I’ve written about many stories and many shows, and especially about my two personal favorites, As The World Turns and Guiding Light.
Soaps to me were never the over the top, hair tossing, adulterous carnivals described by mainstream journalists who took snapshot of the genre out of context. For many of us, they were like a storybook come to life, with people you could visit for a half an hour, an hour a day.
I learned about those moving storybooks as a kid, on many days when rotten allergies meant I was cooped up inside, unable to go out and play. So there I’d be, on our hideously flowered 70s couch, right beside my mom, watching her shows.
I remember the names of the shows she’d watch: there was Search for Tomorrow and Jo, who reminded me of the women who worked at the doctors’ office, and then Another World, with Rachel, and, oh yes, the lady with the dazzling blond hair and raspy voice.
Iris reminded me of the mean, bitchy neighbor that lived across the street from us, the one that always acted like she couldn’t be bothered to talk to my mother.
But on TV, at least sometimes, Rachel would one-up Iris.
And yet….unlike our mean neighbor, I liked Iris. I rooted for her.
Beverlee McKinsey made such an enormous impact playing both Iris on AW and then Alexandra Spaulding on GL.
I’m remembering her in this post because she would have been 80 years old this month (August 9).
Her death, in 2008, came as the last of the P&G soaps were starting to reach their final destinations. There was, astonishingly, no tribute at the Daytime Emmys for her exemplary work.
Her last performance on-screen as Alexandra came 23 years ago this summer. But it’s safe for me to say that her performances are still etched in my memory.
They were also remembered by many of the writers who participated in the We Love Soaps poll of daytime’s greatest actresses a few years back. Despite being away from our screens for nearly 20 years at that point, McKinsey was number four on the list.
Over the last few months, I’ve watched and re-watched episodes of GL on YouTube, and I am always fascinated by the choices McKinsey made in those scenes. She was committed, engaged and stunning, whether she is in the background or the forefront.
I ‘d originally planned to make a big fuss for this tribute. I was hoping to talk to a few of her colleagues, maybe get a few quotes from those who worked with her, and try to paint a picture of who she was, both on-screen and off.
But from everything I’ve read, she cherished her privacy. Michael Logan once referred to her as the Garbo of daytime. She quite famously avoided the spotlight, and her private life was just that – private.
So I decided to focus on the work — and on saluting her singular performances.
And by doing so, it’s also a salute to the New York-based performers, the ones who traveled so easily between theater and television, the ones who filled the industry with great performances and one-of-a-kind characters.
McKinsey gave us thrilling performances daily for over twenty years. She headlined two shows, all while pursuing theater and sharpening her craft.
We can say that the fall of the New York based shows was a necessary evolution of an industry — the ‘daypart’ — that was past its profitable age. And perhaps this is so.
Perhaps in this age of streaming video, of narrowcasting versus broadcasting, there’s millions of opportunities for us to see great performances across all sorts of media platforms.
The West Coast shows have their own long histories and their own strengths. But there was something unique and special lost when we lost all the NYC soaps.
We lost the chance to see a Larry Bryggman, a Kathleen Widdoes, a Helen Gallagher. And the amazing power of a performance from Beverlee McKinsey.
Another World writer Harding Lemay on McKinsey: “Beverlee became Iris, or Iris became Beverlee, and dominated the screen with unerring camera presence from her first sweetly malicious encounter with Alice. Her alabaster stillness, complemented by a wardrobe of chiffon pastels, created tension in a scene before she spoke a word….I quickly realized we had found [our] future antagonist.”
There are so many great McKinsey performances to choose from; she had so many great moments as Iris, but there are only a handful of scenes with McKinsey as Iris from Another World and Texas online.
There is a wealth of Guiding Light clips on YouTube, and so many great Alexandra moments: the story with her beloved son Brandon aka Lujack, and later with Nick, the delicious love/hate dance between McKinsey and Christopher Bernau’s Alan; and the wonderful relationships Alexandra had with her family, and with characters like Ross, Vanessa, Holly, H.B. and India.
But as part of this tribute, I chose the 1991 scenes where Alexandra brings down Roger at the country club.
GL was, quite simply, ON FIRE in 1991. In the wake of several cast departures, including the loss of the characters of Josh, Reva, Rick and Phillip, other stories moved to the forefront, and it was at one of those moments, those junctions of story and performance, where a show just SHINES.
The twisted web of Roger, Alex and Mindy as Roger’s mistress was the stuff that makes great soap.
I am still in awe of these scenes, because McKinsey hits every moment, and every note. And she shows the fullness of Alexandra as a character here. We see not only Alex’s rage and anger, but her vulnerability and sorrow as well. It is a bravura performance, and it seems unthinkable that McKinsey did not win an Emmy for it.
(note: I believe one of these is mislabeled and out of order but you get the gist)
So here’s to McKinsey and her stunning body of work. May they both be remembered for a long time to come.