Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 26 – ‘Royal Marriage’

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Kit Mainwaring, Mark Wheeler, Royal Marriage

Beard and groom

“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.

Grade: A

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Kit Mainwaring, Mark Wheeler, Royal Marriage

Prince of a gay

‘ROYAL MARRIAGE’

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)

“Royal Marriage” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. This was one of Dallas’s episodes that touched me. I knew my son was struggling with his own sexuality. I know it had an effect on him. It also was special to me because I wanted him to know it was okay to be gay.

  2. I’m surprised Lucy didn’t have more gay pals. She seems like she’d be fun a girl to hang out with.

  3. I watched this episode for the first time only a couple of months ago on DVD, catching up on all the episodes I missed, and I was struck (in a positive sense) by how openly Dallas treated the subject of homosexuality, portraying the character as a decent and admirable person. Back in 1979, I think that was a very unsusual and courageous thing to do. I was really touched by it, and the series deserves great kudos for that.

    As for JR’s reaction, that was so – JR! 😉 Bobby tells him the news about Kit, and JR *of course* knows about it already, and just coolly shrugs it off by saying something like, “Oh come on, Lucy isn’t the first woman to marry a homosexual guy, no problem at all, they can both live their own lives and do whatever they want, as long as they do it discreetly…” All he cares about is money and power, and the family’s reputation (to protect that money and power). I remember his reaction made me grin, not because I approve of what he said, but because it’s so typical and true to the character. It would have been strange if he had been as understanding as Bobby, or shocked, like “OMG, a homosexual, how terrible…” That just wouldn’t have been JR.

    What I also liked about the episode is that it adds depth to Lucy’s character. Her reaction was believable to me. It showed that she truly loved him.

    • I agree, especially your points about J.R. There’s a great moment where Bobby mentions something about how this will affect Lucy. J.R. responds: “What’s she got to do with it?” It’s a comical moment in an otherwise heartfelt, moving episode.

  4. My gay cousin & her wife have a handsome little boy thru invitro. The more people are accepting of gays, the quicker society can adapt & realize just how rich the gay culture & the gay community have to contribute to humanity C. B.!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Your description of JR’s reaction and involvement is inaccurate. He knew that Kit was gay from the start and Bobby and Lucy were all concerned with telling him when he just blurts out that “some women like being married to homosexuals” the point was that even JR didn’t care about sexual orientation… it was all just money to him. He wanted that alliance with that other family which is why he pushed Lucy on him in the first place. It was brilliant.

    • Thanks for your feedback. It’s been a while since I’ve watched this episode. I’ll revisit it sometime to see if I misinterpreted J.R.’s role.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Market Baby” is the most intriguing, “For Love or Money” is the saddest and “Royal Marriage” is a sentimental favorite, but “John Ewing III, Part 2” gets my vote for the season’s […]

  2. […] “Royal Marriage,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Lucy (Charlene Tilton) and Kit (Mark Wheeler) are in his […]

  3. […] At other times, she is a sweet young woman who deals gracefully with a broken engagement (“Royal Marriage”) and struggles to forgive her deadbeat mama […]

  4. […] Christopher Wainwright Sr., father of Lucy’s closeted fiancé Kit, in the second-season episode “Royal Marriage.” His other roles include the dad on the acclaimed ’70s family drama “James at 15.” Chiles […]

  5. […] Lucy became engaged to a closeted gay man in 1979, which ended up being one of television’s first sympathetic portraits of homosexuality, and during the mid-1980s, the show hinted Grace was more than a mere […]

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