Remington Steele

By Cynthia Broadwater
(Daredevils magazine, January 1984)

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"Try this for a deep, dark secret. The great detective Remington Steele, he doesn't exist...I invented him. Follow: I always loved excitement so I studied and apprenticed and put my name on an office but absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so feminine, so I invented a superior, a decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm until the day he walked in with his blue eyes and mysterious past and before I knew it he assumed Remington Steele's identity. Now I do the work and he takes the bows. It's a dangerous way to live but as long as people buy it I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure, well, almost never. I don't even know his real name."

These words by Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) opened every episode of Remington Steele during the first seasson. In a nutshell it described the circumstances surrounding the peculiar working relationship between Holt and her erstwhile boss Steele.

The show premiered in the '82-'83 season, the year of the hunk. Pierce Brosnan was one of the hunks introduced and one of the only two to survive into the '83-'84 season. His competition was Bruce Boxleitner in Bring 'Em Back Alive, Stephen Collins in Tales of the Gold Monkey, David Hasselhoff of Knight Rider and Jon-Erik Hexum of Voyager. Only Hasselhoff and Brosnan survived. The season of the hunk was termed a failure.

It is true women enjoy looking at attractive men, but after a while something more is required and Brosnan had it. Purely on the physical side, I consider him the best-looking of all the hunks offered for my viewing. He's tall and dark with attractive dark blue eyes (not as piercing as Stephen Collins' blue-blue eyes, but more appealing) and of course he has that marvelous accent- most American women are attracted by foreign accents. But his appeal goes beyond the mere physical; there is mystery surrounding the man.

He showed up with a number of passports for a variety of identities. No one knows his real name, even people from his past only know the name he was using at the time of their acquaintance, no assurance that it was his real name. He is conversant in nearly all forms of burglary, can apprase a diamond with his bare eye, give lectures on the effect of gold fever on the ordinary man, carry off a flawless "sting" operation and name every movie ever made- stars, year and distributor. He almost seems to belong to the dashing family of The Rogues.

From the hints offered throughout the shows it seems Steele was on his own very young. He had a quick wit and an ability to learn anything very fast. He tried everything: theft, smuggling, fraud, gambling, gold hunting... anything to earn big bucks, but something inside the man revolted and he fled into darkened theatres to escape a world that seemed to have no place for him. In the character of Remington Steele he found the man he envisioned himself being. Laura Holt had created the mold and The Stranger poured himself into it. In the second season show "Altared Steele," Laura tells him that he is becoming the man she had imagined when she devised her phantom boss. Gradually, almost painfully, Steele is stripping away the layers of larceny that protected him from the world and as the layers are removed we learn more and more of the man. And, like Laura Holt, we like what we see.

One of the things missing from the season of hunks was vulnerability and tenderness. Both Boxleitner and Collins had a type of gal Friday, with a touch of romance, but as a weekly beautiful young woman invaded the story the regular girl would be forgotten, only to be wooed back in the end when the new woman was discovered to be "no good" or unavailable. Bogg from Voyager had a girl in nearly every time frame and Michael Knight has his car. Only Steele offers a growing relationship. He is afraid to commit himself, unsure of his future, but his attraction to Laura Holt keeps him bound to the agency. As time goes on Laura has come to depend more and more on Steele and, instead of being frightened by it, he finds himself encouraging it. He is not a soft man by any means. He has the strength women seek, including the strength to be tender when the situation arises.

Towards the end of the first season we discovered that Steele is not the only one with secrets in their past. Up until "Vintage Steele" Laura Holt appeared to be a calm, level-headed working woman who has to adjust to an usual situation. This is not entirely the case. We should have taken a clue from the very concept of the show... what kind of calm, level-headed woman makes up a ghost boss? The normal procedure would be to continue working for an agency until you establish a sufficient name for yourself that people will come to you whether you're a woman or not. But not Laura Holt- no, she couldn't wait that long. It seems under the very controlled, almost conservative exterior of Miss Holt is a slightly wild, spontaneous woman, always bucking to get out. We learn in this episode that she had lived with someone before, Wilson, and he left her because he couldn't cope with her spontaniety and unbriddled passions. This caused more than one raised eyebrow from Steele. Laura also indulges in a diversionary strip and admits to doing a big dance with small fans for a group of conventioneers in Acapulco. This theme is carried over into the second season opener "Steele Away With Me." Laura visits the night club that saw the scene of her big fan dance and finds it closed down, deserted, but the memory still survuves in her.

