Today is episode 15,762 – the final episode of Guiding Light.
There is so much more that I’d hoped to say in these last few weeks. But time has run out for me to talk about GL in the present. After today, it ceases being a living, breathing work in progress.
There’s nothing I can say about the end of GL that could be appropriate, or fitting, or adequately describe the emotions of those of us who are watching.
So I thought that the only way to really honor the end of the journey?
Is to take you back to the beginning.
Springfield may have sprung to life on stages in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, as well as midtown Manhattan and Peapack, New Jersey. But in a very real sense, Guiding Light was born in Chicago, the city where I now live.
There’s a part of Guiding Light’s DNA that’s here in Chicago. It’s nearly invisible, but nonetheless very important. Clearly, Irna Phillips is the “mother” of GL. In a roundabout way, Reverend Preston Bradley is the “father.” Bradley was the minister at Chicago’s Peoples Church.
It was Bradley’s radio sermons (in the twenties and thirties) that helped Irna through some tough times, and eventually led to her idea for Reverend Ruthledge and the “light” in the window for GL. It was for Reverend Ruthledge that Irna wrote the words that opened Guiding Light:
There is a destiny that makes us brothers, none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others, comes back into our own.
You can read more details about the Peoples Church – GL connection here.
Peoples Church still stands today, near the intersection of Lawrence and Sheridan Avenues in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Just as it gave comfort and support to Irna Phillips all those years ago, the church continue to help the Uptown community today.
Uptown is an area that’s being hit hard with unemployment, severe drug addiction, homelessness and gang violence. Last month, there was a small street riot in the neighborhood.
Peoples Church is a great neighbor; it runs and sustains a meal program for the needy (see details here). Its work is independent of a religious or political affiliation. (Peoples Church primarily identifies as a Unitarian Universalist church, which is multi-denominational and multi-faith.)
I’m thinking it would be a fitting way to honor GL, and Irna Phillips, if GL fans sent donations to Peoples Church to help fund their meal program. Here’s a link for contact information at Peoples Church. Because all that we send into the lives of others, comes back into our own.
It was a Chicago radio station, WGN Radio, that originally asked Irna to start another show, Painted Dreams (which was, ironically, the original title of this blog). After WGN denied Irna’s requests to syndicate Dreams to other networks, she jumped over to WMAQ radio and started a similar show, Today’s Children.
The two stations I’ve mentioned here were radio stations, but their TV successors still survive today; WGN is an CW affiliate and has a national cable channel, while WMAQ is an NBC affiliate, just as WMAQ radio was when it originally picked up Guiding Light in 1937.
Guiding Light was produced on the radio in Chicago and then in Hollywood before settling in New York City. But Irna Phillips remained a resident of Chicago for the rest of her days. She lived just a few blocks from Lake Michigan at 1335 North Astor Street in the city’s Gold Coast neighborhood.
In later years, her Gold Coast neighbors would include comedy writer and advertising copywriter William Bell, and Bell’s wife Lee Philip, who was the queen of Chicago television with a talk show that predated Oprah, Martha, and The View.
The Bells, of course, would assume the mantle of soap royalty, and William Bell became, along with Agnes Nixon, the creative “children” of Irna Phillips. Every show on the air except for General Hospital has DNA that can be traced back to Irna.
There’s a small placard outside of 1335 Astor that honors Phillips and her achievements. The placard captures some of the highlights, of course, but the story of these stories is so much richer.
It is, of course, remarkable that a single woman was able to build and sustain an empire in an age where doing so was virtually impossible.
And it is remarkable that one of those stories outlasted Sheherezade and ran for far longer than a thousand and one nights.
It may be ending on each of our screens today – a concept that I can still hardly wrap my mind around – but when I took these photos this week, I found it comforting to know that it started here so many years ago.