Douglas Marland: A Personal Remembrance

Douglas Marland:  May 5, 1935 – March 6, 1993

Douglas Marland

By Marlena De Lacroix

In 1981 I was the editor of a soap magazine which had a great reputation and no budget.  Every year we gave out awards, but we had to do it in small ceremonies on the set.  My head was whirling from the first one on the set of All My Children.  An actor I had admired who played a nasty character took his statuette, turned to me and said, ” I can’t accept this.  It’s made of plastic.”

We went over to Guiding Light to give Douglas Marland his award for Best Writing. There were perhaps three people on the set.  Tanned, dressed beautifully in a custom-made light blue double breasted blue suit, Doug accepted his statuette with a long, heartfelt speech and tears of gratitude in his eyes.  That is how I met Doug. I was fortunate enough to know him as a journalistic source and friend for the next 13 years.

Doug was a very real, very charming person, full of the gusto of a life he thoroughly enjoyed living, long before he ever became a legend in the soap business.  And legend he certainly became — as writer/headwriter on The Doctors, General Hospital, Guiding Light, As the World Turns and co-creator of Loving, and more.

He just loved being in the business, and he seemed to get to know everyone in it.  He looked at the soap world as a community.  He treated everyone on the shows he wrote as family.  Then as now, television was a highly competitive and rough business.  Most soap headwriters and TV execs I’ve known are so inhumane, and  have hard shells around them.  Doug took many punches over the years (Gloria Monty personally claimed  the fame he deserved for creating the character of  Luke and for writing the Laura, Scotty and Bobbie era on GH, for example).  Yet, he always remained human, and very, very vulnerable.  Through it all Doug was a lovely, loving man.

He loved his characters, and his actors

Susan WaltersCan I say it again?  Doug really loved soaps; he passionately loved his work.  Perhaps because he had been an actor for so long, there’s he nothing he loved more than seeing his actors bring his work to life. He could never stop talking about them! Once, when he was co-writing Loving, he and his driver gave me a lift home from the West Side Manhattan  studio.  From the second I got in the car, he started raving about how wonderful the very young Susan Walters was as his young heroine Lorna.  I had not been a fan.  But Doug’s passion and conviction about Susan over the next hour not only convinced me, but had me watching Loving — and soaps –  in a whole new, deeply analytic way from then on. For example, he told me that the key to writing a soap villainess (or villain) is to portray the fact that she always believes what she is saying is truth, even when the viewer knows differently.  The poignancy of the character comes from that disparity.

He wanted you to do your work, and he wanted you to do it better.  His enthusiasm was genuine and so inspirational you easily could see why his actors loved to work for him.Nola

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 Nola’s Captain Blood Fantasy

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He had been through lots of hardships in his life, but he was so positive in is outlook, he seldom talked about them.  He grew up, the eldest in a large family, on a farm in some god-awful place above Albany named West Sand Lake, New York.  He was close to his mother Beatrice (after whom he named many of his soap moms) whose maiden name was Snyder.   He escaped by watching movies from the 30s, which formed the basis for the fantasies Nola had on Guiding Light, placing herself in such movies as Jane Eyre,  The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca.  He later moved to New York City to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and became involved in the theatrical world, appearing as an actor in many plays, touring companies and on TV in the early days of television, in such pioneering dramatic shows as Playhouse 90.

A man of the theater, first and foremost

He was from the Theater and you knew that when you talked to him.  He knew the fundamentals of drama, as one can only learn from acting in and seeing decades of plays. (I think today’s younger generation of headwriters studied their drama at the Happy Days/Batman/MTV  school of drama.)  In the 80s and early 90s, I saw him at Broadways shows  all the time.  In 1991 or 92,  he was sitting with Lisa Brown at the opening of  the revival of  Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, which incredibly starred Alec Baldwin in the Marlon Brando role (“Stella!”) and a completely inaudible Jessica Lange as Blanche.  After the curtain came down, he came over to me and whispered. “Look what they’ve done to my beautiful play.”

