Beverlee McKinsey: Singularly Magnificent

Beverly McKinseyBy Marlena De Lacroix

I feel sorry for younger soap fans who never got to see Beverlee McKinsey on soaps prior to her retirement from major roles in daytime in 1992. McKinsey, who died last week in California at 72 of complications from a kidney transplant, was singularly  magnificent!

When she came to Another World in 1972 as rich, rich Iris Cory Carrington, she was all icy blond upper class matronly bitchiness.  But in frequent vicious argument scenes with Iris’ remarried father Mac Cory (the volcanic Douglas Watson), we could see that what Iris was really doing was begging for love when Mckinsey said  just one  word:  “Daddy!”  Shattering!

The exquisite vulnerability of McKinsey’s soap characters — Iris Cory on Another World and Texas; Alexandra Spaulding on Guiding Light — was always right there clawing at your heart while the character tussled or fought with almost everyone in Bay City and Springfield.  The  heartbreaking fragility of her characters was very Tennessee Williams.

WoolfThat’s because McKinsey started on the stage (the original production of Barefoot in the Park, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in London), as the best soap actors of her era did. Projecting several levels at once in a performance was what was expected of them, unlike the low expectations placed on today’s model-actors.  It was this depth of great natural  talent and incredible range that McKinsey brought to soaps.

Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, Beverlee McKinsey, Richard Easton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What a treat it was, in the extreme, to see her in scenes with other actors of her caliber, especially the brilliant  Watson  and the astoundingly intelligent Victoria Wyndham (hated stepmother Rachel).  On Guiding Light she had scenes and storylines to die for with such great actors as the late, always masterful Chris Bernau (who originated the role of Alan Spaudling) and the late, great Michael Zaslow (Roger Thorpe).  A few of you might remember the days McKinsey’s Iris was the wife of Daniel Davis (later seen in a comic role on The Nanny), whose Elliot Carrington on Texas was pure madness and genius. For a while,  Davis and McKinsey brought down the house daily on a soap few people today remember.

But whatever show McKinsey was on, she was  unforgettable.  She left Guiding Light suddenly in 1992, and did a very brief appearance on GH in 1994 as a character named Myrna Slaughter. She told everyone she took the part so she could get her actor’s insurance.   I interviewed her via phone at her California oceanside  home at the time and asked her the same question everyone was wondering  at the time:  “Are you ever coming back to daytime?”Oceanside

And the actress who was so spectacular on three soaps quietly said something I’ve never forgotten,  and have repeated often:  “Oh, no.  All I want now is my doggy and the sea.”   Rest in peace, Ms. McKinsey.

Comments

  1. esther says:

    What a beautiful, loving tribute. You really captured her and what made us love her so. She was the best of the best. And she embodied everything that is now missing from daytime — class, sophistication, vulnerability, power — the ability to scare us one second and make us weep the next. She was an original. Anyone unfamiliar with her work but still calling yourself a soap fan needs to head to YouTube right now and watch her — this is your master class. Only then can you truly call yourself a soap fan. Bravo, Marlena. You did her proud.

  2. Leona says:

    Thank you, Marlena, for writing such a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest actresses I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. I’m so very thankful that I was able to watch soap operas at a time of brilliance, both in front of and behind the camera. There will never be another Beverlee McKinsey. RIP.

  3. Dale says:

    Marlena, thank you for this wonderful tribute to an actress for whom mere words do not do justice.

    One had to be there. Ms. McKinsey’s talent had to be seen to be believed.

    Like you, I also saw the fragility that she brought to her Queen Bee roles. I have so many wonderful memories of Beverlee’s time on GL. What a powerhouse! The best thing I can think of to say about Beverlee’s acting is that all the while I watched her, I KNEW what a once in a lifetime actress I was I was privledged to be welcoming to my home every day. I did not take one single performance for granted.

    Beverlee, thanks for all the memories! You will never be forgotten.

  4. Patrick says:

    Marlena, this is a beautiful piece.

    I’m in shock that Beverlee has passed away. Some of my earliest memories are of her playing Iris. Watching her go head-to-head with Douglass Watson and Victoria Wyndham was like watching a master’s class in acting.

    Her turn as Alexandra on GL was fantastic. The scenes where Alexandra decimates Roger at the country club were just definitive for her as a character and as an actress – that honeyed voice dripping with acid at one turn, tearful and contrite the next.

