Douglas Marland: May 5, 1935 – March 6, 1993
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
Can 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’s Captain Blood Fantasy
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.
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.
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.