REFRESH: Thoroughly Modern Kim

REFRESH NOTE: This weekend is Kathryn Hays’ 82nd birthday. I thought it was a great time to repost this piece from 2010


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….seriously!)

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!

One thought on “REFRESH: Thoroughly Modern Kim

  1. Such a lovely tribute to Kathryn Hays. Thanks for writing it. I wasn’t watching ATWT during Marland’s era, but when I did discover the show, it was obvious that Kim was an amazing character and Hays was a powerhouse. Too bad she isn’t still gracing our screens today . . .

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