SOAP ACTRESS WASHES UP ON ‘CHINA BEACH’
Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
May 2, 1989
by Gary Deeb
She’s a prostitute. She’s a dope-selling, influence-peddling, black-marketeering war profiteer. And just coincidentally, she’s one of the most popular and intriguing characters on the female-oriented Vietnam War drama series “China Beach.”
Her name is K.C., and as portrayed each Wednesday night by Marg Helgenberger, she imbues “China Beach” with an ingredient thoroughly lacking in virtually all other Vietnam-related movie and TV productions – a bad girl, middle American, who cheats and lies and steals and conducts her business with the harshest cynicism. And yet as this nasty vixen plows her way through Southeast Asia in the late 1960s, viewers are increasingly drawn into her web of deceit, leavened with occasional forays into good citizenship. “I do get mail and personal reactions from some people who resent my character,” Helgenberger said. “Maybe they see K.C. as the enemy because her motives certainly aren’t pure. But despite that, there are people who compare me to women they actually knew over there. They say I give the show an extra measure of authenticity.”
Helgenberger is a recent graduate of the daytime soap operas. She moved from New York to Los Angeles four years ago to make her mark in nighttime TV and films.
Following a stint in the short-lived “Skin Game” adventure series and an acclaimed guest shot on the yuppie-fest “thirtysomething,” she signed on for “China Beach” last year and quickly has become a dramatic force on that splendid program.
“I’ve never been able to meet anybody who was in Vietnam and did the sort of thing that K.C. does,” Helgenberger said. “I mean, who wants to admit to that – even 20 years later?
But I have been told by veterans that there were such women, that they often were connected to the military upper echelon, that some of them were in the USO, and that they maneuvered around in those circles.”
Helgenberger was a 10-year-old kid during the Vietnam era depicted on “China Beach.” Thus, she never had strong opinions on American involvement there, mostly just eavesdropping on the conversations of grownups.
“But even when I was very small,” she said, “I was always aware that it was a controversial war, mainly because the nightly TV news portrayed it that way. TV news was my biggest association with the war. I did have an aunt whose fiance was a Marine and he had served a year in Vietnam and had come back to the states. He attended my Holy Communion party and he kept talking about how he was gonna re-up for another tour. He did, and two weeks into his tour he was killed.
“I always thought of all veterans as heroes. I mean, anybody who serves in a war is a hero; they’re putting their lives on the line for their country. But I think the Vietnam guys were especially heroic because of the controversy and the bizarre nature of that war. When I started on “China Beach,’ I’d sometimes bump into Vietnam vets and some of my friends would say “These guys are crazy, don’t talk to ’em.’ And that made me much more interested in hearing their stories. The whole experience has been a wonderful one for me.
“What makes us so much different from the typical blood-and-guts war drama is our concentration on the female point of view; I think that’s what people want to see. Let’s be honest – it’s a side of the Vietnam story that’s never been told in any movie or any story, just totally a woman’s perspective on that situation. I think it’s logical, too, because there were a lot more women involved in Vietnam than in any other war in our history.”
With “China Beach” seemingly settling in for a long run on ABC, Helgenberger has to be gratified by her rapid ascent to the upper levels of the Hollywood television racket. It surely beats churning out the soap suds, as she formerly did on a regular basis as one of the stars of the now-canceled “Ryan’s Hope,” a typical daytime serial with storylines straight out of the sausage factory.
Copyright (c) 1989 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.