Lesley Ann Warren is quite good in the TV adaptation of Harold Robbins’ 79 PARK AVENUE. In fact, she’s more than good. She’s astounding; probably why she won a Golden Globe for her role in 1978. A rare thing really when you stop to consider the many actresses who have landed parts in these cheesy miniseries throughout the years. However 79 PARK AVENUE is more than just cheese. It’s actually a riveting tale of good girl gone bad amidst the Great Depression and beyond. It aired on NBC as a three part event in 1977. I was a tad too young to ever catch it back then but I remember hearing about it later on. It was supposed to be very daring for its time. Obviously I had to get a hold of it. It took me quite a while to finally see what all the fuss was about, like 40 years or so, and indeed, the stuff is daring for network television but let me assure you right away that it is all handled with the utmost care. In fact, I can declare 79 PARK AVENUE to be one the classiest miniseries ever to be produced.
The story is quite fetching: Warren plays Marja, a poor but beautiful girl from Brooklyn who has the worst of luck in men. Not only is she attracted to bad rich boy hunky Mark Singer who humiliates her one time in front of his parents but she also has to deal with her lecherous stepdad whom she stabs after raping her one drunken night. Choosing to keep quiet to spare her bed-ridden mom she ends up in the juvies for a few months. When she finally gets out, broke and stuck with a mother at a hospital, she rekindles with Singer as tough call girl Marianne to pay the bills. With no judgment on his part (he loves her, people) he offers her marriage as a way out and she accepts but swears that she will never love him. She holds her end of the bargain throughout the birth of a child (not his but more on that later) and right before he gets shot by the mob. Widowed, she is forced to take over the business of 79 PARK AVENUE, the call girl ring disguised as a model agency where she used to work.
Soon more trouble ensues in the form of a district attorney team who want to frame her ass, and they do when her place of business is raided right after she kills Singer’s despicable and mob-friendly dad in self-defence. Cross-examined in court, we hear her sad tale of a sordid life as well as of the real identity of her daughter’s father who turns out to be prosecutor and ex-lover David Dukes (who’s very present throughout the miniseries). It is only when he states that she is incapable of committing first degree murder—being put on the witness stand and all—that Warren is finally found, to our happy relief, not guilty. Convicted anyway on vice charges (shoot!), she tearfully hands him their child. Along a catchy score composed by Nelson Riddle (FUNNY GIRL, 1974 THE GREAT GATBSY) he tells her that he’ll wait for her while she’s behind bars, and we the spectators ball our eyes out as the end credits roll.
Rare is a miniseries as riveting as this one and for all the good reasons. Top notched actors, story, direction… They really went all out, and I’m more than thrilled. I don’t understand why it’s never been available on DVD or Blu-ray. Probably a copyright thing. Thank heaven I finally was able to catch it anyway. Just goes to show you that even sleazy novels such as this one can impress on-screen when put in the right hands (and that would be Paul Wendkos in this case who later on directed the spectacular CELEBRITY miniseries in 1984). Together with both screen adaptations of THE CARPETBAGGERS and WHERE LOVE HAS GONE, 79 PARK AVENUE is a definite Robbins must-see.
Until next post—Martin