Doug expertly knew and wrote classic drama, and he was fortunate to work in a  era, where soaps were all about the intensity of human emotion, not the momentary titillation provided on soaps today derived from car crashes, violence and endless misogyny.  In Doug’s day, he was free to write about what soaps always were and should be about –  romance and character.

A special talent for creating female characters

What he is rarely credited with is his unique talent for creating and writing deeply rich, complex and especially conflicted female characters. So many of them!  Jennifer and Carrie and Nola on GL!   Lily and Margo and Shannon on ATWT!  And so many more!  It wasn’t politically incorrect in the 70s, 80s and 90s to say that soaps were a women’s medium, and Doug loved delving into the female psyche on his shows.Elizabeth Hubbard

Think of Lucinda (who he did not create) on ATWT, she who had affairs with younger men (Craig), she who barked business orders 23 hours a day.  Instead of writing her as the Wicked Witch of the West,  Doug looked into her soul and found deep, deep  neurosis and lifelong pain.

He sent Elizabeth Hubbard (for whom he had written on The Doctors, where she stunningly played headstrong Dr. Althea Davis) back to 30s Chicago to play her own even crazier and demanding mother, in startling black and white.  Lucinda learned why she was the way she was and so did we!  Doug evidently knew Dr. Freud, but he also relished the chance to write original, deeply psychological story material for a spectacular actress who could and did break our hearts.

He was a master storyteller

While most of  Doug’s writing concentrated on character, he was also a  master storyteller and could spin a great yarn, too!  He was so versatile and could tell any kind of soap story well.   His Doug Cummings (a young man eerily obsessed with Kim) mystery on ATWT was truly suspenseful and thoroughly chilling.  An old soap fan friend of mine maintains Doug’s soap cliché stories were more intensely written and more hand-wringingly emotional than any other soap writer’s.  When Holden Snyder got amnesia and went  missing from Oakdale for five months, we’d never seen anybody suffer more acutely than his wife Lily and mother Emma when this blank slate of a man returned to the farm.James Kiberd

And the original stories he created!  On Loving, he (and co-creator Agnes Nixon)  did a story where traumatic stress victim Mike Donovan (my all-time favorite soap actor, James Kiberd)  paid a visit to the newly built Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington D.C., where he “saw” the ghost of his dead comrade Gage.  I went on that remote on a rainy day in 1983, and watching the profound and moving drama created and being taped that day by the combination of brilliant writing and acting  was transcendent.  It was Art and it was Theater and it was all being done on a soap opera.

Of course those days are long gone.  Having passed away in 1993, Doug didn’t live to see  the current devolution in intelligence and integrity that soaps started evidencing in the mid-90s due to factors such as cable competition and all-cosmetic casting.  Younger viewers who never saw Doug’s work seem to know him through an old soap fan mag article by him from 1992, now posted on the Internet — a set of rules called  “How Not  to Wreck a Show.”  They use it to shake their finger at the way soaps are written now.

Let me tell you something about Doug from having known him:  he knew the classic soap form better than anyone.  But he lived and worked in an entirely earlier soap era.  Today, he would be the last person to shake his finger at anyone.   He lived his life encouraging people to be creative,  graciously and lovingly complimenting people who were creative,  and just being loving and supportive to everyone in the soap industry.  He loved soaps, including all the fans. Doug was a lovely, lovely man.

Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    Oh, this made me cry. Thank you for writing it! I miss him so much. I miss his stories so much.

  2. Leona says:

    Thank you, Marlena, for sharing your wonderful recollections of Mr. Marland and his work. I’m sitting in front of my computer with tears running down my face.

    I had the good fortune of meeting Doug before he died. He’d been a lifelong hero of mine and I just wanted the opportunity to meet him. Well, Doug turned that meeting into one of the great moments of my life. He greeted me with warmth and humility and we spent a good deal of time talking about soaps and our mutual love of the genre. It’s something I’ll never forget, and I’ll forever be grateful that I got to meet him.

    Doug, we miss you. RIP.

