I just returned home from a weekend road trip and am incredibly sad to learn of the passing of Helen Wagner.
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*.
4 thoughts on “Goodnight, dear”
As always, you speak so eloquently for those of us who lack the words to express what we’re feeling with the passing of Helen Wagner.
Hard to believe all the legendary soap matriarchs are gone, but they are. And the shows are a little less bright as a result.
Thank you, Patrick.
This is a really nice tribute to both Helen Wagner and Nancy Hughes. Thank you for posting.
great photo. and in total agreement about the new york soaps. the difference is palpable, but so difficult to put into words.
re the final episode, while we all hoped she would make it to the end, and that after the show’s cancellation was announced, many urged her scenes be taped just in case… but somewhere in the outpouring, i heard an idea i like even better: that the show close with bob saying, “good night, mom.”
and from helen’s 1998 interview with the associated press, an all too sadly accurate observation about what soaps have become:
“The characters now are destructive, mean, immoral, unattractive and selfish,” she said. “They care about nothing but themselves — me, me, me. That’s a dead end. That’s no life.”
You’ve summed up Ms. Wagner and Nancy beautifully.
If the news stories are correct, apparently the powers that be did not have the foresight or the opportunity to film a “Goodnight, Dear” or “Good-bye, Dear” ending with Ms. Wagner before her passing. Her last appearance has already aired. 😦