There’s a lot that could be said about how iconic Nancy Hughes was as a wife, mother and grandmother. Nancy Hughes was the warm heart at the center of Oakdale. Her appearances on this year’s Christmas show and the recent Bob and Kim-centered episodes were among the highlights of those episodes. But I’ll leave those specific memories to all of you who watched her.
I’d like to tip my hat to Helen Wagner’s talent and her professionalism. She played Nancy for fifty-four years. (TV son Don Hastings has a technical lead over Wagner because she briefly left the show, but in sheer number of episodes, Wagner wins – a fact that landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records.)
I see this photo of Helen and it just brings to mind the essence of why I loved As The World Turns, why I loved most of the P&G shows, why I loved New York shows. Professionals, theatrically trained actors, bringing characters we knew, related to and understood to life every day.
It takes talent and training (which Wagner had in spades) to paint those fine brushstrokes every day, to sustain a performance for years and decades. Wagner mastered the art of bringing Nancy to life, illustrating a full life for her from young wife and mother to critical mother-in-law and later, nurturing and warm mentor.
For those of you who thought Nancy was a stick in the mud, let us remember this: Nancy Hughes rapped, a moment Helen brought to fantastic life. And for those who thought Helen was her character, it’s instructive that Phillips fired Helen – only to have Helen prevail and return to the show. If you can win a tussle with the legendary Phillips, you’re nobody’s fool!
It’s heartbreaking to me that these things that made these performances and shows so special are slipping into the ether. New York shows are nearly extinct. As The World Turns will slip from existence in a few months, and with it will go nearly eighty years of a legacy that goes back to Irna Phillips herself.
And Helen Wagner has left us. With her goes Nancy Hughes, the last of her kind*.