The Ziegfeld Girls Visit the Island of Make Believe…
Mr Roarke, Tattoo and Julie meet the plane with a wannabe cowboy, the devil and some one time Ziegfeld girls take a holiday.
The Love Boat & Fantasy Island 1981 ABC Promo, MemoryMuseum and photos © Sony Pictures Television
Regular readers will know that I do like a tribute to a movie within a movie or a movie within a TV Show. This TV tribute is to Ziegfeld Girls and bizarrely not by some undercover Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) in a flashback and dream episode for Charlie. Which TBH it so should have been.
As it’s off to Fantasy Island (1977-84) we go and not I hasten to add with those regular island hosts, Mr Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) and Tattoo (Herve Villechaize) dressed as Ziegfeld girls. This episode also features Julie (Wendy Schaal), Mr Roarke’s goddaughter who joined for a season.
Fantasy Island was a 1980s TV series that proved that anything and everything can be tributed. This show is set on a Pacific Ocean island – with its own dancers – owned by the enigmatic Mr Roarke and his sidekick Tattoo, in their natty matching white suits.
There after the guests’ arrival by plane, the pair let their wildest (for the most part pre-watershed) fantasies come true. Admittedly those storylines with Jack the Ripper and sex slaves must have gone over my head as a kid. During the trip, you’d learn something about yourself for the bargain price of $50,000 (worth over 200,000 dollars now).
Season 5, episode 2 episode of the show has three separate stories named Devil and Mr Roarke, Ziegfeld Girls and Kid Corey Rides Again. There are two bonus additions for me that the Ziegfeld Girls segment had (to my joy) two Dallas (1978-91) stars with Dack Rambo and Audrey Landers.
This is the second time Rambo has appeared as a guest star in an 80s show review, after appearing in The Love Boat review. This episode was also filmed in 1981. This story also features Mary Kennedy and Barbi Benton. I’ll briefly look at those other stories within the episode, however, the lion’s share of gittering will be about the Ziegfeld Girls storyline.
Devil and Mr. Roarke
This was one of a couple of episodes featuring Roddy McDowall as the Devil. His introductory mansplanation by Roarke to Tattoo and Julie implies the trio are more than sceptical about this guest (for all the right reasons).
He is introduced as Mr Nick then Mephistopheles. This true identity is then mansplained by Tattoo. All rightly believe that the Devil has ulterior motives for spending his holiday with them. Roarke stressing the Devil has every right to holiday there.
However, the dastardly one hopes to take Mr Roarke’s immortal soul with him when he goes and bring evil to the island. Mwahahahaha! Needless to say, the devil first hopes to capture Julie’s soul first, this was easily done by a little bribery and corruption. But then she’s new to her job so she’s pretty naive.
After a freak accident, she asks the Devil for help and he makes a deal with her, he will help in return for her soul. TBH, Julie seems a wee bit too annoyingly bland and she would be more fun as a bad guy anyway but we never find out properly. Shame really as this would have been a fun two-parter especially after the Devil possesses Julie at one point to try and fool Roarke.
Mr Roarke, being the gallant one is willing to sacrifice his soul to help his goddaughter out. Then it’s a verbal battle between the Devil and Roarke, which would put Hobbs and Shaw to shame. This particular part of the story is the most fun bit of this story. I really loved watching McDowall and Montalban at loggerheads, both camping and hamming it up and both trying to outwit each other.
I could have quite easily watched an episode of just these two characters with Tattoo providing commentary and refreshments. This part of the episode also boasting some cool early 1980s special effects which added to the absurdity of the plot and conclusion of the story.
Kid Corey Rides Again
This episode features Ned Plummer (Arte Johnson), a cowboy fanatic who wants to visit the Wild West and meet his hero Kid Corey (Jack Elam), a legendary outlaw. Corey was a famed legend who disappeared with 1 million dollars worth of bank loot after a robbery and was never heard of again.
Julie and Tattoo believe the guest is only after the money. This part of the episode reminded me a bit of the Westworld (1973) film but with a darker twist. Roarke mansplains when this particular guest returns to the past, he’s dodging real bullets from real guns adding to the “drama” (read comedy).
It throws Plummer – his costume possibly inspiring the man in black from the Westworld (2016-) TV Series – straight into the action with him arriving and involved in a gunfight. Plummer meets and tries to bond with his hero. After Corey nicks his horse, Plummer’s disillusioned with Corey.
He’s quite sad as finds out he’s not the nice guy and Robin Hood character that he’s read about. But it’s Red Letter Media heaven with the plot eventually leading to us meeting Cameron Mitchell as a Sheriff. This is after the pair are imprisoned and Plummer is “mistaken” for Corey.
