"Shoot me thin, you know," grinned the producer in navy stripes who is the woman behind the women and men of "Dynasty."
Looking over the field of photographers at the Beverly Wilshire on Sunday, Esther Shapiro could afford to joke. She is, after all, co-executive producer of television's prime, prime-time show. "Dynasty," the 4-season-old soap which this year beat "Dallas" in the ratings, had been her "fantasy."
Shapiro, who dreamed up the series during the gas crunch in the late '70s while vacationing in London, wondered about life inside a slick, rich oil family whose men are ever-powerful and whose women are never fat. As she observed on receiving the first production award of the American Women in Radio and Television, "The rest is history. . . ."
Although Shapiro shared the spotlight at the 31st annual Genii awards luncheon with actress Lindsay Wagner (late of "Jessie" and still best known for her title role in "The Bionic Woman"), the producer clearly had top billing during the interminable longer-than-the-Oscars ceremony.
Her good friends, Aaron (Spelling, producer) and Brian (Stoddard, president of ABC Motion Pictures and Television), David (Murdoch, industrialist) and Faye (Kanin, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), came to do her honor.
The event included a this-is-your-life mini-documentary of Esther Mayesh Shapiro going all the way back to her baby pictures and all the way forward to current photos of her two daughters. In that happy blend of reality and fantasy, John Forsythe, who plays the head of the "Dynasty" clan, narrated the film. He didn't need an introduction.
More than Shapiro's present success was being toasted: Her years as vice president of miniseries for ABC-TV when she helped develop such works as "Inside the Third Reich," "Roots: The Next Generation," "Masada" and "Friendly Fire" were recognized as well.
Stoddard called her "a true renaissance woman." The Spellings (Aaron and Candy) are setting up a scholarship in her name for college women interested in television production. Kanin, who wrote the script for "Friendly Fire" (based on the true story of an Iowa farm family whose son, Michael Eugene Mullen, was killed in Vietnam), praised Shapiro for knowing how to "cut through the quagmire of corporate protocol."
And Richard Shapiro, her husband of nearly 25 years and production collaborator, her co-executive producer on "Dynasty" and chief writer, called her "the joy of my life, a marvelous friend, my best friend and the best producer I've ever worked with--or for."
After returning the praise, Shapiro crisply sketched the generations of women in her own life.
"My grandmother in Turkey wore a veil and walked six steps behind her husband. . . . My mother came to America alone at 15, not knowing anyone. And 11 years ago I met my first network executive."
Without leaving anyone time to dwell on the miniseries potential of her own family saga, Shapiro said that any personal accomplishment comes from "living in this blessed time in this blessed place."
Often, she said, she is asked for advice from young women who seek to follow her course. "Find material, good material you believe in," she said she tells them, "then find friends like these who believe in you."
Off stage, Shapiro said she is concentrating on airing a miniseries on the life of Madame Mao Tse-tung, who had been the actress Jiang Qing. It would be based on "White Bone Demon," Ross Terrill's biography of her. Shapiro confirmed that Faye Dunaway is interested in the title role. "If ABC isn't interested, I'll take it to NBC," Shapiro said matter-of-factly.
Taken as a whole, Genii award winners--beginning with Dale Evans in 1953--reflect a panorama of women in television. Although actress/director Ida Lupino was honored in 1955, American Women in Radio and Television officials point out that Lupino won for performances, not for her work behind the scenes. Actress Diahann Carroll, a "Dynasty" newcomer, received the award in 1969.
The 31st AWRT ceremony was a typical Hollywood event, replete with cheek-to-cheek pecks and snippets of conversation like "saw your movie twice on cable now . . . there's love in every frame" and "see you Tuesday at the mansion"--the Hugh Hefner mansion, of course. There were also plugs for present and future series of the various participants.
Up front in the hotel ballroom there was a "Dynasty" table starring Linda Evans and Emma Samms, who will play Fallon next season on "The Colbys," a "Dynasty" spinoff about the Los Angeles branch of the Carringtons.
Two tables away there was a place for the stars of "Emerald Point," a failed Shapiro production on Navy life. "The women weren't strong enough," said Shapiro privately.