On January 12, 1981, ABC’s answer to challenge the television supremacy enjoyed by CBS’ Dallas was the coronation of a new show, Dynasty. Whereas Dallas had JR Ewing at the helm, the alphabet network focused on the silver haired Blake Carrington. The Texas ranch was replaced by an opulent mansion in Colorado. Yet, the never-ending quest for oil riches was still at stake.
In fact, the show was initially named Oil until a wise decision was made to call it Dynasty. Personally, I think the regal sounding Dynasty was better suited than the less impressive Oil.
Season 1 of Dynasty centered on the relationships of the wealthy Carrington family. Patriarch Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) ran a multi-million dollar oil corporation named Denver-Carrington. The tycoon was newly married to his former secretary Krystle Jennings (Linda Evans). His sensitive son Steven (Al Corley) had an estranged relationship with his father who refused to support Steven’s homosexual lifestyle. Daughter Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) was the pampered Carrington princess, spoiled and unbridled like the prized thoroughbreds that Blake owned. While Steven welcomed his new stepmother and quickly befriended her, Fallon made no secret of her disdain for Krystle. The tension between the Carrington daughter and the Carrington bride would frame much of Dynasty’s early seasons.
Another Season 1 plot involved oilman Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) who once worked for Blake. To complicate matters, Matthew carried a torch for his former flame Krystle. Matthew’s wife Claudia (Pamela Bellwood), who suffered from emotional problems, was recently released from a sanitarium. She had a strained relationship with her husband and teenaged daughter Lindsay (Katy Kutzman). When Claudia met Steven, they became friends and later, lovers.
The social and political landscape in the early nineteen eighties was very different from today. Network executives beholden to advertisers were nervous to have a homosexual core character on a dramatic series. Yet, on the successful comedy show Soap, that premiered years before Dynasty, ABC had an homosexual character. But would audiences embrace Steven Carrington? I suspect that this was a question that caused many sleepless nights for network executives. In addition, Dynasty aired decades before the Internet so without the instant social media response of today to monitor viewer temperaments, there was no way of knowing.
On a segment of E! The True Hollywood Story: Dynasty, I discovered that John Forsythe wasn’t the original Blake Carrington. Film actor George Peppard had been cast as Blake. Apparently, oil and water really didn’t mix: Peppard didn’t gel in the role. Forsythe himself was an accomplished film actor and already known to television audiences for his starring role in Bachelor Father and as the voice of Charlie in Charlie’s Angels. Soon Peppard was out and Forsythe was in.
Despite the misstep with the Peppard casting, Dynasty struck gold in casting other roles. Linda Evans was known on the small screen for The Big Valley. Coincidentally, she had worked with Forsythe previously when she had a guest appearance on Bachelor Father. She was well suited for the somewhat angelic, sensitive and serene Krystle. Pamela Sue Martin starred in the film The Poseidon Adventure and was known to small screen audiences as Nancy Drew in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Martin portrayed Nancy with a rebellious streak as the young sleuth solved mysteries that left more experienced detectives befuddled. This rebellious quality was perfect for Fallon.
Other characters that shaped Dynasty’s freshman season were Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner), Blake’s former friend and now nemesis who ran rival oil company ColbyCo, and Cecil’s nephew Jeff (John James) who was in love with Fallon. When Denver-Carrington fell into financial trouble, Fallon entered into an unholy alliance of sorts with Cecil and agreed to marry Jeff so Cecil would bail Blake out of his financial woes.
Blake and Cecil’s business one upmanship, Krystle adjusting to life in the upper crust Carrington world while dealing with Matthew’s continued attraction to her and Blake’s sometimes emotional distance, Claudia and Steven’s dalliance, Steven’s continued rift with Blake (with Steven working for Matthew) and Jeff and Fallon’s marriage (with Fallon continuing her affair with Carrington chauffeur Michael Culhane played by Wayne Northrop) were the prevailing plots in Season 1. When Blake saw and misinterpreted Steven’s farewell embrace with his former boyfriend Ted Dinard, Blake flew into a rage and accidentally killed Dinard. Subsequently, Blake was arrested and went on trial for Dinard’s murder. The season ended with the bombshell courtroom appearance of Blake’s first wife, Alexis, as a witness for the prosecution.
Despite these plots, Dynasty didn’t start out as a ratings juggernaut. At the end of the first season, its lackluster showing caused many to fear the show would be canceled. However, the introduction of the character of Alexis Carrington offered the perfect adversary for Blake: The scorned and vengeful first wife. Again, the casting department hit a home run with British film star Joan Collins.
