This idea for a blog post has been floating around in my mind for a while, but it’s decided to come out today.
I haven’t been posting much, and am probably at the point again where this blog goes back on hiatus, probably permanently. We’ve lost Jerry ver Dorn and Lee Lawson in the last few weeks, and I wanted to write about their work. I wanted people to remember all the great work that was done by those telling these stories. But I seem to lack the energy to keep going with this.
When ATWT left the air, part of my willingness to continue here (in fits and spurts) is that I felt like somehow, someday, our stories and our shows might come back to life – or at least something like them.
But I don’t think the soaps most of us fell in love with can ever come back, in any form. Yes, all the factors we’ve been told about are true – women working outside the home, ratings plummeting, too expensive to produce, and so on.
But I also think the thing that’s in my memory about so many of those shows, the nearly invisible, hard to pinpoint ingredient of them, was the sense of community and a feeling of working for the common good.
And I don’t think America has that feeling any longer. We have, in many ways, lost the common good.
It’s happened over many years and for many reasons. The belligerent leader we had a few years ago didn’t help, but there were many factors that led us to where we are now. Some economic, some political, and some matters of faith or a lack of faith. All things far more complex and detailed than this blog can support. All leading to the conflict and chaos we have now.
But I think of the idea of Guiding Light, and Irna Phillips writing about the light in the window, the reverend’s home where a lost soul could always find a helping hand, or someone to listen.
There may be a Bert Bauer in your neighborhood, a Kim Hughes in your apartment building, a Cass Winthrop ready to dispense advice – someone, anyone there with a warm meal or a fresh cocktail and a shoulder to cry on. If so, cherish them for as long as you can.
But I think those people, those ideas may be gone in some places, as obsolete to some as a rotary dial telephone.
Does TV and media reflect the world, or does it influence how we think? Probably both – certainly some of the uglier moments are reflected in disproportionate amounts. Conflict sells. I guess that’s why we’ll likely never see the likes of these stories again. Not enough conflict. Not enough darkness. (Ah, yes, my old enemy – darkness.)
I make no apologies for my focus on the past, my video powered time machine that, with one click, takes me back to those warm memories.
Soap fans often get ridiculed for being so immersed in their stories. We’re called “total nerds” and worse.
Well, everything that’s been said about me on that front is true. I was a bullied kid with parents who loved me but had no idea what to do with me and only slightly more knowledge about what to do with themselves.
I learned about relationships, about family and about love, loss and what to wear from those figures on screen. The particulars of the script of story didn’t matter as much as how those shows made me feel.
And now, in my fifties, as I try to mesh together years of joy and growth with years of trauma, those stories, even in abbreviated forms online, are a comfort to me.
This is the morning after yet another school shooting. I should be doing something somewhere, but the trauma trigger in me makes me want to run and duck for cover.
So, a hat tip to you, as I continue on my journey.
Feel free to stop by here any time to say hi. I mean, I can’t cook (I burn water) and can’t bake as well as Bert Bauer, I’m sure, but my kitchen table is always open for a chat.
May we all find (or make) a corner of calm, and maybe, somewhere, a light in the window.
I apologize in advance that this blog has become a bit of a memorial site. With this post, half of the last 10 posts are about the passing of an actor or actress that appeared on our screens.
A quick mention here of June Brown, who recently died at age 95.
I know she had a long and varied career, but over the years, I’ve mentioned my love of Dot Cotton, the character she played on EastEnders for decades.
I’m repeating myself here, but I’ll say it again in honor of Ms. Brown: she played Dot so well and made the audience love her – not so easy with Dot, an unlikeable grouch who gossiped and generally judged everyone in the square.
Our US soaps had some characters that were allowed to be somewhat unlikeable or hold unpleasant opinions from time to time. All My Children‘s Phoebe judged those who lived together “without benefit of clergy” and she and her friend Enid were the “Karens” of their day – a bit racist, a bit snobby, and very hypocritical.
In more recent years, shows seem to have reverted to a variation of the old Irna Phillips “saints or sinners” rule. Today it’s more “saints and psycho villains.”
