Al Corley as Steven Carrington
|Portrayed by||Al Corley (1981–82, 1991)
Jack Coleman (1983–88)
|Duration||1981–82, 1983–88, 1991|
|First appearance||Episode 1
|Last appearance||Episode 198
|Created by||Richard and Esther Shapiro|
|Dynasty: The Reunion (1991)|
Jack Coleman as Steven Carrington
Steven Daniel Carrington is a fictional character on the American prime time soap opera Dynasty. Steven is noteworthy as one of the earliest gay main characters on American television. Despite identifying as homosexual, Steven has relationships with both women and men throughout the series.
The role was originated by Al Corley in the show's first episode in 1981; Corley left at the end of the second season in 1982 after complaining about Steven's "ever-shifting sexual preferences" and wanting "to do other things." The character was recast in 1983 with Jack Coleman, the change in appearance attributed to plastic surgery after an oil rig explosion. Coleman remained on the show until 1988, but Corley returned to the role of Steven for the 1991 miniseries Dynasty: The Reunion when Coleman was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts.
Impact and criticism
Making television history
It is claimed that Steven was one of the first gay main characters to ever appear on a prime-time drama, and remains one of the most well-known. Suzanna Danuta Walters writes that because of the character, "in the annals of gay TV history, the '80s will be remembered as the Dynasty years." Initially the only son of series' patriarch Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), "handsome, blond hunk" Steven was a regular character featured in front-burner storylines for his entire run on the series. In contrast to his ruthless, warring parents and promiscuous sister, the character was poised as "the moral conscience of the family." Still, he was defined primarily by his sexuality, his struggle against it and the conflict it created within his family.
Potential and execution
Corley noted, "what attracted me was playing a gay character ... The only gay television character I knew about at the time was Billy Crystal's gay character Jodie Campbell on ABC's Soap, which was a dark comedy." Dynasty co-creator Esther Shapiro noted in a 1981 Esquire magazine article that the character of Steven "was, is, and always will be gay," but explained that she initially intended for him to be confused about his sexuality for two seasons before ultimately becoming a "well-rounded gay character." With Dynasty becoming one of the 20 highest-rated American prime time series by the end of its second season and eventually rising to #1 in 1985, Steven "had great potential for breaking through the usual stereotypes" and his life "could have been explored in storylines in which [his] sexuality did not necessarily have to be problematized." However it has been noted that with "interference" from network Broadcast Standards and Practices and "pressure from the religious right", this potential was never fully realized. Walters writes that Steven—"stalwartly manly and deeply troubled by his homosexuality"—led viewers on a "Hollywood tour of homosexuality" over eight seasons, "from tortured closet case, to 'cured' heterosexual husband, and finally to a vague approximation of gay and proud." She adds that the character's "persistent attempts to 'go straight' and the adamant avoidance of any gay milieu or culture" paint Dynasty as "flawed and compromised," but acknowledges that the series remains a staple of gay iconography despite its primary gay character being "hardly a role model of self-acceptance and pride."
In a 2006 interview with TV Guide, Coleman reaffirmed that having a gay main character on a prime time drama in the early 1980s "was quite daring at that time. I think the only other gay character in a series was Billy Crystal on Soap, and that was a comedy. But [Steven] was so timid by today's standards, especially looking at what's on cable, with The L Word, Queer as Folk and shows like that. Dynasty now seems unbelievably quaint." Commenting on Steven's romantic relationship with Luke Fuller (played by Billy Campbell), Coleman noted, "It was very much The Donna Reed Show in terms of four feet on the floor, nobody actually ever touching."