    This one hurts. I hope she is at peace. We certainly will never see the likes of her again.

    Marlena says: Thanks, Patrick. While I was writing this column I remembered how much you loved Beverlee. I think that was one of the first things you wrote to me when I was initially writing Savoring Soaps over at jackmyers.com. Great taste in actresses, I remember thinking.

  5. Cherry Ames says:

    My heart is just breaking. I remember Beverlee from her first appearance on AW as Steve Frame’s sister, Emma. The character was such a hick and she talked with a twang-so opposite of Beverlee’s later role as Iris (in which she was magnificent!).

    I also remember her as Julie Donnelly, the evil ex-wife of good guy cop Tom Donnelly on Love is a Many Splendored Thing.

    Sadly, I never watched Texas.

    But my favorite of all of her roles was Alexandra Spaulding. She was simply delicious. She could break your heart and infuriate you -all in the same show. I always hated -yes hated-that she never received her proper respect by the industry she did so much to lift up. But you know what? She didn’t need an Emmy statue to be called the single best actress in daytime ever. And before I go, where did she get that honey, smoky rich voice? One of a kind!

  6. DS0816 says:

    Dear Marlena,

    Thank you for following up quickly with a timely tribute.

    Beverlee McKinsey, who had the best feminine voice of any actress I’ve viewed in my soap-watching history (which dates back 25 years!), was brilliant. She was skilled in finding layer upon layer beneath a character—a pro with subtext—along with honest interpretations, psychological depth, and a full tapestry of emotions that reflected the human condition.

    Everything I had read up on McKinsey’s profound work—be it the late Christopher Schmering’s “The Soap Opera Encyclopedia” (1985) or just following good writers from the publications—on “AW” helped me understand her insightful work as Alexandra on “Guiding Light.” (Oh, this was especially evident in a few of her eight years when then-”GL” head scribe Pam Long and company weren’t writing for McKinsey and Alex. During that period, it was said that Vincent Irizarry, who was playing Lujack at the time, told her she should demand more story. McKinsey thought it was more personal.)

    McKinsey worked in daytime for two decades, and called it quits, in 1992, by leaving on six weeks’ notice “GL” (an out clause in her contract)—and it was a move that sucker-punched then-exec producer Jill Farren Phelps (currently in charge at “GH,” of course); it was a delicious scandal that had tongues wagging. But that controversial departure—specifically in August 1992—was nothing by comparison to her Emmy denial for her final 1991-92 season’s best-actress race. This was for a season in which McKinsey electrified—like a grand theater of opera—as her Alex when on a rampage and avenged those who had betrayed her (ex-hubby Roger Thorpe, in a classic public humiliation scene, from July 1991, to avenge his corporate criminal behavior toward Alexandra, her family, and friends; as well as naive fashion designer Mindy Lewis, who, after having an affair with, and becoming pregnant, and miscarrying, by Roger, moved on to Alex’s newly discovered son, reporter Nick McHenry, the twin brother of her deceased son Lujack).

    I’m very sorry for this loss. McKinsey elevated this medium and—though death is a fact in life no one escapes—it serves as a reminder that today’s daytime dramas do not live up to what they used to be. McKinsey is in my memories. She is one for the ages.

    P.S. For those who started watching soaps in a period after McKinsey left soaps in 1992 (a “GH” six-episode guest arc, in 1994, made it complete), think of Susan Flannery’s brilliance as Stephanie Forrester on “The Bold and the Beautiful”—and that gives you an idea of the level of how unique McKinsey was to the daytime dramas.

  7. Robert James says:

    I’ve sent one fan letter in my entire life. It was to Beverlee McKinsey when I was a boy. She enthralled me like no soap actor ever has. She started my lifelong love of soaps. Iris was the best character in daytime history. Beverlee McKinsey was brilliant! Iris, Mac, Rachel, Dennis, Louise…. Oh, the glory days of pure soap genius by Harding LeMay!! You will be missed Beverlee. I’ll cherish the postcard you sent me in reply to my gushing love letter. Rest in peace.

  8. nathan says:

    I didn’t get to see Bev on AW, but thank goodness I saw her during her reign as the Baronness on GL during the early 90s. Like others have said, that voice of hers, she could be so classy, and wicked when needed, but you knew she loved her family. She made everyone step up their game when she was around. When she tore into Roger (the superb Zaslow) at the Country Club, apologizing to everyone, Bev made the words sound like poetry. I just haven’t seen anything like that since. Wishful thinking, but I always hoped maybe one day, some day she might return to daytime. That won’t happen now. She will be missed.

