By 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 — 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?