Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn is a made-for-television sequel to 1976’s Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. Both films star Leigh McCloskey and Eve Plumb (aka Jan Brady) . Alexander is from Oklahoma. Dawn is from Arizona. Rebelling against their disinterested and uncaring parents Alexander and Dawn both venture to Los Angeles hoping to make something of themselves. Once there, the two teens find each as other and they both find that the streets of Los Angeles are paved with broken dreams. The only way two decent, underage kids from somewhere between LA and NYC can make a living in the City of Angels is by selling their souls to the street.
It is amazing that these films were made for television and that they played not on cable but on NBC. Both are rather bleak, almost gleefully masochistic portraits of fallen angels, but what is most amazing is that a network station would see enough interest or potential in Alexander’s sensitive, reluctant street hustler to feel the character is worth of a sequel.
In Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway, Alex was portrayed as a veteran. He knew where the free clinics were and how to bum a free meal. Alexander did his best to keep Dawn off the streets. At night he went ‘to work’, humbly taking one for the team. When Dawn finally sets out to work for herself its Alexander that comes to the rescue and it’s he who gets cut up by Dawn’s pimp.
That’s where Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway roughly ends – at least before she goes back to Arizona to start anew. And, this is where Alexander’s story begins. Dawn visits Alexander in the hospital. Lying in bed her recalls his own journey from the dust bowl to Hollywood. Kicked off his father’s farm because he’s more interested in painting and art than manly farm work, Alexander quickly finds a new father figure in Eddie Duncan, played wonderfully by Lonny Chapman. Eddie is a fast talker. He’s street smart, he’s agitating, but he’s got charm. He’s from elsewhere, but he’s already in tune with Los Angeles, dropping buzz words and acting like people from the Midwest expect Hollywood types to act. Alexander is gracious for Eddie’s guidance, that is until Eddie tries to hook Alexander up with a sugar-momma. Suddenly, Alexander doesn’t want Eddie’s money or his friendship. He’s certain he can find someone in Los Angeles who will give an underage kid a job. Of course, he’s wrong and Alexander ends up at the door of a rich, lonely, older woman’s house. Here is innocence ends and his new life begins.
From this point forward the past has been established and the story jumps to the present. Alexander awakes to find Dawn in the hospital. She must return soon to Arizona, but Alexander promises to find real work and that the two of them will be together real soon.
Alexander is now 18, but he also has a reputation. At one point, he applies for a job at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor only to have one of the present employees recognize him as a former hustler. The manager asks Alexander to leave. As if Baskin-Robbins were the only shop in town, Alexander immediately turns back to prostitution, but his first client ends up being a cop and Alex gets sent to jail.
There may never have been or even be a scarier thing to play on NBC than the skid row version of the Village People that drools with anticipation of being locked up with fresh-faced Alexander. Before they get their chance with Alexander, he is released on the promise that he’ll appear in court and get counseling. He’s then taken to a center for young gay men. Alex protests that he’s not gay, gets upset during a rap session, and storms off into the night.
Back on the streets and homeless, Alex spends his nights sleeping in playgrounds and his days at the art museum. It’s at the art museum that he’s befriended by Charles “Snake” Selby. Shelby just happens to be a well known professional quarterback. We know this because young girls giddily ask for his autograph and wonder why he’s called “Snake”. They’ll never find out, but Alex will.
You see, Charles Selby is gay. That’s right, he’s a professional football player and he’s gay. Of course, no one knows this and Alexander stays at Snake’s Malibu home under the guise that he is ‘doing work for Mr. Selby’.
If I was amazed that a 1977 made-for-television movie was brave enough to make a film about a male teenage runaway who turns to hustling, I was doubly amazed that they would make one of his johns a professional athlete. My how the 70’s suddenly seem more open-minded than the present day. Still, Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn refuse to pigeon-hole Alexander as either gay nor bi-sexual. He is simply a victim. The thought that he could ever find happiness with Snake is not considered.
Between both films, the real story here is not of fallen teens, but of the love Alexander and Dawn share for one another. It’s a strange sort of love that has no real connection with reality, no sense of guilt for past actions, and no hint of jealousy. In both Dawn and Alexander, emotions roll off the back. Actions exist without reactions, or even consequences. Alexander gets busted when he goes to pick up some ‘party favors’ for his buddy Snake. Not surprisingly, Alexander is able to plead his sob story to the judge and walk away without being charged. More surprisingly, no scandal is made of a professional football player being caught with drugs or for living an alternative lifestyle. As for Dawn, the catalyst who sparked these two movies, her past life does catch up with her. While shopping with a school friend in Scottsdale, Arizona a former client recognizers her. Embarrassed, dawn flees to Los Angeles and the loving arms of Alexander. The two swear off Los Angeles and promise to move elsewhere, discarding their pasts like one would leave behind a pair of busted flip-flops.
While both Dawn and Alexander feel like rather shocking television movies, it is Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn that really leaves you scratching your head. Movie heroes are meant to be sure-footed and certain. They are expected to know what needs to be done and do it. Even Dawn in her Portrait of Teenage Runaway, is more in control of her life, even if she is headed in a dangerous direction. Alexander, besides helping others, appears to merely get caught in the flow things, that is until he finally stands up for himself, but even then he admits to having no real sense of how or what he needs to do with his life to achieve his vague notion of happiness. In many ways, Alexander’s confused sense of identity and unwillingness to take charge of his own life is refreshing.