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Television’s daytime soap operas apparently are fading away. Only a handful remain on the air, led by CBS’s “The Young and the Restless,” the daytime ratings champion for the past two decades or so, and even that one is staggering around in circles.

On the other hand, the all-time favorite prime time soap opera returned, not to CBS, which created it, but to TNT, which revived it. It is presented in short bursts because the new "Dallas," like other series on cable networks, produces only a dozen (or less) episodes a year.

In the beginning, soap operas were all over the tube, most of them moving to television from radio. One of the first TV stars to make it big in movies came from a soap opera; Eva Marie Saint was a regular on “One Man’s Family” in the early 1950s. (Which reminds me, that old tale about how television actors could not become movie stars was always a myth. Jack Lemmon starred in a TV series before he entered movies, for example. Tony Randall, Steve McQueen and James Garner soon followed.)

Anyway ...

I thought about soap operas while I tried to organize clippings from my newspaper interviews with actors. I was struck by how few of the interviews involved soap operas.

There were many reasons. The Akron Beacon Journal, which hired me in January, 1962, did so to fill an opening on a recently created television magazine. Newspapers throughout the country had started their own versions of TV Guide. My boss, Lloyd Stoyer, wanted ours to take advantage of “The Mike Douglas Show,” which started about the same time, in nearby Cleveland. Each week I was expected to interview Douglas’ co-host and/or another celebrity who was booked for a one-day appearance. These interviews usually produced our cover stories. None of these performers, however, had a soap opera connection.

Stoyer also established a wonderful relationship with Isobel Silden, who worked at Rogers & Cowan, a Los Angeles public relations company that handled several prime time programs. She set up most of the phone interviews that came my way.

Soon after I moved to the Providence Journal, Isobel left Rogers & Cowan and became a syndicated writer for the Maturity News Service. With her contacts, she had no trouble getting interviews. Also, the key word in her job title was "syndicated." Each of her articles reached many newspapers.

IN ANY EVENT, I was seldom in the position of getting an interview just because I wanted it. ("Whadya mean Elvis won't call me??") The Beacon Journal and Providence Journal were not important enough. The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Boston Globe, maybe.

Newspaper size didn't matter where daytime soap opera performers were concerned because their networks wanted these actors to remain anonymous. There were only three commercial networks at the time, and it was in their interest to lull the audience into believing their soap opera characters were real. This seems ridiculous, but many fans would write to the shows in care of certain characters, often warning them about plots that were being hatched against them.

Networks and the show's sponsors also did not want actors to become too popular because a popular star may feel indispensable; an indispensable star becomes demanding, particularly regarding salary. The usual pattern for daytime shows is to keep their characters and dump any troublesome actors who play them. This works best when the actors, while recognizable, remain replaceable.

However, in the early ‘60s, a few daytime performers did emerge as stars. I interviewed one such star, but only because her character on “As the World Turns” had been sent on one of those convenient trips that allow actors to take vacations. Rosemary Prinz, who played Penny Hughes from 1956-68, used her vacation to perform in summer stock. Among her stops in 1962: a theater in Canal Fulton, Ohio. That’s where we met because the theater set up an interview.

The clipping from that interview has disappeared. I pretty much faked my way through our meeting because I didn’t watch Prinz's program. I had seen an episode or two during visits to my parents in Solvay, N.Y., so I called my mother for a quick recap of recent events in fictitious Oakdale and for suggestions about questions to ask. The questions must have been good because the interview went well, though nothing memorable was said.

I CAN'T THINK of Canal Fulton without recalling one of its resident actors from the early 1960s: George Reinholt, who later went to New York and became a soap opera star playing Steven Frame on “Another World” opposite Jacqueline Courtney from 1968-75. When they were fired from that show, they moved to “One Life to Live," playing new characters for two years

Reinholt was an uneven performer, to say the least. I have no idea if he is homosexual (as we used to say), though he has been a bachelor all his life. In 1997 he put an advertisement in a New York newspaper offering his services as an escort for women, most likely older, wealthy women who didn’t want to go to a party or the theater alone. I’m sure Reinholt was telling the truth when he denied stories that suggested he was selling sexual favors. Reinholt acted on stage as though the only person he was attracted to was the one who stared back at him in a mirror.

Yet he was very popular for awhile as a daytime leading man, which astounded me because he flounced around the Canal Fulton stage like a drama queen. One reason given for his dismissal from “Another World” was that he behaved like a diva. I believe it.

As for his on-camera love interest, Courtney had a real-life husband during most of the years she worked with Reinholt.

I had no interest in interviewing him at Canal Fulton. Frankly, I didn’t think his acting career would lead anywhere. The one performer from that theater who did seem headed for bigger things was a young character actor named Eldon Quick, who went to California in the mid-’60s and found work in several prime time television series, including "M*A*S*H," though his last credit, in 1986, was for a few episodes of “The Young and the Restless.”

