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The Departure

As Dudley begins his quest, Sally calls out to him.

He stops, and the two friends share a poignant moment.

“It’s good to see you again,” Sally says.

Actress Asia Vieira says the words with great sincerity, and warmth. She knows that after five years, this is the last time she’ll be interacting with this big, lovable goofball. Her emotion comes across as genuine. It’s a powerful, heartfelt moment.

Credit, here, should also go to Alex Galatis, who wrote the episode. Any lesser writer would have had Dudley galumph off without this exchange between these two longtime friends.

We, the viewers, now have strong reason to root for Dudley. The love between friends gives us reason to care, and stay tuned for what happens next.

Such is the real magic behind Dudley the Dragon.

Photos © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.

Dudley’s Quest

Sally notes the dragon’s sad mood and asks what’s wrong.

Dudley is lonely. He wants to find another dragon for companionship. He asks Sally if she knows of any real dragons, like him.

“No,” she says, “You’re the only one.”

“That’s the prob-a-lem. I don’t want to BE the only one.”

Sally asks him if he’s ever gone looking for another.

“Not really,” Dudley says. “Do you think I could find him?”

“Well, if anyone can, you can,” Sally says. She knows. Anything can happen in Dudley’s world.

“Then I’ll do it,” Dudley declares. “I’ll find that last dragon if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

Indeed, it is the last thing he ever does. It’s the final episode.

Photos © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.

A Reunion with Sally

“Once upon a time there was a dragon. He had many friends and many more adventures.”

Thus began the final adventure of Dudley the Dragon.

The words came from Dudley’s young friend Sally, the first human he met when he woke up in the 20th century. The series began with Sally narrating from a book, “Once upon a time there was a dragon …” It was fitting that, five years later, Sally would narrate the end of the series.

Dudley’s in a sad mood, but perks up when he sees his long-time friend again. Sally, likewise, is thrilled to see Dudley.

She’s still wearing red overalls as she has since the first episode, and a couple buttons have been added to the shirt.

“Look at you. You’re all grown up,” Dudley says. It’s been five episodes since we last saw her, but hey, time passes.

The moment is a touching one, and genuine.

Photos © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.

The Last Dudley

For Dudley‘s cast and crew, filming the final episode must have been a sad occasion.  For five years they had worked together on a show that brought joy, and education, to millions of youngsters.  The actors had honed their roles to a “T,” knowing their characters thoroughly, and how they related to each other.  The crew at Lansdowne Studios had developed their routine to peak efficiency.  One can only imagine the friendships and camaraderie that prevailed.

As early as Season One, the mood on the set was described as “delightful.”  A studio cameraman observed, “This production has brought out the kid in all of us.”

Add to that, the times when Canada’s finest thespians would guest star on the show, what a boost to morale that must have been.  Or the pride the filmmakers must have had for a job well done, despite time constraints and a limited budget.  Their work had been honored earlier in the year, in February, at the 11th Annual Gemini Awards, in which The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon won Best Children’s Program or Series.

Now, it was all coming to an end.

This was it.  The final episode.  The last Dudley.

What would happen to the dragon and his friends?  Would it be a clip show highlighting the previous adventures?  Would Dudley O.D. on dragonberries again, fall asleep for another hundred years, and discover a vast change in the environment?  Would Mr. Crabby Tree turn over a whole new leaf?

No.  The final episode would be far more special.

Source:  Kathy Kastner, Toronto Star, October 2, 1993, “He’s No Dud,” Section C, pg. SW4.

 

Laura! What th- ?

“Dudley’s Big Decision” began Season 5. It’s a significant episode, for a couple of reasons. First, it reaffirmed that Laura (Andréanne Benidir) and Dudley were best friends with each other. Second, it dealt with the topics of free will, personal choice and true friendship. Laura was supposed to leave the forest with her family, but Dudley wanted her to stay, and, through the use of a magic charm, imprisoned her in the forest. Ultimately, the spell backfires and Dudley has to let her go. Laura leaves to join her family on the East coast.

But was it supposed to be Laura?

Dudley sings a song, “I Don’t Want to Lose My Friend”, holding a picture of himself and – well, see for yourself:

© Breakthrough Entertainment.

That’s a second-season picture of Dudley and Annick, from the Christmas special!  Annick, you’ll notice, is wearing the same costume and hair style as Sally.

Who’s Annick?  She was the French-speaking counterpart to Sally, in the French-language version, Les aventures d’Arthur le Dragon.  Annick was played by Andréanne Benidir.  The French version lasted for the show’s first two seasons.  Andréanne appeared late in the show’s third season, as the English-speaking Laura.

Could it be that Laura was meant to be Sally, that this was written to be Sally’s formal exit from the series?

Regardless, it was filmed with Laura, who left the forest at the end. But not for long. She came back four episodes later in “The Wishing Well.”