  9. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    Ahh, what wonderful memories I have of Beverlee. Her Iris was without a doubt, my all-time favorite soap opera character. I loved her on Another World and followed her to Texas. Neither show was ever the same once she left.

    So many wonderful Iris scenes come to mind — deliberately antagonizing her maid Louise (who loved to talk to her plants) by pinching the leaves off those plants. Screaching about “that Ordway creature” when son Dennis began to fall for Emma Frame’s daughter Molly Ordway. Hobnobbing with her society friends Theresa Lamont or Tracey DeWitt or Countess Elena DePouloignanc as they looked down their noses at the common Bay City folk. Her hilarious antics with her maid Vivian in her swank penhouse with the sunken living room.

    Oh, but the single most amazing memory I have of Iris was when Mac had written her off for interfering in his marriage to Rachel (one of many times Mac did so). The crestfallen Iris transfered all her feelings onto a bust of Mac’s head which Rachel had sculpted (and Iris had stolen). To watch her call that bust “Daddy” and plead with it for forgiveness was gutwrenching.

    I feel so honored to have watched Iris through the 70s, blessed to have been regularly treated to her astonishing performances.

    Thanks for the wonderful memories.

    Marlena says: Louise, Vivian, the stolen bust of Mac — oh what wonderful memories of Iris and Ms. McKinsey you have evoked here, James! Remember when soaps were sophisticated, funny, superbly acted and written and harrowingly human? That Lemay/Rauch 70s period on AW certainly was a high water mark for soaps, although at the time this Queens teenager thought it was much too upper class. Little did I know what theatrical greatness I was being treated too!

  10. MD says:

    I am so devastated by this news… kicking myself for never sending Miss McKinsey her proverbial flowers while she was here to appreciate them. How many times did I begin to draft a letter, telling myself that I’d send it to her son Scott over at GH, and kindly ask him to forward it… Or how I’d get that signed Kim Stanley bio, and send that too as I saw Beverlee as daytime’s answer to Kim…

    “Beverlee McKinsey” is a name that I’m always tossing out there with the likes of Kim, Geraldine Page, and Sandy Dennis when discussing great actresses over drinks with my theatre friends. Without fail, none of them seem to be familiar with ANY of these ladies, but I especially enjoy sharing stories of Miss McKinsey’s legendary moments of brilliance during the Rauch/Lemay Golden Age of Another World. And the whole Jill Farren Phelps debacle is probably my most favorite behind-the-scenes soap anecdote of all time. I guess as an actor myself, I take joy in hearing about a put-upon fellow artist sticking it to *The Man*.

    I will never forget Miss McKinsey, I think about her every day. Literally. Every. Day. As the coffee brews, I walk around this empty apartment, straightening up, talking to myself about the day ahead… and the moment I hear my still nice and gravely morning voice, I can’t help but recite a few of my favorite Iris/Alex soundbites. I know, I sound like a real nut. ;) But that’s okay. It’s that great of an impression she has left with me.

    As I was typing this, there was a wasp caught between the window and the screen next to me. I chose to see it as a sign: wasp/WASP. Bright yellow, honey, one hell of a sting… all too perfect (to me at least). I cracked the winow, carefully raised the screen, closed the window, and whispered goodbye. She flew away.

  11. DS9Sisko says:

    Had she come along in an earlier age, Ms. McKinsey would have rivaled Theda Bara, Greta Garbo, or Jean Arthur. I cannot add anything else to what others have said.

    She was a giant who helped elevate daytime to its rightful place as an art form.

  12. Dexter says:

    Thanks for your loving tribute to the great Beverlee McKinsey. I feel so fortunate to have been able to see her on Guiding Light (I started watching that soap in 1988). She was always brilliant, a mix of strength and vunerability. She reminds one of the great movie stars of the 1930s and 40s like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. She was the greatest actress ever in daytime and there will never be anymore like her. A class act!!!! RIP.

  13. Greg says:

    She will be greatly missed. Thank you for this wonderful tribute, Marlena. She was absolutely the heart and soul of GL in the early 90s and I’ve never been able to accept any other actress as Alexandra since she left the show. I pray she’s resting peacefully now. Forever by the sea with her “doggy”.

