TV Film: THE WAR WIDOW (UCLA Film & Television Archive)

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by Tony Frankel on July 17, 2021

in Film,Interviews,TV


I highly recommend you view the 1976 teleplay The War Widow online on Thursday, August 5, 2021, at 4pm PT. There will be an introduction for this free one-time live screening (register HERE) by May Hong HaDuong, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the world’s largest university-held collection of motion pictures and broadcast programming, and which will be presenting this event. The film is followed by a post-screening conversation with LGBTQ historian Jenni Olson, screenwriter Harvey Perr and actress Frances Lee McCain, who was so memorable in the film. (Although this is a one-time live screening, the post-screening conversation will be recorded to make it available On Demand on the UCLA Film & Television Archive Vimeo channel.)

Broadcast at a time when queer people were frequently depicted negatively on television, playwright Harvey Perr’s acclaimed period drama The War Widow dared to sensitively portray the gentle unfolding of two women falling in love. Set during World War I, Perr’s teleplay concerns an introspective, unfulfilled married woman (Pamela Bellwood) who finds herself increasingly drawn to a vibrant, self-actualized photographer (Frances Lee McCain). Upending decades of televised stereotypes, Perr’s coming out tale centers its strong female characters (anchored by brilliant, understated performances from Bellwood and McCain) with courage and agency as they chart their own destinies in opposition to cruel restrictions imposed by society at large. Also in the cast are Tim Matheson, Maxine Stuart, and Nan Martin.

Pamela Bellwood
Frances Lee McCain

Controversial when aired by KCET (PBS), on their dramatic showcase series Visions, (the program included a disclaimer noting that it was funded entirely by grants, not tax dollars), the resulting moving drama (produced by TV pioneer Barbara Schultz) represents a significant milestone in the realistic, positive depiction of lesbians on primetime television. In The Advocate, noted activist and film historian Vito Russo (The Celluloid Closet) wrote, “watching the final scenes of The War Widow, a vision of lesbians as a people welled-up inside me and I saw, for the first time on television, the strength of will that has existed in my people throughout history, enabling us to decide to be different and carve a life out of our being.”

program note written by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.

The War Widow
UCLA Film & Television Archive
Thursday, August 5, 2021, 4pm PDT
Color | 78 min | KCET
total program runtime including discussion: approx. 120 min.
to register for free, visit UCLA

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