It has also been suggested that the increased visibility of gay characters like Steven on network series in the late 1970s and 1980s (who owed their own existence to relaxing social restrictions and the 1969 Stonewall riots) sparked a backlash from "fundamentalists who complained to advertisers," and by the spring of 1991 there were no gay characters in evidence at all. This ultimately paved the way for a reversal of the trend and Ellen DeGeneres' watershed coming out in 1997, the subsequent "steady stream of ... well-developed, three-dimensional gay and lesbian characters" on television, and the relative "open door" of the 2000s. David Bitler of MTV's LGBT-targeted channel Logo said in 2005 that "today's youth generation is more accustomed to seeing gay characters on television, because gay visibility in pop culture has only increased exponentially during the last 10 to 15 years" with the depiction of gay and lesbian characters on shows such as Dawson's Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Real World and Road Rules becoming commonplace. Comparing Steven's 1981 confrontation with his father over his sexuality to the 2005 coming out of Desperate Housewives teen Andrew Van de Kamp to his mother, Damon Romine of GLAAD noted in a 2005 PlanetOut.com article that though both Blake Carrington and Bree Van de Kamp encourage their sons to "change"—which is not possible—in 1981 this was presented as a "serious suggestion," whereas in 2005 the idea is "ridiculous." Romine added, "That's progress, even though we still have a long way to go." In the same article Jenny Stewart of PlanetOut.com posed the question of whether Steven Carrington "was a groundbreaking first who blazed a trail for the must-see gay TV of the new millennium or a last gasp of the traditional 'gayness as tragedy' storyline."
As Dynasty begins on January 12, 1981, Carrington heir Steven (Al Corley) returns to Denver from New York City to attend the wedding of his father, powerful oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe). Though the details are at first unclear, father and son are somewhat estranged, and their reunion is an awkward one. The Carrington family dynamic is soon established; thoughtful and sensitive Steven resists his father's pressure to step into his role as future leader of Blake's empire, while his spoiled sister Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin), better suited to follow in Blake's footsteps, is underestimated by—and considered little more than a trophy to—father Blake. Steven is devoted to and loved by Fallon, who sees the differences between her brother and Blake but does not understand why they cannot be reconciled. Steven, knowing Fallon's devotion to Blake, is hesitant to open up to her. Steven befriends Krystle (Linda Evans), Blake's former secretary and future wife, who is adjusting to life at the mansion despite chilly receptions from Fallon and the Carrington household staff. At the end of the three-hour premiere episode "Oil," Steven finally confronts his father, criticizing Blake's capitalistic values and seemingly-amoral business practices. Blake explodes, revealing the secret of which Steven thought his father was unaware: Blake is disgusted by Steven's homosexuality, and his refusal to "conform" sets father and son at odds for some time.
To Blake's chagrin, Steven goes to work for Walter Lankershim (Dale Robertson), a small-time oilman and rival to Blake, and his new business partner Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins), Steven's old friend and Blake's former employee, who had previously been involved with Krystle. Though Walter brings Steven to a brothel in a fatherly attempt to resolve his sexual confusion, he and Matthew are unfazed by Steven's supposed preference for men, and Matthew even defends him against the homophobic glares of other oil rig workers. Steven finds a kindred spirit in Matthew's fragile wife Claudia (Pamela Bellwood), who is trying to put her life back together after a mental breakdown, and they secretly kiss in "The Chauffeur Tells a Secret." Steven is framed for an accident at Walter's oil rig and fired. He is offered his job back when his innocence is later proven, but declines; after beginning an affair with Claudia in "The Necklace," Steven decides to work for Blake at Denver-Carrington. Despite Fallon's machinations to keep him away, Steven's ex-lover Ted Dinard (Mark Withers) appears, hoping to reconcile. Steven spends the night with Ted, soon deciding he must break it off with both Ted and Claudia. As Steven and Ted are saying their final goodbyes in "The Separation," Blake enters to find them in a chaste embrace. Blake, whose discomfort with Steven's sexuality manifests itself in rage, angrily pushes the two men apart. Ted falls backward and hits his head; the injury proves fatal and Blake is arrested and charged with murder. Angry and upset, Steven testifies that Ted's death had been the result of malicious intent, which infuriates Blake and Fallon. A veiled surprise witness for the prosecution appears in the season finale "The Testimony," and Fallon gasps in recognition: "Oh my God, that's my mother!"
In the second season premiere "Enter Alexis" (1981), the former Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins) testifies that ex-husband Blake has a violent temper, which proves damaging to his case. Blake is convicted for Ted's death but does not serve any jail time. Fallon is cold toward Alexis and Blake is openly hostile; at odds with his father, Steven is drawn to the long-absent mother he hardly remembers. He is seduced by the apparent devotion of Alexis, whom Blake had exiled from Denver and her children's lives after he had discovered her affair with another man. Steven soon gets a taste of his mother's poison in "Alexis' Secret": according to Alexis, Fallon is not Blake's daughter at all, and she later indicates that Fallon's father is in fact Blake's longtime friend and business rival, Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner). The secret eating at him, a drunken Steven falls, hits his head and nearly drowns in the pool. Steven and Blake put aside their differences, and a convalescing Steven meets Krystle's visiting niece Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) in "Reconciliation" (1981).
