On Sunday, November 3, 1985 at 9:00PM, I sat down to watch an ABC Novel for Television of the adaptation of John Jakes’ North and South.
North and South told the story of George Hazard (James Read) and Orry Main (Patrick Swayze), two young men from the north and south respectively who meet approximately twenty years before the Civil War, attend the military academy at West Point and develop a life-long friendship that is tested due to the changing climate of the country and their differences because of their individual beliefs and values from how they were raised. The Hazards are a prosperous iron works owning family from Lehigh Station Pennsylvania while The Mains are wealthy cotton planters living on the Mont Royal Plantation of South Carolina. Although southern son Orry believes that industry is the way to the south’s successful future, he won’t turn against his upbringing even when it causes numerous estrangements between he and George throughout the miniseries. George’s sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley) is an abolitionist, whose constant preaching and crime of helping slave Grady (Georg Stanford Brown) escape his bondage is responsible for one of these rifts.
Orry’s sister Brett (Genie Francis) marries George’s brother Billy (John Stockwell) cementing the two families while scheming and jealous sister Ashton (Terri Garber) plots to destroy the couple. But Ashton is just one of the individuals plotting a Main/Hazard destruction. West Point nemesis Elkahah Bent (Philip Casnoff) nurtures a dangerous hatred against Orry and George from wrong doings he reasons in his sick mind that they have done to him. George falls in love and marries feisty Irish lass Constance Flynn (Wendy Kilbourne) while Orry’s romance with Madeline Fabray (Lesley-Anne Down) is interrupted by her father Nicholas who tricks his daughter into marrying the much older Justin Lamotte (David Carradine), who turns out to be a cruel, abusive husband instead of a loving one.
The splendor of this television production as well as its powerful acting and story has endeared fans of North and South for over three decades. When the miniseries first aired, I was a twenty year old history buff with an interest in the Civil War which started at the age of ten when I had seen Gone With The Wind for the first time. But whereas Gone With The Wind painted people from the north as “dirty Yankees,” North and South showed the mistakes of both sides through the eyes of the Mains and Hazards. North and South filmed on locations throughout the south and featured an all-star cast including such classic Hollywood names as Elizabeth Taylor and Gene Kelly. It’s interesting to think now that the bulk of the story rested in the hands of two relatively unknown actors at the time, James Read and Patrick Swayze as Orry and George. It was their amazing portrayals that sold the Main/Hazard friendship.
North and South was followed by a sequel, North and South:Book II in 1986 and a third (though less popular) reprise Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III in 1994.
I’m proud to say that the television masterpiece that is North and South is my favorite movie of all time and every time I watch it, it is a magical experience that takes me back to the happier days of my youth.