But Laura and Sally finally meet face to face. In “The Great Dragonberry War,” Dudley is quibbling with Caveman over a dragonberry bush. Both claim the bush; neither will share. Laura sides with her best friend Dudley; Sally sides with Caveman. Who survives? Certainly not the dragonberry bush. But they’re all pals by story’s end.

In total, Laura appeared once in the third season, three times in the fourth season, and six times in the fifth season.

Sally appeared only twice in the fifth season. Her second appearance would be a special one. It was in the final episode.

The Magic Number

In 1995, Breakthrough Entertainment and its licensees were busy grooming Dudley the Dragon to be a long-term franchise.  The character would generate sales in merchandise, which in turn would cross-promote the show.  Hypothetically, the revenue would then recycle back into making new episodes.

This was the philosophy of George Lucas.  He invested his profits from American Graffiti to jumpstart Star Wars.  He used his Star Wars profits to make The Empire Strikes Back.  He used Empire‘s profits to make Return of the Jedi and build Skywalker Ranch.  And that led to more Lucasfilm productions.  Star Wars has been an active franchise for over 34 years, with no end in sight.

CBC TV reporter Howard Green acknowledged, “The strategy is to make Dudley an evergreen character, like Big Bird of Sesame Street, on the air for more than 25 years. The producers say the key is to protect Dudley’s soul. Dudley’s last name could be Do-right. He’s politically correct.”

“It’s the social value of a TV show like Dudley that will make it a long-lasting thing,” said Dudley‘s executive producer Peter Williamson.  “Whether the licensing goes on with it is another thing.”

According to John McCay of the Canadian Press, sales of Dudley merchandise would reach U.S. $500 million in 1996.

In February 1996, the Toronto Star had announced a Dudley feature film was being written.  In June, John McCay reported that funding for the film had already been arranged.  Playback announced the earliest possible release could be Christmas 1996.

The project fizzled, for reasons unreported.

In June and July of 1997, production commenced on the fifth season of Dudley the Dragon.

It would be the last season.

Why?

Executive producer Ira Levy explained, “We’ve hit the magic number.  After this run, we’ll be up to 65 episodes, which qualifies the show for syndication.”

And so, The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon, which appealed to kids of all ages, ended with 65 episodes.

Barney and Friends, which appealed to kids 0 to 2, has reached 261 episodes plus a feature film.

Something’s wrong with the math, isn’t there?

Sources:  Greg Quill, Toronto Star, June 1, 1997, “Dudley the Dragon fires up cast and crew Shooting final season of this hit children’s TV series is both an art and a business,” pg. B8; Mary Ellen Armstrong, Playback, June 16, 1997, “Ontario Scene: Klein Spins Mystery for Stornoway, Quirky Comedy for Endeavor” ; Sid Adilman, Toronto Star, February 11, 1996, “Canadian Shows Winners With Kids; Popular TV characters Spark Merchandising Spinoff Frenzy,” p. E7; John McKay, The Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1996, Dudley Does Right in U.S. Market,” p. C12; Howard Green, Venture – CBC Television, Toronto, October 15, 1995; Mary Maddever, Playback, January 15, 1996, “Special Report: NATPE ’96: Our Kids’ Series Big Game in the U.S.”; imdb.com.

Dudley and the Changing Cast

In the mid-1990s the supernatural came into vogue on kids TV. Shows like Goosebumps (1995-1998) and Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991-1996, 1999-2000) involved schoolkids getting involved in paranormal adventures. Even The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon participated in the trend. “It’s fun to be scared!” was the message in “The Spooky Castle”, “Dudley and the Cowardly Ghost”, “You and Me and Caveman Makes Three” and “Which Witch?”

“The Spooky Castle”, in particular, used the motif of the Midnight Society from Are You Afraid of the Dark?, in which the gang tells spooky stories to one another. Matt, played by Daniel DeSanto, is the first storyteller. Note that DeSanto played Tucker, one of the regular storytellers in Are You Afraid of the Dark? He also appeared in an episode of Goosebumps in 1995. And, while Dudley was in production, he was doing voiceovers for The Magic School Bus (1994-1997).

With all these other commitments, was DeSanto no longer available to play Matt? This is not publicly known. What is known is that he had only two more appearances in the show.

The four kids—Matt, Sally, Terry and Julia—would appear together again four episodes later, and for the final time together, in “The Wishing Well.” After that, Matt vanished from the series, never to return, except for a glimpse in the final episode. No explanation was given in the show. Was he too busy at school? Did he join a detective agency? Did he die? Viewers could only speculate.

Young Mickey (Daniel Tordjman Goodfellow) replaced Matt. This became evident in “The Unhappy Garden.” “How can a garden be unhappy?” Dudley asks. Mickey pulls out a magnifying glass and examines a flower. “Hmmm,” he says, “looks like a mystery.” Yes, just like Matt. Mickey, too, was a detective.

© Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.

Asia Viera, as Sally, would remain with the series but her appearances were reduced to five out of fourteen episodes in Season Three, and two out of thirteen episodes in Season Four.

Why the reduced appearances? Again, this is not publicly known. Although at the time, Viera did become actively involved in a series called Flash Forward, in the role of Christine Harrison, for 26 episodes. This coincided with Dudley’s third and fourth seasons—and potentially, a fifth season.

Did this mean she was unavailable to appear in Dudley?

In the final episode of the third season, “The Royal Crown,” a new character appears. She has the same hairstyle as Sally, and her clothes have a similar orange and red motif, and she appears to be the same age and height. She’s even friends with Dodo! We would learn in the following episode, the opening to Season Four, that she—not Sally—is best friends with Dudley. Her name is Laura.

Was she Sally’s replacement?

To be continued.

All Hail the Prince

Come one, come all. Come see the Prince.

See him wear the finest clothes. Behold his golden crown. Bask in the light of his rugged handsomeness. Observe that he never sweats. His teeth are like pearls; no cavities can touch them. When he speaks, even William Shatner can envy … the dramatic pauses … he gives.

Do you wish to be like the Prince? First you must know … what the Prince is like.

The Prince does not cheat–unless he finds it necessary.

The Prince does not lie–until he finds it necessary.

He fills the air with cigarette smoke. He stuffs himself with the greasiest chicken, and extra helpings of mashed potatoes, loaded with butter. Abundant salt on his carrots. Big pieces of creamy pie. And mmmm, tasty donuts. A meal fit for a Prince.

The Prince will sell you a magical flying cape which works–if you use your imagination.

He will adorn his head with the feathers of the rare, exquisite, one-of-a-kind Dodo bird.

He will not allow girls at his royal ball, for he has decreed that girls are not funny.

He is the role model we should aspire to be, is he not?

For he is the Prince, and the Prince is he.

Who, you may ask, is this Prince? What kingdom does he rule?

Ah, but the Prince has no name. He needs no name. He is simply … the Prince. His kingdom … is himself.

Who was worthy of playing the Prince? Let the credits decree the Prince was performed to princely perfection by none other than … Jesse Collins.

This was not the first time Collins had performed with Dudley. Along with Alex Galatis and Charlotte Moore, he had starred in the TV production of The Conserving Kingdom in October 1986.

Two years later he would star in Katts and Dog aka Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop, in which he played policeman Hank Katts, the human partner of a German shepherd police dog named Rudy. Collins also directed several episodes of the series, which lasted five years. In 1995, he re-entered the world of Dudley the Dragon, starring as the Prince in the final episodes of Season Three, “The Frog Princess” and “The Royal Crown.” As befitting a prince, he had a marvelous singing voice, perfect for the show’s musical interludes. Collins was hilarious in the role of an anti-role model. So, it was no surprise he returned the following season in “The Prince’s New Clothes” and then in Season Five in “The Royal Cup” and “Cinderella Ha-Ha,” both of which he directed.

Collins has appeared in numerous TV and stage productions, and has recently transitioned to web development with his own company, MOXY Webworks. Their demo reel is here.

Learn more about the man behind the Prince here.

Photo © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.

Dudley’s Kids

For the first two seasons, brother-and-sister Matt and Sally served as Dudley’s human contacts in the modern world. To the viewers at home, they had at least three functions on the show.

(1. They provided a reality-based anchor in a fantasy world.

(2. Young viewers had young heroes to relate to. Viewers could learn from their mistakes, or be encouraged by their successes.

(3. Matt and Sally served as foils, or “straight men” to a comical dragon. Often they had to help Dudley from his own predicaments.

But as the show progressed, problems would inevitably arise with child actors.

(1. They were growing up. Would they lose viewer identification?

(2. They were professional actors. What if they committed to another project between seasons?

(3. They were, after all, human. What if, in real life, they became sick, or suffered an injury, or worse? Or what if ego problems developed and they became difficult to work with?

Because the show was aimed at kids 3 to 6, the actors were cast for “age appropriateness.” As the original kids grew older, younger actors were introduced as Season Three approached.

Terry (Robin Weekes) made his first appearance in episode 24, “Dudley Meets the Alien,” though he was formally introduced (with a front-end credit as a “special guest star”) in episode 25, “Imagine That!” He was a smart lad who operated a wrist computer, with a knack for inventing things like magnetic claws.

In the beginning, Terry had an antisocial personality, a bold move on the part of the producers. Dudley’s world was upbeat and optimistic. Terry was the opposite. He was a loner, a skeptic and a fault-finder. Grandpa Robin would say, “I’ve been around the world seven times plus two,” and Terry would point out, “That’s nine.” Nevertheless, soft-hearted Dudley befriended him.

