Thoroughly modern Kim

Few characters on daytime have a more fascinating history (on screen and behind the scenes) than Kimberly Sullivan Reynolds Dixon Stewart Andropoulous Hughes, played for 38 years by Kathryn Hays.

Her onscreen history speaks for itself – a passionate woman who slept with her sister’s husband – a man who became her soulmate. Bob and Kim tormented each other for 12 years and married several others before finally getting together. (Take that, CarJack!)

But the creative story behind Kim is equally fascinating. Kim was, perhaps, the last great, grand invention of the iconic soap writer and creator Irna Phillips. Kim may have also been closest to who Irna really was – or at least, how Irna wanted to see herself.

Writer Martha Nochimson wrote a phenomenal academic study of female soap opera characters, No End To Her. Kim is one of the characters she writes about, and she says it so much better than I could. It mentions Kitty Foyle, a character that was featured in movies, TV and books and was an early example of the “career woman.”

[Phillips] had begun to develop a narrative for As The World Turns about a new character, Kim Reynolds, an independent and aggressive young woman. All was going well until Reynolds went Kitty Foyle a few better. Whereas [Foyle]….had been wooed by a philandering suitor, Reynolds herself seduced Dr. Bob Hughes, one of the serial’s “ideal” husbands.

Phillips was determined that the liason remain intact and that Reynolds be given the life denied Kitty Foyle – that is, sole possession of the man she wanted, and on her own terms. Proctor & Gamble viewed Phillips’ story as public sanction for immorality. Reynolds, they said, must be punished and the affair terminated. Phillips refused to accommodate the demand, and she was fired.

Phillips would die just a few months after she was fired. But Kim was the beginning of a changing face for women on soaps.

As for Kim’s onscreen life, there’s something about Kim, and the way that the magnificent Hays portrays her, that suggests so much context when I see her.

Kim reminds me of so many women I’ve known – the well dressed, suburban mom and wife, a woman who seems calm on the exterior but is sharp and contentious and passionate and whip-smart underneath.

Anyone assuming Kim was “just” a doctor’s wife or a powder puff did so at their peril. That person also might get a snarky “toots” or “kiddo” from Kim. Believe me, you lived for the scenes when Kim let loose with one of those. Classic.

Like her niece Barbara, you couldn’t quite place the “nice” label on Kim. She wasn’t a 100% ingenue nor the kindly matriarch that mother-in-law Nancy had been. There was always, as with Barbara, that fighting spirit and prickly persona that would show up from time to time.

I was a teenager and young man during most of Douglas Marland’s reign, but I still remember most of his stories as if it they just aired. I think his genius shone brightly with the ideas he had for Kim.

He came up with three phenomenal stories for her and Bob. One was the discovery that the baby of Bob’s she’d lost (see above) was still a live – a happy full-circle moment for Bob, Kim and Irna Phillips. (Twice as much Julianne Moore was just a bonus.)

The second was when Bob and Susan had a one-night stand. Watching Bob and Kim’s explosive scenes after Kim found out was must-see TV. It was so intensely real that you occasionally had to look away – not because it was violent or lurid, but because these were, in essence, your parents. Or your friend’s parents. Or the people next door.

But the most genius story was when Douglas Marland gave the audience what they wanted – Bob and Kim marrying – and then used that to launch the Douglas Cummings story, which was one of the finest mysteries ever told in daytime. Another amazing use of ATWT history, a tightly woven story from beginning to end, and the amazing John Wesley Shipp as the troubled Doug. It may have involved many others (and it was a star-making turn for Julianne Moore), but it was Hays’ moment to shine all the way.

It was Hays and her remarkable skills that kept us interested in Kim, even when the writers and producers didn’t get who Kim was or what her life had been. Kim never needed a brain chip or supernatural experience to make her interesting. She just was. She survived Douglas Cummings, that hussy Susan Stewart and Johnny D….and don’t you forget it, kiddo!

NOTE: Lynn Liccardo also touches on the genesis of the character of Kim in a recent blog entry (now gone from RedRoom). 

3 thoughts on “Thoroughly modern Kim

  1. Another element of why Kim had been so fascinating during the Marland years was as the mother of Andy. Most of the male fans of the show I have met started watching the show then and identified with Andy and therefore also felt a special connection to the character of Kim. One of the great faults of the Goutman regime was that it never understood the importance of Andy.

    Great points, Jim. I agree about Andy and how Goutman et al didn’t understand his importance. I think Andy’s absence and the absence of other connections for John Dixon (outside of Margo) really islanded that character, too.

  2. Love Kim; love Kathryn Hays. I loved Kim and John as parents to Andy. Why Andy was written out, I don’t know. One of the few bright spots this summer was seeing Kim interact with and support Barbara–before the kidnapping nonsense began. I hope we see some more scenes of the two of them before the end.

  3. I am affected by the end of ATWT- and the inescapable feeling- long in coming- that its end is just another signpost along the way to the end of a genre. I am certainly in agreement about the reasons for the fade- taking everything that made soaps work and short circuiting them- what a colassal cultural waste. Months ago, the producer of ATWT assured people that just because the show was ending, not to expect that “old favorites” would be carted back. “We still have exciting stories to tell”. But that is a classic misunderstanding of the audience- don’t the ratings/cancellation reflect that? Not enough viewers wanted to watch these “exciting”stories- not only because there were poorly plotted, but because they were not generational.
    But on to Kim: I remember when she was introduced on ATWT. There was a sense of mystery to her. She was detached and independent- describing herself as “the lady in the mirror”. She was shown looking at herself in the looking glass- there was an emotional distance in her- different in soap portrayals and one I struggled to grasp at my young age. Her seduction of Bob-playing the piano in the lounge of a Florida hotel-was certainly unpopular and something the show struggled with to justify post Irna before just sweeping it under. And Kim suffered mightily to “redeem” herself of an act that later seemed so out of character.
    -Her marriage of conveinence to John began with a flight to Nevada. She and John sat next to each other on a plane. Kim looked beautiful, with sophisticated coat and hat. She was resigned to having to marry to give the baby a name.
    -Kim sophistication contrasted with Jennifer’s natural appeal. It was suggested that Kim’s marriage to Jason lacked passion.
    -Kim and John’s marriage brought new, psychological depth to the portrayal of an unhappy soap union. It was a bitter, complex relationship of tormenting turns- very adult for daytime drama. Often not referred to later, John raped Kim in a harrowing scene I still remember. John was insisting on his rights as a husband. Kim tried to hold him off. She was wearing a yellow dress and a necklace. John pulled her toward the bedroom and she struggled; they were locked and bucking. Kim tried to talk her way out of it, she said “no” many times and physically resisted. Just before John pulled her over the threshold of the bedroom, Kim’s necklace broke and fell to the floor. The last shot was of the unstrung beads or pearls. There was such horror on the part of the audience for Kim- and revulsion for John. She indeed had suffered enough for her indiscretion and was more than on her way to becoming a traditional soap herione. God, the show was good.

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