When Alexis suggests that, as Blake's only heir, Steven should get married, he considers the idea and approaches Claudia about resuming their relationship. Steven and Sammy Jo begin dating, although he is unable at first to make love to her. Steven proposes to Claudia; still in love with Matthew, she declines, driving Steven back to Sammy Jo. They elope in the 1982 episode "Sammy Jo and Steven Marry." Blake and Alexis do not approve of the match; the marriage is short-lived, however, as Alexis pays Sammy Jo to leave Steven and Denver in "The Baby." Fallon is devastated at the revelation that Blake is not her father, but a blood test proves their biological connection in "The Gun" as Steven follows Sammy Jo to Hollywood. On his way home to Denver in "The Shakedown," Steven meets an attractive male stranger who subsequently tries to blackmail him; Steven beats him up, and is arrested. In the April 28, 1982 episode "The Two Princes," Steven confronts the entire family, berating them for their intolerance and elitist values, and stating for all to hear that he is gay and unashamed. Vowing to live his own life on his own terms, he leaves the mansion.
With the series now lacking a Carrington, Alexis publicly confesses a dark secret from her and Blake's past in the 1982 third season opener "The Plea": their firstborn son, Adam, had been kidnapped as a baby and had never been returned. A young lawyer named Michael Torrance (Gordon Thomson) soon comes to Denver, armed with items from Adam's baby carriage and claiming to be the missing Carrington heir. A silver rattle convinces Alexis, but Blake is suspicious and dismissive; by the time he begins to come around, the damage is done and Adam is subtly hostile. In the eighth episode of the season, "La Mirage," Fallon finally receives a letter from Steven, who is working on an oil rig in the Java Sea. Jack Coleman debuts as Steven (his face unseen) in the December 1, 1982 episode "Acapulco" as the oil rig explodes. Blake and Alexis rush to Indonesia to search for him, but Steven is presumed dead; Blake refuses to believe it. In "Samantha," Sammy Jo reappears with a baby, whom she claims is her son by Steven.
Announcing her desire to seek fame as a model in New York City in the January 5, 1983 episode "Danny," Sammy Jo hopes that Blake and Krystle will take baby Danny off her hands. Meanwhile, Steven is alive in a Singapore hospital, his face bandaged after extensive cosmetic surgery. Alexis wants custody of Danny herself but is soon distracted by greedy Adam's machinations. Several episodes later in "The Mirror," Steven's bandages are removed. He considers letting his family continue to believe that he is dead, but Steven's doctor contacts Blake. Blake recognizes his son despite the surgery, but Steven refuses to return to Denver. He reconsiders when Blake tells him about Danny. Steven makes an emotional return to the Carrington mansion in "Fathers and Sons," reuniting with his loved ones and meeting Adam and Danny for the first time. Alexis admits that she had paid Sammy Jo to leave Denver and suggests that Blake had bribed her to leave Danny behind; Steven visits Sammy Jo in New York in "The Downstairs Bride" but returns alone.
Steven finds himself in the middle of his parents' fight over a potential merger of their companies initiated by a plotting Alexis. Blake is dismayed when Steven accepts a job offer from Alexis and makes known his plan to move out of the mansion with Danny. In the March 30, 1983 episode "The Dinner" Steven visits Claudia, who had returned to the sanitarium after another breakdown during his absence. Tensions between Blake and Steven escalate further thanks to Alexis, who manages to keep her Steven away from a dinner planned by Krystle to mend fences between father and son. In the third season finale "The Cabin," Blake learns that Steven is living with his attorney, Chris Deegan (Grant Goodeve). Suspecting that the men are more than friends, Blake decides to sue Steven for custody of Danny.
When Steven learns of his father's plans, he and Blake come to blows. Chris represents Steven at the custody trial. Blake argues that a homosexual cannot be a good parent, while Steven argues that Blake, as a convicted murderer, is worse. Alexis testifies that Blake paid off Sammy Jo to leave the baby in Denver; while Sammy Jo testifies that Steven is promiscuous. Claudia, who has recently been released from a sanitarium, tells Steven that she has a plan to win the custody trial. Steven and Claudia fly to Reno and are married. In episode 67, "Tender Comrades," they are awarded custody of Danny. In episode 72, Steven and Blake reconcile and by episode 74 Steven and Claudia have moved back into the mansion.