ONE OF THE FEW interviews set up to promote a daytime soap was with actor Dana Andrews in 1969. I had talked to him years earlier about his move from the big screen to the small, and his hopes for a weekly series (which didn’t pan out). The second interview was in connection with an NBC soap opera called “Bright Promise,” which ran about two years.

It was during this period that some fairly well-known movie stars moved into daytime drama. Macdonald Carey (“Days of Our Lives”) was one, Joan Bennett (“Dark Shadows”) was another. Years later Richard Egan headed the cast of “Capitol.”

Even prime time soaps didn’t generate many interviews, at least not for writers at mid-size and small newspapers. The most popular prime time soap in the 1960s was “Peyton Place.” I would have jumped at the chance to interview Mia Farrow or Barbara Parkins, but the offer was never made.

In 1970 I interviewed Robert Foxworth in connection with a short-lived series originally called “Storefront Lawyers” (later changed to “Men at Law”). There was no Foxworth interview offered in 1981 when he starred with Jane Wyman in “Falcon Crest,” which became a big hit.

CBS never offered interviews with Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal or any of the stars of “Dallas,” not even in the beginning when the show was struggling to remain on the air.

A publicist did arrange an interview with one of his clients, Deborah Shelton, who played Mandy Winger, J. R. Ewing’s most interesting mistress, but by this time her character had been written out of “Dallas.” She wanted to talk about a movie career that never went into orbit, though she continues to find work on television and in obscure films. The "Dallas" decision to discard Mandy winger was a shame ... because the character was engaging and full of potential, an example of the right actress finding the right role. I always suspected the two main actresses on the show, Principal and Linda Gray, felt threatened by Shelton.

“DYNASTY"rivaled “Dallas” for awhile, but I had no interviews with anyone in the ABC series. At least, not in connection with the show. I interviewed Linda Evans in 1965 when she was a regular on “Big Valley.” She was polite, but quiet and rather dull at that time, and wasn't the same person she'd become under the influence of John Derek, who pumped her up, as Hans and Franz used to say. The Linda Evans who starred on “Dynasty” was the “after” picture in a Charlie Atlas ad.

I also interviewed Ali MacGraw, who served some time on “Dynasty,” but that interview was conducted in 1969 in connection with the movie “Love Story.” I hate Ali MacGraw, the actress, but it was easy to fall in love with Ali MacGraw, the person who met reporters in Boston. She was lovely and charming and witty.

Diahann Carroll, who joined “Dynasty” during its run, had done phone interviews a few years earlier in connection with her series, “Julia.” One of her calls was to me at the Providence Journal. This is another clipping that got lost in the move from Rhode Island to Bluffton, South Carolina.

My favorite prime time soap opera was “Knots Landing,” but the only interview I had in connection with that program was with David Jacobs, the creator. The occasion was the finale of the long-running series. It was not an enjoyable interview. The problem with talking to Jacobs is that you couldn’t avoid mentioning “Dallas,” which he also created, but did so at the request of CBS which had rejected his original pitch for “Knots Landing.” Jacobs said he had nothing to do with "Dallas" after the pilot; he sounded resentful of the success it enjoyed.

FORGOTTEN, until I combed through my clippings, was a 1970 phone interview that was a big deal in my family at the time. On the other end of the line was Leslie Charleson, a star of my first wife Karla's favorite daytime soap opera, "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing." Karla and I were unaware at the time of the interview that Charleson's days on the program were numbered, and if the actress knew about it, she kept it to herself.

The network didn't initiate the interview; I did. The network also didn't supply photos, which should have been an indication Charleson would soon be leaving the series, which continued for three years after she left. Her character, Iris Donnelly Garrison, was taken over by Bibi Besch. Iris' sister, Laura, was originally played by Donna Mills, who also left the series in 1970 and would have better luck in prime time, especially after she joined "Knots Landing" in 1980. Her place on "Love Is a Many -Splendored Thing" was taken by Veleka Gray.

Charleson was up front about the show and her character, who had gone blind during pregnancy. She gave birth, but nearly died, gamely fighting for life through several episodes and later, thanks to a new laser surgery technique, her sight was restored.

Far-fetched? Maybe, said Charleson, but "While I was preparing to act blind I talked to a girl who had lost her sight for about two years. She's all right now."

However, she admitted that occasionally her problems get out of hand.

"A few weeks before the baby arrived Iris convinced her husband (Spence) to let her sister adopt it. None of us thought this was a good idea and we argued with the writers, but we had to do it anyway."