I knew Joan Collins from watching her early movies “Land of the Pharaohs” and “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” (courtesy of my mother who was a fan of Joan Collins’ work and who introduced me to the talented actress’ performances). Even today, thirty-six years later, I can still recall my mother exclaiming in 1981, “Joan Collins. The perfect Alexis. This is really going to be good!” And my mother was right. From her initial courtroom scenes, I knew that having Joan Collins as Alexis would add so many interesting dimensions to the show. Her scenes with John Forsythe and Linda Evans in particular always heightened the dramatic tension.
Alexis had carried on extramarital affairs because, as she often lamented throughout the series, Blake had been cold and indifferent towards her. She never forgave Blake for forcing her to leave Denver and her then young children Steven and Fallon. Resuming a romantic relationship with the powerful Cecil Colby (her former suitor) gave the first Mrs. Carrington the perfect ammunition against Blake. Alexis and Cecil shared an appetite for revenge against Blake.
Season 2 also introduced the character of Sammy Jo, Krystle’s niece, played by then newbie Heather Locklear. Sammy Jo was wide eyed as she too became a part of the Carrington world of wealth. Unlike Krystle, Sammy Jo was more determined to ingratiate herself into this lifestyle of privilege. She met Steven Carrington and the two began a relationship that culminated in their marriage. Krystle was concerned about her niece’s marriage. However, Alexis was less generous in her assessment of her new daughter-in-law who she often referred to as “that little tramp”. While Sammy Jo was mesmerized with the Carrington riches, I do believe that she and Steven loved each other.
Some of the plots in the second season included: Fallon’s pregnancy (Fallon had considered an abortion before deciding to have the baby), Claudia’s release from a mental hospital (she had suffered another breakdown after learning that Matthew and Lindsay had been killed), Krystle’s pregnancy (she miscarried the baby when she was thrown from her horse after Alexis fired a rifle and scared the animal), the introduction of Dr. Nick Toscanni (a psychiatrist who treated Claudia, seduced Fallon, and harbored a revenge scheme against Blake), the mysterious Logan Rhinewood, Blake being blinded in an explosion and later regaining his sight, Sammy Jo leaving Steven and Steven’s angry confrontation with his family in the Carrington library. The season two finale saw Blake left unconscious on a mountaintop following a fight with Nick Toscanni and Fallon’s infant son Blake Carrington Colby kidnapped from the Carrington mansion.
By the time Season 3 began in the Fall of 1982, Dynasty had become must see television and the talk at office water coolers. The Carringtons were poised to dethrone primetime television competitor Dallas and those Texas Ewings as the reigning ratings champion. Several new storylines and cast members were added to the canvas to help make this goal happen.
Canadian native and classically trained actor Gordon Thomson was introduced as Blake and Alexis’ long lost son Adam Alexander Carrington. In the third season premiere episode titled “The Plea”, as the Carringtons assembled in Little Blake’s nursery and went on camera asking for help in securing the safe return of the baby, Alexis revealed that twenty-five years earlier her first born child was kidnapped. In Billings, Montana, Kate Torrance confessed on her deathbed to her grandson Michael that he was actually Adam Carrington. She produced a silver baby rattle with the initials A.A.C. engraved as proof. Despite his skepticism, “Michael” honored Kate’s request to go to Denver to claim his birthright as a Carrington heir.
On July 18, 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gordon Thomson for The Nerdy Girl Express. He shared some wonderful memories from the Dynasty set. Thomson recalled his first scene with veteran actress Lurene Tuttle who played his grandmother. He said that this scene was his favorite because of its “content and the surprise reveal during the course of the scene.” Further, Thomson added that playing Adam was such a treat for him and he noted that he had “never played a character like Adam before or since.”
Adam Carrington was a treat for Dynasty viewers too. Thomson had immediate on-screen chemistry with Pamela Sue Martin. Adam came to Denver and registered at the then La Mirada Hotel under the name Michael Torrance. Blake had given the hotel to Fallon on the condition that she wouldn’t go through with her divorce from Jeff. Fallon resolved to give the “white elephant” a whole new look. When Adam and Fallon ran into each other, they had no idea that they were related. The two flirted and shared several kisses before their familial connection was revealed. Fallon didn’t believe that this man was her brother. For his part, Adam seemed to enjoy reminding Fallon of their sexual chemistry at every opportunity he got.
