Kissin' Cousins or 'Adultery & Ted Danson'

by 'Crazy Ed' Savitt

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Ted Danson, America's TV favorite of the 1980's, embodied the womanizing bartender & philanderer, Sam Malone. A retired Boston Red Sox professional baseball player, Sam was tall, with a chiseled-handsome look (& full of himself). As the sometimes owner/bartender of the Cheers bar, with its full accompaniment of mental and social misfits, Sam alleged to nail any woman who entered his bar. The regulars made book & lived vicariously off Sam's sexual exploits. So the bar topic for Carla and the regulars' rumor mill: Danson's career-long entwined participation with angstful affairs.

Danson's film work pales next to his fine TV resume (a scary molester in Something about Amelia; Gulliver's Travels). Hardly legendary, most were so-so roles (Made in America, 3 men & a Baby/Little Lady) or a cameo (Saving Private Ryan). There are 3 movies which highlight his acting skills. 


Danson gained critical notice as the murdered cop in The Onion Field. He tormented his partner (John Savage) in nightmarish flashbacks. James Woods played the scary killer.

Body Heat showcased Danson as an intuitive, understated small town DA.

Bamboozled by the manipulative adultress Kathleen Turner, the murder of her husband goes--badly for her male conspirator. Body Heat was written & directed by Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado, The Big Chill). Body Heat (1981) was a steamy throwback to the noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Ted Danson & William Hurt

Danson suspects his friend

The '46 version starred Lana Turner & John Garfield.

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Both Hurt & Garfield are sent up for the crime.

Sea of Love is a steamy trail to violent deaths, all ex-lovers of Barkin.
(Ellen Barkin & Al Pacino)

Adultery led to a near family meltdown for Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction.

These affair thrillers created a Jaws-type fear of vengence by a scorned partner. Remember Glen Close's chilling "I won't be ignored…" It won my special 1980's award for "scariest swinger phrase", only unseated by the '90's phrase "Lorena Bobbitt!"

Not all infidelity ends in murder or imprisonment, spins Cousins, an American version of the 1975 French hit, Cousine. A touching movie (starring Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini) lightly mines a rich vein of infidelity amongst spouses and cousins (in-law).

With costars Lloyd Bridges, William Petersen and Sean Young, bitter-sweet adulterous behavior coincides with major family events (weddings, funerals). The comedically weaved dishonesty & selfishness are followed by inevitable pain, fear, uncertainty, etc. This movie is about love, not sex. An affair as depravity is minimized: the focus is the cumulative harmful effect of lies on a family.

The unexpected happy ending: a sign by a seaside café "Gone sailing"; a (magnificent) musical score builds as the (recomposed) family (Ted, Isabella & their kids) sail away into a perfect, pastoral Pacific sunset.

Well, for those amongst us who don't watch soap operas...and like getting kissed when we get screwed--

Let me share a reality dose, having experienced the betrayal and anger from adulterous behavior by my (1st and only) wife. There are no pastoral sunsets or picnics, and you don't end up dancing with Isabella Rossellini in formal wear.

Oh, you may sail, but not on the Pacific. Expect to sail to & from waiting rooms: of long term therapists, credit card counselors, 12 step programs, his & hers designer law firms, divorce mediators, school psychologists & family welfare agencies (who privately conclude you were a failure as a spouse/parent).

Oh, you may appear happy; content, "glowing" & "free" (of the blackguard or wench). In reality, self esteem & confidence are sapped. Quiet nights & long weekends are spent with your closest friends--the remote control and a pint of Haagan D'aaz.

Except for the guys around the Cheers bar-type watering hole, half (or more) of the people you formerly counted on as 'friends' now avoid you & the remaining humanoids have tired of your particular hard luck story and so they--avoid you.

Okay, you do hear all the best divorce jokes. A CNBC (stock market) reporter shared on the air "Did you hear about Mattel's new 'Divorce Barbie' doll? It comes with all Ken's stuff!"

Several types of recovery come with failed marriages: recovering from bills, from damaged self-esteem and from the trauma of betrayal. The luxury yuppie sedan & the digital phone are replaced by a beeper and a Nissan. Either you live alone or suffer through a revolving door of roommates. You may join a health club & try to push yourself "back into the game." You wonder if she/he is doing better off socially than you.

Ted Danson was killed in Onion Field, put his friend in jail in Body Heat, but it was in Cousins that you could feel his pain. The critics also noticed; a one-time romantic lead that was convincing & equal to the dramatic skills of his lovely co-star.

Note that Lloyd Bridges has his most charismatic character since Airplane and he steals every big laugh. Petersen (To Live & Die in L.A., C.S.I.) is the perfect bastard & foil. Sean Young (Stripes, No Way Out) is a great ditz. Keith Coogan (Toy Soldiers) is coming into his own.

Sam Malone on screen never regretted bedding both Cheers leading ladies (Kirstie Alley, Shelly Long-Night Shift). Ted Danson, however (with ex Casey at 1990 Emmys), suffered public embarrassment ( i.e. Whoopie Goldberg) before landing lovely Mary Steenburgen (Goin' South, Parenthood).

click for Cheers Theme

Click: Kirstie Alley (Look Who's Talking) for California Mind trips

Ted Danson's series Becker received an EW second season review (iss.#505, 10/1/99) "...the Cheers vet seems more comfortable than ever in the title role. Becker still isn't addictive, but it won't make you retch anymore, either."

That review provides another reality check about the pain of relationships:

'They may not be addictive, but they won't make me retch anymore!'


Afterword: Ted Danson wasn't in the "named" actors of the Stephen King/George Romero horror movie/comic adaptation CREEPSHOW. But he did play one vignette with Leslie Nielsen, called Something to Tide You Over. Here he learned the horrifying revenge potential of the scorned party in an affair!

This panel is from the comic adaptation; enjoy the "full panel" images!

Creepshow, 1982

click for full panels

c "Crazy" Ed Savitt, 2001