Friday, January 20, 2023

Dona Flor and Her Six Imitators

"Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" was a 1966 novel by Brazilian author Jorge Amado.  The story involves a widow, Flor, who establishes a new marriage with a gentlemanly but dull pharmacist, Teodoro.  Though she is treated well by Teodoro, Flor misses her sexually exciting late husband Vadinho and prays in church for a resolution to her discontentment.  Her prayer is answered in an astonishing way - the ghost of Vadinho suddenly appears wanton and naked in her bed.  The novel became an international bestseller.  The following year, the identical premise (absent the wantonness and nudity) turned up in an American television pilot titled My Husbands, Tom and John.  The pilot showed Julie Sommars torn between her second husband (Robert Reed) and the ghost of her first husband (Peter Duryea).  Batman producer William Dozier and Bewitched creator Sol Sachs teamed up on a similar pilot, Heaven Help Us.  This time, a widower (Barry Nelson) is haunted by his late wife (Joanna Moore), who is determined to disrupt her former hubby's love life.

Julie Sommars

Bernard Slade, the creator of The Partridge Family, The Girl with Something Extra and Bridget Loves Bernie, returned to the "Dona Flor" premise with a 1974 pilot, Ernie, Madge and Artie.  Nothing new was added to the story.  A widow (Cloris Leachman) has just married her second husband (Dick Van Patten) when the ghost of her first husband (Frank Sutton) shows up.  The pilot never had a chance as the fantasy sitcom had by then run its course and the American public was moving on to new types of sitcoms.    

"Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" was adapted into a successful film in 1976.  This revived interest in the supernatural love triangle.  Veteran sitcom team Austin and Irma Kalish turned out a Dona Flor-like pilot, Ghost of a Chance, in 1981.  The pilot starred Shelley Long, Barry Van Dyke and Steven Keats.

Kiss Me Goodbye, an atrocious American remake of Dona Flor, was released in 1982.  The film was directed by Robert Mulligan, best known for his work on the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and starred Sally Field, James Caan and Jeff Bridges.  Mulligan turned the former Sonny Corleone into a foppish hoofer.  The film had none of the eroticism that was vital to Dona Flor.  Caan hated the film so much that he stopped acting for five years.

In 1987, Aaron Spelling Productions pitched the ghost-ex idea yet again with Free Spirit, a pilot film that starred Lisa Eilbacher, Robin Thomas and Michael Des Barres.

Michael Des Barres
I am fascinated by unsold pilots.  The networks passed on a pilot for a Sunshine Boys television series that starred Red Buttons and Lionel Stander.  

Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley starred in a failed pilot for an African Queen series.

Two Topper revivals never got a series order.  First, there was a 1973 pilot titled Topper Returns, which starred Roddy McDowell, Stefanie Powers and John Fink.

Then, there was a 1979 pilot that starred Jack Warden, Kate Jackson and Andrew Stevens.

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