Life and Death: Maureen Bauer

The two faces of Maureen Bauer: Ellen Dolan (l) and Ellen Parker (r).

I’ve been reminded, on several different social media pages, that this month represents 25 years since the character of Maureen Bauer died on Guiding Light.

This plot, and its aftermath, has taken on a life of its own in those 25 years. There’s certainly a feeling among many fans that it was a mistake; some feel it was the beginning of the end for the show.

If I’ve learned anything in my years of writing about soaps, it’s that nothing is quite as simple as some of us see from the cheap seats, so I wanted to revisit this and take a fresh look at what happened in front of and behind the scenes.

Maureen had been a favorite character of mine, as played by both Ellen Dolan and Ellen Parker.

As created by Ellen Dolan, Maureen was one of “the ladies of P&G.” These women were smart, sexy and a new kind of character that we saw on screen in the 80s and 90s, mostly on P&G shows.

On GL, Maureen and her sister Nola were one of the first to really emerge, with all of the allure and complexity of earlier characters like Rita and Holly, but with a new attitude.

They were, in some ways, daytime cousins of Molly Dodd, the auburn haired New Yorker balanced between tradition and the modern world.

At first, Maureen seemed to be following in Rita’s shoes, connecting with Ed, marrying him and then coping with sharing the Bauer house with Bert, the grande matron of the manor.

Bert grew to love Mo, and when Bert died, it seemed that the mantle of town matriarch had been passed, at least unofficially, to Maureen.

And this is where, I think, memory gets a little hazy for fans.

I’ve heard or read so many fans talk about Ed and Maureen being the tentpole couple, and that they had the perfect marriage.

But we didn’t always see much of them and when we did, their marriage had, as least as far as I remember, its fair share of challenges.

One of the biggest challenges early on involved a weird story where Fletcher went to Beirut. It made sense for him to be there as a reporter, but somehow, Maureen, Ed and Claire followed.

Fletcher and Mo were believed to be dead, for a few days, after an explosion. Ed and Claire made love in their grief, and Claire became pregnant. They got over that (and Maureen eventually raised Michelle as her own), but Ed and Maureen actually had a pretty flawed marriage.

I liked both Dolan and Parker’s take on the character, but Parker’s Maureen captured the maternal role so realistically. She was as warm and nurturing as you would expect a tentpole matriarch to be, but Parker had an uncanny ability to show the hurt and disappointment in Maureen when people – especially Ed – let her down.

Ellen Parker took over the role of Maureen in 1986, and to be honest, I don’t think any of the producers or writers had a clear idea of what to do with her, other than “Ed’s wife” and “Michelle’s mom.”

Storywise, the show was changing focus, with the return of Pam Long and the focus on some key stories, none of which really involved Ed and Maureen.  Every once in a while, Ed or Mo would pop up in a scene, but we didn’t see much of them, outside of the Bauer Barbeque.

They had one story during this era. It was fantastic, and Parker, in particular, hit it out of the park. It was a “C” story, one where Ed and Mo hit a bumpy patch when Holly came back to town. Maureen found herself flirting with Fletcher and, later, had a meeting of the minds with Roger Thorpe where she tried to see his humanity.

I remember some amazing scenes coming from that, Ed and Maureen talking in a very realistic way. Maureen yelled at Ed, her hurt about Holly being his focus and her disappointment in his lack of commitment to her so close to the surface.

It was captivating, but it was probably the only real visitation of their relationship in any kind of visible story until Ed and Lillian’s affair happened, and the subsequent chain of events that led to Maureen’s death.

I can only say that if you have not seen the before, during and after scenes that you should.

They are on YouTube, under the subject heading “Goodbye My Friend.” There are 30 segments in all. Watch all of them, but especially this one, which is just heartbreaking, in every way.

I just rewatched it recently, and was surprised when it brought me to tears.

Okay, that’s the story part of it. A little discussion of behind the scenes.

Much has been made of how Maureen was killed off, and by whom. A few years ago, Jill Farren Phelps took accountability for the decision in an interview.  There have been numerous rumors about other aspects of the decision, as well.

There was an interview with Ellen Dolan in Soap Opera Digest. I can’t remember if it was before Parker left Guiding Light or after she’d been gone for a while, but Dolan was playing Margo at ATWT by the time it ran.

She made a surprising confession to the reporter that, after Parker had been at GL for a while, GL had reached out to her and asked her to reprise the role of Maureen, an offer she declined.

So it’s pretty clear that there was an ambivalence, at least, about Parker and the role of Maureen somewhere in the higher echelons. Was it the network? P&G? A producer?  Who knows.

Was it a mistake to kill Maureen? Did it hurt the show?

I think the scenes before, during and after her death are among the most realistic scenes I’ve ever seen on daytime. As I said on social media, during the final Ed/Mo scenes I felt like I was sitting on a bench in a room, watching two friends have the most brutal, heartbreaking fight of their lives.

I think the negative feeling about Mo’s death sometimes overshadows the fact that it’s one of the best storylines and best scenes we’ve ever seen on any soap. The comparison some people have made to another emotionally devastating storyline, General Hospital’s story regarding B.J.’s heart, is an apt one.

The timing of Maureen’s exit – and of Parker’s – was a little questionable, since the show had just lost two of its biggest stars, Beverlee McKinsey and Kimberley Simms, a few months before.

But in the big scheme of things, I don’t think that Maureen’s death, per se, hurt the show.

What I think did hurt the shows in the long run (not just GL) was the erasure of characters like Maureen. It’s no one writer or one show’s fault there, and a lot of factors were in play, including ever-shrinking soap budgets.

