As the World Turns: Good-bye to Martha Byrne, The Real Thing

Martha ByrneBy Marlena De Lacroix

It’s hard to watch daytime soaps chip away piece by piece, and of course no one actor is daytime TV.  But watching Martha Byrne leave As the World Turns (because of a contract disagreement  with P&G) is really painful.  If ATWT can be looked at as a truly American, heartland soap (as do my friend Sam Ford and his students do in his soap class at MIT), than Byrne is indeed Mom and Apple Pie.

But not in the goody, goody sense!  For the last twenty-three years (with one hiatus), we’ve watched her Lily grow up from a bubbly, giggly teenager to wise wife and mother.  We love Lily and Martha because they are both always true and real.

Bryne, then a teenager from New Jersey, came to soaps by way of Broadway’s Annie, in which she played one of the orphans.  As Lily, there was no hiding behind tons of make-up, false eyelashes and teen queen phony cleavage.  At age 15, when Byrne made her debut on ATWT, Lily was just an authentic American teenage girl.  The adopted daughter of La Lucinda, by that age Byrne matched the startlingly real, brilliant, totally out-there Liz Hubbard in her spirit, aplomb for life, and genuine acting talent. Back then, being real was what soaps were about.

And though Lily wasn’t a member of ATWT‘s central historic clan, the Hughes,  the character went on to become the heart and soul of Oakdale life,  a beloved truth-teller and authority on life along the lines of Nancy Hughes mixed with a little Lisa.  Doug Marland loved Martha and her youthful authenticity  and built the central Snyder family around Lily in the form of Lily’s lifetime love and eventual husband, stable boy Holden Snyder.  It’s hard to believe looking at One Life To Live‘s current spotlight teen love interests Starr and Cole today, that they were roughly the same age of Lily and Holden at the time of their first meeting.  That was so long ago!  Such a richer life ago!  Soaps were actually about true love then, the kind that blossoms and grows into marriage and a family.  Was Lily the last teen heroine we got to watch make that progression over 20 years, now in a medium when gunplay, murders and other grotesque crimes are the teen rites de passage?Lily and Holden

______________________________ 

Lily and Holden — Martha Byrne and Jon Hensley (CBS Photo)

______________________________

When asked in an Internet exit chat with fans last night what her favorite ATWT storyline is right now, Martha cracked “Cowboy Jack.” CJ is the ubiquitous ventriloquist’s dummy that is at the currently at the center of a stupid,  gimmicky murder mystery connected to Carly and Jack.  Obviously, the actors on the inside at soaps know how far today’s plots have strayed from the classic soap form, even more than we who have bitch and moan about it on the Internet.

Cowboy Jack is a dummy, folks; two-time Emmy winning (13 nominations) Martha and Lily are the real thing.

Messrs. Procter and Gamble, owners of the 52-year-old As the World Turns:  will this soap still be alive on the day you finally realize which one is far superior to the other? 

Comments

  1. pjs says:

    Hi, Marlena … another great column. If only the actual stories of daytime could generate the heartfelt emotion of the currently endless (needless?) goodbyes we fans and the actors themselves are experiencing as the dramatic behind-the-scenes demolition of the industry continues. You are so right. Martha Byrne and her Lily are the real thing…and that thing is the reason we show up everyday as viewers! Some of us don’t even need the story. Are there any genuine fans who don’t smile whenever we see Nancy or Lisa or Emma. These characters haven’t had a story in years (decades!), but when we turn on ATWT and see them, we know we’re home.

    Martha and her Lily are part of what’s left of ATWT’s daily reminder that we’re home, that we’re visiting with the people we want to see. No matter how good the recast Lily may be, she won’t be home.

    The story is only the icing on the cake. Our daily appointment with daytime is with the people who populate it. That they are disappearing (along with most of their character-specific homes) makes daytime a very cold environment. What a cold comfort message it is for the daytime powers-that-be to tell us we can’t go home again … even as they beg us to show up.