Season 3 was jammed packed with storylines that kept audiences on the edge of their seats. Starting with the return of Fallon’s son and the revelation that Nick Toscanni had orchestrated the kidnapping, the plots had fans of the show coming back for more. With the news from her private investigator Morgan Hess (Hank Brandt) that Krystle’s Mexican divorce from first husband Mark Jennings wasn’t legal, Alexis flew to New York to convince tennis pro Jennings (actor Geoffrey Scott) to return to Denver and fight for his wife. Initially hesitant, Mark came to Denver, was hired at Fallon’s hotel as the tennis pro, and soon became the thorn in Blake and Krystle’s side.
As if dealing with “the husband you thought you had divorced” wasn’t enough, Krystle and Blake were shocked to learn that Steven was presumed dead in an oil rig explosion off the Java sea. While all of the Carringtons mourned Steven’s death, Blake was convinced that his son was alive. Blake was right: A badly burned Steven was in a hospital in Indonesia and told everyone that his name was Ben Reynolds. Jack Coleman, known to daytime audiences for his role as Jake Kositchek (The Salem Strangler) on Days of Our Lives, assumed the role of Steven from Al Corley. Upon learning of her husband’s death, Sammy Jo had also returned to the Carrington mansion with her newborn son, Steven Daniel Carrington, Jr. Mother material she was not. Sammy Jo eventually agreed to allow Blake and Krystle to adopt her son (who she called Danny) while she pursued an acting career in New York. These best laid plans were for naught when the very much alive prodigal son came back to Denver and became a father to his little boy.
Adam and Blake initially got off on the wrong foot when the elder Carrington refused to believe that Michael Torrance was actually his son Adam. Their relationship was tenuous at best. Because Alexis was quicker in her acceptance, Adam rewarded her by accepting her offer to live with her in her penthouse apartment and to work at ColbyCo. Cecil Colby had suffered a fatal heart attack in his hospital bed (but not before marrying Alexis). The newest Mrs. Colby inherited half of Cecil’s vast holdings and co ownership of ColbyCo with Jeff.
For Adam, Jeff Colby was an “obstructionist” who stood in the way of Adam’s plans for the company. It also didn’t help that Blake viewed Jeff as a son. Adam’s solution was to eliminate his rival with a poisonous compound in the paint Adam chose to redecorate Jeff’s office. The compound interfered with Jeff’s mind and would eventually kill Jeff. In a 1989 interview with Arsenio Hall, Gordon Thomson noted that the poison paint storyline was based on a real life incident that happened to diplomat Clare Boothe Luce in the 1950s.
Kathleen Beller joined Dynasty as Kirby Anders, daughter of Carrington majordomo Joseph (Lee Bergere). The Sorbonne trained young woman had long carried a torch for Jeff. With Jeff and Fallon divorcing, Kirby was determined to win Jeff’s heart. Adam met Kirby during Fallon’s “Roaring ’20s” opening party for the recently renovated and renamed La Mirage and was instantly attracted to her. The Adam/Jeff/Kirby triangle continued throughout Season 3 and Season 4 (even after Kirby and Jeff married). Adam raped Kirby in Season 3 and in a subsequent season, it was discovered that her unborn child was actually Adam’s (a baby that later died).
Other Season 3 plots included: Adam framed Alexis in the poison paint scheme (his duplicity was later uncovered), Alexis gained a controlling interest in Denver/Carrington (and wanted a Denver Carrington/ColbyCo merger and also wanted the Board of Directors to agree to Blake’s removal as CEO (and place her in the CEO position). In the Season 3 finale, Alexis and Krystle were trapped in a cabin that had been intentionally set on fire.
In the Season 4 premiere, Mark rescued Alexis and Krystle from the burning cabin and was later charged with arson and attempted murder (Mark and Alexis were on bad terms at this point because Alexis had undermined Mark to Fallon and caused a rift in their positive relationship. The police believed that Alexis had been Mark’s intended target). In reality, it was Joseph who had set the fire to stop Alexis from telling Kirby disturbing information about her mother. An anguished Joseph later committed suicide. Season 4 also introduced the character of Farnsworth “Dex” Dexter (Michael Nader), the son of a powerful Denver-Carrington board member. Alexis and Dex carried on a passionate love affair and later married. The marriage didn’t last, but the sparks continued to fly for the on again, off again couple until the end of the series.
