Before he received tomorrow’s newspaper today in Early Edition, before he coached the Dillon Panthers in Friday Night Lights, and before working for the Monroe County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office in Bloodline, Kyle Chandler portrayed the All-American archetype Jeff Metcalf from the fictional River Run, Ohio on Homefront.
Airing on ABC from 1991 to 1993, Homefront boasted an ensemble cast portraying life in a Midwestern town after World War II. It harkened back to the 1946 movie The Best Years of Our Lives, which revolved around soldiers returning from World War II to their fictional hometown, also in Ohio—Boone City.
Jeff played for the Cleveland Indians. During 1946 spring training, he meets the older and wiser Judy Owen, a bartender played by the lovely Kelly Rutherford, who has aged about 25 minutes in the 25 years since Homefront premiered; Rutherford’s body of work on television includes Melrose Place, The District, Threat Matrix, Gossip Girl, Nash Bridges, The Mysteries of Laura, and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Rutherford’s worldly Judy and Chandler’s naïve Jeff, whom she nicknames Buckeye, after his home state, have a passionate connection. Though it’s not consummated, the arc toward fulfillment is clear as a sunny day at Jacobs Field when she says, “I said I had to lock up. I didn’t necessarily mean lock up after you’re gone.”
It threatens Jeff’s relationship with his fiancée, Ginger, a budding radio star—she discovers them in Jeff’s room, albeit fully clothed. Ultimately, Jeff and Ginger wind up with each other, a knee injury forces Jeff out of baseball, and Judy moves to River Run, where she has an affair with the wealthy Mike Sloan, who is roughly a generation older. Jeff rebounds from the knee problem to earn a place in the Indians’ minor league system.
Homefront aired for two seasons, depicting the life and times of the folks from River Run in the years 1945 to 1947. This, of course, leads to question marks hovering over Jeff’s character: Would he have played on the Indians’ World Series championship team in 1948? How would Larry Doby, who made his début as the first black player in the American League, have affected—or ignited—Jeff’s view of racism? How would River Run be affected by the introduction of television as a mass medium, thanks to Texaco Star Theatre premiering in 1948, with Master of Ceremonies Milton Berle as the first television star?
Rutherford symbolizes a throwback to the decade when Humphrey Bogart played a casino owner in Casablanca, Spencer Tracy played a fictional presidential candidate in State of the Union, and Fred MacMurray’s insurance agent conspired with Barbara Stanwyck’s femme fatale to kill her husband for money in his life insurance police in Double Indemnity. Movies from that era appeal to Rutherford. “Every once in a while, I need to have my fix,” said Rutherford in an interview with Susan King of the Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I think it’s mainly when I need inspiration I look at the old pictures. I don’t find it as much in the new stuff. I love Carole Lombard. I think she’s wonderful. Gloria Grahame was really great. Garbo. Dietrich. People knew how to create an illusion. Now everything is very realistic and straightforward. Everyone’s grunge.”
Chandler, too, enjoys an affinity for the classics. In a 1993 article for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Chandler told Enquirer scribe John Kiesewetter about growing up outside Atlanta on a family farm, where Ted Turner’s television station WTBS aired the work of Bogart et al. “Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable—there was a whole world there from the ’40s that I grew up watching. It opened up that world to play with inside my head, and it was one of the main things that made me interested in acting.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 6, 2016.