Ernie Orsatti pops up briefly as a paid bad guy.  Orsatti was a stuntman-turned-actor who played Pamela Sue Martin's New Year's Eve date in Poseidon and who made that spectacular fall into the light fixture just after the ship capsized completely.

As I say, Shackelford was still near the dawn of his acting career at this point with Another World being the principle gig, though he'd actually shown up in a season two episode of Wonder Woman the year before this, playing a Vietnam veteran turned cabbie who helps out our heroine. When Knots ended in 1993, he worked in various TV-movies and series, including the prime-time soap Savannah. In 2006 he returned to daytime TV with a recurring (and duel) role on The Young and the Restless, which he continued with until 2015. I'd be lying if I said he was anything like my type, but he did manage to get some hearts going in his day.

Van Ark (three years his senior) had begun her own screen career far earlier as a pretty guest star on mid-'60s TV series like Run for Your Life, Bonanza and even Peyton Place. She also worked in many TV-movies and as a guest on other shows in the wake of Knots. Ironically, she put in some time on The Young and the Restless, too, shortly before Shackelford came on board. She still acts occasionally. The recipient of significant amounts of cosmetic surgery, this has no doubt limited the projects she is right for even if she believed that submitting to it would increase her options...

Both stars returned for the 1997 two-part reunion movie, Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac. It was a bit premature for a reunion - only four years had passed - and the series had already ended with no cliffhangers, but the show's popularity hadn't really waned, so the special was a ratings winner. (Knots had been cancelled, more than anything, for budgetary reasons.)

An unscripted cast recollection show, Knots Landing: Together Again came in 2005, with Shackelford and Van Ark's latest face shown here. The rest of the cast from that is seen below.
That was still not the end, however! A new rendition of Dallas hit the airwaves in 2012 and was remarkably successful for a time. It focused on the next generation of Ewings, but managed to nab several of the original stars to help bring continuity and nostalgia to the proceedings. It might have continued even longer had not Larry Hagman passed away (and with him his legendary character of J.R.) The character's funeral brought back several past cast members, among them Shackelford and Van Ark, who were given one final sequence as Gary and Val, with daughter Lucy.
The moral of the story is that we never know when one thing will lead to another. Shackelford's decision to work a second time on Wonder Woman snowballed into a career-changing role on a long-running series, engendered a huge following of fans in the process. Gary and Val emerged as one of TV's enduring couples, but it all started in a way just before Knots Landing...                IN S-P-A-C-E! (LOL! You just have to say it like one of those old announcers....)


Gingerguy said...

Fabulously bonkers. In the SPACE pics I wondered why women in the future would be wearing caped nightgowns. Turns out she was hiding some dressy gauchos!. The King Family Easter Special does indeed look like the same shopping mall. Great eye there. Shackelford was handsome in a California way you don't see much now (but then I don't watch soaps either). Hot body though. Love his disco silver suit. That photo at the end of Joan in the one shoulder evening dress is a scream. Don't tell Joan but Ted shows up in the amazing "The Eyes Have It" video as Donna Mills date. I think it's the section called "putting on 5 pounds of eye shadow for a date" I have to say I find them both more compelling as future time travelers, than a married couple on a cul de sac.

James Greenlee said...

Wonder Woman (and other shows of the era, Charlie's Angels and the like) were NOTORIOUS for male bulges. I don't know if we didn't notice at the time because of low-res small TVs, or if for a few years there, it was more "in" than I knew (I wasn't 14 until 1980). But I have the entire Wonder Woman run, and there are a surprising number of very prominent protrusions!

eadsfreak said...

Yes please.

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, thanks for the back-up on the King Family thing. I (we) might be wrong, but I feel like it's the same locale. I also loved the last shot of the couple in their '80s finery. How hilarious that Ted is in Donna's video!! Love the "section" as described...

James, one of my earliest posts on bulges zeroed in on "Wonder Woman" guests. Eric Braeden and Brian Tochi were featured. So I know EXACTLY what you're talking about! :-) Makes watching shows from that era very much fun.

eadsfreak, glad you liked this!

A said...

Hi Poseidon,

Great post! I'm pretty sure that time machine scene was shot at the Fashion Square mall in Sherman Oaks (a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Magic Mirror was a beauty salon and Gloria Marshall was an exercise studio. Gibraltar Savings eventually became Security Pacific, then Bank of America. Fashion Square is still there, but without any of the above businesses, except for a BofA ATM.

Forever1267 said...

I was a "Dynasty" person, but Ted Shackleford would definitely come far behind William Devane and Kevin Dobson in the "Hot Neighbor" department.

And those bulges were there. There's a reason "Starsky and Hutch" was such an important show in my growing up!

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks, A, for the clarification/verification! I appreciate it.

Forever1267, I was a "Dynasty" person as well, though I watched most all of the nighttime soaps for periods of time. I remember when "Knots" first started I thought neighbor Kenny was cute (played by James Houghton) even though his character was such a jerk. He later turned up on "The Colbys." And even though I liked him better later (on ATWT) Hunt Block was interesting, too, as Peter Hollister. LOVE '60s, '70s and '80s TV!

EmmyBee said...

Yes, the mall from the Wonder Woman episode is definitely in LA. I remember visiting that mall a few times myself in the 80's (I grew up in the greater LA area). The mall, IIRC, was completely remodeled from outdoor to indoor somewhere in the late 90's. What I find really hilarious about the scenery in the episode is when Wonder Woman first meets up with Shackleford's character at the "DC observatory" which is so blatantly obvious to be Griffith Observatory. When they chase off some bad guys about 30 seconds later on a path below the observatory, there is a quick but obvious shot of the skyscrapers in downtown LA over Shackleford's shoulder.

I guess I'm the opposite of Forever, Devane never held any attraction for me (charming, yes, attractive, no, not really). Dobson's devoted husband to Michelle Lee's character was somewhat more appealing, but for me, Shackleford was always the hot neighbor on Knots Landing. (Though, I also thought Don Murray was a rather hot neighbor too, so maybe I'm a bit of an odd duck... XD) And I always wanted Gary with Val. I actually moved onto other nighttime shows when Gary chose Abby over Val and didn't go back until the show was getting rerun on some local channel about 5 or so years later. What can I say? I didn't like it when the writers broke apart my supercouples. LOL

Poseidon3 said...

EmmyBee, we have similar reactions to yours when we in Cincinnati watch "The Brady Bunch" at Kings Island and the kids scamper across incomprehensible routes in the park whose layout we know/remember as quite different. As for the men of KL, I am in fairly close agreement with you. Devane had charm, but not really "looks," Dobson was better, but oh that "hair...," Murray had silver daddy appeal and Shackleford, though he is not my own type, had the body. I really liked whatsisface as Kenny (James Houghton or something?), but his character was a jerk. I also liked Hunt Block as Peter Hollister, but he was an even bigger jerk! I wasn't into the show enough to worry too much about it, though I think I wanted Gary with Val, too, which eventually happened again. However, I remain a lover of Donna Mills!

Francis Barbier said...

Awwwww... nothing beats a good ol’ Joan Van Ark moment in any Tv show/ movie.
My best memories are in. The Last Dinosaur, a 1977 us/japanese trainwreck where she shines (and, no she’s not the dinosaur). Worth taking a look if you want some 70´s monster cheese. And a great Van Ark hairdo.

Poseidon3 said...

Francis, I always enjoy stumbling upon JVA in even earlier appearances like "The Mod Squad," "Barnaby Jones" or in the immortal "Frogs" with sex on a stick Sam Elliott. Thanks!!