Ah, the bright promise of cable television back in its infancy -- unfettered from the constraints of traditional TV, it was a fertile field for exploring subject and offering productions which simply might not have had the broad appeal necessary for broadcast outlets. Pet projects spilled out of the woodwork and landed at the various Pay-TV and cable networks.
One of these was from acclaimed and utterly unique actress Shelley Duvall (The Shining, Brewster McCloud and many more) who's celebrating a birthday today. Her passion had always been children's fairy tales and she proposed a series starring some of the most popular actors and actresses of the time enacting these timeless stories. And so was born Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, picked up by Showtime and shown in first run from 1982 - 87, 26 episodes in total plus one recap reunion show.
Introduced personally by Ms. Duvall, each segment told one of the famous -- and sometimes not so famous -- fairy tales which entranced generations of young girls and boys.
What made Faerie Tale Theatre particularly special was the presence of so many big names from the entertainment world, acting in spectacular roles which they would be unlikely to duplicate in their usual careers and bringing considerable conviction, glamour and talent to the proceedings. Add to that an array of interesting often big-name and always talented directorial and writing talent and you have what could have been a vanity project but was without a trace of it, instead filled with passion and dedication and a sense of unbridled and slightly goofy fun.
The following promotional video features Shelley Duvall explaining her project then segues into scenes from the various episodes:
This one is more focused on the stars of each episode with some duplication from the previous video, but it's a wonderful overview of Fairie Tale Theatre:
With a cast roster that perfectly celebrates the pop culture of the 1980s, you can relive those awesome Eighties in some interesting ways: watch then-married Malcolm McDowall and Mary Steenburgen acting together again, enjoy a pre-porn theater busted Paul "Pee-wee Herman" as Pinocchio, and most poignantly remember now-departed favorites like Jean Stapleton, Christopher Reeve, Klaus Kinski (directed by Roger Vadim!), Burgess Meredith, James Coburn, Dick Shawn, Art Carney, Eve Arden, Lee Remick, and David Hemmings, among others. Faerie Tale Theatre is a cornucopia of Hollywood's Who Was Who in the 1980s. Be sure to check out the list of individual episodes here for more info and synopses.
There are some nice tributes to Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre out there on the web: Robert Berg on his blog DreamPunk.me has been rewatching episodes and posting nice reviews, click here to access; there's a great article from Doug Gardiner about the search for the beautiful artwork commissioned for the original video release here; and a big fan of the music scores has created a tribute video available here.
Duvall followed this series up with another series, also for Showtime, titled Tall Tales & Legends focusing on American folk tales and stories of real-life American heroic personalities. This series ran from 1986 - 1987 for a total of 9 episodes:
We don't always have such good news to report as this, but both Faerie Tale Theatre and Tall Tales & Legends are available for streaming on Hulu right now! Click here for Faerie Tale Theatre and click here for Tall Tales & Legends!
Thanks to Shelley Duvall and her commitment to making great TV. we can still enjoy these two shows thirty years later!
And though it's from one of her movie roles and not TV, we're going to include this favorite clip of Shelley as Olive Oyl singing the charming "He Needs Me" from director Robert Altman's not exactly successful but strange and amusing 1980 film Popeye, co-starring Robin Williams as the titular spinach-loving hero.
Happy Birthday, Shelley Duvall, and many more!