But here’s to those complicated characters like Dot Cotton – and to her portrayer, June Brown.
The experience of watching a soap opera, following the story, becoming a fan….is one that’s next to impossible to explain to someone who isn’t. Often, the mainstream media coverage focuses on the big splash moments – the weddings, the explosions, the comings and goings – but the plot points are just a place for the thread to stop and make a knot, to weave together that tapestry.
And the particulars of a plot point often aren’t as key to those of us watching as the way the story made us feel.
I’ve been thinking about this since last week, when we learned of the passing of Kathryn Hays from As The World Turns. I’ve written about Hays and Kim Hughes here many times (I’ll link them at the end of this post).
I originally started this blog to express my opinion, and in most cases, I felt that my posts had a solidly objective opinion about my favorite shows, what was working and what wasn’t.
But there are some stories, and some performers, where objectivity was a challenge. Those stories that hit close to home for me really make my little one man Statler and Waldorf grumpfest a challenge.
There have been several times a strictly fictional story became something more to me. Seeing bits of myself on screen with Nola Reardon’s attempts to fantasize and lie her way into the life she’d dreamed for herself. I knew those feelings so well.
Watching Reva Shayne jump off a bridge, feeling defeated from years of fighting, and watching her fight her way back to life made me rethink my own thoughts and struggles when I was a suicidal teenager looking for my own escape.
And then there was Kim and Bob Hughes. I’ve told this story before, but please humor me for a moment.
I love my parents. With maturity and grace, I’ve come to a really lovely place of understanding them both. I am a combination of the best characteristics – and a little of the worst impulses – of both. As a teenager, though, I felt alone in my house – a gay kid that trusted no one – not my siblings (all older with lives of their own) and not my parents.
I was struggling through serious trauma at school, and wasn’t entirely sure I would graduate. My parents couldn’t understand why I wasn’t willing to go to school. I felt ignored and unheard.
At about this time, ATWT was playing out the culmination of months of suspense about Frannie’s doppelganger, and we learned of Sabrina’s existence. Again, I’ve written about this sequence before, and what it meant for the show’s history and in the context of Irna Phillips’ own history with ATWT.
But setting all the radio noise of a particular plot twist or turn aside, what I remember is what I felt. I’m remembering it so vividly that I can see the scene in my head, 35 years later. It’s the scene of parents, especially a mother, who crossed an ocean to look for their child. Kim and Bob loved her on sight and embraced her, literally and figuratively. The symbolism of that just resonated with me.
It probably sounds very weird, but that act of unconditional love and the unabashed display of that love – was what I craved from my own parents.
So much of my joy of the Marland era of ATWT wasn’t about the particular stage markings or plot twists of a story – it was how it made me feel. That was 35 years ago. It seems impossibly far away in some ways – my life is so different now – and yet, the news of Hays’ passing brought those memories back as if it was yesterday.
I’ve said in earlier posts that I used to dream Bob and Kim were my parents. I had to smile when I saw many other people, on various social media sites, say they felt the same about Kim.
Last weekend, I watched an episode of the HBOMax show Julia, one where Julia Child realizes that the TV that brings her into thousands of homes establishes a sort of relationship with the audience where the audience her as a friend, or family.
This was a thought expressed many times at the end of ATWT and GL – we mourned those shows. And while Kim may have been a fictional character….well, let’s just say a few onions were being cut when I heard of her passing. A moment of goodbye for a body of work well done and a life well lived. A farewell to a fictional character who was, literally, a lifesaver for me – honoring that work, and how it made me (and millions of others) feel.
And, as every passing year reminds me, the seasons continue to change in my own life, of course – the threads of my own tapestry, the story that continues to unfurl around me.
Those older blog entries mentioned at the top of this post:
I watched the “Tub Talks” video with Damon Jacobs and his guest, Roger Newcomb.
Because of course I did! I met both of them during my trip to NYC and to Guiding Light in 2008. It’s really hard to wrap my head around the fact that it will soon be 15 years since that trip!
This blog has, on numerous occasions, referred to articles and videos by both, but I wanted to say in words how much I appreciate the work and accomplishment of both.
