‘China Beach’: Cast Reunites, Reflects on Series’ Impact

By ABC News

Sep 30, 2013 8:35am

“China Beach,” the drama that told the story of Vietnam from a different perspective, was a favorite of fans and critics alike during its four-season run on ABC.

The series, which ran from 1988 to 1991, was known for its unique and dramatic portrayal of the Vietnam War era, told from the stories of the women, civilians and military service members at the 510th Evacuation Hospital and R&R (the so-called “Five and Dime” evac hospital).

The show also told the stories of the main characters’ experiences upon their return home to the United States.

The cast got together with ABC News’ Rachel Smith for their first group interview since the series ended 25 years ago, and reflected upon the show’s impact.

Gathered were Dana Delany, who played 1st Lt. Colleen McMurphy, a nurse; Marg Helgenberger, who played K.C. Koloski, a part-time prostitute and civilian volunteer; Ricki Lake played Red Cross volunteer Holly Pelegrino; Michael Boatman played Samuel Beckett; Concetta Tomei played Maj. Lila Garreau; Troy Evans, who played Master Sgt. Bob Pepper, and the show’s co-creator John Sacret Young.

The cast told Smith they had lots of fun on the production.

“It doesn’t seem like that much time has gone by,” Boatman, whose character worked in the Graves Registration Unit, told Smith.

Being together brought back great memories for them.

They reminisced about the cast lunches, and the company of their jovial cast and crew, and reflected on shooting the series.

Helgenberger and Tomei remembered wearing swimsuits outside in 4-degree weather.

“Because we’re trying to simulate the tropical weather … So yes, it sucked, at times. I’ll, I’ll admit it. But I actually had more compassion for the guys that were in T-shirts and shorts and somebody would come by and squirt their armpits,” she said, laughing. “Remember that?”

The show marked the beginning for several successful careers in Hollywood. For their performances in the series, Helgenberger won an Emmy Award, and Delaney, two.

Boatman said the show’s creator, Young, reached over and patted him one day.

“I admitted to him recently that I was terrified. It was my first job. I was 23 years old … I didn’t have a clue about what I was getting into,” he said.

Delany said, for her, it was the first acting job where she really felt a responsibility.

She added: “At the beginning of every season, we had, like, a boot camp where we would meet with the real vets, the nurses, the donut dollies. We were, I think, all sort of in shock and overwhelmed.”

Young said those people were key.

“Over the course of the show, we talked to over 500 veterans. And they were crucial to the, I think the authenticity that we were trying for, the reality,” he said.

For Evans, “China Beach” wasn’t just another acting gig. He actually served during the war with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division.

“I, like a lot of vets, I just buried it. I thought I’d forgotten it,” he said. “For me, China Beach was my therapy. That was my bridge back into, really, back into civilization. It’s funny how that worked out. But that was the case for me.”

The cast members believe the show was groundbreaking in its treatment of certain issues, especially its handling of its female characters.

Lake joined the cast in the third season, and went on to host a successful syndicated talk show.

Having just done the musical comedy film, “Hairspray,” Lake said joining the “China Beach” cast was daunting.

“It was like, “Wow, I got to be a grownup for the first time,’” she said, adding that she was star-struck by some of the actors.”I’m still star-struck by Dana.”

The actors are all proud of the work they did on the show, and are gratified that it will never be forgotten.

“A woman two weeks ago just said, ‘Oh my god, you’re on ‘China Beach.’ And I kept thinking, ‘Yes, I was. Yes, I was,’” Tomei said.

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