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13 Rich Facts About Dynasty

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Glitz, glamour, and murder! The 1980s nighttime soap Dynasty captured the zeitgeist with a one-percenting oil family, the Carringtons, living large in Denver, of all places. The show, created by Esther and Richard Shapiro, premiered on January 12, 1981, to capitalize on competing nighttime soap Dallas. But what set Dynasty apart was its unabashed catfights, characters dripping with diamonds, and the progressiveness of its casting.

The show didn’t become a top 10 hit until season two, when Blake Carrington’s (John Forsythe) ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins) strutted into town, upending the family and picking many knock-down, drag-out fights with Blake’s current wife, Krystle (Linda Evans). After becoming the number one show in America in 1985—and airing in 80 countries—Dynasty spun off into The Colbys, which only lasted two seasons.

By the spring of 1989, Dynasty’s popularity had begun to wane; after nine seasons and 220 episodes, the Carringtons were told to pack their bags. Because of the abrupt cancelation, the show returned with a two-part miniseries in October 1991. Try as they might, shows like Desperate Housewives, Empire, or any of The Real Housewives can’t hold a candle to Dynasty’s opulent legacy. Here are 13 saucy facts about the iconic TV show (which is about to make a comeback).

1. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED OIL.

The Shapiros wanted to make a show about the 1979 oil crisis, but they instead created an “American fantasy.” “We thought people had seen enough stories where families fell apart,” Esther Shapiro told New York Magazine. “We wanted a strong, 19th-century sort of family where people were in conflict but loved each other in spite of everything. We found that the audience wasn’t very interested in the oil workers’ stories. But people were just fascinated by what was going on inside that castle.”

Dallas tapped into a similar market, but Dynasty flipped the story. “Dallas, it seems to me, is more male-oriented and rural,” Esther said. “It has a lot more to do with business wheeling and dealing than with family. The women tend to be pretty passive. Our women, though, are anything but passive … and anything but victims.”

2. ANGIE DICKINSON WAS OFFERED THE PART OF KRYSTLE.

Back when the show was still called Oil, Angie Dickinson was offered the role of Krystle, which she turned down. Without realizing Oil had become Dynasty, she asked Aaron Spelling about it at a party, a while after the show begun airing. “Aaron nearly fell backwards,” Dickinson told People. “He said, ‘Well, it’s on every Wednesday at 9 o’clock, and it’s called Dynasty.’” Spelling decided to offer Dickinson another role, this time as Lady Ashley Mitchell, but she turned that part down, too. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t. There are too many ladies already. I would want it to be my show.’”

Evans, for one, was grateful to Dickinson. “I’ve thanked God endlessly, but I owe a special thanks to Angie Dickinson for turning down the part of Krystle,” Evans wrote in her memoir. “Since then, we’ve become friends, so I was able to thank Angie myself.”

3. ALEXIS WAS THE FEMALE J.R. EWING.

“A lot of what [Alexis] was like was from [Dallas’] J.R.,” Collins said on Watch What Happens Live. “And when I first came into the show, they compared me to J.R.” On 2006’s Dynasty Reunion: Catfights and Caviar, Collins further explained her conniving yet somewhat loveable character. “I think it was the first time that audiences saw on television a woman who could be evil and manipulating and downright nasty, and have a lot of charm and sexuality.”

4. IT FEATURED ONE OF MAINSTREAM TELEVISION’S EARLIEST GAY CHARACTERS.

Jack Coleman as Steven Carrington // YouTube

Steven Carrington—played first by Al Corley, then by Jack Coleman—was Blake Carrington’s gay son (though he did have relationships with women, too). The idea of having an openly gay character on TV seemed like a good idea, but Dynasty’s producers kept Steven’s storylines rather tame and ambiguous, which didn’t sit well with Corley. The actor often complained in interviews how “Steven doesn't have any fun. He doesn’t laugh; he has no humor,” which prompted producers to replace him at the end of season two. In order to have Corley exit the show, the writers had Steven become disfigured after he was involved in an oil rig explosion. After some magical plastic surgery, Coleman reemerged as the new and improved Steven.

“My feeling was that I was in a kind of a situation where I was expected to be a spokesman, and I was never comfortable being a spokesman,” Coleman told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just the kind of position you wind up in when a character is long-running. You not only have to defend the character but the situation to the entire country. Ultimately I saw Steven as a man who was unsure of his sexuality and from time to time was attracted to women. He was caught between worlds.”

Despite his mixed feelings about playing a conflicted gay character, Corley felt like he made a difference. “I had no idea how important this character was to a lot of people,” Corley said on the Dynasty Reunion. “The letters that I got that said, ‘This is the first thing I’ve ever seen where I can actually go to my parents and I can tell them, hey, look, there’s somebody else. There’s a face to all of this.’”

5. THE SHOW’S COSTUME DESIGNER, NOLAN MILLER, RESURRECTED SHOULDER PADS.

Joan Crawford’s 1940s attire of hats, slim-fitting dresses, and gloves was a big inspiration on Dynasty’s costume designer, Nolan Miller. “Everything was coordinated: Each dress had its own particular hat, purse, gloves, shoes, and it never varied,” Esther Shapiro told New York magazine. “Joan Crawford didn’t mix and match. We decided to take it one step further: Alexis would never wear the same thing twice. In fact, no one on Dynasty would.” Miller had a weekly wardrobe budget of $35,000, and designed 3000 outfits during the show’s run.

Collins suggested to Miller that he needed to copy haute couture designers like Yves Saint Laurent “and have high style, and so they started doing that with me, which is when they started bringing out the big shoulder pads, early in 1983,” Collins told PBS. “When I started getting very dressed up for every single scene, even in the boudoir, they loved it so much that every actress also was dressed up to the nines.”

