Dana Delivers : Delany Has a 'Promise to Keep' on NBC and New Missions of Mercy on ABC

By Susan King / September 30, 1990
China Beach/ABC
On a day off from ABC's "China Beach," Dana Delany didn't want so much to discuss herself, but rather her need to give of herself.

— I think a lot of people are getting away from the 'I want, I want' thing of the '80s and are seeing how much they can give without expecting anything back," she said. "My theme this year is giving back.

Such sentiment drew Delany to the intimate NBC family drama, "A Promise to Keep," airing Monday at 9 p.m.

Initially, Delany didn't want to spend her summer vacation doing a TV movie. Her sights were set on a feature film, but she couldn't find a part she liked. Then she read the script for "A Promise to Keep."

— I just wept from the beginning to the end," she said. "I don't know if it's because I have had a lot of friends of mine die recently of cancer, or because I am getting to the age where mortality hits you and you start thinking 'Why am I here, what am I giving back now, and how selfless can I be?'

In "A Promise to Keep," based on a true story, Delany plays a married woman with three children.

She and her husband (William Russ) have no money. Then his sister dies of cancer and her sister's husband dies in a train crash within 36 hours. They took in their four boys and never thought twice about it. I like to call this my anti-yuppie movie.

Giving back is nothing new for Delany, best known as Army Nurse Colleen McMurphy on "China Beach," the series about nurses in the Vietnam War. When Delany is not in front of the camera, she's working for the women and men who served in Vietnam.

This part (McMurphy) has given me so much.

That includes involvement with the Vietnam Woman's Memorial Project, which hopes to build a monument in Washington next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

She is also working with the McMurphy Project, a nationwide nurse recruitment program named for her character.

Delany has become something of a heroine to the nurses who served in Vietnam.

The nurses think I am great.

Then she began to laugh and flail her arms.

Well, let me clarify that, it's not that I am great, but McMurphy is great. (The series is) finally showing a nurse that is strong. I think the show has certainly made the public more aware (of Vietnam vets).

Delany recalled that while filming "A Promise to Keep" in South Carolina, a man approached her outside her hotel and told her how much he loved "China Beach." He added he had served in Vietnam in 1967.

There is this substrata of people out there. There are so many vets out there. It's kind of a secret society that they have allowed me a glimpse of.

Young women write her letters. "Occasionally I call someone who has written to me," Delany said. "I don't have a lot of time to read my fan mail these days and when I do, I get too involved. I have to be careful. I feel too responsible."

So responsible that Delany was pleased that ABC canceled plans this past summer to repeat a "China Beach" episode that had McMurphy taking an opponent-of-abortion stance when a Doughnut Dolly has an abortion.

— I was not really happy having to portray a character who did not believe in abortion. McMurphy is such a role model. I didn't feel comfortable spouting these views, so I really didn't mind they didn't rerun it.

Despite critical acclaim and a loyal following, "China Beach" was barely renewed the last two seasons. This season--its fourth--ABC has moved the series to Saturday at 9 p.m., as the lead-in for "Twin Peaks."

Delany doesn't know if the programming move was a good idea. Summer reruns in the time slot got poor ratings.

I understand why (ABC) did it. They couldn't really drop us because of the critics and the Emmys and all that stuff. They want to revitalize Saturday nights. Who knows? It may work.

ABC is hoping that a change in "China Beach" will also work. For the first time, the show will weave back and forth in time. Viewers will see McMurphy in her 40s, fighting alcoholism.

Delany is excited about the new plot developments and about working with actress Diane Keaton, who is directing an upcoming episode.

(Keaton) has been doing her homework. It's a really, really good script. This episode goes from 1967 to 1970, when I go back home for the last time. This is our fourth season and I have never been bored.
Credit to Los Angeles Times.