To Texas!

Somehow, despite being a dedicated Another World watcher (with mom), I never became hooked on Texas.

I do seem to recall watching the first few episodes. Beverlee McKinsey’s Iris was there, of course, and I think there may have been an appropriate ooh and aah at seeing her name in the show’s opening, with the “Starring” billing.

It was summer, so I know I checked out those first few episodes, but that was about it.

I know later on, after McKinsey left, it seemed to have a very dedicated group of fans, and that many were upset at what they felt was a premature cancellation.

I also know that Guiding Light has an irrevocable bond to that show, since GL gained a producer, head writer and several actors when Texas ended.

I never had a chance to see any of the later run of Texas, or those final episodes – but I caught them recently on YouTube, and was blown away.

A few of them had me in tears. Those episodes are all heart, and all Pam Long. Truly ALL Pam, as she was writing and acting in those shows!

Her time at GL had plenty of that heart, perhaps tampered down just a bit by executives or the network – but on these episodes of Texas, it was a full on schmaltzfest (and I LOVED it).

A return of a lost loved one, the connection between mother and child, a child born at Christmas and yes, even a reading from the book of Luke (the same one that Linus reads to Charlie Brown)!

As another Texas-based show would later say: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

I watched these last month – almost 38 years after they were filmed – and it was far too late for a spoiler alert. I’d heard years ago what happens in those final episodes (well, one part, anyway, where a certain Mary-like figure returns home).

And still, the impact was quiet moving. The last few minutes of Part One had me sobbing.

To Texas!

The Baroness

I’ve been doing a deep dive on YouTube this summer (no, I didn’t originally know there were so many Quint and Nola clips on there…..boy, I sure do now).

A clip popped up in my feed, and I watched it for the first time in years.

Can it really have been 25 years since Beverlee McKinsey’s final appearance as Alexandra on Guiding Light?

The scene between Beverlee and Vincent Irizarry is just heartbreaking.

An interesting footnote in the YouTube comments: When McKinsey began as Alex in 1984, her first lines were with Maeve Kinkead (Vanessa) – which I believe IS true, since they were both part of the masquerade ball scenes – and her final scene here was also with Kinkead.

Postscripts and followups

Who doesn't love a good hat?

Who doesn’t love a good hat?

Just wanted to make a quick post to say that I really appreciate the comments people have shared with me on my Beverlee McKinsey tribute from earlier this month.

I’ve always been so in awe of her work, but I’ve been amazed in the last year or so how many people are still mentioning her and her work on GL and AW.

The PS here is that I also wanted to give a mention to Marj Dusay. My adoration of McKinsey’s flawless work isn’t in any way diminishing Dusay’s work as Alexandra.

I’m a big fan of Marj’s body of work, as well (in so many roles – her soap roles alone are amazing) and I thought she really “got” Alex in her initial stints on the show.

In later years, the character went off the rails in subsequent returns, but that was more about some really dumb writing choices for the character.

Marj’s Alex became comic at times, tapping into Marj’s improv beginnings, but where else can you go when everything about the character is contradicted in a storyline?

Alexandra keeping Alan’s son Gus from him after the very cornerstone of her introduction was about Brandon being kept from her? Oh, HELL, no.

There were some things at the end (Alexandra and Cyrus) that humanized her again, and at last she got to go off with Fletcher, around the world.

As for Dusay, she was also one of the GL actors I met during my trip to NYC in 2008, and I’ll always remember spending a crisp, sunny winter afternoon listening to Marj tell me some wonderful stories, as if I was an old friend. It was GLORIOUS.

Remembering Beverlee McKinsey

On point, and in charge .

On point, and in charge 

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.

A shot of Beverlee from one of her appearances as a guest on episodic TV.

A shot of Beverlee from one of her early appearances as a guest on episodic TV.

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.

Bay City Confidential

According to We Love Soaps, yesterday was the anniversary of the launch of Another World.

I’ve had AW in my head lately, because I just re-read Harding Lemay’s memoir of his time as AW’s head writer, Eight Years In Another World. After many years of being out of print, I learned a few weeks ago that Eight Years had been published on Kindle. (As much as I’d love the hardcover, ten bucks trumps a hundred bucks – the price of some of the rare used copies!)

AW is, in fact, probably most responsible for the initial formation my soap watching habit.

My mother was a fan of DAYS and AW, so I watched both shows with her on those sick days and rainy days, and would often make a point to catch the shows during summer break. While DAYS served up high drama with Doug and Julie, something about AW felt so real.

AWIt felt like we were eavesdropping when we’d see Rachel and Iris and Mac, or when Ada and her omnipresent dishtowel were dispensing advice (or scolding the hell out of someone who was being an ass).

We laughed at Vivian’s mishaps and escapades, and some of Iris’ odd friends.

There are many different species of soap, and when the media covers soap operas, they usually talk about the hair-tossing, oft-wedded, no-one-ever-dies garden variety.

Every show, of course, has been guilty of that kind of trick from time to time – some more often than others.

But AW was the first show that felt like watching real people. It was like watching a theater performance every day. I’d feel that way about later iterations of ATWT (during the Marland years) and about GL. 

As I get older, I find the reminders of the passage of time increasingly rude. So the realization that AW has been off the air for sixteen years is one I find hard to believe.

But AW is still accessible, with a number of clips on YouTube. It continued as text-only for several years.

I mentioned that a big reason for rebooting this blog was the clicks my older entries have been getting, and the amount of chatter over the P&G soaps I was seeing online.

I cracked up when I saw someone on a message board identify themselves as “Ada Hobson’s Dishtowel.” (Lemay said in his book that Constance Ford loved using props during a performance.)

When AW was cancelled, many of us thought it was a sad ending for a show that had just suffered too many changes in producers, writers and cast in its last fifteen years.

What we didn’t realize was that it had been a cautionary tale and a harbinger of things to come.

As we start seeing more web soaps and more shows on new platforms like Amazon and Netflix, I hope that they’ll study AW and remember that the characters and their lives are the glue that kept things together and kept us in our seats — not mobsters, guns, doppelgangers and forensics.