Welcome to the latest edition of Belled!
Those of you reading the online version of Belled may have noticed that we are sporting a vibrant new banner! In addition, the Belled Archives now have their own official site, so take a minute to explore Belled's new home on the web, and be sure to let us know what you think!! Please be patient with us, because although we needed to get this newsletter out in time for Delta's Popular appearance, we may still be tweaking the HTML version over the next few days.
This issue presents the first in what we hope will be a series of profiles on Designing Women's Gentlemen Callers with a look at the career of Hal Holbrook. Following that, we have the latest television updates on the Divas of Designing Women as we head into May Sweeps!
The Gentlemen Callers: A Profile on Hal Holbrook
By the mid-1980s, Hal Holbrook had garnered five Emmy Awards and six Emmy nominations, five different awards for MARK TWAIN TONIGHT! -- including a Tony Award and a Drama Critic's Circle Award -- and an Ace Award as well as the prestigious Peabody Award for his five-year tenure as host and narrator of the WTBS program, Portrait of America. In short, he was one of the most critically and popularly acclaimed actors of the time. Imagine then . . . walking down E. 49th Street in New York City and seeing Mr. Hal Holbrook himself standing on the corner handing out flyers and stopping passersby to urge them to stop in a club nearby and hear his "wonderful wife," Dixie Carter, sing in her new cabaret act. Because that's just what he did.
"Belled" has always prided itself on presenting the full picture on the careers of your favorite Designing Women talents, and we are especially proud to profile Mr. Hal Holbrook -- the actor behind DW's beloved Reese Watson.
Hal Holbrook discovered acting as an escape from the various boarding schools he attended during his youth. After making $15 per week in his first professional engagement playing the son in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER in Cleveland, he enrolled in the theatre department at Denison University in Ohio. Despite DW fans' steadfast recognition of Holbrook as Reese Watson, it was at Denison during an honors project where the role for which he is most universally known was born.
Holbrook was only 22 years old when he first stepped into the signature white Mark Twain suit to perform his one man show in the suicide ward of an Ohio Veteran's hospital. Without question, he was a great deal younger than the 70-year-old Twain he portrayed, and Holbrook's characterization of the American writer and legend has attained legendary proportions in its own right since that day. In fact, since turning 71 in 1996, Holbrook has continued to keep his performances fresh, relevant, and (let's not forget) sold-out past the age at which he has always played Twain.
Throughout his professional journey in MARK TWAIN TONIGHT!, Holbrook has deliberately poured over, studied, edited, and condensed volumes of Twain's writings and and tweaked various performances to reflect current events -- sometimes even tailoring a performance to a specific local audience. Though he never improvises on stage, at any given time Holbrook might go through some 15 hours of material (he has at least six hours committed to memory) in preparation for a new version.
Presented as a "lecture," MARK TWAIN TONIGHT! is purely Mark Twain! Once Holbrook takes the stage -- even before he raises a Twainiac brow or takes a puff of his cigar or elicits a southern drawl -- there is no evidence of Hal Holbrook, the actor. In fact, there is no evidence of a lecture in the traditional sense. There is only the sense that you've been given the gift of visiting with a sometimes mischievous, always honest, often hysterical, and undeniably brilliant and forward-thinking American legend.
Mark Twain (left) and Holbrook as Twain
It isn't often that an actor's characterization of an historical figure earns not only the popular vote, but the professional and academic praise that Holbrook's Twain has consistently garnered. As noted Twain scholar and the Director of the American Studies Program at UMass/Boston, Lois Rudnick, explains "Hal Holbrook comes as close to the Mark Twain I know and love as any actor who has taken on the persona of a famous American writer and legend. Taking my students to see him when he was in Boston brought a writer whom they admired to life in a way that was uncannily real and powerful." Since I happen to be one of her students attending this performance in Boston some years ago, I can wholeheartedly attest to this commentary. In fact, though I was fully immersed in an entire course on Mark Twain at the time, I fully expected to see Reese Watson that day on stage (DW was in its original primetime run), but I saw neither Reese nor Hal Holbrook. And it's an experience I cherish to this day."
Commenting on Holbrook's consistently contemporary portrayal of Twain's writing (while always maintaining the integrity of Twain's original intent), Rudnick continues "I especially admired Holbrook's increasing use of Twain's lesser known but politically brilliant satiric writings during the years of the Vietnam War. Twain's turn-of-the-20th century diatribes against western imperialism rang as true in the 1960s and 70s as when they were first written. Would that Holbrook could bring Twain up to date and let him loose on our court-appointed President!"