I am convinced Roger Newcomb just didn’t sleep for several years! His ability to maintain We Love Soaps as the huge repository of information that it was (and remains) was beyond impressive. The fact that he and his team were able to create the Indie Soap Awards and keep its momentum is just beyond impressive. Somewhere in there, he found time to help P&G/Televest/Telenext get episodes on DVD.
I was convinced that Roger would someday be our generation’s Doug Marland – his ideas and responses to so much so often paralleled my own thoughts on those subjects! I was so grateful to participate in the survey and voting for the 50 Greatest Actors survey.
I’ve already expressed to Damon how much I appreciate all of his work, including his books, his work in psychotherapy, and his advocacy with harm reduction and PreP. He’s an excellent writer, as his 50 Lessons for 50 Years blog shows.
But in the most recent stretches of the pandemic I was reading/rereading some of Damon’s interviews for We Love Soaps. They were all well done and entertaining to read at the time they were published, but I guess when I reread those pieces – well, as the kids would say, they hit differently.
Many of those were able to get under the mask and get to the very real thoughts of that performer, giving us a real look at them, not the filtered glimpse we usually see where the reader often gets more of the character than they do the artist.
To see them together again was a joy. There is just entirely too much here to discuss, so just watch:
PS: Roger is so not joking about Kim Zimmer and football. When I was on the Guiding Light blogger trip, we had time on our schedule for Kim and went to her dressing room. Before I could even *see* Kim, I heard her talking to Roger about their football rivalry!
I hope the idea of a book isn’t just the seed of an idea. There should absolutely be a We Love Soaps book. We’re losing a bit of history every day. As I’ve said before, it was my dream for a long time to write an oral history of Guiding Light, but I didn’t have all the ducks lined up to do so; I so hope this happens.
And while the genre itself has gotten smaller over time, it’s great to see so many success stories from the soap world and the soap press/blog world that was happening back in the mid aughts. Jamey Giddens is writing for DAYS! Sara Bibel’s been at Y&R for a minute now! I mean, Tom Casiello is running out of media platforms to pwn and master! And Elana Levine did a phenomenal job with Her Stories, giving us a book that both gets factual accuracy and details as well as the context of why it mattered – and still matters.
(All in addition, of course, to the great work soap academics, including Elana, Sam Ford and Lynn Liccardo, have been doing for years!)
So here’s to all those accomplishments!
Many blog posts, columns and books on soaps have outlined the massive changes that most shows experienced in the 80s. If a given show wasn’t trying to reproduce Luke and Laura for their canvas, they were borrowing from nighttime soaps like DALLAS and DYNASTY, which became huge hits and cultural touchstones.
Within a few years, soaps went from Bert Bauer pouring coffee and Ada Hobson sweeping the floors to characters riding an elevator in a previously unmentioned skyscraper so they could discuss BIG BUSINESS.
Sometimes, we knew a bit about the business behind the corporate intrigue. Jabot sold beauty, darlings, and so did Forrester.
But more often than not, these billion dollar companies were conglomerates that did…..stuff. Spaulding Enterprises did….something, I’m sure. Oil. I seem to remember pharmaceuticals. Walsh Enterprises and later WorldWide also did….stuff.
I didn’t care much about those stories on ATWT or GL when they’d be playing onscreen. There were rare moments when business storylines led to something exciting – Phillip taking over Spaulding, the fun “Phillip’s ex-wives” story in later years, and of course the embezzlement story that led to Alexandra tearing Roger to shreds at the country club.
But so many other stories meant to make a splash landed with a whimper. There was often no spark happening when a business story was being told, just airtime filled with a lot of generic talk about “being back on top” and “protecting the family legacy.” (And funny how characters who seemed so preoccupied with “family legacy” always managed to find a way to boink a relative’s spouse or romantic partner!)
I didn’t know who was doing what, and when Harley somehow became CEO of Spaulding it just seemed by that time like random names were being picked out of a hat.
Those big business stories were a trend that should have, for the most part, disappeared with shoulder pads. But no matter how weak they perform, the remaining shows seem to still love them.
