Yes, it's another true-life tragedy dramatized on the small screen. Yes, it's another "disease" picture--breast cancer in this case. But don't tune this one out. Candid, well-acted and factual, "The Ann Jillian Story," airing tonight at 9 on NBC, is a celebration of life.
Actress Ann Jillian plays herself in what is first and foremost a love story--the romance that led to her marriage to a rough-edged Chicago cop, some years older than she. Tony Lo Bianco plays volatile Andy, who quit his job in law enforcement to become Jillian's manager.
Everything seemed to be going well--career and marriage--when in 1985, breast cancer was diagnosed. Jillian underwent a double mastectomy.
In a business where image is all-important, Jillian, known for her "sexy comedienne" roles, chose to risk her career and not hide what had happened; she chose to do what many women in the public eye have done--work at educating and giving hope to others.
Just weeks after her surgery, this determined survivor was finishing work on a miniseries.
The sensitive teleplay was scripted by Audrey Davis Levin, and Corey Allen (Emmy winner for "Hill Street Blues") directs with finesse. It's all here--the numbing discovery of one lump, then another; the tests, the frightening diagnosis, Jillian and Andy's denial, rage and grief. Then the aftermath of the surgery--the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, the struggle back to physical and emotional normalcy.