But many shows jettisoned what were perhaps more “comfortable” characters, ones that added texture and warmth, for charcters that were younger and flashier, ones with more morally questionable personas that could drive story.

Sadly, GL never really got that kind of character back. It briefly had the marvelous Mary Stuart playing Meta, a welcome presence in the midst of the mobster-filled Bauer house.

I’d love to say other shows learned their lessons, but I don’t think that was true. While some of the remaining shows still have a few veteran actors – almost all in their retirement years – I think many shows were or are guilty of killing a character, even a young character in hopes of a boost in viewers.

Few of those stories had the fine writing and well-planned aftermath of Maureen’s death, thanks to the writing of Nancy Curlee and her team.

If she had to go, we were going to damn well feel it, and mourn her after she was gone. In that, Curlee – and GL – were very, very successful. Indeed we do.

4 thoughts on “Life and Death: Maureen Bauer

  1. I’ve had this post up for a few days while I made my way through “Goodbye My Friend” and collected my thoughts.

    I agree that the impact Maureen’s death had on the show is difficult to measure. So many other things had a negative inpact on GL’s longterm survival, not least of which was so many affiliates airing it in the morning (and some not airing it at all). Also agree that it was the mindset of TPTB toward viewers that contributed to the real damage. However, as I watched that final, brutal scene between Ed and Maureen, what I wanted to see was how things turned out between them down the road.

    In many ways, Ed and Lillian’s affair reminded me of Bob’s affair with Susan on ‘World Turns. Neither couple set out to have an affair. Bob was feeling left out as Kim dealt with Andy’s drinking. Susan, dealing with her own issues with pills, was emotionally needy, and Bob needed to be needed. On GL, Ed, feeling neglected as Maureen focused on her work at Spaulding, saw Lillian dealing with breast cancer and helped. In both cases, one thing led to another, which is how many affairs happen.

    It took a long time for Bob and Kim to put their marriage back together. Of course, Ed was a far more flawed character than Bob, so I’m not sure things would have worked out for Ed and Maureen. But, I would have loved to watch them try. Even if they failed, the impact would have been felt by so many characters.

    And, finally, in compete agreement about Ellen Parker’s capacity to express vulnerability.

    Really great point about Bob/Kim/Susan and the comparisons. Seeing post-Ed Maureen would have been a great thing.

  2. I only started watching GL around 1991 and was indifferent to the character of Maureen and Ellen Parker. The show was loaded with so much dynamite talent at that point, and they, frankly, outshone a solid, understated actress like Parker. It didn’t surprise me, then, that the blasted focus groups pointed to Mo as GL’s most disposable character at the time.

    I think GL may have erred, ironically, by making Mo’s exit story too good. Nancy Curlee said later that she and the writers made sure that Mo’s send-off was as powerful as it deserved to be, and JFP and her directors elicited breathtaking performances and produced two weeks of heartbreaking episodes. JFP said in an interview years later that she had erred “in the past” (without referencing Maureen’s death directly at the time) by making the audience love a character more than ever and then killing that character. However, I will argue that if Maureen, say, had left a “Dear Ed” note in the Bauer kitchen and slipped out of town for good, it may not have made much sense, but the audience would have been spared the (magnificent) heartache of what was actually unfolded and likely would have moved on from the sloppy, hasty departure quickly (as forgiving soap audiences have been trained to do). But the story did, in fact, hit every necessary, believable, painful beat and then resonated for many months after (Ed’s loneliness, Michelle’s depression). The audience felt everything Curlee, JFP, and company wanted us to feel, including intense, lingering grief. They may have been too good for their own good.

    JFP has been criticized endlessly in the 25 years since she “killed” Maureen. Bravo to her for accepting the blame. But really, she deserves some credit as well as she was the EP under whom this unforgettable storyline was produced. And make no mistake: this is great drama, start to finish. We’ve all seen too many “legacy characters” rushed out the door or (literally) sent upstairs to disappear to know that enduringly moving send-offs like this one are rare. It was memorable experience in 1993, and it’s still outstanding television in 2018.

    All good points, Red Herring.

    I think some of the sentiment after Maureen’s death just had to do with the show – and all the shows – changing how they valued characters. Even action/adventure type shows like GH and DAYS always had tentpole type and veterans around in those days, and recognized the need for balance.

    It’s not like GL hadn’t had massive changes before – when Pam Long first started there was a shift away from the Bauers, supposedly at CBS’s insistence. But Maureen was, I think, the canary in the coal mine for a tendency to kill off characters for ratings bumps or to shake things up. And to do that once in a while makes sense dramatically, but it became an addiction for a lot of the shows.

  3. I disagree wholeheartedly. GL needed characters like Maureen and Holly and Lillian to balance out the Reva’s, Annie’s and Harley’s. I remember there being a slight flirtation between Maureen and Roger, and that story would have played beautifully with the problems between Ed and her. And she actually had a surprising chemistry with Roger. Imagine the possibilities of THAT storyline? Especially with Holly on the scene. An attraction between the matronly Maureen and the dark, foreboding Roger would have been fascinating. I’m not laying blame at anyone’s feet because it seems as if it was decision by committee, but if the character wasn’t “flashy” enough it’s squarely on the writers, the actress was amazing as proven by her last scenes. I slowly tuned out as it became the Reva show, and especially after the treatment Zaslow received when he became ill. As they wrote out characters like Maureen, India, Amanda, Selena, and Jenna, I watched less and less, just tuning in occasionally to see what if anything I had missed. The one character that would have had me watching, Holly, was under written most of the time and given such ludicrous storylines the rest, I eventually stopped watching entirely. But Maureen was definitely the beginning of the end for me. It was reflective of the mindset then and now that louder is better and spectacle is more important than the pay off of a beautifully executed story.

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