'The Children of An Lac' -- a touching story of Vietnam
Ina balin almost didn't get the role of Ina Balin in a TV movie about herself , because, according to some TV producers, she wasn't "right for the part." However, she persevered and eventually got not only one of the lead parts, but a screen credit for the story, and served as associate producer as well. And her delightful performance as herself proves, among other things, that Ina Balin is a fine actress as well as a fine human being.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Children of An Lac" (CBS, Thursday, 8-10 p.m., check local listings) is a poignantly charming re-enactment of actress Ina Balin's actual experiences in adopting three Vietnamese children and assisting in the evacuation of most of a Saigon orphanage during the final days of the Vietnam war. It is two hours of near-perfect family entertainment -- a show the whole family can cry and laugh over together . . . as it munches popcorn.
Although it is still another of what I consider a dangerous genre of electronic near-truth called "docu-drama" (dangerous because of the form's potential for distortion as a sometimes nonrecognizable "pseudo"-documentary), this program is an earnest and moving, basically harmless, romanticization of Miss Balin's seemingly selfless search for family.
It is also the climatic fantasy-reality result of her adventurous spirit, her patriotic USO servicE, her determination to see to it that innocent children should suffer less.
If, upon occasion, the whole philanthropical adventure smacks just a bit too much of Lady Bountiful-ism, with well-groomed Western ladies searching for pretty children to adopt, much as one goes to the ASPCA looking for a pet . . . well, the warmth and compassion of Miss Balin and Betty Tisdale (played with tough gentility by Shirley Jones) overcome all objections. And the fact is, most of the youngsters at An Lac were almost miraculousy rescued and brought to America, where they allegedly found "proper" homes. Meantime, back in Saigon, those left behind were, perhaps, helping to rebuild. . . .
But it is unfair to quibble about "An Lac" -- certainly its heart is in the right place, especially if you consider the sleeve a proper location. The "good guys." in this case the two american women, win out over the "bad guys," in this case the Viet Cong and the Saigon bureaucracy. Several hundred children are safely evacuated and, according to Miss Balin, are living happily ever after.
"An Lac" is a lovely, heart (wherever you find it) warming story. And Miss Balin recently came to New York from her California home, where she lives in single- parenthooded happiness with her three children -- Nguyet, Kim Thuy, and Ba-Nhi Mai -- to tell about it -- and to tell about the TV show that marks her return to visible stardom after a seemingly (but not actual) hiatus since her appearance in "From the Terrace." She has, it seems, been starring in a few minor movies, guest-starring in just about every major TV series (including "Battlestar Galactica") in recent years, as well as running an art gallery.
"I didn't drop out," she protests. "I just haven't done many feaure films. After all, I've had three children to support for 5 1/2 years."
The An Lac story began for Miss Balin way back in 1967, when she first volunteered to entertain the troops in Southeast Asia and spent seven weeks touring hospitals and meeting the soldiers.
"It changed my whole life, and I decided that I was going to go again because I realized how much it did for their morale. The next time I went I sang and put on a show. But I didn't give up the handshake part, because it's very important to meet the guys. So many shows like Bob Hope's would come in and the guys couldn't even get near them because of the cameras.
"Prior to my second trip I called Senator [Jacob] Javits's office, since I knew him and his wife, and I spoke to his personal secretary, who told me she was involved with an orphanage over there, and when I got off the phone I had a list of people to call, things to bring, buy, and carry back. That's how I first got to visit An LAc. When I returned, she asked me to join the board of directors.