Remembering Claire Labine

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I didn’t mean for this post to be so late, but this has been a truly sad and bizarre week, and it’s taken a while to get my equilibrium back.

So much has already been said about Claire Labine, who died last week at 82. She wrote small, intimate stories with memorable, one-of-a-kind characters.

I was a fan of Ryan’s Hope when I finally got a chance to watch it (the local affiliate in Pittsburgh, where I grew up, never carried it). That was near the end, but I did get to see Maeve and Johnny, Delia, Roger and some other great characters in action.

Her run at General Hospital still stands as the only time during the show’s run that I could count myself as a fan. Yes, I remained a hardcore Guiding Light fan through thick and thin. But Claire’s arrival at GH in 1993 captured my attention.

She humanized a GH that bordered on parody, and introduced characters like Lois who widened the base of the show, and yet never felt out of place.

It was interesting to see Luke, Laura and Lucky return to the canvas. I know Tony Geary has gone on record with his dislike of the 90s era L&L, but I, for one, enjoyed the different perspective on those characters.

And of course, BJ’s heart. Enough said.

In 1993 and 1994, the wheels were coming off at GL. There were a number of departures of actors, and some writing changes, and the show felt tremendously different very quickly. GH was actually a bit of a safe haven at that time – I watched characters I could still understand and recognize.

Speaking of GL, I was so happy when I heard that Claire would be writing for the show. Sadly, what should have been the ideal fit never seemed to click. Was it a bad match? Interference from the network or P&G? Paul Rauch? Claire shared a little here and here about what happened.

With the passing of Labine and Agnes Nixon, we are truly near the end of an era. It’s a cliche, I know, but one that is wholly appropriate in this case.

The characters, the stories, the way those stories made us feel, continue to sink into the ether, deeper into memory, preserved in bits and pieces on YouTube.

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2 thoughts on “Remembering Claire Labine

  1. Patrick,

    What a nice tribute to Claire! I, too, was shocked by her passing. It truly is the end of an era with Claire and Agnes both gone. Only a 90something Harding Lemay remains.

    I watched Ryan’s Hope on and off for years. I remember watching the very first episode. It certainly felt different, more real, than the other shows I was watching in the mid 70s. While I enjoyed the show and liked the characters, it never became must see TV for me like the Marland or Long eras of GL, certain regimes of AW, early 80s AMC, etc. If I saw Ryan’s Hope, I saw it. If I missed it, no big deal. Occasionally, if there was a big cliffhanger, I’d make a point of watching the next episode. But otherwise, I could live without it.

    So, when Claire took over GH, it was a revelation to me! I was so hooked during her tenure, GH was the first thing I watched on my VCR when I got hope from work each night. It was absolutely Must See TV. I had tuned back in to GH to see how they handled Luke and Laura’s return. But I had really only intended to stay for a few weeks. But everything else that was going on in Port Charles was so damn fascinating, I stuck around town. As you note, GL was beginning to deteriorate by late 1993, so Springfield was just not as compelling as Port Charles. And by mid 1994, it was actually painful to watch the once might GL go so completely off the rails, so upstate New York was a welcome respite. Claire and Wendy Riche seemed to be a perfect team!

    I, too, had high expectations for Claire’s tenure at GL. It seemed like a very natural fit for her to be there. Her style of emotional, heart centered stories should have been perfect for Springfield. But then, as we both know, it was not a good combination. I suspect Paul Rauch and/or MADD were vetoing a lot of storylines and demanding others, but overall, I just don’t think Claire’s heart was it. don’t think she and Rauch meshed together (Rauch didn’t seem to work well with female HWs, he tended to dominate them rather than give them creative freedom). And we certainly got some clunkers for storylines including Reva being smuggled into America in a shipping container with illegal immigrants (oy vey!). I will say that the dialogue improved drastically under Claire and scenes had far greater emotional depth that under Brown and Esensten.

    I often wonder what might have happened if ABC had greenlit Claire’s “Heart & Soul” instead of “Port Charles” in 1997. From what I understand, Heart & Soul would have been set in Brooklyn and would have centered around Ned and Lois.

    RIP Claire. Thanks for the memories.

    All good points, James. I really had no idea that Claire was in her eighties or that she’d been sick. Maybe memory and the passage of time plays tricks on us.

  2. Yup, tough few months for soaps: first Agnes Nixon; now Claire Labine.

    I cobbled together a few chunks from a piece I posted on Henry Jenkins’ blog a few years ago, “yearning for the world as it was…”

    http://henryjenkins.org/2008/04/a_critfan_yearns_for_the_world.html

    Ryan’s Hope was a show I’d dipped into now and then over the years, but had never really watched. When it premiered in 1975, I had a fulltime job, no VCR and had just begun working on my undergraduate degree at night. So, I was delighted when SOAPnet begin airing the show. The episodes airing when I began watching were several years into the run, so I was delighted when, just as the 1982 episodes were about to begin, SOAPnet jumped back to the 1975 premiere (something about music rights).

    Since I’d already been watching for a while before the switch, there was little about the actual opening story that surprised me since I already knew how much of it had turned out. What did shock me was just how awful the first few episodes looked – flat and dull – dreadful lighting. The graphics were amateurish, and have only slightly improved. And, I have to say, Frank Ryan, the show’s ersatz hero, in a coma for weeks on end was less than scintillating storytelling. But that first day, when Mary Ryan met Jack Fenelli in her family’s bar, I was in for the duration.

    Anyone who grew up without a family can understand the behavior of those characters on the outside looking in: Jack, who’s been so traumatized by growing up in an orphanage that he never misses an chance to sabotage his relationship with Mary and her family – a tension the writers continued to play years down the road as Mary’s father, Johnny, never forgot how much pain Jack’s fears created for Mary, and her mother, Maeve, never forgot the cause of Jack’s fears. I always wondered if those early conversations between Johnny and Maeve discussing their concerns about Jack resembled conversations my own parents has about my boyfriends

    And actions had real and lasting consequences: Frank has found out about Delia’s affair with Roger and wants to use that information to divorce her and win custody of their son, Little John. Except that Frank cheated on Dee with Jillian first, but since Dee took him back she can’t use that first adultery to block the divorce Frank wants so desperately. So she enlists Frank’s brother Pat (they were an item in high school), to find evidence that Frank has resumed his affair with Jillian. The repercussions play out among all the characters, including the deeply-Catholic Johnny and Maeve, who don’t believe in divorce, yet know that the marriage was never right. They want to defend Frank and blame Dee, but Pat never lets his parents forget that it was Frank who cheated first.

    Thanks, Lynn! Sorry for the delay in sharing this comment (tech issues with this free blog).

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