Glitz, glamour, and murder! The 1980s nighttime soap Dynasty captured the zeitgeist with a one-percenting oil family, the Carringtons, living large in Denver, of all places. The show, created by Esther and Richard Shapiro, premiered on January 12, 1981, to capitalize on competing nighttime soap Dallas. But what set Dynasty apart was its unabashed catfights, characters dripping with diamonds, and the progressiveness of its casting.
The show didn’t become a top 10 hit until season two, when Blake Carrington’s (John Forsythe) ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins) strutted into town, upending the family and picking many knock-down, drag-out fights with Blake’s current wife, Krystle (Linda Evans). After becoming the number one show in America in 1985—and airing in 80 countries—Dynasty spun off into The Colbys, which only lasted two seasons.
By the spring of 1989, Dynasty’s popularity had begun to wane; after nine seasons and 220 episodes, the Carringtons were told to pack their bags. Because of the abrupt cancelation, the show returned with a two-part miniseries in October 1991. Try as they might, shows like Desperate Housewives, Empire, or any of The Real Housewives can’t hold a candle to Dynasty’s opulent legacy. Here are 13 saucy facts about the iconic TV show (which made a comeback last year).
1. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED OIL.
The Shapiros wanted to make a show about the 1979 oil crisis, but they instead created an “American fantasy.” “We thought people had seen enough stories where families fell apart,” Esther Shapiro told New York magazine. “We wanted a strong, 19th-century sort of family where people were in conflict but loved each other in spite of everything. We found that the audience wasn’t very interested in the oil workers’ stories. But people were just fascinated by what was going on inside that castle.”
Dallas tapped into a similar market, but Dynasty flipped the story. “Dallas, it seems to me, is more male-oriented and rural,” Esther said. “It has a lot more to do with business wheeling and dealing than with family. The women tend to be pretty passive. Our women, though, are anything but passive … and anything but victims.”
2. ANGIE DICKINSON WAS OFFERED THE PART OF KRYSTLE.
Back when the show was still called Oil, Angie Dickinson was offered the role of Krystle, which she turned down. Without realizing Oil had become Dynasty, she asked Aaron Spelling about it at a party, a while after the show began airing. “Aaron nearly fell backwards,” Dickinson told People. “He said, ‘Well, it’s on every Wednesday at 9 o’clock, and it’s called Dynasty.’” Spelling decided to offer Dickinson another role, this time as Lady Ashley Mitchell, but she turned that part down, too. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t. There are too many ladies already. I would want it to be my show.’”
Evans, for one, was grateful to Dickinson. “I’ve thanked God endlessly, but I owe a special thanks to Angie Dickinson for turning down the part of Krystle,” Evans wrote in her memoir. “Since then, we’ve become friends, so I was able to thank Angie myself.”
3. ALEXIS WAS THE FEMALE J.R. EWING.
“A lot of what [Alexis] was like was from [Dallas’s] J.R.,” Collins said on Watch What Happens Live. “And when I first came into the show, they compared me to J.R.” On 2006’s Dynasty Reunion: Catfights and Caviar, Collins further explained her conniving yet somewhat lovable character. “I think it was the first time that audiences saw on television a woman who could be evil and manipulating and downright nasty, and have a lot of charm and sexuality.”
4. IT FEATURED ONE OF MAINSTREAM TELEVISION’S EARLIEST GAY CHARACTERS.
Steven Carrington—played first by Al Corley, then by Jack Coleman—was Blake Carrington’s gay son (though he did have relationships with women, too). The idea of having an openly gay character on TV seemed like a good idea, but Dynasty’s producers kept Steven’s storylines rather tame and ambiguous, which didn’t sit well with Corley. The actor often complained in interviews how “Steven doesn't have any fun. He doesn’t laugh; he has no humor,” which prompted producers to replace him at the end of season two. In order to have Corley exit the show, the writers had Steven become disfigured after he was involved in an oil rig explosion. After some magical plastic surgery, Coleman reemerged as the new and improved Steven.
“My feeling was that I was in a kind of a situation where I was expected to be a spokesman, and I was never comfortable being a spokesman,” Coleman told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just the kind of position you wind up in when a character is long-running. You not only have to defend the character but the situation to the entire country. Ultimately I saw Steven as a man who was unsure of his sexuality and from time to time was attracted to women. He was caught between worlds.”
Despite his mixed feelings about playing a conflicted gay character, Corley felt like he made a difference. “I had no idea how important this character was to a lot of people,” Corley said on the Dynasty Reunion. “The letters that I got that said, ‘This is the first thing I’ve ever seen where I can actually go to my parents and I can tell them, hey, look, there’s somebody else. There’s a face to all of this.’”
5. THE SHOW’S COSTUME DESIGNER, NOLAN MILLER, RESURRECTED SHOULDER PADS.
Joan Crawford’s 1940s attire of hats, slim-fitting dresses, and gloves was a big inspiration on Dynasty’s costume designer, Nolan Miller. “Everything was coordinated: Each dress had its own particular hat, purse, gloves, shoes, and it never varied,” Esther Shapiro told New York magazine. “Joan Crawford didn’t mix and match. We decided to take it one step further: Alexis would never wear the same thing twice. In fact, no one on Dynasty would.” Miller had a weekly wardrobe budget of $35,000, and designed 3000 outfits during the show’s run.
Collins suggested to Miller that he needed to copy haute couture designers like Yves Saint Laurent “and have high style, and so they started doing that with me, which is when they started bringing out the big shoulder pads, early in 1983,” Collins told PBS. “When I started getting very dressed up for every single scene, even in the boudoir, they loved it so much that every actress also was dressed up to the nines.”