Steven is concerned about Claudia's fragile emotional state when she starts receiving flowers (violets), gifts and phone calls from her missing (and presumed dead) husband, Matthew. In their investigation, Steven and Claudia travel to South America and visit the site where Matthew and Lindsay crashed. When Steven finds Dex Dexter with violets at ColbyCo, he suspects that Dex is responsible. Eventually they learn that the calls and gifts were from Morgan Hess, a private investigator with ties to Alexis. However it is Sammy Jo who is paying Hess to harass the couple. She returns to Denver and announces that she will fight for custody of Danny.
Sammy Jo kidnaps Danny, and demands $30,000/month for his return. However Claudia convinces Adam to help get Danny back, and Sammy Jo returns to New York, defeated.
Meanwhile, Steven is distressed by his mother's arrest for the murder of Mark Jennings, Krystle's ex-husband. After an anonymous tip to the DA, Steven is called as a witness where he testifies that he saw his mother push Mark off her balcony. Alexis is furious and disowns Steven. Her lover, Dex, discovers that disgraced former Congressman Neal McVane, disguised as Alexis, is the real killer. After her acquittal, Steven and his mother reconcile and he returns to work at ColbyCo.
In episode 91, Steven and his family learn that Fallon has been killed in a plane crash with her lover, Peter DeVilbis. In episode 96, Steven learns that he has another sister, Amanda, born after his parents divorced and raised by Alexis' cousin. Although Alexis denies it at first, eventually she admits that Amanda is Blake's daughter.
At work, Steven meets a gay co-worker named Luke Fuller. Although Luke is attracted to Steven, their relationship is platonic at first. Claudia, however, is troubled by the growing friendship between the two men, and eventually has an extramarital affair with Dean Caldwell. When Steven learns of the affair, he sleeps with Luke. In episode 105, "Triangles," Steven decides to end the affair and reconcile with Claudia. However, by episode 110 Steven tells Claudia that while he loves her, he also loves Luke. Claudia, prompted by Adam, flies to Mexico to divorce Steven in episode 112. Steven's affair with Luke strains his relationship with Blake, especially when Steven invites Luke to be his escort to Amanda's wedding to Prince Michael of Moldavia.
Steven is heartbroken when Luke is killed in the terrorist attack at Amanda's wedding. After returning to Denver, he grows closer to Sammy Jo who has reconciled with Krystle. Steven is also needed to help Blake, who is having serious health problems. In episode 132, a frightened Sammy Jo confesses to Steven that she's been involved with a plot to kidnap Krystle and replace her with a look-alike. She has learned that her co-conspirators have been poisoning Blake. Steven saves his father from faux-Krystle while Sammy Jo frees Krystle from her captors.
After Blake recovers he announces plans to put Steven on his board of directors. As part of his job, Steven must work with state senator Bart Fallmont who does not agree with Denver-Carrington's business plans. While working together, Bart and Steven develop a romantic interest towards each other but decide not to pursue it as Bart has not come out as a homosexual. Adam, with Denver-Carrington's interests in mind, leaks to the press that Bart is a closeted gay man. In the midst of the scandal, Bart is removed from the state senate. Bart accuses Steven of betraying him for Denver-Carrington, but Steven knows the true culprit is Adam. Meanwhile, Sammy Jo and Clay, Bart's brother, are engaged. In episode 146, Steven worries that Sammy Jo may fight for custody again.
In episode 155, Sammy Jo taunts Steven with threats of a custody battle. In episode 157, Steven is distressed to learn that Danny is demonstrating troubling behavior at school. Sammy Jo continues to threaten Steven, but by episode 163 her quickie marriage to Clay is in trouble and two episodes later it is annulled. Sammy Jo and Steven agree to put aside their differences for Danny's benefit, and in episode 166 agree to live together platonically in an attempt to give Danny a normal home life. In episode 171, however, they give into romantic feelings and make love. Steven, once again, is conflicted over his emotions and sexuality. In episode 172, a frustrated Steven goes recklessly horseback riding, and is injured when he is thrown from his horse. He decides to move out of Sammy Jo's ranch and leaves Danny with his mother. He announces that he will leave Denver after Adam's wedding. Unfortunately, a not-so-dead Matthew Blaisdel and his native South American henchmen crash the wedding and take the family hostage.
