A Special Family

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A Special Family[1]
In The Dark
Original Broadcast Date
Joe Frank
Narrative Monologue, 27 minutes
Preceded by: Coma
Followed by: Tomorrow

Ellen was a classmate of mine in high school.

A Special Family is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series In The Dark. It was originally broadcast in 1993.


Joe tells of high school classmate, Ellen[1], a plain girl who tried to make up for it by spending money on her clothes and friends. Between junior and senior year she turned into a beauty, dated the quarterback, Danny.[2]

Her parents disapproved because he came from a working-class family.

She got pregnant at the end of senior year, eloped with Danny. Her father disowned her.

Danny worked in a restaurant. His younger brother, Johnny, 'slightly retarded', worked at a lumberyard. Another guy bullied him. Danny stood up to the guy, got his arm caught in a machine, died from his injuries.

2 months later their son, Danny, was born.

Johnny fell in love with Ellen. They married, and Johnny seemed to recover from his retardation.

Ellen won a large settlement from the lumberyard.

Ellen's father died in a hotel room with a prostitute manacled to the bed. His company went bankrupt. Ellen's mother went to Switzerland.

Ellen and Johnny made detailed, fantastical plans, for Danny and their children-to-be: 'their first son, Danny, would be a violinist; the second child would be a writer; the third, an athlete, and the fourth, a dancer.' Joe doubted the wisdom of this.

4 years later Ellen's mother returned from Switzerland, claimed she had turned her life around, wanted to be involved in her family's life. Ellen refused.

Their second child, Susan, the author-to-be, was born with a defective right arm, which didn't deter their plans.

'I lost track of Ellen for a number of years while I was out West.' By the time Joe had returned Danny had rejected the violin and become delinquent. Susan became beautiful but had trouble reading and writing.

The third child, Stevie, the athlete-to-be, looked like his father, was normal and a good athlete. Occupied with their 2 older children, they neglected him, at his expense.

Johnny's career in the restaurant was going nowhere, so he went back to the lumberyard.

Ellen got pregnant again. Jill, the dancer-to-be, was born 2 months early 'with a defective heart and damaged lungs… on Stevie's sixth birthday.'

Joe was looking after the children while Ellen and Johnny were at the hospital. Stevie set the drapes on fire.

'The next time I saw them was five years later. The oldest son, Danny, was now 17.' Danny resented his parents. He went to work on the Alaska pipeline, then traveled the world, occasionally sending cards with cryptic notes.

Susan became promiscuous, got pregnant. Stevie, 14, ran with a bad crowd, cut school, fought, stole money from his parents for drugs. Jill, 8, became a hypochondriac and recluse, developed severe allergies.

Johnny took a job managing a food distribution center in Algiers. He failed within a year. They returned to New York with Susan's child but not Susan, 'who'd become involved with a Middle Eastern gunrunner and drug smuggler.'

Susan killed herself. Ellen's mother attended the funeral; she married a much-younger man, asked Ellen to raise his young daughter; Ellen assented.

Johnny drives a delivery truck, Ellen works at a bakery. Stevie, in jail for armed robbery, gets a woman inmate pregnant; Ellen takes the child in.

Jill takes care of the children.

Danny gets his poetry published on a small press, has a cult following. Ellen won't take him in.

Legacy Synopsis

The story of Ellen, the undistinguished daughter of wealthy parents. She is hospitalized for anorexia, has plastic surgery, vacations in Europa and returns to become attractive and popular. She dates a working class football player, becomes pregnant, elopes, and is disowned by her father. Her husband dies while protecting his retarded brother, who Ellen later marries. They attempt to carefully plan the lives of their children. The first, intended to be a musician, grows up troubled and rebellious, leaves the country as soon as he can and sends them occasional incoherent letters. The second, an intended author, is dyslexic, becomes a beautiful and popular but promiscuous teenager. The third, an intended athlete, is ignored, sets fires as a child, becomes a vandal and shop-lifter. The youngest would-be dancer has heart and lung trouble and allergies. They move to Algiers where the husband gets an important job which he soon loses for incompetence. The 'author' has a child and abandons it to her parents, then commits suicide. Ellen's mother reappears, asks them to care for her new husband's daughter. The husband's retardation worsens, he leaves the family. The 'athlete' goes to prison, has a child and gives it to Ellen. Ellen turns to drink.


Additional credits

The original broadcast credits state: "[C]reated in collaboration with Arthur Miller, and recorded and mixed by Theo Mondle. The editor was Farley Ziegler. Special thanks to Jennifer Ferro."


  1. apparently fictional - they're in the city, not Long Island
  2. Joe's high school friend in Bitter Pill is named Danny.