Hey, Terry’s no fool. If an 8-foot talking dragon wants to be your friend, let him. And so, Terry joined the gang as a recurring character.

“Imagine That!,” the season-ender, also marked the final appearance of Didi the Woodpecker. A colorful bird, but apparently, her usefulness had come to an end.

Episode 26, “The Living Doll,” was the real start of Season Three, as it introduced two new humans to the cast, a modified costume for Dudley, and a new performer for Dudley, Kirk Dunn (voice-looped by Alex Galatis). This episode would later be reclassified as part of Season Two.

But Sally and Matt were missing. As Mr. Crabby Tree would say, “What th- ?” Until this episode, viewers had come to expect these kids to be mainstays in the series. Viewers had shared in their adventures. Suddenly, they were gone. The show opens with a new kid, Mickey (Daniel Tordjman Goodfellow), playing a game of hide-and-seek with Dudley. They find a doll—a “living” doll by the name of Julia (Natasha Greenblatt). Who created her? Unknown. Why did she exist, and for what purpose? Unknown. Essentially, she’s a female Pinocchio. She wants to be human. With the help of Dudley and Mickey, she’s magically transformed into flesh and blood. She, too, becomes a recurring character.

But with Dudley as a surrogate parent, how would she mature? Can you imagine a child raised by Dudley the Dragon? This could have been the first time that a child had to raise a parent!

Would we see Sally and Matt again? Oh, yes. In the very next episode.

What happened after that was another matter.

Photos © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.
Special thanks to Peter Williamson.

Dudley on Parade

In 1995, Dudley had another opportunity to be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This time, he would appear as a $350,000 balloon: 65-feet tall, 28-feet wide, 45-feet long wearing 20-foot sneakers. And he would lead the parade! Behind him would trail 22 floats, 14 marching bands, 1,000 cheerleaders and marchers, and 17 other large inflated characters. It was all very exciting.

After a two-and-a-half mile trip, arriving at Macy’s in Herald Square, Dudley would float before the cameras of NBC-TV. Fame awaited the character, and for the merchandisers, fortune. Or so it was hoped.

Three weeks before the parade, the regular-sized Dudley was supposed to attract attention outside NBC’s ground-level studio at Rockefeller Center during the morning Today Show. Unfortunately, his scheduled appearance was pre-empted by a funeral. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated two days earlier (November 4); so the event was still top media coverage.

Meanwhile, the Dudley balloon was pumped up for a trial run on November 5. Manny Bass, Macy’s head balloon designer, noted, “He fits right into New York, doesn’t he? Looks like he just came out of a steam pipe.” The successful test run was captured on video. This, as it turned out, was a good thing.

The day of the parade, November 23, the balloon was reinflated to its full 65-foot glory. Just as the parade began, the wind blew it into tree and a lamppost on Columbus Circle. It snagged, causing a gash. Out came the helium, and Dudley quickly deflated, as did the hopes of the merchandisers, who had expected the dragon to appear before millions of viewers.

Meridian CEO Robert Stone, flabbergasted by the balloon’s collapse, received a call from his mother: “Congratulations, I saw Dudley in the parade. He looked great. He was floating high. It was a beautiful shot.”

NBC, which had been televising the event, had quickly switched to footage of the balloon from its trial run. Parade hosts Willard Scott and Katie Couric remarked about the balloon as if nothing had happened. NBC, meanwhile, had covered itself with a disclaimer superimposed at the beginning of the program: “Portions Prerecorded.”

The parade’s organizer and producer, Jean McFaddin, told New York Magazine, “There is nothing as disappointing as running a blank space and saying, ‘We’re sorry, the balloon didn’t make it.’ Nobody wants to hear that on Thanksgiving.”

Dudley was not invited back to Macy’s. The following year, McFaddin said, “Poor Dudley. He’s taking the parade off.” The reason, she said, was, “We wanted to find the balloons that the kids love the most.”

First photo: AP Photo by Mark Lenihan. Licensed by Associated Press.

Second and third photos: © Breakthrough Films & Television Inc. Photos by Randy Brooke. Used with permission.

Sources: Peter M. Nichols, New York Times, November 19, 1995, ; Emily Prager, New York Times, November 19, 1995, “He’s the Master of Inflation,” p. 53; Norman Vanamee, New York Magazine, vol. 28, no. 49, December 11, 1995, “Miracle on 34th Street II,” p. 22; Richard Murphy, compiling from wire services, The Wichita Eagle, December 17, 1995, “What You’re Seeing May Not Really Be There,” p. 23A; Associated Press, The Press of Atlantic City, (NJ) November 28, 1996, “For This Dragon, Parade’s a Big Letdown; Once upon a time, a lovable Canadian dragon named Dudley came to the Big City for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” p. B2.