In 1978 it was a rather grand, sweeping spectacle, far larger than the average miniseries, and really, one of the first in this concept of the miniseries, though it ran for basically a whole TV season, October 1978 to February 1979. It was "Centennial," based on the work of well-regarded novelist James Michener, and it was 24 hours of rich, historical fiction set in the 1800s, peppered with rustic settings and enough human element to please any soaps fan, and loaded with fine stars of classic TV, some not-so famous then but definitely known to us now.
Take Barbara Carrera, for instance. In the mid-1980s, we saw her as Angelica Nero in the infamous Dream Season of "Dallas." In 1978, though, she was very young and just three years into the business, as she explains in the "Centennial" DVD extras. Her role as Indian squaw Clay Basket, so sweet and naive and girlish at the beginning, then maturing through adulthood and quiet dignity in the ensuing episodes, is the favorite in her career, she says. She calls it a very good experience.
"They made sure that everything was absolutely as authentic as they could make it," she says of "Centennial," which BRBTV must note reflects some good production values for its time. In her DVD interview, she comments on what it was like to work with Robert Conrad, also interviewed in the set for his kingpin role as brusque French-Canadian trapper Pasquinel, and others in this megawatt cast.
"I wasn't very experienced," Carrera says. "I relied on many things for help. But when I worked with Richard Chamberlain (Alexander McKeag, whom Clay Basket eventually marries) he was so much the part, that he made it so easy for me to work with him. It was a wonderful kind of chemistry."
As Clay Basket aged in the series, Carrera had to endure lengthy applications of facial prosthetics, which she also discusses in the interview. Ironically, she's shown in modern times in the extras looking so much more stunning than her character did as projected to her age in the series.
The 12 meaty, two-hour episodes of "Centennial" also feature:
- Anthony Zerbe, who portrayed Crenshaw on "Dynasty," as
the swindling Mervin Wendell, who comes to the town of Centennial, Colorado, to bilk folks with his pretty blond wife.
- Clint Ritchie, longtime daytime soaps star who also appeared as Bud Morgan on "Dallas," as Messmore Garrett, a sheep rancher in Centennial.
- Karen Carlson, Nancy Scotfield on "Dallas," as the lovely, composed, smart Lisette Mercy, daughter of Pasquinel by his "white" family (he has two families in this tale!).
- A Martinez, our hunky Cruz Castillo of "Santa Barbara," who shows up in the final few episodes of the series as Tranquilino Marquez, an energetic young man (with lots of curly hair, we'll add!) who travels from Mexico to Colorado to find work and a better life for his family.
- Clive Reville, the voice of Alfred on "Batman: The Animated Series" as well as Warren Ballard on "Dynasty," as Finlay Perkin, the sharp-eyed accountant.
- Michael Ansara, the voice of Mr. Freeze in the animated Batman series and movies, as the adult Lame Beaver, father to Clay Basket. We knew there was something familiar about his voice!
- Timothy Patrick Murphy, our own young Mickey Trotter of "Dallas," even younger as Christian Zendt, a Mennonite lad (with a proper haircut!) who leaves his Lancaster home for a while to work for his uncle in the new town of Centennial.
- Barney McFadden, who portrayed Bruce Burns on "Dallas," Johnny Navarro on "SB," and Lt. Olsen on "The Colbys," as Abel Tanner.
- Morgan Woodward, our own Punk Anderson of "Dallas," dignified in his dark uniform as General Wade, who must sort out the legal mess of a bloody Army raid on an Indian settlement.
- Bo Brundin, who was
Holgar Kuhn on "Dallas," as Magnes Volkema.
- James Best, our own Rosco P. Coltrane of "The Dukes of Hazzard," who pops up in the very last episode, just as he was debuting on the "Dukes" with a little Rosco-like coo-coo-ca-choo on the witness stand as Hank Garvey.
Add to that a suave Timothy Dalton, an earnest Gregory Harrison, Alex Karras as a big lug with a big heart, cowboy Dennis Weaver, and a beyond-captivating Stephen McHattie as the sinister Jake Pasquinel (seriously, we couldn't take our eyes off him). Plus a few others we cannot continue blathering on about; look it up.
A great series, and a great accompaniment to the John Jakes Bicentennial book series we've been reading.