TBH part of me secretly hoped he’d get shot pretty early on to concentrate on the other stories. But then I’m not a Western fan, so this story might be more your thing if it is. Tattoo – complete with stetson – joins him sporadically for this storyline and “helps” out with the plotline.
Tattoo sadly didn’t have much to do here in the Wild West and in the whole episode. But I did enjoy his rapport with Montalban. This pair had more chemistry and rapport than with Schaal. I’m sure this improved as the series progressed so I can’t really judge as this is only her second episode in this character.
and now that storyline presenting those…
With impeccable timing, the elderly Joan Michaels (Barbi Benton) and Rubi Rogers (Audrey Landers) – aka Landers and Benton heavily made up in unconvincing “old” makeup and wearing “elderly wardrobe” – visit the island escaping from their retirement home.
Poor Tattoo (and probably your grandad, big brother or dad) had hoped the visiting showgirls would be a couple of pretty young things. In their intro to the others, the cunning Mr Roarke confides with Tattoo and Julie that this pair of Missouri ladies will learn about their friendship. Saying this friendship will be tested to the limits.
This pair were both Ziegfeld Girls in Broadway in 1926, and now they are arriving just in time to appear in the island’s revival show on the Ziegfeld Girls. With both wishing to be young again. Roarke and Julie take the women to see the dance rehearsal. Both are mightily impressed by the natty cardboard cutout of Ziegfeld.
It turns out Michaels’ granddaughter, Billie (Betty Kennedy) is in the show and she’s hoping to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps. She’s dating and madly in love with the show’s director, Carl Wagner (Dack Rambo). He’s keen to get some tips for the show, but Joan is not keen to be the show’s consultant but to be young again. She tells Roarke just that.
Roarke meets with Joan and Rubi and produces two life-size cardboard cutouts of them as they were in their youth in their Ziegfeld costumes. Roarke stresses their rules within their fantasy are that they can’t say who they are or they will be old again, they can’t tell they are there as part of a “fantasy” and it’s time-limited for one weekend only.
After Roarke takes them back to their younger selves with some natty positive visualisation with his dulcet accent. This by reminding them of their Ziegfeld Days. Suddenly the old women are then rejuvenated looking like they did then. Cue girly squeals of delight.
The pair – now in modern-day wear – go to watch dance rehearsals with them criticising the show in a stage whisper. After Carl overhears them, he asks them to show what they can do. Joan gives an inspirational speech to the dancers. Rubi shows him exactly what “Flo would have done” and her best dance moves… He asks the pair to become dancers in his show.
Carl takes a bit of a fancy to Rubi, which Joan begs her friend not to act on this. It seems that Rubi has always had a thing about directors. Rubi does end up snogging Carl as she’s quite enjoying being young again especially with this young man falling for her.. much to her friend’s annoyance. The storyline also concentrating on the women’s friendship, where a few comments tell us more of their life stories and personalities, and revelations and confessions are made.
For the Ziegfeld Follies theme itself, this was recreated throughout the storyline. Montalban’s positive visualisation of taking the elderly characters back to their youth was a lovely touch. It comprised of a black and white slideshow with many of those key players – including Gershwin and Al Johnson – in the Ziegfeld Follies story.
This was a much more memorable tribute to this topic than an explanation and beautifully put together piece. These slides were superimposed over then what looked like a colour blurry clip from the dance scene later in the show.
Barbi Benton and Audrey Landers wore Ziegfeld Girls costumes (complete with plumes) at least twice. These glamorous costumes were beautifully made and these easily recreating this time and place. Other Ziegfeld touches included the later dance (not blurry this time) and some apt musical numbers and a later dance scene. These reminded the women of their past experiences. Sadly, there are few pictures of this particular part of the episode.
Interestingly, all these actors and actresses had made many journeys to the island. Audrey Landers appeared five times in the show and Barbi Benton eight times and Dack Rambo six times. The Devil himself having the last laugh. McDowall’s plans as the devil to create an evil island came true after this particular TV series ended.
In this series, where Montalban believed his character Roarke is believed to be a fallen but immortal angel. This series returned for a one-off reboot of the show in 1998. Mr Roarke was then played by another part of the McDowall clan, the McDowells. This as Malcolm McDowell played Mr Roarke but with a more devilish take on things…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
This review was added to Hollywood Genes’ The Great Ziegfeld Blogathon 2020. Other reviews with this cast include a wee review of Fantasy Island HERE. Audrey Landers, Ricardo Montalban, Dack Rambo and Barbi Benton starred in The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote. Landers also starred in Hotel and appeared with Rambo in Dallas. Montalban starred in Star Trek, The Colbys and Dynasty. Villechaize appeared in The Fall Guy and in this guest post of The Man with the Golden Gun. Wendy Schaal also starred in Happy Days and Innerspace.