Other Season 4 storylines included: Blake suing Steven for custody of Danny when Blake felt that Steven had resumed a homosexual lifestyle that was inappropriate for Danny (Krystle sided with Steven against Blake), Claudia returned and she and Steven married and gained custody of Danny, Fallon became involved with wealthy racehorse owner Peter DeVilbis (Helmut Berger), the introduction of Blake’s African-American half sister, singer and business woman Dominique Deveraux (Diahann Carroll). Blake’s father Tom had an affair with Dominique’s mother. Now divorced from Jeff, Kirby accepted Adam’s marriage proposal. When Kirby learned how Alexis’ blackmailing Joseph was an indirect cause of her father’s death, she threatened Alexis with a gun. But Kirby couldn’t pull the trigger. Subsequently, Alexis forced Kirby to leave Denver. In the Season 4 finale, Fallon and Jeff were about to get remarried. Suffering from terrible headaches, Fallon fled the Carrington mansion on a stormy night and was involved in a car accident where she was presumed dead (although her body wasn’t found). Mark was pushed off Alexis’ penthouse apartment balcony and Alexis was arrested for Mark’s murder.
In Season 5, Adam represented Alexis in her trial for Mark’s murder. The evidence against her proved overwhelming. Alexis was convicted. However, she was exonerated when it was later discovered that disgraced Congressman Neal McVane was the culprit. Catherine Oxenberg joined the cast as Amanda, Blake and Alexis’ daughter. Amanda was infatuated with Dex before becoming involved with Prince Michael of Moldavia (Michael Praed).
Dominique’s husband Brady (Billy Dee Williams) also arrived in Denver during Season 5.
Another big plot in Season 5 was the introduction of veteran film star Rock Hudson as wealthy horse breeder Daniel Reece. Reece was later revealed to be Sammy Jo’s biological father. Daniel became involved with Krystle while Lady Ashley Mitchell (Ali Macgraw) was interested in Blake. Neither of these “love interests” lasted. Blake and Krystle reconciled. Later Krystle gave birth to their daughter, Krystina.
Jeff spent much of this season following clues hoping to prove that Fallon was alive. He didn’t know it at the time but Fallon was indeed alive. She had suffered amnesia, was living in Los Angeles, and was calling herself Randall Adams. Emma Samms, known to General Hospital viewers for her role as Holly Scorpio, assumed the role of Fallon from Pamela Sue Martin. It wasn’t long before John James and Emma Samms left Dynasty to star in the short lived Dynasty spin off, The Colbys. When The Colbys was canceled, Jeff and Fallon would return to Dynasty and remain on the show until the series finale.
Season 5 ended with the infamous Moldavia massacre during Amanda and Prince Michael’s wedding.
Despite the ongoing debate about the Moldavia massacre (many Dynasty fans were unhappy with this storyline), Dynasty ended Season 5 as the number 1 show on network television.
When Season 6 began in the Fall of 1986, viewers learned that the only major casualties of the Moldavia massacre were Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell) Steven’s boyfriend and Lady Ashley Mitchell. Sammy Jo found a woman named Rita who resembled Krystle (Linda Evans did double duty as Krystle and Rita). Working with Rita’s ex boyfriend Joel Abigore (George Hamilton), Sammy Jo and Joel had Rita undergo a makeover. When the transformation was completed, Rita looked exactly like Krystle. Sammy Jo and Joel’s plan was to replace Krystle with Rita to siphon off the Carrington money. Later, Krystle was kidnapped and imprisoned at Sammy Jo’s horse farm, Delta Rho. However, the plan eventually failed and Krystle was reunited with Blake.
Season 6 also introduced Alexis’ sister, Cassandra “Caress” Morrell (Kate O’Mara) and Blake’s brother Ben (Christopher Cazenove)
The sibling relationships between Alexis and Caress and Blake and Ben were strained at best. Distrust and suspicion jeopardized the prospect of forming any meaningful bond. Season 6 ended with Alexis gaining control of the Carrington mansion (an enraged Blake nearly strangled her to death) and Claudia accidentally setting fire to La Mirage.
As Season 7 began, Alexis owned the Carrington mansion and Blake, Krystal and Krystina were living in a hotel.
Terri Garber was cast as Leslie Carrington, Ben’s daughter. I was very excited when I learned that Terri Garber was joining Dynasty. I loved her as Ashton Main in the sweeping ABC miniseries North and South (based on John Jakes’ books). The first person Leslie met was her cousin Adam. Alexis had sent Adam to Perth, Australia to uncover information that she could use against Ben. That was where the Carrington cousins met. Later, Leslie returned to Denver.
Krystina Carrington suffered from a deadly heart condition and needed a transplant. When Dex’s friend Sarah Curtis (Cassie Yates) lost her daughter Cathy in a tragic car accident, the grief stricken mother reluctantly agreed to donate her daughter’s heart to Krystina.