  2. Bryon says:

    I get the feeling that the Powers-that-be are always looking for an exuse to say good-bye to Daytime Vets (and their salaries). You know, “Genie Francis’ schedule isn’t flexible enough” or we “just don’t have story for Bobbie right now”. I’ll miss Martha Byrne’s Lily, but it seems like it’s just one more nail in Soap Opera’s coffin.

    Marlena says: No more appointments for you, Dr. Evans Black. No more exquisitely expensive costume jewelry for you, Dorian. No more men for you, Erica, even though you are now 98 years old. No more “darlings” for you, Lucinda. No more surgery for you, Dr. Monica. No more capers for you, Luke …

  3. esther says:

    I do feel badly about Martha leaving for the simple reason she’s been there so long. Yes, she’s won Emmys. Other than her one as teen, I’m not sure I thought she deserved them. I’m not a huge fan of her acting. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think she is Lily.

    I wonder if the disagreement was that she wanted to bring back Rose. If that was the reason, then I applaud them saying no. Boy, did I HATE that scenery chewing she did as Rose. What I hated most about Rose, is that in order to make them different, Byrne DESTROYED Lily….made her lifeless, boring and a drip. I’ve had no use for her Lily ever since.

    Do I think another mediocre actress of the same type can come in and pick up where she left off? You bet. Much easier job than when Heather Rattray had to do so when Byrne was at the top of her game. Today? Almost easy. It’s not like she has me even caring about the selfish twit right now.

    I do wish Martha good luck at finding what she’s looking for. She did bring me many years of viewing enjoyment…just not for the last decade or so.

    Marlena says: Gee, Esther, nothing like wishing Martha “Auld Lang Syne,” huh?

  4. Oakdalian says:

    P&G doesn’t get it. The identity of a show can’t be expendable just to make it’s budget work. Maybe Byrne would have stayed even if she couldn’t get an episode guarantee, but we’ll never know because the show pissed her off beyond repair by putting out a casting call for her character during contract negotiations! Somehow it’s almost a blessing in disguise, though. Great actors who are either let go or voluntarily escaping from ATWT have something in common: they can no longer justify Jean Passanante’s self-destructive writing. Maybe heads will finally roll when Oakdale is populated by a cast of newbies in plots nobody cares about. And that can truly be achieved even MORE than what we’re seeing now.

  5. Fabobug says:

    I think TPTB are using MB as a martyr. The next time a lead on ANY soap complains about anything, they can turn and say, “Now look what happened to Martha Byrne.”

    Of course, this could backfire on them, and MB could make a splash on another soap. But the reality of a 38-year-old actress being in demand is sadly dim.

  6. Pats says:

    I think Martha Bryne is a part of ATWT’s history and it appears it is that reason which spelled her demise. The powers that be appear hell bent on dismantling every soap on the air by removing the veteran characters that made these shows run for decades (aside from B&B and Y&R which exist in the Bell Universe where everyone is entitled to a few good episodes a month).

    This situation is truly pathetic, Martha’s demands to have the same episode guarantee (as the previous year) were not outrageous, they were common sense. Martha is an actress fans of ATWT, by in large, enjoyed watching. She knows it, we know it and soon P&G will know it too.

  7. southerncharm says:

    Martha Byrne was railroaded. Plain and simple. They didnt WANT her back. I am SO ANGRY with the powers. I WILL NOT be happy with a re-casted Lily. And as Pats said … P&G will know it.

  8. Daisy says:

    Although Martha was not the first Lily, she definitely made the roll her own. I think P&G will be regret this. I will miss MB dearly and this will be another reason for me to watch even less of ATWT. The horrible storylines (if any) written for the veteran actors like Eileen Fulton, Don Hastings and Ellen Dolan are another one.

    Jean Passanante and the producers have done their best to chase the viewers away from this show. It is clear that they have no respect for this show’s history (or Douglas Marland for that matter) and will continue to “treat” long time viewers like myself to crappy storylines for the veteran actors and will continue to shove pointless and bland characters like Sophie down our throats.

