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Commentary : Delany Bids Farewell to a Friend

June 16, 1991|TOM SHALES | The Washington Post

'I'm going to miss McMurphy a lot. I like her very much." Dana Delany is closer to McMurphy than any of us. It's the character she plays on ABC's moving and thoughtful Vietnam drama series, "China Beach," which has just returned for its final run.

After too long an absence, the series came back with the first of its last seven episodes on June 4.

Delany, who has been a sensation as McMurphy, the war-weary and world-weary nurse, viewed the end of the show with mixed emotions when she came to Washington in February for filming at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"It's been an amazing family," she said of the show's large cast. "I'm going to miss every one of them a lot. I think it's one of those shows that people years from now will think, 'My God, this was so good! What happened to it?' "

People have already been thinking that. Until ABC announced the show's return, it was lost in limbo. ABC seems perversely to enjoy putting unusual and innovative shows on the air, then taking them off and hiding them away, or moving them to remote time slots where viewers can't find them.

Delany, 34, said she has no ill will toward ABC executives in spite of the cavalier way they treated the program. "I actually really like Bob Iger," she said of the ABC Entertainment president. "He's a very nice person. But I think he's answering to people above him."

In addition to its superior scripts and acting, "China Beach," produced by John Sacret Young (Delany's current boyfriend) and William Broyles, brought its own distinctive style to TV drama. Much of that had to do with Delany's use of portentous silent stares in place of dialogue.

The style has been spoofed in certain circles, including, Delany said, a parody of "China Beach" made by the show's own actors and writers for a cast party. The writer who played Delany would "stare into the distance" while others called out, "Come on, well up, well up! Get those tears coming!"

Delany said she has no special tricks for summoning tears on camera, even though she does it very, very well.

"Well, I just think about something. I've never had anybody help me cry. It's funny, though, because when I was studying acting in New York, one of my biggest fears was crying. I just could not cry in front of people, because I came from a New England family where you're supposed to hold yourself together and not show your emotions.

"Then you become an actor, and all they want you to do is cry. Never the man, but always the woman, breaks down and cries. And I talked to my acting teacher about it, and she said, 'Just think about what you want, and it will happen.' And now, of course, they can't get me to stop crying."

You'll be seeing more of Dana Delany. She's just begun work on the feature film "Light Sleeper," co-starring Susan Sarandon and now shooting in New York. For some of us, though, Delany will always be McMurphy and "China Beach" will always be "The Dana Delany Show."

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