The Silver Screenings site is conducting the Reel Infatuation Blogathon this week. Bloggers are tasked with reflecting upon their fictional character crushes- from books or the big or small screen.
Truth be told, my first TV crush (and this is according to a discovery I made in my baby book as scribed in my mother’s own handwriting so it must be true) was Donny Osmond. I assume it was a combination of those gloriously large and straight teeth and I was more “a little bit Rock n’ Roll” than “a little bit country.” And then came along the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mystery Hour. I secretly thought of myself to be Nancy Drew, undoubtedly. And at a time when all the other girls were dreaming of Shaun Cassidy or even his half-brother David, not me. I preferred the clean-cut looks of Parker Stevenson, frankly.
Fast forward to my post-puberty days of the 80s. While Duran Duran was my religion and my cult, my television heart throbs fell on the charming shoulders of Bruce Willis as David Addison, Jr. of “Moonlighting” (1985-1989) and Pierce Brosnan as “Remington Steele”(1982-1987).
My love for classic film was already blossoming back in the 80s and Cary Grant was then and always shall remain my biggest silver screen crush. As for the small screen, it now seems obvious why I was drawn to the Remington Steele and David Addison characters. These two had a lot in common with each other but also with my love of classic film leading men.
The pilot episode highlighted a female licensed investigator, Ms. Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist). She’s educated, sharp, confident, attractive, ambitious, with a keen attention to detail. But she constantly finds resistance from clients because she’s a woman. So she creates a fictional male boss (“Remington Steele” is a name created from a combination of a typewriter and a football team) and suddenly business starts to roll in.
That is, until her next assignment. When a client hires her for an event with multi-million dollars’ worth of jewels, he insists on meeting Mr. Steele in person for his personal oversee. Ms. Holt isn’t worried though. She plans on a shell game to keep her fictional boss always somewhere else while still providing top-notch security. How could anything go wrong?
Things go awry when a rather dapper man named Ben (Pierce Brosnan) shows up saying he’s in an official capacity as a South African diplomat to ensure the jewels rightful return to their country of smuggled origin. But when Laura’s team, always-suspicious Murphy and eager-to-please Ms. Fox, dig deeper into his true identity, they find he’s not who he seems. They find 5 passports with different names. All are fictional characters from Humphrey Bogart films. Before you know it, he’s been found out to be a jewel thief and con man…a perfect set-up for his even sexier role in THE THOMAS CROWNE AFFAIR remake (1999), taken Remington Steele’s identity, solved a murder and charmed Ms. Holt. By the end of the pilot, he’s decided to take on the Steele identity and the PI gig on a permanent basis. But do we ever discover his real name?
David Addison in MOONLIGHTING:
In the pilot, we are introduced to Madelyn “Maddie” Hayes (Cybil Shepherd) who is a self-made woman of independent success and distinction as a former model. Still beautiful, intelligent and confident, she wakes up one day broke. Her investment manager ran off with all her liquid assets leaving her with only with a handful of businesses designed to lose money on the books. The City of Angels detective agency is one of them, with David Addison (Bruce Willis), private eye, at the helm.
Addison is energetic, fast-talking, witty, playful, and completely persistent. Maddie attempts to fire him and shut down the business but with David’s pushy persuasions and with a murder case that literally falls into their laps, Maddie ultimately changes her mind. As an homage to the ‘Blue Moon Shampoo girl’ of Maddie’s cover girl days, Addison decides to change their business name to the Blue Moon Detective Agency. Before then, the two bicker and screwball their way through an investigation. When a man falls dead in front of Maddie and onto the floor, revealing a knife in his back, David dryly jokes, “that’s gotta hurt falling on your nose like that.” The wit and onscreen chemistry sizzles, even if it didn’t exist behind the scenes.
What these two shows also shared was the insertion of quirky characters like Doris Roberts as Mildred Krebs in “Remington Steele” and Allyce Beasley as the speedy-rhyming Agnes DiPesto in “Moonlighting”. Plus, an impressive list of actors that star and/or cameo. Do you recall Eva Marie Saint, Imogene Coca, James Karen, John Goodman, Sterling Holloway (as a narrator) and Ray Charles have all appeared in “Moonlighting”?
Then there’s the writing. After a few seasons, head writer Glenn Gordon Caron left “Remington Steele” to begin writing for “Moonlighting.” No wonder the similarities are obvious.
“Moonlighting” offered higher production value and was the most expensive show aired at that time at $1.6 million per episode. Replete with all the glossy style of 80s fashions, nods to classic film was also worked into every scene with David and Maddie. In attempt to copy the rapid-fire exchanges of over-talking like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), cast members and producers were asked to watch that film in addition to BRINGING UP BABY (1938) to capture the tone and dynamics of those hilarious screwball couples. Cybil Shepherd was often shot in diffused camera lens to repeat the soft, glowing look of the leading ladies of the 1940s. Not to mention it was just a flattering aesthetic.
Besides both series being centered on detective duos, the leading men borderline as con men and cads in their charming and frequently mischievous ways. The women are bright, assertive and more fearless than what a majority of women were/are portrayed as in film. That’s what makes these couples so intriguing and the tension more delectable.
Remington and David would not be near as irresistible if it wasn’t for Laura and Maddie to challenge them. In the pilot episode of Remington Steele, Brosnan’s character Steele says, “I’m a man who enjoys impossible challenges,” as he smiles flirtatiously at Laura. Later as they chase the bad guy in an airport cart, Steele is driving as Holt is grabbing the wheel from behind, steering simultaneously. “I take it you wanted to drive,” he coyly smiles.
And that’s why David and Maddie, and Remington and Laura, just like Walter and Hildy in HIS GIRL FRIDAY along with several other classic examples work. The power struggles for these couples are so appealing because the women are not yielding, subservient, dizzy dames. These ladies are equally strong, attractive, intelligent women who challenge these deliciously charming men. And when you turn up that heat with such fiery exchanges… well, no wonder my younger self was hooked.
Both Pierce Brosnan and Bruce Willis went on to even more successful careers. But it was these roles and the portrayal of these characters that led them there. Brosnan was courted to be the next James Bond back in 85/86 but a surprise resurgence in the show (thanks to the Bond buzz) created a renewal of one more season and caused him to lose out to Timothy Dalton. Years later, Chris Columbus who worked with him on MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993) urged Brosnan to give it a go again, which eventually landed him the part as 007.
Bruce Willis received great success as John McClane in DIE HARD (1988) while still filming “Moonlighting,” which kicked off a long career of iconic action and sci-fi films. His success, the behind-the-scenes conflicts, including huge challenges by continuous filming delays all added up to kill the show.
Looking back, the sets seem hokey by today’s standards and these shows certainly do not have the same staying power as the classic films they aspired. But these memorable characters of Remington Steele and David Addison, Jr. permanently etched these actors forever on the American cinematic map and will always have a warm, fuzzy spot in my heart, too.
This was my contribution to the Reel Infatuation Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Font & Frock, taking place June 13-17th. Explore all the reel crushes from each day!