Its 11:10 pm
So the cheetah and I just returned from Ireland where we visited “The Devil’s Doorway“.
The cheetah pointed out that the doorway looked like it came from Fenway Park and I had to agree with him.
We got home just in time to get a mysterious package from our contact “H” over at Mill Creek Entertainment,we both looked at each other,we weren’t anything….it just turns out that she was feeling festive and sent us a copy of the “The Astronaut Wives Club” which was a limited series that ran on ABC in 2015.
I remember the show because ABC did a fine job in promoting it,but didn’t know what it was about. So the cheetah and I grabbed some coffee and settled in….
“The Astronaut Wives Club” was based on the book of the same name written by a Lily Koppel and its about the wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts,America’s first group of men to go into orbit.
The series starts with Alan Shepard being shown launching into orbit while his wife Louise (Dominique McElligott) watches,Max Kaplan,a writer from LIFE Magazine,is asking her what her thoughts are seeing her husband going into the unknown.
We then fade back to 1959 when NASA was first born and the first seven Mercury 7 astronauts were selected.
Louise comes to the military base where her husband is stationed,as she approaches his office,she can’t help but notice his secretary is in his office with door shut,she walks in to see Alan sitting and talking with same secretary,she gets up,throws Louise a nasty look and goes back to her desk. Louise gives Alan the message that the Navy wants him to call,she turns to go but Alan invites her to stay and Louise shuts the door,returning the dirty look the secretary gave her. Alan finds out he is going to be a astronaut and the couple celebrate.
Soon the wives all meet for the first time and while some are friendly and chatty,its clear there is some serious competition to see which of the men will be going up.
The wives are introduced in a meeting by NASA’s public relations handler Duncan Pringle and they are:
Rene Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski),wife of Scott Carpenter.
Betty Grissom (JoAnna Garcia Swisher),wife of Gus Grissom.
Anne Glenn (Azure Parsons),wife of John Glenn.
Trudy Cooper (Odette Annable),wife of Gordon (Gordo) Cooper.
Jo Schirra (Zoe Boyle),wife of Wally Schirra
Marge Slayton (Erin Cummings),wife of Deke Slayton.
Six of the wives easily start becoming friends but Louise Shepard is ice cold and only sees their husbands as a threat to Alan being the first man to “go up”.
As the two years go swiftly by,the astronauts are turned into huge American icons due to Duncan and the media. Soon the call comes and Alan Shepard is chosen as the first man to go up. The wives all go to the Shepard’s home with food and drinks in a show of support for Louise but she doesn’t welcome them and closes the door on the others. She wants to maintain her “perfect wife” persona and doesn’t want to show how scared she really is.
In each following episode,each astronaut’s launch is covered with the wife of the man going up with different results. While Shepard landed safely and was feted at the White House,Grissom’s mission was botched resulting in him almost drowning and his capsule lost,there is a question if he blew open the door of the capsule in a panic (he didn’t). But Betty and Gus are not invited to the White House which puts a huge damper on Gus and Betty.
We get to know the wives better with each episode,Trudy Cooper is a gifted pilot in her own right and encouraged her husband to become a pilot as well. We also see that their marriage is a sham,publicly they are American pie but Gordo is shown sleeping in a tub.
She thinks women can be astronauts as well as any man and hopes one day to see it happen.
Annie Glenn has a severe stutter and has to work very hard in dealing with the press because of it,the other wives do their best to help her. John Glenn is the third man to launch into space. It is pointed out that with each launch,the astronaut going up is staying up longer and setting new records.
Rene Carpenter wants to make her own mark and she approaches a newspaper owner for a job,she is a gifted writer and in fact writes the Carpenter’s own story for LIFE magazine.
The wives also have secrets,Marge Slayton was married before meeting Deke. A tabloid attempts to make to trouble but finds out quickly just how powerful NASA’s reach is when it comes to protecting its own.
The original book covered the Mercury 7 team but the series expands that and includes the Gemini and Apollo missions as well. This includes the off screen death of Gus Grissom in Apollo 1 and of course the landing on the Moon as well.
One thing the series does is make the astronauts seem like skirt chasing louts,six of the men are implied or even shown having affairs and one night stands. While they are a “band of brothers” as shown when Glenn is grounded because Annie is too scared to let Vice President Lyndon Johnson into her home and he supports her in not letting him in.
When the head of NASA grounds him,the rest of the astronauts stand by Glenn and refuse to take his place thus costing NASA millions and give the agency a black eye in the public.
But they treat their wives like shit….except for the most unexpected case of which you’ll have to see for yourself,its quite charming and funny.
The original seven wives (including Louise,who has become human) welcome and try to help the wives of the two later missions and that includes Trudy and Rene trying to help bring a lost astronaut home.
The series ends with the landing on the Moon as Alan Shepard,who almost lost the ability to fly due to illness,making a miracle recovery and leading the Apollo 14 mission and being the 5th man to walk on the Moon.
I really enjoyed this limited series and found the actresses who played the wives to be very vested in their portrayal of them. For the most part,the entire cast is relativity unknown with Yvonne Strahovski probably being the best known to the general public.
But the three actresses who really owned “The Astronauts Wives Club” were Azure Parsons who shined as Annie Glenn,JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Betty Grissom was just amazing and heartbreaking. The scene of her waking up and seeing Gus in the kitchen after his death had me in tears as well because I knew exactly what she felt,Swisher played it perfectly and with such heart and emotion.
Odette Annable as the trailblazer Trudy Cooper was a blast to watch,you can’t be love her zeal for life and just wanting a equal playing field,her joy in finding out the Russians had sent a woman into space and had broken her husband’s records was one of the best scenes in the series.
Yvonne as Rene Carpenter was also really good,she didn’t want to sit around and be “just a wife”,she had smarts and drive. The times were changing and these wives were sort of like astronauts in the way they forged their own destinies.
The series contains all 10 episodes,it has no special features.
You can get “The Astronauts Wives Club” by heading to Mill Creek Entertainment’s Amazon page.
The cheetah and I give this fine series a big thumbs/paws up.