“Royal Marriage” is historically significant television. When this episode debuted in 1979, it offered one of prime time’s first positive depictions of a gay character: Kit Mainwaring, the closeted oil-and-cattle heir who becomes Lucy’s fiancée.
“Dallas” goes out of its way not to scorn Kit. This was a mark of progress in the ’70s, when gay characters were rarely seen on television, and when they did show up, they were usually depicted as clowns, freaks or sociopaths.
A year-and-a-half before “Dallas” introduced Kit, Billy Crystal’s gay character sashayed around in dresses on “Soap.” Earlier in the decade, a gay patient on “Marcus Welby, M.D.” was advised to “fight” his impulses so he could lead a “normal” life, while Angie Dickinson tangled with a trio of lesbian killers on “Police Woman.”
On “Dallas,” Kit is never depicted as comical, strange or dangerous. He becomes engaged to Lucy after a whirlwind romance, but realizes it would be wrong to marry her and comes out to Bobby, who is mostly sympathetic toward him. “Your personal life is your own business, Kit,” Bobby says. “But, damn it, why did you have to bring Lucy into it?”
Bobby is “Dallas’s” moral compass, so by making him respectful toward Kit, the show seems to instruct its audience to treat the character the same way. When Kit finally reveals the truth to Lucy, she is devastated but ultimately supportive, even telling him she’d like to remain friends.
This might seem a little pat, but Lucy probably understands Kit’s turmoil better than most. His feelings of alienation aren’t unlike Lucy’s own struggles to fit in at Southfork, where she is a young woman in a houseful of deceitful adults.
Predictably, J.R. is the only Ewing who isn’t supportive of Kit, mostly because the young man’s broken engagement to Lucy means the Ewings and Mainwarings won’t be joining forces in business. J.R. does exhibit a hint of homophobia, though, wondering if Kit is “man enough” to stand up to him. This prompts Bobby’s notable retort: “Kit Mainwaring is more a man, J.R., than you will ever be.”
Of course, the most striking part of Kit’s coming out isn’t how J.R. rejects him or Bobby and Lucy accept him – it’s how Kit accepts himself. He tells Lucy, “I’m not gonna change. I’m tired of trying. I’ve got to learn to like myself the way I am.”
Camille Marchetta’s sensitive script makes “Royal Marriage” one of “Dallas’s” classiest episodes. It’s also surprisingly durable, with one exception: Kit’s constant use of the word “homosexual” – no character in this episode ever says “gay” – makes it sound like he has a clinical condition.
“Royal Marriage” is also elevated by strong performances from Mark Wheeler and especially Charlene Tilton, who is quite touching during Kit’s coming-out scene. In interviews, Tilton has called “Royal Marriage” one of her favorite episodes, and I see why. The actress is really good here, demonstrating how interesting Lucy can be when she is given meaningful storylines.
“Royal Marriage” is a sentimental favorite of mine, too. I watched this episode for the first time in 1991, when I was a teenager struggling to accept my own homosexuality. Back then, seeing my favorite show offer a positive view of gay people meant a lot to me.
It still does.
Season 2, Episode 21
Airdate: March 9, 1979
Audience: 15.8 million homes, ranking 20th in the weekly ratings
Writer: Camille Marchetta
Director: Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis: Lucy gets engaged to Kit Mainwaring, who is secretly gay. When Kit tells Lucy the truth and calls off the wedding, she is hurt but prevents J.R. from creating a scandal.
Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Linden Chiles (Chris Mainwaring), Dante D’Andre (Jesus), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Joan Lancaster (Linda Bradley), Jay W. MacIntosh (Mrs. Mainwaring), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Mark Wheeler (Kit Mainwaring), Chuck Winters (Sam Gates), Buck Young (Seth Stone)