By the time I discovered The Brady Bunch, the all-too-sweet comedy TV series featuring a widow with three girls who marries a widower with three boys it had already been cancelled. It was a few years after 1974 and I remember how I used to hurry home from school to catch the latest episode in rerun which aired weekdays at 4 in Canada right after reruns of One Day At A Time (a contender for a future blog entry, for sure). Of course I found the series to be so moralistic and silly but all I wanted was to connect with something that was the opposite of my miserable life (an alcoholic dad, a mean mom, a delinquent brother, a bullied school environment). And if I needed, say, Mike and Carol Brady and their squeakily clean kids to help me achieve this, then so be it.
When all America was going gaga for Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! I, on the other hand, had a soft spot for middle-child Jan. She had a thing about her that made me relate to her even more. It was probably the fact that she kept playing second fiddle to everyone, a bit like I felt all the time. Anyway, to make a long story short if I could have had one curl on each side of my face like she did (for a while anyway) I probably would have done so in a jiff. With my luck I would have looked more like a Rabi—a gay-bashed Rabi (!), mind you—but I sure would have felt even closer to that character.
So imagine my happiness when I happened to discover sweet insecure little Jan in a late night TV-movie a few months later. In it she played a hooker—yes a hooker. It was called DAWN: PORTRAIT OF A TEENAGE RUNAWAY (1976) and it told the tale of a 15 year-old who flees from her troubled home (like mine?) to end up on Hollywood boulevard where she meets sweet Alexander (played by Leigh McCloskey from TVs DALLAS) who unwillingly introduces her to prostitution. Alexander is also a fellow runaway who sells his body but (here’s the big kicker, especially in those days) to lonely or not-so-lonely middle aged men. Witnessing this part (though it is mostly if not totally suggested) was a first for me, since homosexuality was barely visible on TV during those days. Though it was viewed as a bad thing, the lost little guy in me was pretty satisfied being able to peek at a world far from his own yet still close enough to resonate with him.
When Dawn eventually breaks ties with prostitution (way to go, Jan!) it is mostly with the help of Alexander—with whom she has fallen in love. She finally agrees to go back home after he promises to come back for her when he’s saved enough money, thus both moving on to ALEXANDER: THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN, the TV-movie sequel, which aired a year later after the success of DAWN: PORTRAIT OF A TEENAGE RUNAWAY on NBC.
I saw both movies back to back that summer night in the late ‘70s. I wanted the story to continue on as a weekly series which, come to think of it, would have been entirely impossible on account of the heavy subject matter of the time. Yet I connected with these two characters and I spent the remaining year looking out for other TV plots resembling the Dawn and Alexander duo movies or something in the same vein. I found many like LITTLE LADIES OF THE NIGHT (1977), DIARY OF A TEENAGE HITCHHIKER (1979) BILLY: PORTRAIT OF A STREET KID (1975), I WANT TO KEEP MY BABY (1976), BORN INNOCENT (1974), CAGED WITHOUT A KEY (1975), SARAH T. - PORTRAIT OF A TEENAGE ALCOHOLIC (1975), THAT CERTAIN SUMMER (1972), NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY (1976) which I already reviewed here. Most of these made-for-TV efforts sound like bad After School Specials but you’d be surprise at how effective some of them actually are. But that’s for another couple of blog entries. So stay tuned.
Until next post—Martin