Through the episodes we have been able to garner a few facts about Laura Holt as well. Laura was still fairly young when left without a father. Her mother was one of those women who had to have a man around to live through. Without her father at home all emotions died, no laughter and no tears. Laura compensated as best she could, seeking action and excitement. She attended Stanford University, graduating Summe Laude and began working at the Havenhurst Detective Agency. During this time she had her affair with the very conservative Wilson. When that ended Laura came close to following in her mother's footsteps. She knuckled down, working very hard, rising to the position of associate in an unprecedented period of time with the Havenhurst agency. Leaving there she started Laura Holt Agency, dissolving that company when she hit upon the plan to invent a "decidedly masculine superior." The Remington Steele Agency was becoming well known after 2 1/2 years of hard work on her part before the appearance of The Stranger who would become Steele. Since that time, the agency has grown even more, no doubt due to the visibility of Steele. Laura is drawn to Steele and she's afraid of that feeling. She remembers too well what happened to her mother, as well as her own reaction when Wilson left. Steele's nearly invisible past stands as a barrier between the two of them, she can never be sure when he will decide to leave, despite his protestations that he has no intent of deserting her.

The second season feature presented Laura with still another problem. When Steele walked into her agency she had two people working for her, Murphy (James Read) and Bernice (Janet Demay). They knew the truth about Steele's impersonation and supported her. To them she was always the boss and Steele the interloper riding on a free ticket. But now Bernice has run off to marry a musician and Murphy has left to start his own business in another state. To replace them is Mildred Krebs (Doris Roberts), a former IRS investigator. To Mildred, Steele is the boss, the man can do no wrong. She will scarcely pull a file for Laura without having prior approval from Steele. Laura is fighting a losing battle to retain control of her agency. It was one thing to defer to the interloper in front of clients, quite another in the office... her office. Privately Steele acknowledges that she is the brains of the outfit, that he is really barely more than a figurehead. He even confessed the majority of the truth to Mildred, but she didn't believe him. Despite his admission of Laura's rights, there can be no doubt that he is glorying in the hero worship lavished upon him by Mildred.

To add to Laura's isolation, the second show of the season, "Red Holt Steele," sees her house blown to smithereens. All her things are destroyed. Gone are her clothes, gleaned from thrift houses while she built up her agency, her pictures, clippings and souvenirs- even her grandmother's grand piano is only an empty, smoking carcass. She finds herself turning to the one man who knows the truth, the man responsible for the lie, Remington Steele. Despite his shady and undoubtedly nefarious past, she (and we) believe he can be depended upon. And, perhaps because he is believed in, Steele comes through. His story of one segment of his life as Xenos (Greek for Stranger) working for a Greek smuggler gives Laura the strength to see the possibilities of a new life-style made available only when the past one is completely destroyed. The second season Laura Holt is a little less reserved, just as competent and more willing to trust the elusive Mr. Steele. She is also alone in her knowledge of the truth, forced to indulge Steele more and more in his role-playing game.

The role-playing is a very important part of the show. Steele bases the majority of his hunches on old movies. In a way it's the show's writers saluting the fine films which preceeded it and from which it takes much. In "Vintage Steele," for instance, the plot revolves around a dead body that constantly disappears to be found again in a completely different location. Steele quotes the Alfred Hitchcock dark comedy The Trouble With Harry and from then on the body is dubbed Harry. The show is not above delving into puns: Harry turns out to be an abbot of a monkish order... the order of St. Costello... that's right, he was the Abbot of Costello.

In "Steele Away With Me," Laura is cast as Ingrid Bergman in Notorious complete with being poisoned and rescued by the hero, with Steele in the Carry Grant part. They use Humphrey Bogart's trick from Key Largo to force the smugglers out of the hold on their smuggling vessel and, when Laura is threatened from an unexpected source, her admonition for Steele to remember Ingrid alerts him to her plight and saves the day. Watching Remington Steele is a delight for the movie buff.

Action is not neglected in this romantic detective series either. In the first three episodes of the second season we had had murder, kidnapping, a spontaneous bull fight and a rescue from the air via kite ("Steele Away With Me"); a house explosion, Steele roughing up a guy for information, a body thrown off a roof and Laura engaging in fisticuffs (not judo or karate but good old fashioned punching) with a fake gas company employee and the man who had her house blown up ("Red Holt Steele"); an attempted hatchet murder, near machine gun mass murder in a "survivalist" store and the almost untimely demise of Laura as a cross bow is is aimed at her and shot- she barely escapes by picking up a large book which stops the arrow barely inches from her face, the arrow pierced the book ("Altared Steele").

Remington Steele also offers the fun of recognizeable episode titles. If I said I just watched "The Great Pyramid Affair," you would think of Man From UNCLE or Girl From UNCLE because each episode title ended with "Affair." Similarly Remington Steele has adopted the use of titles employing a play on words with the name Steele. Another couple of examples are "Steele in Circulation" about the theft from the National Reserve of $2 1/2 million and "Steele in the News" where death stalks a TV newsroom.

Remington Steele provides witty entertainment. They have gone far beyond a showcase for a hunk to a piece of television that may well gain the cult following of an UNCLE or a Star Trek. Already I have seen ads for fanzines concerning Steele and Laura, an excellent sign that it has won a place in the heart of organized fandom.

Action, adventure, nostalgia and romance... all I can say is give me steele more of the same.

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