Can there be a single ounce of juice left in any Newman or Abbott business story? Honestly, I don’t think so.
The corporate intrigue on DAYS seems to be a purgatory where characters are sent when they have no other story.
We’re just in such an ugly time right now in the real world. Soaps have always been an escape, but the reality of these business heavy stories are so distant to so many viewers that it leaves the audience cold.
I don’t blame writers or even the networks for approving these kinds of stories. It’s an easy way to have characters in an “umbrella” story or in instant conflict.
But I think their usefulness is long past. There’s more to mine with so many characters that has nothing to do with one’s company or one’s job.
I am repeating myself, I know. But this year I need a little comfort, and so I’m returning to a favorite episode I’ve posted before of Guiding Light.
From December 22, 1989. It’s most notable for the scene at the end – a little Christmas miracle, if you will. Always gives me goosebumps.
But the whole episode is wonderful to see. Pam Long was HW at the time, and the episode had plenty of Pam’s heart filled stories.
And I loved those scenes we’d see at the end with actors and crew singing carols. This one makes me chuckle (a very enthusiastic child is heard quite loudly and after a while, the adults try not to laugh).
I miss those old friends, but it’s a nice time to visit.
Merry Christmas, and please, stay safe.
My readership is in the…..tens of people, but I hope all seventeen of you read this and spread the word.
Sam Ford is a name that’s been mentioned here a number of times – he’s a polymath who has expertise in, quite frankly, an annoyingly high number of things. His wisdom in multiple types of media and publishing is too lengthy to list here, but the essential piece you must know is that he is a fan of both ATWT and WWE wrestling, and if that doesn’t deserve its own show, I don’t know what does.
However, Sam, his family and his neighbors in Western Kentucky have all had a pretty dreadful December. They were all impacted by devastating tornadoes a few weeks ago. More than 70 people were killed by these storms, and hundreds more injured.
And Sam and his family were lucky – they’re all alive and safe, with only damage to their home. (It’s been about 10 days since the storms and I’m not sure if they have power yet; some of the infrastructure may take months to rebuild.)
I want to help because they’re our fellow Americans, and they need our help. But also, Sam’s done a lot for all of us soap nerds and soap fans. If I had the resources of, say, Lucinda Walsh, I’d organize all of Oakdale into a lean, mean fundraising machine and donate a few mil myself. (All while looking fabulous, of course, and rolling my eyes at Lisa Grimaldi.)
But instead, I’m here in my PJs, hoping that I can raise awareness and maybe, if we’re lucky, some of us soap folks can band together and do something to raise awareness and MONEY. Which is what people need.
KEY THINGS TO MENTION AND SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
The website for the effort to raise money is: https://www.kyshine.com/
The GoFundMe is here: https://gofund.me/5c24596d
If you post on Facebook, Twitter, etc. please use the hashtag #KeepOnShiningKY
Please send me a message or leave a comment if you have some ideas – I’ll be happy to share them or post anything here!
“Keep on Shining,” BTW, was inspired by a lyric from this song, written by Kentucky native Bill Monroe and performed here by a legend…..
I am so woefully overdue in writing a proper post about the book Her Stories by Elana Levine.
First things first – it’s a great book!
While some of the essential bits of the story are well known to soap nerds and soap academics, Levine’s book puts so much into clearer context.
While none of us may ever know or fully explain “Why did P&G do THAT to my SHOWS??!???” I learned so much from what was included.
I don’t want to give too much away – but I’ll say this – it is DENSE with information. Part of my initial challenge in reading the book was that I’d get through 2 or 3 pages and then fall down a rabbit hole because I had to search something that was mentioned!
I was fascinated with Elana’s details about many of the aspects of production in the 1960s and 1970s, and how it all fit in with the larger moneymaking picture at the networks.
I can’t remember if this was discussed or confirmed before, but this book was one place I’ve seen in print that has Paul Rauch on record confirming that the call for the 1998 Guiding Light clone store was CBS – not P&G, and not Rauch himself.
