Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night

I went to work and wasted a lot of time on the telephone.  I had to go to a training session on handling credit cards even though I hardly ever handle any money transactions.  After that was over, I walked over to the library and watched “Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night,” the TV movie from 1977 starring Susan Dey.  Some of the power of the program came from the casting of Susan Dey, because viewers could imagine that this was what happened to Laurie Partridge a few years later.  Laurie did nearly marry a minister named Greg Houser in one episode.  Her character in this movie is Rowena Harper, who is separated from her husband.  Her emotional problems lead to physical abuse of her young daughter Mary Jane.  The little girl does seem difficult to deal with because she cries a lot and can sat still for a minute.  Something is definitely wrong when she is four years old and is still in a crib.  Susan Dey seemed like the type of woman who internalizes a lot of emotion, and she had an alcohol problem, so she fit the role in some ways.  Her voice didn’t seem quite right at times in expressing feelings.  She did effectively convey the frustrations of dealing with people, and I thought this was one of her better movies.  She had been in a lot of television shows as a guest star, and she could do some drama.  The girl who played Mary Jane was Natasha Ryan, and she was a memorable girl who got a lot of sympathy from the viewers.  I wondered if the experience of being in this movie was harmful to her.  She did a lot of crying, and in one scene Rowena slaps her.  She has a cast on her arm most of the time.  One member of the cast was Bernie Casey as a social worker.  He has a strong presence.  There is one scene typical of issue movies in which he cites the reports and statistics on child abuse.  Some of the writing could have been redone slightly.  Rowena’s father is played by Kevin McCarthy, who uses his influence to help Rowena retain custody of Mary Jane.  McCarthy is a bit scary after we’ve seen him in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”  Something sinister and cold about his character is revealed, although I thought it was rather predictable.  Rowena has to go speak with a psychiatrist by order of the court, and the psychiatrist is one of those who never talks and tells the patient when the time is up.  It seems that the writer of this story had some familiarity with shrinks.  Rhea Perlman is a worker for Parents Anonymous.  She’s a person who tries to be helpful, but she makes a fatal mistake at the end.  Would someone like her ever be so indiscreet as to mention the police?  The movie makes a case for talking with understanding people of the likes of the support groups like Parents Anonymous, rather than the stone cold psychiatrists.  A lot of the focus is not on Rowena but a doctor named Angela who examines Mary Jane and discovers cigarette burns on the buttocks.  She’s the one who contacts Casey.  She’s supposed to be a doctor from the ghetto whose gut instinct is more reliable than the upscale doctors at her hospital.  She doesn’t get along with authority, which in some ways hurts her cause.  I wasn’t convinced that someone like her could see everything so clearly.  John Vernon was the doctor who was a personal friend of Rowena, and who was a roadblock until another incident opened his eyes.  It was a fire that nearly killed Mary Jane, which was rather chilling to see a short time after I’ve seen “Manchester by the Sea,” along with the recent news of the warehouse fire in Oakland.  Rowena has a terrible memory of being locked in a closet and seeing a frightening, ugly rat with yellow eyes.  I was a little surprised that the house of such an affluent family could have such nasty rats running about, but I guess they are hard to exterminate.  Anyway, Rowena flashes back to the rat at a critical moment at the end of the movie, and the image could be construed as hilarious by unfeeling members of the audience out there, although I did not quite laugh out loud.  Susan Dey did do a little bit of her own singing in that last scene.  The song was “Hush, Little Baby.”  She was not quite ready to leap from this role to the starring part in “Grease,” however.  I did like seeing her in this period because she turned into a blonde.  She really didn’t have to work so hard to get away from her Laurie Partridge image.  This movie was aired on CBS on October 5, 1977.  This wasn’t a perfect movie.  The characterization of the parents could have been developed some more.  I would rate it higher than “Cage Without a Key,” however.  It also doesn’t end on quite the right note.  It does manage to leave a pretty strong impression, although it tends to get lost in all the television programming that is out there.  The writer was Joanna Lee, who died on October 24, 2003 of bone cancer at age 73.  I went to buy a bean and cheese burrito to have with my salad.  I watched the beginning of the Supergirl episode but saw that it was a repeat, so I watched the DVD of Jacques Tati’s “Parade” again.  I saw a kid singing on a Christmas edition of The Merv Griffin Show.  I also saw Barbara Feldon on Laugh-In doing some dancing and delivering some one-liners.  Dan Rowan was without a mustache, and I didn’t see Goldie Hawn.  How many of these stars are still alive nearly fifty years later?  Much of the local news was still about the warehouse fire, and one of the television reporters was placing the blame.  I heard that Klay Thompson scored 60 points in the Warriors game.  Some of the people who died on December 6 include Anthony Trollope (1882), Lead Belly (1949), Roy Orbison (1988), Frances Bavier (1989), Don Ameche (1993), Werner Klemperer (2000), and Dobie Gray (2011).  Today is a birthday for Judd Apatow (49), Janine Turner (54), Tom Hulce (63), and JoBeth Williams (68).  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for December 6, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” premiered on CBS in 1964.  In 1975, Paul Simon had the Number One album on the Billboard chart, “Still Crazy After All These Years.”  In 1993, Don Ameche died of cancer at age 85.

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