6. DYNASTY MERCHANDISE GROSSED MORE THAN $400 MILLION.

A show about moneyed people wearing nice things translated into the public being able to purchase some of the show’s glitz. A line of Dynasty merchandise was released, which included $3 pantyhose, $150 Forever Krystle perfume, $500 tuxedos, $800 ball gowns, $10,000 handmade Alexis and Krystle dolls, and a $200,000 chinchilla coat. Crafty fans of the show could also buy Miller’s patterns through McCall’s Pattern Co. and make the fancy dresses themselves.

7. THE CAST DIDN’T KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THE MOLDAVIAN MASSACRE.

More than 60 million people tuned in to watch Dynasty’s season five finale, on May 15, 1985. The cliffhanger involved a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-like massacre in Moldavia, where terrorists crashed Amanda’s (Catherine Oxenberg) wedding to Prince Michael—whom she did not want to marry—and unleashed bullets onto the unsuspecting wedding attendees. “We had no idea who was going to live or die. None of us knew,” Collins said during the Dynasty Reunion. “Because we knew if you were really bloodied up, that was it. Might as well call your agent and say, ‘I need a job’ … It was very funny, actually.”

Fans had to wait until the sixth season premiered on September 25, 1985 to learn that none of the main cast died—just supporting characters Lady Ashley Mitchell (the second role that Dickinson turned down, which Ali MacGraw played) and Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell). The stunt was so popular, T-shirts imprinted with “I survived the Moldavian Massacre” were sold.

8. ROCK HUDSON’S APPEARANCE GENERATED SOME CONTROVERSY.

In 1985, there were still a lot of misconceptions about AIDS, with many people believing you could catch the virus from saliva. Between 1984 and 1985, Rock Hudson appeared on nine episodes of Dynasty as Evans’ lover, Daniel Reece. During filming, the producers didn’t know Hudson had AIDS (he died on October 2, 1985). The characters shared an open-mouth kiss, and Evans couldn’t understand why he didn’t lay it on her. “Instead of passionately kissing me, Rock just barely brushed his lips over mine and then backed away,” she said.

"Is it possible," asked one reporter, "that Rock Hudson transmitted AIDS to actress Linda Evans during love scenes [on Dynasty]?” To protect actors, the Screen Actors Guild wrote a letter that “recommended against kissing that involves the exchange of saliva with members of the AIDS high-risk groups—homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and hemophiliacs.”

9. DIAHANN CARROLL HOPED THE SERIES WOULD BREAK THE COLOR LINE.

ABC

Diahann Carroll joined the cast as Dominique Deveraux during season four, and at the time was the only African-American with a recurring role on a nighttime serial. “Our intention is to play the characters in 1984 with an emphasis on character, not color,” Esther Shapiro told People. Carroll had attended a Golden Globes party where she met Dynasty's executive producer Aaron Spelling. He liked her so much, “We virtually closed the deal that night while having a drink at the bar,” Spelling said. 

Carroll felt the time was right for not only a black actress to appear on a mainstream soap, but also for a storyline of interracial romance to manifest. “They’ve done everything,” she said. “They've done incest, homosexuality, murder. I think they’re slowly inching their way toward interracial. I want to be wealthy and ruthless. I want to be the first black b*tch on television.” Carroll played the role for another season on Dynasty and two seasons on The Colbys before briefly returning to Dynasty in season seven.

10. YOU CAN VISIT THE DYNASTY MANSION.

The show was based in Denver but parts of it were filmed near San Francisco. The Filoli Estate in Woodside, California was a stand-in for the Carrington’s gigantic home. The specs: 36,000 square feet, 43 rooms, 17 bathrooms, and 17 fireplaces. This May, the estate’s 16-acre garden will host the Filoli Flower Show, which will display 50,000 tulips and 15,000 daffodils for the public to marvel at. If you’re a member of Filoli, you can visit the premises at any time—not just once a year.

11. THE LILY POND SCENE OCCURRED IN SHALLOW WATER.

Dynasty’s most famous catfight is one that took place in a lily pond and entailed Krystle and Alexis ripping each other to shreds—while wearing gowns! Evans wrote that they filmed the scene at an estate in Pasadena, in shallow water. “It looked like we were in six feet of water but in reality we were in only two and a half feet, and fighting on our knees! It felt absurd and we struggled all day to make it look authentic. When at the end of the day the director yelled ‘cut and print,’ we stood up looking like a couple of drowned rats. The crew spontaneously broke out in applause and laughter … Joan loved the verbal fights—I hated them. I loved the physical confrontations—she loathed them. We did them all—for nine years!”

12. A DYNASTY MOVIE WAS IN THE WORKS.

In 2011, the creators of Dynasty announced they were working on a script for a prequel set in 1961, to be released in theaters in 2012. That didn’t happen, clearly, but the plot surrounded a younger Blake Carrington. “We’re taking Blake Carrington back to his young manhood and when he met Alexis, and setting the movie in the Mad Men-era of the 1960s,” Esther Shapiro said. “It will give us the opportunity to start fresh, without the constraints that television placed on our characters in the series.”

“Our intention is, if this works, to and make this a franchise because people want to see the others,” co-creator Richard Shapiro told ABC. “People are asking about Krystle and so forth.”

13. IT'S ABOUT TO GET A TELEVISION REBOOT.

In May 2017, the CW announced that it would be bringing a reboot of the series back to the small screen, courtesy of Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. Though no official premiere date has been announced, it's being prepped for the 2017-2018 season.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
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Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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