  14. GregN says:

    Marlena, you have always been right on target with your views & opinions & write so eloquently — I did not think anything could top your tribute to Douglas Marland but with this wonderful memorial to Beverlee McKinsey, you have done just that. She was a gift to us all & I still relish in each & every show I saw her in from her early days on LIAMST to AW/T to my favorite as GL’s only Alexandra Spaulding.

    Marlena says: Thanks so much Greg. Your kind words mean an enormous lot to me!

  15. MD says:

    Marlena, I must echo Greg’s words. Speaking of lovely tributes, I still have in my scrapbook that wonderful piece you wrote about my other favorite soap actress, “Au Revoir, Cher Robin (Strasser)” in Soap Opera Weekly. Thank God, our Robin has been back with us for quite a few years now.

    Some fans may not know that before Marj Dusay came into the picture, Robin Strasser was well on her way to becoming Beverlee’s replacement as Alexandra on Guiding Light. Though physically dissimilar, I have always found a kinship between my two favorite soap actresses, probably stemming from their equally powerful impacts as naughty girls with Daddy issues on Another World.

    Marlena says: Thanks for remembering the Robin column. I remember at the time Robin was being talked about as an Alex recast, but that an awful lot of backstage politics got in the way. As a lifetime Strasser fan, I too am glad she made her way back to playing Dorian on One Life to Live–again and again.

  16. Colby says:

    Thank you Marlena for the uplifting tribute to one of daytime drama’s most wondrous actors. I found myself on YouTube last night watching old clips and came accross Bev as Iris on Texas! I stayed up all night watching clip after clip. I was too young to watch AW or Texas so it was a real treat. This woman puts todays’ actresses to shame I must say. She was so…unpredictable. My God! She took my breath away when she was doing battle with “Paige” – who I really felt sorry for as Paige was no match for Iris! I loved her on GL and remember asking my mom where Alex went when she left. Now that I’m an adult I still feel like asking SOMEONE where Beverlee went because I feel like we may never be riveted by another actress like her again.

    I wish that TPTB would watch some of these scenes of her. You don’t need a l lot of tricks, or even complicated storylines. The scenes I watched were so simple yet boy were they effective because the characters were fully developed and the actors were trained and thoroughly up to their game.

    Consequently, I had to see who could possibly step into Iris’s shoes once Bev left and talk about a un-recastable role. i think her name was Carmen Duncan and she was not even a shadow of Bev’s deep, nuanced portrayal. But like Alex on GL, the show clearly had to have that character on the show.

    I will say thank God for YouTube – because without it, our country’s greatest actors might be forgotten. But not Bev, she will live on forever in the hearts and minds of those who had the privelege of watching her.

    I love how Miss McKinsey never lost her sense of self – she was who she was and didn’t apologize for it. She did the one thing all actors are supposed to do – when they leave, make em want more. If that’s the measure of success for an actor, then Miss McKinsey, you may be the greatest actress of all time!

  17. Kristi says:

    I have little to add to the wonderful tributes here, but wanted to draw attention to Camille Paglia’s own recollection as well (with a funny anecdote) in her latest Salon column:

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2008/05/14/tarantella/index2.html

    >>McKinsey’s portrayal of bitchy supersocialite Iris Carrington in “Another World” (1970-79) gave me endless pleasure. Those were the glory days of TV soaps — now a dying form, narcotized by corporate blandness.<<

  18. dexx says:

    That was a wonderful tribute. Thank you for such an elegant summary of this dazzling actress.

    One of my favorite moments was when she was on GL and sitting at a party at the country club. Jenna complimented told her she looked great and she responded “well it helps to have one’s jewels” which of course referred to the fact that jenna had previously tried to steal them. That line in that scene could only have been delivered by this beloved and sorely missed actress.They just don’t make them like Beverlee anymore. Thanks again for this article (and this site!) :)

    Marlena says: Thanks dexx. You are very sweet! I could just hear Beverlee’s voice in my head as you described the scene. Come visit us here often!

  19. JOEL MALCOM says:

    Thank you so much for that beautiful tribute. I only found out she had passed yesterday when I read it in Time magazine’s milestones section, and I was so saddened.

    It is because of Beverly Mckinsey that I became a lifetime soap fan. I grew up watching her as a child on AW with my grandmother. We couldn’t wait to turn on every day an see what Iris was going to do next! The things that came out of her mouth! Iris had to be the most complex fascinating character ever on daytime, and of course Beverlee was the best daytime actress ever, and certainly in the top tier of all time greats in any medium. She had the most magical voice I’ve ever heard.

