Big Hair, Big Shoulders And Big Money: Linda Evans On '80s Excess

Apr 15, 2013
Originally published on April 15, 2013 12:34 pm

You may find a hint to the era in which you were born (as well as your taste in entertainment) in Linda Wertheimer's clarification that on the '80s nighttime soap Dynasty, actress Linda Evans played Krystle Carrington — Krystle with a K, that is. (And, she does not add, an L-E.) If that surprises you at all, you were almost surely not paying attention to the television of the 1980s, when Evans, John Forsythe and Joan Collins made up the wealthiest, nuttiest, most notorious and most rhinestone-covered love triangle ever bedazzled for prime time: Krystle, Blake and Alexis.

Evans is featured in the National Geographic Channel miniseries The '80s: The Decade That Made Us, which began airing Sunday night and continues Monday and Tuesday. While she may be part of a slice of pop culture history more often remembered for the over-the-top dialogue and the huge hairdos (Evans says she had "more hairpieces on than anyone's ever worn"), she believes something more was at work in the saga of the super-rich Carringtons.

Evans says the 1980s were a time when "we all wondered what it would be like to be that wealthy." And of course, the Carringtons had nothing but drama, quite literally. "I hope the show expressed well that money doesn't buy you happiness," says Evans.

Money doesn't even buy you a ticket out of having Joan Collins pull your hair, as Evans learned when the two women were set up to end each season with a knockdown drag-out. The way she sees it, their rivalry was so rich because they were set up to be opposites, showing the contrast between "the women who make choices for money and power [and] the women who make choices for love and family."

That's not to say, of course, that they had nothing in common. They certainly shared an affinity for shoulder pads. "Joan and I could not walk through a door at the same time," Evans acknowledges.

But she says she always liked the fact that Krystle, no matter how crazy her life became, never embraced the money obsession that surrounded her. "Greed is an option," she says, "and it's been an option in every decade."

Perhaps Krystle's glamorous life and Alexis' string of men looked like pure indulgence, but Evans sees much of the story of Dynasty as a cautionary tale about excess and the universal tendency in its direction: "People got to look at a part of themselves, the choices they could make, and see the consequences of it."

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Regular listeners to this program might recall our story from April 1 about a group of historic re-enactors who focus on the 1990s. That was an April Fools joke. But it turns out we were only 10 years off.


Breakout your legwarmers and parachute pants for a trip back to the '80s.


BROOKE SHIELDS: Do you want to know what comes between me and my Calvins?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There has to be a way to solve the Rubik's cube.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Gross out, like gag me with a spoon.

JAMES D. WETHERBEE: Challenger, go at throttle up.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Tear down this wall.

MADONNA: (Singing) 'Cause everybody's living in a material world and I am a material girl...

INSKEEP: The National Geographic Channel is playing a six-part documentary titled "The '80s: The Decade That Made Us." Tonight's focus is a TV show that was synonymous with big money and big shoulder pads.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer sat down with Linda Evans.


Remember "Dynasty" - a TV series that played for most of the '80s, a time when Americans apparently wanted to watch fabulously wealthy people fueled by oil fortunes, dripping with diamonds, draped in furs? Linda Evans played Krystle Carrington - that's Krystle with a K, the wife of oil baron Blake Carrington. But Evans really played opposite the oil man's formidable former wife, Alexis - a signature performance by Joan Collins.

I talked to Linda Evans about why in the 1980s we were so fascinated by rich people behaving badly.

LINDA EVANS: All of us kind of wondered what it would be like to be that wealthy, to have that kind of lifestyle, to be able to just have anything we wanted. And I hope the show expressed well that money doesn't buy you happiness. If anyone who was watching "Dynasty" didn't notice, there was a lot of drama.


WERTHEIMER: The documentary suggests that ambitious, manipulative Alexis Carrington inspired ambitious women everywhere. But you, you were the sweet one. Joan Collins was the dark witch to your fair witch.


WERTHEIMER: How is that?

EVANS: You know, they really managed to show the contrast in women - the women who make choices for money and power, the women who make choices for love and family. Somebody could identify with one of us and root for us. And then, of course, they pitted us against each other. And at the end of each season we had an amazing catfight.


WERTHEIMER: Now, you understand, of course, that you are a pop icon; that, you know, people see you and it sort of pops them right back into that period. What comes into your head when you think of Krystle? I mean what was the sort of emblematic of Krystle thing that you would think of?

EVANS: Well, one of the reasons that I liked her character was she was not seduced into the money thing. Greed is an option. It has been an option every decade. But I think because of "Dynasty" and "Dallas" and some of the shows that were on, people got to look at a part of themselves, the choice that they could make and see the consequences of it.

WERTHEIMER: Well, you know, you've given me a very serious answer to the question. And I was kind of thinking of things like big hair and big shoulders and...

EVANS: Oh, definitely, I had more hair pieces on than anyone's ever worn. And the shoulder pads, Joan and I could not walk through a door at the same time. We were like football players. We had so many shoulder pads.


EVANS: I mean it was really fun to just, you know, get bigger, bigger, glitzier, fancier. I mean at one point they came in and they said: Your wedding ring is not reflective of your husband - we have to give you a bigger ring. And it was so huge that it was like a car light or something.


EVANS: And it was just gigantic. But that's what they wanted and that's what we did. And I must say it was fun, fun, fun.


WERTHEIMER: Linda Evans, she appears in tonight's installment of a documentary on the National Geographic Channel. It's called "The '80s: The Decade That Made Us."

I'm Linda Wertheimer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.