Leslie worked as an engineer for Dex and later became involved with Clay Fallmont (Ted McKinley). Unfortunately, the late Emily Fallmont (Pat Crowley) had an affair with Ben Carrington. Buck Fallmont (Richard Anderson) hated Ben and didn’t want his son involved with Leslie. Consequently, he arranged to have the blood tests doctored to make it appear as though Clay and Leslie were brother and sister.
Adam began a relationship with Blake’s secretary, Dana Waring (LeAnn Hunley). What Adam didn’t remember was that Dana hailed from Montana and had loved him since they were teens (when he believed he was Michael Torrance). Later, Adam proposed to Dana.
A major storyline in Season 7 was Neal McVane’s allegation that the real Adam Carrington had died as a baby. McVane presented proof to Adam of his claim. When Adam covertly investigated McVane’s evidence, he was convinced that he was indeed Michael Torrance. To prevent McVane from revealing the “truth” to Blake and Alexis, Adam reluctantly agreed to an insider trading scheme against ColbyCo so McVane could profit. Consumed by guilt, Adam began drinking heavily and called off his wedding to Dana. When Blake and Alexis learned of Adam’s torment, they supported him. It didn’t matter to them whether he was Michael Torrance or Adam Carrington. To prove it, they legally adopted him. The wedding was back on.
In the Season 7 finale that aired on May 6, 1987, Adam and Dana were married in the Carrington mansion in a lavish ceremony. The explosive conclusion to this finale was the return of previously presumed dead Matthew Blaisdel. Blaisdel and his gang of armed men took everyone at the Carrington mansion hostage.
Season 8 began with the continuation of the very much alive Matthew Blaisdel’s siege of the Carrington mansion. Most of the Carringtons were in peril (with the exception of Adam and Dana who were on their Hawaiian honeymoon). Blaisdel wanted Krystle to run away with him. However, Matthew’s reign of terror was short lived when he was fatally stabbed by Steven. Meanwhile, Alexis was saved by Sean Rowan (James Healey) after she had accidentally driven her car off of a bridge. It wasn’t long before Alexis Morrell Carrington Colby Dexter added another name: Mrs. Sean Rowan. It also wasn’t long before Sean became involved in an extramarital affair with Leslie Carrington. Viewers learned that Sean Rowan was actually Sean Anders. Sean was hell bent on revenge against Alexis and the Carringtons for what he perceived as their mistreatment of Joseph and Kirby.
When Adam learned that a botched abortion left Dana unable to have children, the couple entered into a surrogacy agreement with Karen Atkinson (Stephanie Dunnam). But Karen later changed her mind about giving up her baby and a bitter custody battle ensued. Adam lost custody of his son and subsequently had to rescue the baby from Sean.
Alexis and Blake ran against each other for Governor of Colorado. Both were defeated by a third candidate.
By the time Dynasty entered its ninth season in the Fall of 1988, the once healthy series was showing signs of fatigue. Linda Evans left her role as Krystle after the episode where Krystle and Blake had a beautiful candlelight wedding ceremony reaffirming their love and commitment. Ironically, this episode aired on January 12, 1989, exactly eight years after the pilot episode. Krystle’s previous bizarre behavior had been attributed to a medical condition requiring her to have surgery in Switzerland.
Much of Season 9 was devoted to uncovering the identity of the mysterious body found in the Carrington lake(the body later turned out to be the miraculously preserved corpse of Roger Grimes, a man with whom Alexis had an affair decades earlier. The extremely cold water temperature apparently had prevented the corpse from decaying), Fallon’s infatuation with police sergeant John Zorelli (Ray Abruzzo), Alexis and her cousin Sable’s (Stephanie Beacham) ongoing feud (Sable acquired control of The Carlton Hotel from Alexis and was also causing financial problems for ColbyCo ). The Season 9 finale that aired on May 11, 1989 had Blake shot by a corrupt cop, Fallon and Krystina trapped in a tunnel underneath the Carrington mansion (with the stolen Nazi art collection and Dennis Grimes, Roger Grimes’ psychotic son), and Alexis and Dex plunging over a balcony staircase at The Carlton Hotel. At the time, viewers were unaware that this cliffhanger season finale would actually serve as the series finale.
Dynasty was a television show that defined the nineteen eighties. While it broached some social issues, the series offered no apologies for an often campy style that allowed its viewers to escape the mundane of their daily lives. Gordon Thomson said Dynasty was like giving audiences an “hour of holiday every week”. I wholeheartedly agree with him. I will always have fond memories of first seeing the show as a sixteen year old in 1981. Thirty-six years later, I have revisited the magic of Dynasty.
Happy 36th Anniversary, Dynasty. Thanks for the memories that, for me, are as precious as oil.