I think many of us assumed it WAS Paul for a long time; after all, he was EP of One Life To Live during its Eterna storyline, and he wasn’t exactly one to shy away from controversial stories. This puts the clone story into context as one of many moves CBS made in a panic after that 1993-1994 seismic shift for GL, when its storytelling strength was zapped, timeslots in some cities shifted to mornings, and cancellation rumors first started to bubble up in earnest.
This is a book that I know I’ll be going back to again and again over the years. I ended up buying it a second time – I got the eBook and it was so much easier for me to balance with a Google search here and there!
I owe Elana Levine an apology for my delayed response (and deep thanks for the mentions). We’re lucky to have someone like Elana who respects the industry – and the people in it. It shows in the research and in the text.
It feels ridiculous to be shaken up about someone I never had the privilege to meet. But news of Lisa’s sudden passing was so heartbreaking to me.
I still don’t quite know what to say, but am giving it a shot here.
One gift of soap operas is that relationship the audience develops with the actor and the character. It’s weird and lopsided, but not at all one-sided. The actor performs and puts a certain emotional truth out into the universe, and the audience picks up the signal. One person may pick up a slightly different frequency than the next, but all of us respond.
Many actors make memorable characters, but every once in a while, a viewer like me finds a character that is telling THEIR story, their emotional truth. And Lisa captured that with both Nola and Iva.
I loved Nola’s ability to dream up a new reality, one that I dearly wished I was capable of during my traumatic teenage years. She failed to launch those dreams into reality with Kelly, but she and Quint reinvented each other’s lives.
I owe my ATWT fandom to Lisa, because it was her face (with blonde hair!) that I saw on ATWT one day as I flipped through the channels. I think it was the end of the second or third day I watched that I completely forgot that I was watching “Nola” and accepted her as Iva.
ATWT’s stories about the love of a child – both Lucinda and Iva for Lily, and Bob and Kim finding Sabrina – struck a nerve in me, when I wasn’t sure of my own status in my birth family, and hadn’t yet found my chosen one.
While soap operas thrive on the day to day narratives, viewers and creators alike recognize that there are occasionally scenes where the combination of a powerful story being told, and actors delivering that truth with great skill and emotion, can turn into something special, something that really hits us emotionally, something that we all remember.
Karen Wolek on the witness stand. BJ’s heart. Reva splashing around in the fountain. Alexandra scorching the earth at the country club.
It should be noted that Lisa Brown is remembered for TWO of those scenes – the Guiding Light scenes where Kelly calls her out on her betrayal, and the ATWT scenes where Iva reveals to Lily that she is, in fact, her mother.
There are some great scenes that FOLLOW those explosions that show her versatility. The GL clip has been deleted from YouTube, but in the scenes after Kelly rushes to Morgan, Nola confronted her mother and brother, showed little remorse for her actions, and vowed to scheme again.
My favorite scenes after the Iva/Josh/Lily confrontation are in an episode full of action (Craig might be dead! Lily is missing!) and were beautiful scenes between Lisa Brown, Larry Bryggman and Elizabeth Hubbard (Hubbard and Brown had a great chemistry as irritants in each other’s orbit).
You may want to see the whole episode, or the relevant scenes, but the specific scene that got me starts at around 28:00.
Iva was also a perfect choice for the first person that Hank Eliot would choose to come out to in Oakdale. (I think Barbara and Shannon were next, though those scenes are not on YT.)
As versatile as she was, I think Brown’s gifts were not well understood by non-Marland writing regimes. At GL, Marland’s successors seemed to lean heavily into Kooky Nola territory (Nolaerobics was not a story, but whatevs). I’m not sure if post-Marland ATWT couldn’t write for her, or if Iva just got swept away in the changes that came after Doug death in 1993, but Iva – and Brown – were gone the next year.
I know Brown did a lot of behind-the-scenes work in later years, but I missed her on our screens. I hope she knows how much her work meant to many of us.
PS: Lisa was very passionate about animals; her obituary said she’d had a dog at nearly every point of her life. If you’d like to honor Lisa and her love of animals, please make a donation to her local humane society in her memory.
PPS: HOW DID I NOT KNOW (or not remember?) that Lisa was in this video?