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  • Writer's pictureKristina Elyse Butke

A Fairy Tale Childhood: Shelley Duvall’s "Faerie Tale Theatre"

This is a short blog series where I’m going to discuss my first encounters with fairy tales growing up. They’re not going to be reviews, but reminiscences of my earliest experiences with fairy tales and how they shaped me. Please enjoy!

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From 1982 – 1987, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre ran on Showtime. Considering I was born in 1983, I missed out on the initial run. But the Disney Channel got its hands on a lot of properties and reran a lot of shows; Faerie Tale Theatre being one of them. That’s how I was able to watch this series.

Faerie Tale Theatre is well known perhaps for its production value for the stories (it has many design influences), but even more so, the vast number of celebrities who guest-starred as famous fairy tale characters. Because I was so little watching the show, I didn’t really realize people like Robin Williams, James Earl Jones, and Christopher Reeve were on the show. I remember Paul Ruebens as Pinocchio because of watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse growing up, but other than that, the celebrities who guest starred went over my head.

Celebrity guests from Shelley DUvall's Faerie Tale Theatre
Jennifer Beals, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Reeve, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Bridges, Paul Reubens, Robin Williams and Teri Garr

It was the fairy tales that stood out to me. Some of them scared me (“The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers”), and some I found beautiful (“Beauty and the Beast.”) The majority of fairy tales used on the show are world famous, with only a handful that are lesser known (“The Princess Who Never Laughed”). What was great about the show was seeing these stories brought to life. I always looked forward to watching.

Headless man sitting on bench in castle next to Peter MacNicol
"The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers"

For a long time I only had vague memories of Faerie Tale Theatre. Then, during graduate school, I found out the show was available on DVD. I purchased the set and binge-watched it with friends. As an adult, I caught some of the naughtier jokes, recognized the influences of film directors like Jean Cocteau, and appreciated more the amount of work that went into the series. While it felt like I was viewing some of the show for the first time, hazy, familiar feelings also washed over me when I watched it as a grown-up. It was a fun nostalgia trip.

Beauty sits at an elaborate dinner table with The Beast behind her
"Beauty and the Beast'

Favorite episodes from my childhood include “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” and “Cinderella.” For episodes that scared me, besides the “The Boy Who Left Home […],” I remember parts of “Aladdin” and “Rapunzel” giving me the creeps. As far as least favorite episodes go, I was really bothered by the animal episodes, like “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Frog Prince.” I think it’s because I thought the makeup to be freaky and off-putting for some reason. As an adult, I really don’t mind it now, but this is what I remember about the show as a child!

the wolf from the three little pigs
"The Three Little Pigs"

Have you seen this show? Did you ever watch it growing up? How about today? This series served as one of my earliest introductions to fairy tales, so it’s stayed with me. I hope there’s someone out there who feels the same way as I do about it.


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