  3. Cherry Ames says:

    Marlena, Bless your heart. Doug Marland was the best and we would be lucky if any writer of his calibre comes this way again. Soap opera, really good soap opera, is very difficult to write and even more difficult to sustain. I get so sad thinking about “yesteryear ” and I feel so old always yammering on about the “good old days”. His stories really were timeless. Sure he had a dud or two (nobody is perfect) but for the most part, his GL was as good as it gets.

    The world has changed and I think (sadly) soaps are a reflection of the pace at which we live our lives. I am not at all convinced soap operas will continue to exist and I don’t think even a new Douglas Marland could save our soaps. His list of “rules” for writing are timeless and sadly all but ignored.

    Soaps now seem to think stripper poles can substitute for compelling story-telling, rich and varied characters and timeless themes of love, betrayal, loss and reconciliation and redemption.

    Thanks for the memories!

  4. esther says:

    Thank you Marlena for a beautiful tribute to a man we all miss so very much. I met Doug once too and his enthusiasm for soaps was like no other person who qualifies as “TPTB” — no one. I believe it’s that love for the genre that made him so good. Thanks for sharing your personal stories.

  5. Bob says:

    Everyone has already said it, but I have to mention it again: Thanks so much to Marlena and Patrick for the beautiful dedication.

    Reading these pieces has meant quite a bit to me this week.

    Like many others, I simply loved Douglas Marland. I never got to meet him, but really thought for sure that it would happen one day.

    As a youngster I became addicted to Marland’s GL as surely and wholeheartedly as one becomes addicted to cigarettes or drugs. I was ten or eleven during the Kelly/Morgan/Nola story and simply had to be home to watch that Laurel Falls wedding (my grandmother facetiously asked if I wanted to dress up and thinking her serious I showered and put on my Sunday suit before 3 pm Eastern/Standard time!) At the time, I didn’t realize it was Mr. Marland who I had become addicted to.

    By the time he was writing ATWT I absolutely knew who he was. What a joy his tenure at that show brought me… taking me through high school, college and beyond (and forcing me to buy a VCR, something I wish I had had earlier — or saved more episodes!)

    There has been mention about his abilitly to write for a large cast and I agree. One of my favorite things about his time at ATWT were scenes in which almost the entire cast would be out for dinner and the dialogue would slide from one group to another. Everyone had some piece of dialogue that moved the plot forward, whilst in the same room! 30 to 40 cast members eating dinner and moving the plot forward… who knew?!

    Another device of his that I think is now underused (no, not eavesdropping!) is that days in Oakdale ended, often within an episode. I loved that sometimes after a break we would see that establishing shot of the sun or the moon and know that a new day had begun… it was rare for a day to linger and linger and linger… as they often do on today’s shows.

    Reading Marlena’s accounts of Mr. Marland’s real life (especially the opening anecdote of him accepting a magazine award) make me love the man all the more.

    Thanks so much for remembering!

  6. john says:

    Your tribute to Doug Marland was fantastic. I have been watching soaps since I was 12 years old. I am now 45, and tape every day every show. Reading about Doug was like a mirror image of me. I wish I had gotten involved in the soap world 25 years ago. As I was growing up I was ridiculed by everyone for loving these shows. Recently I have noticed that advertizers are now looking at men who watch the soaps. The male audience is now being recognized.

    I work for the postal service for 19 years. However,if soaps did not have such a tremendous stigma towards them in the 70s, my life would have been different. I could have done what Doug Marland did,and continue his reign of writing. Everyone tells me I should be writing for the soaps, or producing them. My knowledge of them is incredible. I do not watch any nighttime shows or sports.

    My life has always been centered around these shows. Doug Marland did something that I was never allowed to pursue. A man involved with soaps was always considered a sissy in my section of Brooklyn, Marine Park. I did not have the opportunity to do what I really should be doing. At least Doug Marland’s legacy will be forever remembered, but my dream will never came true, because no one in the industry will let me in the door. It is too late for me.