  9. esther says:

    To Oak, putting out a casting call for her character during contract negotiations is nothing new and done quite often. I actually heard that an original actor was asked to visit the ATWT set during his recast’s negotiations just to scare the actor into signing again (unbeknownst to the original actor, who thought they wanted him back) — the recast DID re-sign, btw. Threat worked.

    Btw, I don’t believe Passanante is to blame for ATWT’s writing — all blame/or kudos, from what I’ve been told, needs to be laid at Goutman’s doorstep. He wields the power in story on that show.

    As for the vets we love getting so little airtime, that is more budget than writers’ wish. To afford them, their guarantees (how often they appear) have had to go way down. So if you see Bob/Margo/whomever for a story point 3 days in a row, you might not see them again for months to compensate. It sucks, but since the shows aren’t the cash cows they once were (in fact, they lose money now), this is the compromise forced on the shows in order to stay in business.

  10. bakedghoti says:

    It’s horrible that ATWT is letting MB go. She is a staple of the soap, and she is its leading lady (Maura West’s Carly comes in second).

    But my issue with this article is this statement:

    “If ATWT can be looked at as a truly American, heartland soap (as do my friend Sam Ford and his students do in his soap class at MIT), than Byrne is indeed Mom and Apple Pie.”

    Why is it that a character who is white is viewed as truly American? Are the soap characters that do not look like Byrne not considered truly American or as American as apple pie?

    Byrne’s Lily is the center of the show. She’s a legacy character and she’ll be missed by her legion of fans. She’s got Emmys under her belt and it’s mind-boggling that ATWT is thinking of recasting her. But Lily is not truly American. There is a difference.

    Marlena says: Baked, grow up! An American girl is one that is true, loving, smart and faithful to her beliefs. They come in any color — white, black, brown, green, red, orange or purple. That’s my Lily — and yours too!

  11. DS0816 says:

    Actress Martha Byrne—who has two Emmys to her credit (1986-87 younger actress, 2000-01 lead actress)—leaving “As the World Turns” has been suspicious to me like Ricky Paull Goldin quitting “Guiding Light.”

    While I believe Goldin wanted to leave “GL” for “All My Children” for a more stable work environment (the ever-shrinking production budgets; no soap looks as crippled as “GL”), Byrne is out because of contractual issues.

    Having read a transcript interview Byrne gave, I have the feeling [Procter & Gamble] manipulated Byrne. Tested the waters. And Byrne walked.

    This casting call seems like a ruse to get a perfomer supposeldy unreasonable with negotiations to buckle—or be fired. For real.

    Byrne knows her value. She is a soap vet—and has been with “ATWT” since the mid-1980s (with a couple years break). So I could imagine any soap could use her—especially “The Young and the Restless.”

    Here is what I think will happen: some time will pass, negotiations get reopened, parties agree, and Byrne returns to “ATWT.”

    Ten years ago, Byrne’s TV momma Elizabeth Hubbard left “ATWT.” I can’t remember if it was contractual issues; I believe it was Hubbard’s dissatisfaction over content (lack of story). Hubbard ended up coming back a mere two or three months after her departure.

    I get the feeling a similar situation may be in the offering.

    Marlena says: I think when Liz Hubbard walked out ten years years ago she didn’t like the storyline direction Lucinda was going in and was not fond of the show’s executive producer at the time.

    Marlena feels it’s always hard to know for sure what’s going on backstage at a soap just by reading chat transcripts, reading magazine gossip, and listening to Internet rumors. Traditional journalism taught that reporters didn’t get into print unless their facts were officially confirmed or voiced by at least two sources. But we’re in a gossip magazine/net culture now. So beware! We readers/viewers frequently make our own judgements based on information that isn’t necessarily true.

    BTW, I believe Martha’s version here. She’s always been truthful with the press, at least in my personal experience.

  12. Gene says:

    I believe the head honchos made a big mistake letting MB go. The show is going to wish they keep her on because I believe another show is going to pick her up and she is going to hit it out of the ballpark and the TIIC will wish they fhadn’t foolishly let her go.

Speak Your Mind