After several days in captivity, Steven manages to overpower Matthew and stabs him to death in the second episode of the season, "The Siege - Part 2." The incident leaves him emotionally scarred and he is encouraged to seek psychiatric help. Deciding to remain in Denver, he takes over Blake's football team; when Sammy Jo becomes romantically involved with quarterback Josh Harris, Steven is outraged. He orders a medical screening when Josh's playing becomes erratic, and Josh, a cocaine addict, quits the team. Josh proposes to Sammy Jo, and when she refuses he overdoses and dies. Blake, who has been impressed with Steven's handling of the football team, asks him to run Denver-Carrington while Blake campaigns for governor. Steven's management style causes great conflict between him, Adam, Fallon, and Dex; Steven also confronts Jeff, telling him to stay out of Sammy Jo's life. However, Steven bands together with his family when they learn that Alexis' new husband, Sean Rowan, is plotting to destroy the Carringtons. Struggling with the uncertainty in his life, Steven decides that he needs to leave Denver and regroup. In the March 30, 1988 season cliffhanger "Colorado Roulette," Steven pens a letter to Blake explaining his need for distance and leaves Denver. Adam subsequently burns the letter before Blake finds or reads it.
By the time of the 1991 miniseries Dynasty: The Reunion, Steven is an environmental lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and is in a long-term relationship with Bart Fallmont, who returned to Denver during the three-year period between the series finale and the miniseries. Steven and Blake finally reconcile when Blake formally accepts Steven and Bart's committed relationship.
Notes and references
- "Steven Carrington". Dynasty: The Authorized Biography of the Carringtons. Doubleday/Dolphin. 1984. pp. 72–85. ISBN 0-385-19525-7.
- Hall, Locksley (April 16, 2007). "Ten Actors Who Played Gay". AfterElton.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- "Jack Coleman biography". TVGuide.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Stewart, Jenny (May 11, 2005). "Coming Out". PlanetOut.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Schemering, Christopher (September 1985). The Soap Opera Encyclopedia. Ballantine Books. pp. 80–84. ISBN 0-345-32459-5.
- Miller, Samantha; John Griffiths (June 22, 1998). "Rising Son". People (Vol. 49, No. 24). pp. 193–194. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Gliatto, Tom; Vicki Sheff (August 5, 1991). "Alexis Strikes Again!". People (Vol. 36, No. 4). pp. 66–68. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Walters, Suzanna Danuta (September 1, 2003). All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America. University Of Chicago Press. pp. 63–65. ISBN 0-226-87232-7.
- "Actors & Characters: Al Corley". UltimateDynasty.net. Retrieved February 28, 2009.
- Tropiano, Stephen (March 19, 2003). "The Prime Time Closet: Outing TV's Heterosexual Homosexuals". PopMatters.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- "1981-1982 Ratings". ClassicTVhits.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- "1984-1985 Ratings". ClassicTVhits.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Rudolph, Ileane (November 27, 2006). "Jack Coleman, Heroes:What's Going On Behind the Glasses?". TVGuide.com. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Buxton, Rodney A. "Sexual Orientation and Television". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Hanania, Joseph (November 3, 1994). "Resurgence of Gay Roles on Television". LATimes.com. The Los Angeles Times. p. 12. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- "Dynasty Episodes Guide: Season One". Shoulderpads.net. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
- "The Two Princes" (1982) features Al Corley's final appearance as Steven for the run of the series.
- "Dynasty Episodes Guide: Season Two". Shoulderpads.net. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
- "Dynasty Episodes Guide: Season Three". Shoulderpads.net. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
- While Chris admits to Blake that he is gay, the exact nature of his past or current relationship with Steven is never explained.
- Claudia and Adam slept together in episode 107, and will eventually marry
- "Dynasty Episodes Guide: Season Eight". Shoulderpads.net. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
- Ignoring series continuity, producers had original actor Corley reprise the role of Steven, despite the fact that Steven's change in appearance with the casting of Coleman in 1983 had been attributed to plastic surgery after an oil rig explosion.