MERCHANDISE GROSSED MORE THAN $400 MILLION.
A show about moneyed people wearing nice things translated into the public being able to purchase some of the show’s glitz. A line of Dynasty merchandise was released, which included $3 pantyhose, $150 Forever Krystle perfume, $500 tuxedos, $800 ball gowns, $10,000 handmade Alexis and Krystle dolls, and a $200,000 chinchilla coat. Crafty fans of the show could also buy Miller’s patterns through McCall’s Pattern Co. and make the fancy dresses themselves.
7. THE CAST DIDN’T KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THE MOLDAVIAN MASSACRE.
More than 60 million people tuned in to watch Dynasty’s season five finale, on May 15, 1985. The cliffhanger involved a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-like massacre in Moldavia, where terrorists crashed Amanda’s (Catherine Oxenberg) wedding to Prince Michael—whom she did not want to marry—and unleashed bullets onto the unsuspecting wedding attendees. “We had no idea who was going to live or die. None of us knew,” Collins said during the Dynasty Reunion. “Because we knew if you were really bloodied up, that was it. Might as well call your agent and say, ‘I need a job’ … It was very funny, actually.”
Fans had to wait until the sixth season premiered on September 25, 1985 to learn that none of the main cast died—just supporting characters Lady Ashley Mitchell (the second role that Dickinson turned down, which Ali MacGraw played) and Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell). The stunt was so popular, T-shirts imprinted with “I survived the Moldavian Massacre” were sold.
8. ROCK HUDSON’S APPEARANCE GENERATED SOME CONTROVERSY.
In 1985, there were still a lot of misconceptions about AIDS, with many people believing you could catch the virus from saliva. Between 1984 and 1985, Rock Hudson appeared on nine episodes of Dynasty as Evans’ lover, Daniel Reece. During filming, the producers didn’t know Hudson had AIDS (he died on October 2, 1985). The characters shared an open-mouth kiss, and Evans couldn’t understand why he didn’t lay it on her. “Instead of passionately kissing me, Rock just barely brushed his lips over mine and then backed away,” she said.
"Is it possible," asked one reporter, "that Rock Hudson transmitted AIDS to actress Linda Evans during love scenes [on Dynasty]?” To protect actors, the Screen Actors Guild wrote a letter that “recommended against kissing that involves the exchange of saliva with members of the AIDS high-risk groups—homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and hemophiliacs.”
9. DIAHANN CARROLL HOPED THE SERIES WOULD BREAK THE COLOR LINE.
Diahann Carroll joined the cast as Dominique Deveraux during season four, and at the time was the only African-American with a recurring role on a nighttime serial. “Our intention is to play the characters in 1984 with an emphasis on character, not color,” Esther Shapiro told People. Carroll had attended a Golden Globes party where she met Dynasty's executive producer Aaron Spelling. He liked her so much, “We virtually closed the deal that night while having a drink at the bar,” Spelling said.
Carroll felt the time was right for not only a black actress to appear on a mainstream soap, but also for a storyline of interracial romance to manifest. “They’ve done everything,” she said. “They've done incest, homosexuality, murder. I think they’re slowly inching their way toward interracial. I want to be wealthy and ruthless. I want to be the first black b*tch on television.” Carroll played the role for another season on Dynasty and two seasons on The Colbys before briefly returning to Dynasty in season seven.
10. YOU CAN VISIT THE DYNASTY MANSION.
The show was based in Denver but parts of it were filmed near San Francisco. The Filoli Estate in Woodside, California was a stand-in for the Carrington’s gigantic home. The specs: 36,000 square feet, 43 rooms, 17 bathrooms, and 17 fireplaces. This May, the estate’s 16-acre garden will host the Filoli Flower Show, which will display 50,000 tulips and 15,000 daffodils for the public to marvel at. If you’re a member of Filoli, you can visit the premises at any time—not just once a year.
11. THE LILY POND SCENE OCCURRED IN SHALLOW WATER.
Dynasty’s most famous catfight is one that took place in a lily pond and entailed Krystle and Alexis ripping each other to shreds—while wearing gowns! Evans wrote that they filmed the scene at an estate in Pasadena, in shallow water. “It looked like we were in six feet of water but in reality we were in only two and a half feet, and fighting on our knees! It felt absurd and we struggled all day to make it look authentic. When at the end of the day the director yelled ‘cut and print,’ we stood up looking like a couple of drowned rats. The crew spontaneously broke out in applause and laughter … Joan loved the verbal fights—I hated them. I loved the physical confrontations—she loathed them. We did them all—for nine years!”
12. A DYNASTY MOVIE WAS IN THE WORKS.
In 2011, the creators of Dynasty announced they were working on a script for a prequel set in 1961, to be released in theaters in 2012. That didn’t happen, clearly, but the plot surrounded a younger Blake Carrington. “We’re taking Blake Carrington back to his young manhood and when he met Alexis, and setting the movie in the Mad Men-era of the 1960s,” Esther Shapiro said. “It will give us the opportunity to start fresh, without the constraints that television placed on our characters in the series.”
“Our intention is, if this works, to make this a franchise because people want to see the others,” co-creator Richard Shapiro told ABC. “People are asking about Krystle and so forth.”
13. IT JUST GOT A SMALL-SCREEN REBOOT.
In May 2017, the CW announced that it would be bringing a reboot of the series back to the small screen, courtesy of Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. The series made its premiere in October 2017, and will return to complete its first season on January 17, 2018.