  7. David C says:

    Well I first started Guiding Light in June 1981, almost at the climax of the Nola/Kelly/Morgan story. I was hooked immediately. This is a show filled with wonderful characters of fascinating plots. The Carrie Todd (Marler) story really gripped my attention. When she was revealed to be a double murderess my jaw dropped. As everyone else has written here, this man knew how to tell a helluva story. What’s important about Marland’s work is that he knew the essence of a soap story and that essential hasn’t changed. If current head writers and producers understood that no matter what, the essential of compelling and fascinating characters involved in a complex story is what is the essence of this genre. NOTHING will change that. It’s likely however that the genre will die an irrevocable death because TIIC think they can re-invent a wheel that was perfect in its first creation.

    We’ll do Douglas Marland’s finger wagging when that happens.

  8. TD says:

    When I was middle school I decided to be a TV writer. In the early 80s, the most exciting stories were happening on daytime. I immediately feel in love with Douglas Marland’s writing style and honesty in his stories and characters. I wrote to him at the studio asking for any advice he might have for young writers. A beautifully crafted personal letter on stationery from Mr. Marland’s Connecticut home arrived in my mailbox. In it, he encouraged me to “keep writing” and “don’t give up!” He instructed me to “take courses at school and read the classics to see how the masters did it.” Well, I took his advice and 22 years later have had my stageplays produced across the country. When I receive a compliment about a “strong character” I created or my “natural-sounding” dialogue, I can’t help but thank Mr. Marland on some level — a master in his own right, an inspiration and a dear, dear man.

  9. Giada says:

    Thank you Marlena! I, too, have tears in my eyes reading your memories. I was also touched by some of the above comments.

    I remember very well the story you mention with Mike Donovan on “Loving”: brilliant. I also very much liked his brother on that show, Douglas Donovan, played by Bryan Cranston (“Malcom in the MIddle” and now “Breaking Bad”). How funny was to watch Lorna trying to seduce him, her drama teacher.
    I also remember the groudbreaking story with the character of Lily Slater who was abused by her father. I don’t know if it’s true, but I read in the past that it was the very first time that topic was dealt with on television and that they were asked to drop that storyline so that some prime-time tv-movie could claim that honor.

    Thank you, really, for your heart-felt commemoration.

    Marlena says: Everyone here at marlenadelacroix.com would like to thank you all for your comments on our special celebration of Doug and for sharing your memories of him with us. It has been both a pleasure and a learning experience for us to write and produce this week’s work. Doug, how much we all miss and still love you!

  10. BL says:

    Thank you for sharing all this information on Doug Marland and reminding us of a time when the outlook wasn’t so bleak for our shows. Reading these stories was moving and I regret not having seen more of his work back in the day.

  11. Nicholas Ryan says:

    Douglas Marland was the best. I became a fan when he wrote for the Doctors. My parents watched this otherwise dull melodramatic show but I distinctly remember when I grew to love the Doctors-the introduction of the Dancy family and the complexities of the family dynamic that ensued and grew from the death of previously incidental character Joanie Dancy. I was 10 or 11 at the time. I didn’t know who Marland was let alone understand the back ground dynamics of the soaps but here were real complex stories involving complex characters. It was all too apparent when he left that show despite my still oblivious nature to backstage powers-that-be. I quit watching that show and soon became entranced with the Laura and Scotty romance on GH. It was here that I began to become knowledgable of the writers behind the scenes and became a die-hard Marland fan. I watched ATWTs during Marlands’ earlier stop-over between taking over from the Dobsons on GL but missed the Marland credits at the time. While I watched his brilliant work on GL I pondered the thought-did Marland pen ATWTs’ gothic plot involving Lisa and Bennett Hadley? I proved to be accurate. I followed Mr. Marland’s caeer until his all too early demise. Soaps have never been the same. He was one of the last of a rare breed-writers who loved the genre and weren’t dismissive of the audience they wrote for. He and Claire Labine are my all time favorite scribes. One of the beauties of Mr. Marland’s writing that hasn’t been spoken of was his ability to write for a multi-generational cast of characters. On ATWTs you could always count on the teen Lily/Holden plot unfolding along side the tempetuous triangle of 40ish/50ish Susan, Bob and Kim within the same hour. I really miss that! I really miss just about all of the magic that was Douglas Marland!

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