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Visions: “The War Widow”

Frances Lee McCain and Pamela Bellwood in "The War Widow"
August 5, 2021 - 4:00 pm

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This pre-recorded program will be available to watch on-demand from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Pacific Time).

Visions: “The War Widow”

U.S., 10/28/1976

Broadcast at a time when LGBTQ+ people were frequently depicted negatively on television, playwright Harvey Perr’s acclaimed period drama “The War Widow” dared to sensitively portray the gentle unfolding of two women falling in love. Set during World War I, Perr’s teleplay concerns an introspective, unfulfilled married woman (Pamela Bellwood) who finds herself increasingly drawn to a vibrant, self-actualized photographer (Frances Lee McCain). Upending decades of televised stereotypes, Perr’s coming out tale centers its strong female characters (anchored by brilliant, understated performances from Bellwood and McCain) with courage and agency as they chart their own destinies in opposition to cruel restrictions imposed by society at large. Controversial when aired (the PBS program included a disclaimer noting that it was funded entirely by grants, not tax dollars), the resulting moving drama (produced by TV pioneer Barbara Schultz) represents a significant milestone in the realistic, positive depiction of lesbians on primetime television. In The Advocate, noted activist and film historian Vito Russo (The Celluloid Closet) wrote, “watching the final scenes of ‘The War Widow,’ a vision of lesbians as a people welled-up inside me and I saw, for the first time on television, the strength of will that has existed in my people throughout history, enabling us to decide to be different and carve a life out of our being.”

Screenwriter Harvey Perr and actress Frances Lee McCain will join LGBTQ historian Jenni Olson for a post-screening conversation. Introduction by Archive Director May Hong HaDuong.

Program note written by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.

Color, 78 min. KCET. Producer: Barbara Schultz. Director: Paul Bogart. Writer: Harvey Perr. With: Pamela Bellwood, Frances Lee McCain, Katharine Bard.

Use of Visions courtesy of KCETLink.

Total program runtime including discussion: approx. 120 min.