Obituary: Barbara Avedon
Saturday 10 September 1994
AS CO-CREATOR of Cagney & Lacey, the feminist and peace campaigner Barbara Avedon helped to break the mould of small-screen American police series. For the first time, two women were featured in the lead roles and presented as equals. The concept did not revolve around the characters being particularly beautiful or one being attractive and the other plain. Here, on peak-time television, was a female-buddy programme. The series ran for six years and was screened around the world.
Born in New York, Avedon spent her early career as a writer for television situation comedies. She penned episodes of long-
running Fifties and Sixties series such as The Donna Reed Show, a wholesome family programme starring the Oscar-winning actress, Father Knows Best, featuring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, and Bewitched, with Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York (later Dick Sargent). These shows were part of the so-called Golden Age of Television in America and are still looked back on as landmarks in broadcast comedy. Their writing was far superior to many of the more vulgar programmes that were later to become a staple diet of American television.
Avedon later wrote for the police series Barney Miller and The Partridge Family, which was a vehicle for the film actress and singer Shirley Jones, but also featured her real-life stepson, David Cassidy, who went on to become a teenage pop idol, and Susan Dey, now a star herself.
Then, with Barney Rosenzweig and Barbara Corday, she created the characters of Chris Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey. The main idea was to show two women in partnership - just as, traditionally, men were seen in series such as Starsky and Hutch - and the roles of police officers were given to them simply in an attempt to get the programme screened, but their job alwavs played second fiddle to the characterisations and issues raised. Cagney was single, liberated and a career woman, while Lacey was a wife and mother, committed to the job and juggling her family and working lives. The pair, carrying .38s, driving like saloon car racers and using any means marginally within the law to catch villains, made their bow in a television film, Cagney & Lacey (1981), with Loretta Swit and Tyne Daly taking the lead roles. When the American network CBS decided to turn it into a series the following year, Swit was still playing Major Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan in the popular Korean War comedy MASH, so Meg Foster stepped in to take over as Cagney, although she was considered to be too butch and was replaced after one series by Sharon Gless.
Following another series, CBS announced that it was axing Cagney & Lacey, but the programme was reprieved after fans deluged the network with letters of protest and Tyne Daly won an Emmy award for her performance. The ground-breaking drama continued until 1988, exploring social issues such as rape and alcoholism in a way that was rare on peak-time American television, where ratings are everything and few risks are taken. There were two further television films, Cagney & Lacey Together Again and The Return.
Avedon was also writer of the 1983 television film This Girl For Hire, about a female detective joining forces with a mystery writer, and created the pilot for Private Sessions, a series starring Wayne Rogers, but that never reached the same heights as Cagney & Lacey, which preceded the American film industry's buddy-buddy pictures and reflected the writer's own
It was those values that had led Avedon, during the Vietnam war, to become a founder of the protest group Another Mother for Peace, formed in Beverly Hills, California, with the motto 'War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things'.
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