Though their physical resemblance has undeniably grown over the last five decades since his first performance at 22, it has always been Holbrook's painstakingly thorough and honest portrayal itself which has earned him the opportunity to perform at the White House (for President Eisenhower), a State Department-sponsored tour of Europe, 30 million television viewers when his performance first aired on television in 1967, a lifetime achievement award from the Mark Twain Circle of America in 1998, and consistently sold-out performances attended by repeat and new attendees alike, right up to and including his present tour.
Holbrook has dozens of television series, mini-series, motion pictures, and stage performances to his credit and is in constant demand as a narrator and "voice" -- as evidenced in his recent work as Benjamin Franklin in the 2000 release of the History Channel's acclaimed 4-part series, The Founding Fathers, as well as the voice of The Great Ak in the 2000 release of the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in which his wife Dixie Carter also is heard as the voice of Necile.
And speaking of Dixie -- let's just settle one constantly asked DW-related question here and now. WHY was Reese Watson suddenly written out of DW in "The Big Circle" when viewers loved the fiery match of Reese and Julia? Well, who could blame Linda and Harry Thomason for wanting such an actor to appear in their new show, Evening Shade? Reese was written out of DW to accommodate his production schedule on their new Burt Reynolds vehicle, as well as to open up Julia for the possibility of new experiences and relationships.
In addition to his 3 years recurring on DW and his subsequent stint on the Thomason's Evening Shade, his television work has included The Senator, Our Town, North and South (Parts 1 and 2), Killing in a Small Town, Under Siege, and Off the Minnesota Strip. Some of his twenty-one films include The Firm, Wall Street, Star Chamber, Capricorn One, and All the President's Men. Stage productions include "Death of a Salesman," "King Lear," "Merchant of Venice," "Camelot," and "The Glass Menagerie." Most recently he has appeared in the CBS movie, The Haven, as well as theatrical releases such as The Bachelor and Men of Honor.
Throughout his entire career, however, Mark Twain has been his consistent traveling companion. Since its debut, MARK TWAIN TONIGHT! has become a popular classic attraction and one of the longest running shows in theatre history. Many even consider it the grandfather of one-man shows. Better still -- it's currently on tour! So keep your eyes and ears open for news about appearances in your area in the coming months. Also, be sure to look into the VHS and recent DVD release of his critically and popularly acclaimed 1967 performance which are available through many Internet portals, including amazon.com.
Presently, Hal's most recent film, PURPO$E, is currently in post-production and due in theatres this summer. It's the story of a young dot.commer who wants out of the rat-race -- a contemporary situation Twain would undoubtedly find fascinating and ripe for commentary.
The Divas of 'Designing Women' Make Their Mark during May Sweeps
Sweeps season is upon us, and with many of your Designing Women favorites showing up on TV this month, we thought it appropriate to give you a sneak peak at what's in store. . .
Delta Burke reappears on Popular this weekend, reprising her role of Cherry Cherry -- multimillionaire Texas oil baroness and mother to conniving cheerleader Mary Cherry.
In the episode "The Brain Game," scheduled to air this Friday, April 27th (at 9:00pm EST) on The WB, the students of Kennedy High compete against the parents and faculty in a campy television game show. Mary and Cherry Cherry are pitted against each other with their usual display of theatrics, and Ed McMahan guest stars as the host of the game. Delta fits the campy character like a glove, and her appearances are always a series highlight, so the publicity department pulled out all the stops and hauled in a photographer for the event -- and we have the pics!!*
Due to Delta's shooting schedule on other projects, this is her one and only appearance this season, but information on Cherry Cherry's previous shenanigans can be found in the "Belled" Archives, Issue #3 and Issue #6.
Jean Smart returns to close the first season of The District in a two-part season finale!
As previously reported in Issue #13, Jean plays Sherry, the ex-wife to Craig T. Nelson's Jack Mannion, the recently appointed police chief of Washington, D.C.. The couple began working on a reconciliation after Sherry's attempt at a new relationship drew her back to Jack, and they were then forced to deal with the arrest of their son for drug possession. So what more could happen to them?
As the season closes, an ongoing investigation uncovers Mannion's past connections with the Russian mob, threatening to end his career. The episode, "Fools Russian," will air in two parts on May 12 and May 19, and Sherry will definitely be on hand for the fallout.**
The District airs Saturdays at 10:00pm EST on CBS.
As the second season of Family Law inches toward its dramatic finale, Dixie Carter rises to front burner as her character, Randi King, is forced to face a personal tragedy and a life-altering court battle. Background information on Randi can be found in "Belled" Issue #1 and Issue #10.
When Randi’s estranged daughter, Mary Beth, is murdered by her husband, Randi fights for custody of their 2-year-old child. Randi becomes furious when Mary Beth’s husband, Tim, confesses to involuntary manslaughter and is sentenced to only four years in prison. She soon learns that Tim was abused by his own father who, along with his wife, will have custody of Tim and Mary Beth’s little girl, Anise. With Joe’s help, Randi fights a custody battle that will change her life.