    When I began watching GL in 1987, I was so glad to discover that she was on that soap. After she left in 1992, the show was never the same. I can still hear her saying “Roger” and “Reva Shayne” as if they were curse words. My favorite moment with her as Alex was when she told Billy about Mindy’s affair with Roger and subsequent miscarriage in the middle of the Blue Moon club. Billy said “Mindy was in the hospital with a virus”. Alex responded, “That virus was your grandchild.” , her voice dripping with acid. Fletcher told her afterwards it was the crulest thing she’s ever seen. She just shrugged and ordered a drink. It’s kind of ironic that she did her best work on that show during her last year, a time she was so unhappy there.
    To me, that’s just a demonstration of her consummate professionalism as an actress.

    I’ll never forget you, Beverlee. You were a big part of my childhood, someone I looked forward to seeing everyday. RIP

  20. ivan says:

    How utterly bizarre to hear this news over the Memorial Day holiday. I was about 10 years old when I had my first intro to Beverlee/Iris thanks to my mom…Recently, this year – in March to be exact, I started to obsess over Iris. I googled and googled and googled looking for an old TV Guide interview from the 1970s titled, I mourned the death of my career. The article showed Beverlee sitting in front of the famous painting of Iris that hung in her penthouse. I actually had saved the article all these years and recently moved and couldn’t find it. Little did I know that that two page spread was my psychic link to Iris and how much I actually had turned to it over the past three decades! I searched to no avail and found the 1992 TV Guide article and some interviews from the past but nowhere in TV Guide archives can I seem to locate the 1970s piece. Ironic isn’t it? My only tie to my all time favorite soap character was gone and a short two months later so was the actress who played her. Not for nothing because I did find a very well crafted piece on Harding Lemay and his trials and tribulations writing AW and I had the good fortune to discover the AW homepage with some preserved audio from Iris’s glory days reigning over Bay City. All this in a month but to my utter and distraught dismay – there are precious few episodes of said glory days saved for fans to enjoy! Texas was OK but that version of Iris was watered down and revised and still available however, THE Iris/Mac/Rachel stuff is apparently long gone – A TRAVESTY! Those days were, as evidenced by my mad search, brilliant, stunning, riveting and all thanks to that eye of the storm – Iris Carrington! Beverlee THANK YOU! I thank you, Joan Collins (Alexis Carrington, based on Iris) thanks you, the world of soap divas and villainouses thank you and daytime tv should thank you by forcing Procter Gamble or whoever is in charge to find the missing years and post them on YouTube – do they give out posthumous awards for Best Actress in a Soap – thirty years later?

  21. Kevin McManus says:

    Dear Marlena,

    In these past few weeks, I have mourned the passing of a woman I never met. In fact, when Ms. McKinsey left Guiding Light years back, I had a sinking feeling it would be the last I would see of her new work and (even then) I felt her loss.

    Your incredibly sweet and personal remembrance of her is appreciated more than you know. When you shared the parting peace of her days by the sea with her dog—it remains something quite beautiful, modest and eternal.

    There is no memorial for her, but perhaps a site like yours and the wonderful comments you have received is actually something bigger and more organic. I will continue to read what other fans have written, and I remain grateful to you for sharing a final insight into such a dynamic and clearly influential actress.

    Thank you,

    Kevin

  22. Kevin says:

    I too was shocked to hear Beverly had passed away and literally paused for a moment from what I was doing. I went to Youtube where thankfully several early clips of Beverly as Iris are available. Looking back the combination of what was high style and exceptional writing/directing made Beverly’s performace irresistible. I instantly became mesmorized by that voice..so unique! Iremember my excitement watching Guiding Light and only hearing Beverly’s voice as Alexandra talking to Alan and I thought “she’s back!”.

    There are very few actresses one really misses when they leave a project and Beverly was on the top of my list. Growing up for one hour a day she provided an escape that was desperately needed then.

    I will miss you Beverly.

  23. David A Bush says:

    The first time I watched soaps was Another World and I was so moved with her “Iris” even as a child. I followed her to “Texas” and then to “Guiding Light” my appetite for her brilliant work ethic has not been satisfied since she stopped acting on soaps. I feel blessed to have seen this artist.

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