Question: As long as Falcon Crest was on, was Jane Wyman the only cast member who stuck it out from beginning to end? Ken S., Loveland, Colo.
Televisionary: Nope, but she was just one of two major stars on the hit nighttime soap when it debuted in December 1981 who made it all the way to the final episode in May 1990. (The other was Lorenzo Lamas and, technically speaking, Wyman missed much of the final season but came back for the series' end.)
Why? Well, as has been the case with many a show sporting a large cast of strong-willed veterans and beautiful newcomers and to list all of Falcon Crest's players would wear my keyboard out the turmoil behind the scenes rivaled what ended up on screen.
For starters, Wyman, the Oscar-winning film (Miracle in the Rain, Magnificent Obsession, Johnny Belinda) and TV star and who was once married to Ronald Reagan, carried on a fierce competition with co-star Robert Foxworth, who was known as a pleasant but demanding malcontent for the six years his Chase Gioberti did battle with Wyman's evil Angela Channing. "One time," an insider told TV Guide in 1986, "when he found out that her trailer was six inches longer than his, he demanded six more inches. And when he got to direct, she said she wanted to direct, too. She doesn't direct but she gets a director's salary when he directs."
Wyman demanded script changes and threatened to walk if she didn't get them. Other actresses, including Anne Archer, Morgan Fairchild and Prince protégée Apollonia, came on board and quickly exited when they didn't get meaty enough storylines or fell victim to on-set power struggles. In fact, Apollonia really got things heated up when producers signed her in an attempt to battle surging challenger Miami Vice: She promptly announced to the press she was "going to make this show look like a million bucks."
As you might imagine, such a comment didn't sit well with the ladies, who thought they already added plenty of glitz and sheen to the series. And Fairchild, who brought the spicy cachet of Flamingo Road and Paper Dolls with her when she joined up, certainly didn't expect to be a second-class citizen when the Purple Rain babe was around. But that didn't stop her from getting a mere one or two lines an episode to Apollonia's six or seven scenes. "She got preferential treatment," Fairchild said. "If she were Liz Taylor or Lauren Bacall, I could understand."
Maybe she could, but the entrance of other respected screen talent didn't stop various turf wars from flaring up. Lana Turner, Cliff Robertson, Gina Lollobrigida and Mel Ferrer all came and went. And the cast members already in place didn't appreciate it. "Jane Wyman got really upset," former supervising producer Bob McCullough recalled. "She wanted a framework for her talents and they kept overpopulating the show."
Lollobrigida in particular got under Wyman's skin. After her 1984 signing, she publicly proclaimed herself to be the star, and that she was there to save the show. "Jane was furious," an unnamed staff member said. "She told them she wasn't coming to work and if they didn't like it, they could sue her. That's why Gina baby is gone."
Still, that splash was nothing compared to the first impression made by former Playboy centerfold Shannon Tweed, according to McCullough. "[T]his six-foot-girl walked [into] the audition with her blouse unbuttoned and no bra," he said. "She walked over to the table and threw down a stack of photos. 'Excuse the nudes,' she said. 'But that's all I have.' They hired her that day. We had to give her acting lessons. She didn't even know whether to look into the camera or not, and she was getting $15,000 a week."
Was is the operative term there, mind you. Tweed lasted a season.
On the male front, there were just as many transients, including Robertson, Ferrer, Simon MacCorkindale, Parker Stevenson, Ken Olin and Robert Stack. (Though to be fair, not all were meant to be major players.)
Of all the guys, however, Foxworth was the most vocal with his complaints, so it was surprising he stayed as long as he did. "One thing I've noticed about every one of these nighttime serials is that people constantly yell at each other, but they do the same scenes over and over again," he griped in 1984. Yet a couple of years later, he was still there and still griping. Part of the reason was the fact that, earlier in his career, he'd turned down both the J.R. role on Dallas and the Trapper John part on M*A*S*H and wanted to enjoy a good, long run on a hit series.
Yet even that security wasn't enough in the end. "I have been talking to the writers and producers for two years about my concerns and nobody has paid a damn bit of attention to anything I have said," he complained in 1986. "And so my contract is up this year and I am leaving the show."
After weathering such carping for a few years without yet seeing his star's back, series creator Earl Hamner (The Waltons) wasn't too worried when told of the comments. "Bob and I have never discussed that he is leaving, so I don't know what his personal plans are," he said at the time.
He knew soon enough, though right after Foxworth walked out the oft-used door for the last time and his character was killed off at the end of the 1986-87 season.