Delany, 'China Beach'

By Greg Dawson / July 26, 1990
China Beach/ABC
Dana Delany, probably the first woman to become a sex symbol while wearing dog tags and no makeup, still doesn't get it. ''I'm not really a sex symbol,'' she said, somewhat abashed. ''I'm more approachable than that.''

I can't imagine where Delany got the idea that approachable and sexy are incompatible. I know she didn't get it from the critics here to preview the fall TV season.

She was more approachable, and approached, than Heather Locklear, a standard-issue Hollywood bombshell who preceded her on the interview stage and drew a smaller crowd - and not because Locklear didn't live up to her workout-salon commercials. She makes Jane Fonda look like Shelley Winters.

In a way, Delany is right. She's not a sex symbol in the cheesecake-poster tradition. There's more cherub than vixen in her roundish, lovely face, and her most finely toned muscles aren't even visible - the ones that control her eloquent eyes.

The shrewd makers of China Beach give those eyes a larger-than-life, looming prominence on the TV screen. The whole person is surprisingly slight.

Delany wore a simple blue dress with white polka dots, a gold necklace and flats with ankle straps. Her legs were the color of someone who has not been to the beach all summer. And she hasn't.

Delany just finished making a TV movie in South Carolina with John Sacret Young, executive producer of China Beach. The movie, about a family that takes in four children suddenly left parentless, is due to air on NBC this fall.

''I like to call it an anti-yuppie movie,'' she said. ''It's not about having things, it's about giving up things in order to get something.''

Delany had hoped to make a motion picture this summer, but ''I read a lot of scripts and didn't see anything that interested me. It was always the girlfriend part. There's a lot of that happening in movies.''

The role of nurse Colleen McMurphy on China Beach has spoiled her, Delany admitted.

''I have a hard time now with characters that don't have a sense of human dignity, or at least try to make a stand or make themselves heard. And so often, those are the female roles - we are subservient to the man.''

That's never a problem on China Beach, a showcase for strong, complex female characters. In the upcoming fall season, when China Beach switches to 9 p.m. Saturdays, ''the characters are going to have a wild ride,'' Young said.

The series, originally rooted in 1968, will flash forward and backward this season to explore the pre-and post-Vietnam lives of the main characters.

K.C. (Marg Helgenberger) will have a child and get married, not necessarily in that order. McMurphy will marry, maybe more than once, and battle alcoholism. A character will lose a leg, and Dodger (Jeff Kober) will return.

Four of the show's writers visited Vietnam this summer to explore the feasibility of filming an episode there this season, but no decision has been made to do that.

Despite the widespread belief that ABC brought back China Beach for one curtain-call season, Young is not plotting its end. This season's flashes forward stop at 1985, so Young will have years to work with in future seasons.

Delany, however, said, ''Yeah, I think probably,'' when asked later if she thought this season would be the last.

Whenever China Beach ends, Delany will take with her one of the most diverse fan clubs on television.

''I hear from young girls, usually around 13, although I had one (letter) from 6-year-olds,'' she said. ''Young men who want to take me out to lunch. And older men who have been in Vietnam. I've had several priests write to me, which is interesting.

''I have older housewives write to me who like the character because she stands up for herself. It's difficult. I tend to take too much responsibility. I want to write to everyone and help everyone. I have found I have to limit how much I read because I get too emotionally involved.''

She will also leave with at least one Emmy Award.

''The role of McMurphy has changed me and changed my acting,'' she said. ''I've learned a lot about less is more, and restraint, and playing the hero - about letting the audience come to you instead of reaching out for approval.''

For Dana Delany, the approval will always be there. The eyes have it.
Credit to Orlando Sentinel.