On Sunday, November 3, 1985 at 9:00PM, an ABC Novel for Television of the adaptation of John Jakes’ North and South aired.
North and South told the story of George Hazard (James Read) and Orry Main (Patrick Swayze), two young men from the north and south respectively who meet approximately twenty years before the Civil War, attend the military academy at West Point and develop a life-long friendship that is tested due to the changing climate of the country and their differences because of their individual beliefs and values from how they were raised. The Hazards are a prosperous iron works owning family from Lehigh Station Pennsylvania while The Mains are wealthy cotton planters living on the Mont Royal Plantation of South Carolina. Although southern son Orry believes that industry is the way to the south’s successful future, he won’t turn against his upbringing even when it causes numerous estrangements between he and George throughout the miniseries.
The friendship of the two protagonists, one a Northern and the other a Southern helped bring the conflict of “brother against brother” that is the Civil War front and center to the miniseries. Showing Orry and George develop a deep abiding affection for each other despite the growing hatred brewing between their regions was key to exploring the tragedy of the War Between The States. And as the introduction of North and South states “Two friends bound by loyalty, separated by heritage,” Orry and George struggled to remain friends as the country was being torn apart around them. It didn’t help that George’s sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley) was a fiery abolitionist that despised the South and everything it stood for while Orry’s sister Ashton (Terri Garber) sought power at the side of her lawyer and states’ rights supporter husband James Huntoon (Jim Metzler).
Visiting George in Lehigh Station Pennsylvania, Orry witnesses the living conditions of the poor immigrant workers of Hazard Iron while George is horrified by the brutal treatment of a slave at the Mains cotton plantation Mount Royal. This leads to the first of many arguments between Orry and George. But not wanting it to effect their friendship, Orry and George decide that they don’t have to like everything about the way the other lives in order to remain friends. Orry has to remind George of their agreement when Orry is about to shoot the same slave, Priam (who tries to escape) instead of bringing him back to Mount Royal to face the overseer Salem Jones’ punishment in this exchange from the miniseries:
“You’re taking advantage of our friendship” – Orry
“Yes, I am” – George
“You have to get it through your head our lives are different down here they have to be. Don’t ever interfere with us again, or ask me to go against my own kind” – Orry
But their differences doesn’t stop Orry and George’s friendship from growing. And also a romance from developing between Orry’s younger sister Brett (Genie Francis) and George’s younger brother Billy (John Stockwell). Orry likes Billy and thinks he is a fine suitor for Brett. However, Orry doesn’t grant his blessing for a marriage, worrying what kind of life a southern girl married to a northern officer (Billy graduates from West Point like Orry and George) will have.
The friendship between Orry and George lasts over two decades where we see the character flaws of both men. In particular Orry, who’s “southern pride” keeps him from apologizing every time he and George have an argument. The thing about Orry as shown in North and South is that he doesn’t condone the institution of slavery; he accepts it as his family’s way of life as it’s been for over a hundred years and doesn’t want a Yankee (even his best friend) telling him it’s wrong. Part of the reason Orry wanted to attend West Point was to learn about machinery and how to become a better planter using industry.
Through everything, Orry and George risk their lives (especially during the Civil War as shown in North and South, Book 2) for one another. Read and Swayze, two relatively unknown actor at the time of the original airing in 1985, managed to make the depths of these men’s bond believe. In my opinion, the friendship of Orry and George is one of the major reasons for the appeal of North and South. I feel that this epic is a marvel in television film making that is unmatched even to this day. I’ve read in many publications it remains one of the most popular miniseries of all time.
I’m proud to say that the television masterpiece that is North and South is my favorite movie of all time and every time I watch it, it is a magical experience that takes me back to the happier days of my youth.
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