On occasion, I’ll hear, read, or see something about a book, film, television movie or show, that was released long before I was born, and one, that up until the moment I learn about it, I was unaware of. “Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway” is one such television movie. I was listening to something, when all of a sudden, I heard someone speak about this television movie from the 1970s, which starred Eve Plumb. She played Jan Brady, on “The Brady Bunch,” which premiered on ABC (American Broadcasting Company), on September 26, 1969, until its final episode, on March 8, 1974. I wasn’t even alive during the series initial run. I don’t remember seeing my first episode until the late 1980s. Like most children I knew, it was a show my parents approved of, so I’m sure I watched every episode. The intriguing aspect of the aforementioned movie for me, wasn’t that Eve Plumb was in it, but the character that she portrayed in the movie – an adult escort. On the Brady Bunch, from what I can remember, Jan was an awkward, sometimes goofy, but nonetheless kind hearted girl, who was always in her sister Marcia’s (Maureen McCormick) shadow. My curiosity was peaked. I searched on Amazon, HBO-Max, Netflix, and Peacock, not expecting to find the movie, and my expectation was confirmed. Next, I searched on-line, and I was able to watch it that way.
The movie centers on Plumb’s character Dawn Wetherby. She is sheltered by her alcoholic mother, portrayed by Oscar nominee Lynn Carlin (Faces). The viewer learns, from Dawn’s laments, that she seemingly never gets to do anything but babysit her younger brother. One evening, Dawn sneaks off to a high school dance. Her mother, even though she’s working the evening shift at her job, finds out about it. After Dawn’s mother embarrasses her at the dance, fifteen year old Dawn decides she’s had enough. She is going to run away from home. Dawn packs a bag, and takes what little money she has, and gets on a bus for Hollywood, California.
When she gets to California, try as she might, due to her age, she can’t get a job. While doing an act of kindness, she’s almost mugged. If not for the intervention by sex worker, Frankie Lee (Marguerite DeLain), the little money Dawn brought with her would’ve been taken. Dawn spends some time with Frankie. She learns that Frankie makes money, and is protected by a man who calls himself Swan (Bo Hopkins). Coinciding with her almost getting mugged, shortly after Dawn arrives, she develops a bad cough. She goes to the clinic where the wait to see the lone doctor on staff, will seemingly take hours. Alexander, a role acted by Leigh McClosky (Dallas), intercedes on her behalf. He is a talented, aspiring artist, who supposedly works at a liquor store, even though he doesn’t appear old enough to drink. He invites Dawn to come stay with him at his apartment. Alexander lets her know that he doesn’t expect anything from her. True to his word, he will wind up becoming more than just a kind stranger to Dawn, as the movie progresses.
For the first time since her arrival, Dawn feels safe. The feeling will not last long. Alex leaves her for a few days, during which time Dawn begins to panic. She thinks that he might not be coming back. Dawn has no money, and no job prospects, so she seeks out Frankie Lee. Dawn wants to work for Swan. Even though she has been in contact with her mother, who is attempting to get her life together, and has quit drinking, Dawn refuses to return home. When Alexander finds out what Dawn is doing, he tries to put a stop to it. He urges Donald Umber, a probation officer portrayed by Emmy winner Georg Stanford Brown (Cagney and Lacey), to help Dawn, but it is to no avail. Swan is a dangerous man, who is leading Dawn down a dark path. Will she wise up before it is too late?
The NBC (National Broadcasting Company), television movie was directed by Emmy nominee Randal Klesier (The Gathering). The movie was written by Emmy nominee Dalene Young (Locked in Silence). Prior to the movie’s premiere on September 27, 1976, a mass market paperback, based on the movie, adapted by Julia Sorel, was published on September 12, 1976. The drama has a runtime of 100 minutes. Fans of the Brady Bunch were apparently upset with Plumb for starring in the movie. It wasn’t because of the role she played, but because she couldn’t participate in the universally panned “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.” The short lived show premiered on November 28, 1976, and lasted nine episodes, before it was cancelled. A sequel to the movie, “Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn” premiered on NBC, on May 16, 1976.
From what I’ve heard, teenagers running away from home in the 1970s was not uncommon. The movie is a cautionary tale. For teens watching it at the time, it depicted what could take place if they decided to take that course of action. There was only so much that a network television movie, in the 1970s, could show or say, but to its credit, it didn’t shy away from the fact that sometimes runaways were killed. For fans of the Brady Bunch, who want to see Eve Plumb in a very different role from her Jan persona, you will probably find this worth a onetime viewing.