By Marlena De Lacroix
On the very pre-Christmas Friday when ABC stabbed us in the eye with Georgie’s funeral on General Hospital, As the World Turns showed us that it remembered what Christmas, family, hope — and soaps — are all about. The ATWT holiday show was purely a gift to us — the fans! We, the people, who really count! It was a special episode that was crammed with creativity, originality and an overall feeling of family and cast fellowship.
The episode featured almost the entire cast in gorgeous Victorian costumes as characters come to life (a la The Nutcracker), all living in a dollhouse in a store window, alternately viewed by all the children of Oakdale. Divided into four segments, each told a Victorian/Edwardian-adapted version of each of the show’s main storylines by character grouping: Lily/ Holden/Dusty, Craig/Rosanna/Paul/Meg, Carly/Jack/Katie and Gwen/Will/Sophie, etc.
It helped to be an everyday fan of the show as the various stories told that day in costume mainly mimicked the real storylines, but also poked a little bit of affectionate inside fun at them. For example, in the Lily story, Holden appears in Lily’s drawing room to warn her not to marry Dusty, who is a cad. And angry Dusty reminded Lily that Holden is only her stable boy. As longtime ATWT viewers know, Doug Marland originally introduced the character of teen Holden to Oakdale circa 1987, when he was indeed a stable boy!
Lucinda and her granddaughters enjoy the dollhouse.
Some storylines played perfectly parallel to the everyday show. I’ve never been able to follow the Meg/Paul/Rosanna/Craig storyline on the real show, but the Victorian version told it with clarity: change partners and dance. Others used Victorian conventions to better express Oakdale story points. I loved when downcast Dickens-esque Carly turned up with her brood at Jack’s home, begging for food as if fresh from the East End London poorhouse.
Speaking of, the episode was really an extra treat for the Thinking Fan, especially those of us who were literature majors in college, or are as addicted to Merchant/Ivory movies and Masterpiece Theater miniseries on PBS as Marlena and Moose are. Throughout the episode there were references to or characters copied from books and miniseries set in the Edwardian era. The entire Hughes clan (Lucinda being an honorary Hughes for the day)emulated the beloved downstairs servant staff from the best miniseries ever, Upstairs, Downstairs with Dr. Bob, brilliant as Hudson the butler; Margo as beloved maid Rose; Tom as Edward the chaffeur and oh-ha-ha-ha Lucinda as Mrs. Bridges, the dry-witted cook. Nancy Hughes even made a rare appearance in a little widow’s hat mimicking Miriam Margolies in the Age of Innocence.
Even if you didn’t know or couldn’t care less about the quality TV references, the Victorian costumes and hairdos presented a show all their own. Many of the ladies like Lily and Katie wore sumptuous velvet gowns with cinched waists and authentic Victorian jewelry. Just about every woman had at least one hairpiece of cascading ringlets. And the men! I never realized before how good-looking the men of ATWT are! Jack looked dashing in a calvary uniform, saying he was just back from the Phillipines. Hey, is this the United States or Victorian England? Luke and Noah, dressed as young Edwardian gentlemen, were just breathtaking with their hair slicked back. The best looking man was Paul, his hair combed back most attractively. Before this, I have never given Roger Howarth a second look in my life!
The real joy is that in a very lean economic time, P&G gave ATWT a budget for an episode like this. And that the producers of the show cared enough to give us something so lovingly put together at Christmastime. Most refreshing was that the actors seemed to be having a grand time of it all, reminding us that the cast of a soap opera is indeed an acting company. And that their feelings for one another really do carry over to the screen and have a lot to do with the quality of our soaps. ATWT is one soap that remembers — not just at Christmas — that to give is divine.