Charleson, who was 25 years old when the interview took place, was born in Kansas City, but grew up in Darien, Connecticut. She became interested in acting while attending Bennett Junior College in Millbrook, New York. She moved to New York City when she was 20 and quickly landed a role in an ABC soap opera, "A Time For Us" (now referred to as "A Flame in the Wind"), but that lasted only a year. Among her co-stars was Richard Thomas. Charleson went from that show into "Many-Splendored Thing."

She received a lot of fan mail and said that the letters had changed noticeably over the four years she had been doing soap operas. "Half the people who write do so just to say they enjoy the show or my performance. When I went blind, some people wrote to say it was obvious I was leaving the show and they wanted to wish me luck.

"We seldom get those little bits of advice about the things that are going on behind our backs. Few people confuse me with my character anymore."

I asked if she wanted to go on stage. "Naturally I'd like to do something on Broadway, but I'm just as likely to do another television series when Iris finally does leave the show."

How about musical theater? That brought a laugh. "I took singing lessons just long enough to realize it's a hopeless cause. If I ever get a role in a musical it'll have to be for someone who's not supposed to sing very well."

Leslie was single at the time — and would remain that way until 1988 when she began a three-year marriage to Bill Demms — but what people wanted to know in 1970 was whether she was dating Ed Power, who played her husband on the show.

"No, but I do go out with David Birney, who plays Mark, my brother in law."

Mark was one of the program's villains.

"I don't know if you should print that I date David. Some of the people who watch the show may be mad when they read it."

WHEN SHE left "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" she spent seven years working mostly in guest roles on prime time TV shows. She did appear in a small role in a 1968 Kirk Douglas movie, "A Lovely Way to Die," which introduced Ali MacGraw to the big screen, also in a small role.

It was in 1977 that she joined "General Hospital" in the role of Monica Quartermaine." She still appears in the show, but is no longer under contract.

It also was in 1977 that she was featured in a two-part episode of "The Rockford Files" as a woman being hunted for what she knew as a result of dating a mob lawyer. This was one of "Rockford's" best episodes because of the performances of the actors playing the two New York mobsters who were on her trail, George Loros as "Anthony Boy" Gagglio and Luke Andreas as Syl. Both would return two years later when "Anthony Boy" tried to get even with private eye Jim Rockford (James Garner).

Charleson played a self-centered bitch who finally succumbed to Rockford's charm in the second part of her episode. But what stood out was Charleson's appearance: her face seemed larger than I remembered and her skin a bit blotchy, like she had been out in the sun too long and was recovering from a bad sun burn. Her lower body seemed unusually scrawny. She was not nearly as attractive as she had been on "Many-Splendored Thing." Perhaps it was my imagination, because I never read anything about her having any health issues.

In 1984 she endorsed something called "Magic Mud," not to be confused with at least one other product with the same name. This mud, Charleson claimed in a print ad, was something she rubbed on her face nightly. It was more effective than cosmetic surgery, proclaimed the ad, which also described Charleson as looking younger than she did seven years earlier. (And I have no doubt she looked better than she did on "The Rockford Files.")

Photos of Charleson during her early years on General Hospital show a lovely woman, but her face remained different than what I remember of the time she and Donna Mills were daytime's most beautiful actresses.

According to several on-line stories, Charleson abandoned Magic Mud in favor of cosmetic surgery. Too much cosmetic surgery, according to some writers. Photos on her website suggest she indeed has had work done, but to me it looks as though the surgery went well, which can't be said for several other actors who've tried to retain or recapture their youth.

Leslie Charleson is 67 and has spent 35 years – more than half her life – on "General Hospital." That's impressive, but she has a ways to go to catch Jeanne Cooper, the 83-year-old mother of Corbin Bernsen, who has been playing Katherine Chancellor on "The Young and the Restless" since 1973.

What's shocking to me as I look through my old clippings is how quickly the years have flown by, but I'm hardly alone in that regard.

 

 

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Don Adams Patty Duke Ricardo Montalban
Herb Alpert Richard Egan George Montgomery
Dana Andrews Jack Elam Joanna Moore
John Astin Linda Evans Mary Tyler Moore
Frankie Avalon Pat Finley Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Barbara Barrie Eric Fleming Hugh O'Brian
Bill Bixby Peter Fonda Pat O'Brien
George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
Leslie Charleson Beverly Garland Carl Reiner
Petula Clark Jackie Gleason Barbara Rush
Dabney Coleman Merv Griffin Robert Ryan
Robert Conrad Mark Harman Henry Silva
Bill Cosby Patricia Harty Julie Sommars
Joseph Cotten Marty Ingels Barbra Streisand
Bob Crane Jack Jones The Three Stooges
Richard Crenna Jack Kelly The Supremes
Ken Curtis Dave Ketchum Dick Van Dyke
Bill Dana Sue Ane Langdon Jerry Van Dyke
Bobby Darin Sheldon Leonard Robert Vaughn
Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
  Martin Milner Henry Winkler
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