The end (and the beginning)

THEENDToday 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.

Peoples Church, where it all began

Peoples Church, where it all began

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.

Bradley Prayer

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.)

1335 North Astor Street, where Irna Phillips lived

1335 North Astor Street, where Irna Phillips lived

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.

A tribute to Irna, at the 1335 North Astor building

A tribute to Irna, at the 1335 North Astor building

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.

The lobby of 1335 Astor, looking much as it did in Irna's day

The lobby of 1335 Astor, looking much as it did in Irna's day

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4 thoughts on “The end (and the beginning)

  1. I too just heard about the demise of this classic soap – a real end of an era! Thanks for publicizing Peoples Church, and suggesting people send us their support.

    Please take a look at our website http://www.PeoplesChurchChicago.org (not the old one listed in your message and on the CompassRose site). We hold services at 10am on Sunday, and a 6pm Taize service on First Fridays. Our lunch program now serves meals four days a week, and has its own website, as well, http://www.2LilFishes.org.

    We are also planning to put some of Preston Bradley’s sermons onto electronic media, so his voice can be heard again – I still run into people who used to listen to his radio show and remember him fondly.

    in peace,
    Rev. Jean Darling
    The Peoples Church of Chicago

    Thanks Rev. Darling! I appreciate the updates and will pass the word on. I’m hoping to come to a service soon and meet you in person.

  2. Patrick this blog entry was just beautiful, BRAVO! I’m of the opinion that the show is just no longer in production and over in that sense only. Even though I wasn’t even born when Irna Phillips was alive, I love her for her work (how what she did influenced others) and the countless amount of hours of joy it has produced for myself and others.

    Irna creating a show based on the comfort she received during a difficult time of her life. Well who would guess that decades later people would get the same thing from her creations. That is truly a pay it forward.

    Thanks so much for the photos too.

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