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'Class of '61' - Clive Owen's TV Series That Never Was

Updated on February 16, 2009
Clive Owen as Devin O'Neil.
Clive Owen as Devin O'Neil.
Dan Futterman as Shelby Peyton, a West Point cadet with a decision to make.
Dan Futterman as Shelby Peyton, a West Point cadet with a decision to make.
Josh Lucas as George Armstrong Custer.
Josh Lucas as George Armstrong Custer.
Dan Futterman, right, as Shelby and Andre Braugher as his boyhood friend and slave Lucius.
Dan Futterman, right, as Shelby and Andre Braugher as his boyhood friend and slave Lucius.
Laura Linney as Lily Magraw, left, and Josh Lucas as George Armstrong Custer.
Laura Linney as Lily Magraw, left, and Josh Lucas as George Armstrong Custer.
An example of Janusz Kaminski's lovely cinematography.
An example of Janusz Kaminski's lovely cinematography.
Another example.
Another example.
Shelby learns that a lot of war is about regret.
Shelby learns that a lot of war is about regret.
At the film's climax, Shelby finds himself behind Confederate guns at the battle of Bull Run.
At the film's climax, Shelby finds himself behind Confederate guns at the battle of Bull Run.
Custer tries to shield his unarmed friend Devin from artillery fire at the climax of 'Class of '61.'
Custer tries to shield his unarmed friend Devin from artillery fire at the climax of 'Class of '61.'

The Forgotten Class of '61

In 1992, right after Ken Burns had a huge hit with his documentary, "The Civil War", ABC greenlighted a movie that, it hoped, would take advantage of the Civil War mania sweeping the country.

The movie - and hopefully, TV series - would center on the adventures of Shelby Peyton and his friends, all members of the West Point class of 1861. The series would start just before the Civil War broke out, and deal with the tensions between Shelby - a Southerner - and his two best friends: Devin O'Niel, a proud Irishman, and George Custer - yes, that's THE George Armstrong Custer, who was indeed a cadet at the Point and at the bottom of his class in 1861.

Devin and George (like most West Pointers he had a nickname, in this case "Fanny" because of his long golden curls) were both Northerners and Shelby was a son of the South. What would happen once war broke out?

The TV series pilot was shot, and with its impressive pedigree it seemed it could hardly miss. The executive producer was none other than Steven Spielberg, and the cinematographer wasJanusz Kaminski, who had worked with Spielberg on 'Schindler's List'. John "Passion of the Christ" Debney scored the music.

Then there was the cast. Dan Futterman starred as Shelby and is very good, but it's a very young Clive Owen who steals the show as his pal Devin O'Niel. Look closely and you'll see Laura Linney as Devon's girlfriend LIly, and Andre Braugher as Shelby's boyhood friend and family slave Lucius.

Alas, Clive Owen's small-screen starring role was not to be. ABC took a pass on the series and instead aired it as a one-shot TV movie in April of 1993.

You can buy it as a used VHS at Amazon for about $10. I'm hoping someday it gets a proper DVD release because it was a worthy project and there are enough famous actors in it that it would probably move a few copies.

Included in this page are screen captures I took off the TV broadcast. It's a 16-year-old VHS tape, so I apologize for the graininess! Clive is gorgeous anyway.

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