The episode, "Recovery" airs Monday, May 7 (10:00-11:00pm, EST) on CBS. The episode was directed by Fred Gerber from a script by David Shore and Stephen Nathan, based on a story by Jason Preston, Lawrence Kaplow and Christopher Ambrose.**
Jean Smart's long anticipated return to Frasier happens this month in not one episode, but 2 full hours of laughs! The fun begins with a one-hour special set to air on May 15th where Jean returns to last season's Emmy winning role. A sly Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) agrees to secretly escort the temperamental Lana (Jean) -- his former high school prom queen -- to her surprise birthday party but his ultimate goal is to spend quality time with her attractive friend Claire (guest star Patricia Clarkson) who is also attending. A comedy of errors occurs when Frasier urges Lana to sing his praises before her lovely friend in exchange for his tutoring of her clueless teenaged son -- but the lovestruck doctor has set so many people in motion during his quest that their actual date teeters on disaster!
The following week on May 22nd, Jean appears in two more back-to-back episodes to finish out the season. First in "A Day in May," Frasier and Lana butt heads over a real estate sale when he is forced to comfort a crestfallen husband (guest star Patrick Breen) whose house is put up for sale by Lana after his wife abandoned him and took his four dear kids. Then in the season finale, the "Cranes Go Caribbean," Frasier is elated at the prospect of running away with Claire to a secluded Caribbean hideaway -- even when he is joined by Martin (John Mahoney) and sappy lovebirds Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves). But while on vacation, Frasier realizes that something is bugging him big time about his new relationship, and he begins to question his peculiar dreams -- which feature an outrageous cameo by Jean.***
Frasier airs on Tuesdays at 9:00pm on NBC.
And don't forget to mark your calendars so you don't miss a minute of your favorite actresses this month!!
***NBC Publicity and Grub Street Productions
Smart Stuff: Officially Jean Smart
The Cabaret: The Official Dixie Carter Website
...The Sugarbaker's Team
"Today Sugarbaker's would have become Atlanta's leading design firm and won national recognition in magazine's like Architectural Digest and Southern Living and would still be run by Mary Jo and Julia. Both women are now grandmothers because Claudia would be married and have children and Payne and his wife finally also had children. Quint would be in his second year of college at Georgia Tech and still living at home and causing trouble for Mary Jo just like he used to when he was little. Sugarbaker's would have hired a new office manager to replace Carlene -- who moved back to Poplar Bluff, and BJ would still be around acting as their sales person and using Poteet Industries for financial backing whenever Sugarbaker's needed it. Anthony would be a successful junior partner at the law firm that Reese used to work for and would handle all the ladies' legal business. Suzanne with her daughter, now a debutante and moving up in the pageant circuit, moved back to Atlanta after she finished her term in Washington and bought back some shares of the business, but is more of a silent partner than before only dropping in on the store when she's bored. Charlene and Bill have moved a few times thanks to the Air Force but still live far away from Atlanta and Sugarbaker's, and Olivia, now 11, would have a younger brother and sister. Bernice would be older and crazier, but still going strong and still singing 'Black man, Black man' to Anthony whenever she gets the chance. Allison basically dropped off the face of the earth after selling her shares of the company and leaving Atlanta -- nobody ever heard from her again." (Submitted by Meredith)
Don't forget to Email "Belled" with reader feedback and to tell us where you think the "Designing Women" characters would be today for future issues!
Hal Holbrook and Reese Watson
(57) On what film project did Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter first meet?
(58) Which part of Reese was bitten in the bar fight in "Nightmare From Hee Haw"?
(59) What is the age difference between Julia and Reese?
(60) In what scene did Reese make his first appearance on Designing Women?
* Answers will appear in the next issue.
Trivia Answers from Issue #14
Test your DW knowledge by identifying the episodes for these referenced quotes.
(53) "He said he dated the Doublemint Twins --- as if someone like me who's ridden on a float with the Vice-President of the United States is gonna be impressed by something like that."
Suzanne -- "Heart Attacks"
(54) "One thing you don't want to do is to get her tickled. She throws herself on the floor and starts rolling around acting like Frankenstein."
Anthony -- "The Return of Ray Don"
(55) "Suzanne doesn't mean to be selfish; she just doesn't think. I've seen her stretch out on airplanes --- actually lie across people. Or put her purse on top of them."
Julia -- "The Return of Ray Don"
(56) "[Charlene] is the kind of woman who would have dated Lee Harvey Oswald in high school."
Mary Jo -- "Dash Goff, the Writer"