Is One Life to Live Daytime’s Lifeboat? And a Word About Addie …

By Marlena De Lacroix

Have you boarded the One Life to Live lifeboat yet?  Judging from the letters I’ve received in the last three weeks from readers like Esther, Cherry, Marilyn and DSO, even the most discerning and stubborn of Marlena’s Thinking Fans seem to be boarding.  They’re in hope it’s the one show that can keep their long-term love of soaps afloat in a sea of rapidly sinking – and stinking — shows.   So we’ll have lots to say here on the experience of watching OLTL, which Marlena herself has watched faithfully since 1970.  Our own Patrick Erwin, a first time viewer, will weigh in with his observations later this week. He’ll compare other soaps he’s watched with OLTL.

And BTW, there’s an inside joke here.  Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 movie classic Lifeboat stars Tallulah  Bankhead, Hume Cronyn, William Bendix and a wonderful character named Walter Slezak.  He was, of course, the father of our Erika Slezak (Viki).  Lifeboat is about a group of sea travelers whose ship and a German U-boat sink each other in the middle of the Atlantic in World War II.  They’re forced to share their lifeboat, in which the entire movie takes place, with a shipwrecked  German (Slezak) who turns out … but wait.  See it for yourself! It’s fabulous, darlings, a classy suspenseful drama — you must rent it.

But before Tallulah … I mean moi, Marlena … personally boards the OLTL lifeboat, I have to unburden myself of one current objection to the show:  The way the character of Addie is being written now, as a comic buffoon and an all-around imbecile, disgusts me.   As you know, Addie was one of the great accomplishments of Emmy-winner Michael Malone’s  first headwriting stint.  Although we have never been told what her specific problem is, Addie is the first mentally ill character ever played regularly on daytime.  Starting in 1991 with her introduction, she lived most of the time in an institution named St. Ann’s  but she was not forgotten by her family, and indeed was very much loved by her sister Dorian and her daughter Blair.  It was really revolutionary, and the choice of a very compassionate and creative writer to have the character “mainstreamed” as it were in the everyday life of OLTL‘s Llanview.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when Addie showed up at La Boule suddenly “cured.”  What an inspired idea! In real life, new medications and therapies often immensely improve the lives of mentally ill people, letting them lead more normal lives.  And Pamela Payton-Wright, who originated Addie and continues to play her, is a world class actress (I remember when she was the toast of the theater world in a late 60s play called The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in Moon Marigolds) and it’s an opportunity to give her a wider role.  Living at home, smack in the heart of the Cramer family, the possibilities for a “normal” Addie are endless.

So what does the show do with this stroke of brilliance?  Addie is written condescendingly, almost totally for laughs, showing up for dinner in scuba gear, doing everything wacky around La Boule short of wearing a lampshade on her head.  For a while she lusted openly (so embarrassing) over Dori’s former beau David. (Yes, yes, darlings, I know, what woman or man wouldn’t?)  And in the last two weeks, Addie married him, wearing a wedding dress with a tag hanging off of it, a la Minnie Pearl.  Ha, ha, right?

Shame on you, OLTL!   Addie’s history of mental illness remains indelible in the minds of OLTL viewers.  “Cured” or not, it is in very bad taste to play her all the time as a wacko, the town fool. You may think it’s funny to have Addie playing David’s Margaret Dumont.  Marlena loves camp and comedy as much you do.   But when it comes to Addie,  OLTL’s Emmy-winning headwriter Ron Carlivati needs to show compassion — and respect.

Comments

  1. Fabobug says:

    Marlena!
    A couple of weeks ago a strange thing happened. I was watching a scene on OLTL with Viki coming to her front door, not realizing Tina was hiding in the backyard. There was a man at the door asking for Tina, and we, the viewer, knew he had a gun and meant business. I had the weirdest feeling: my heart sped up a bit, my shoulders tensed, and everything else in the room disappeared. It occurred me that I was experiencing something I hadn’t felt for a score on daytime: suspense. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was worried for two of my favorite heroines.

    I felt such enjoyment with this feeling! I didn’t know a daytime show could produce this emotion anymore. Lord knows they have all spent LOTS of money trying. I’ve seen more tornadoes, hurricanes, snow storms, plane crashes, train wrecks, explosions, fires, murders, deaths, flying bullets, and devil possessions than I had ever wanted to. Yet by simply creating some danger and tension from the writing, I was completely captivated.

    No OLTL is not the best soap ever. But it’s the best we’ve got now. And for me, feeling anything while watching a soap gives me great hope.

    I too, was quite disappointed by the portrayal of Addie. On a show that used to demonstrate a strong responsibility toward accurately portraying the mentally ill, this is offensive. There was such storyline potential with Addie, including the mystery of Blair’s father. But the way she’s being portrayed now, it’s one story I would kick off this “lifeboat.” (p.s. — Didn’t the same fabulous actress portray Dorian’s cellmate when she was on death row in 1986?)

    Marlena says: Fabs, Dorian’s death row cellmate Tiny was played by the late cult actress Shirley Stoller (who was also the wife of Ryan’s Hope co-creator Paul Mayer.) I’m not sure if Pamela Payton-Wright ever played another role on the show. If anyone else knows, please write.

  2. esther says:

    You make an excellent point, Marlena. But I will cop to the fact that the storyline is not my favorite. Of course, OLTL is also taking another easy way out with bringing over-the-top Tess back, rather than watch Jessica truly struggle with learning to live her life again without her great love. Also, seeing Bo sooooo stupid as to really think he can trust Lindsay is hard for me to take. So these days, I’m not as enamoured, but I’m still watching… for now.

    Marlena says: Watch out Ron, Esther breathes fire! Make it scorching here on the lifeboat, gal! There has to be a method to Bo’s madness — he has never been this dumb. And personally, I hate Lindsay and wanted her off the show ten years ago! She’s played out as a character. Are backstage politics involved?

  3. Mary says:

    I have to agree with you. I don’t like “cured” Addie. She’s cringe-worthy and she has no respect for Dorian.

    As for OLTL being a lifeboat, I must say it has a lot more problems now than it did pre-strike. Todd is as big a buffoon as Addie. Marty and Tina’s returns have been lackluster, and the teen pregnancy story is a bust. My favorite couple, Natalie and Jared, have been sabotaged. They were so refreshing. Now all they do is go around hurting people and saying stupid things. They’ve been sacrificed so that Jess/Tess can be justified in trying to kill them. Frankly I find Jess boring and Tess laughable.

    I’m jumping off this so-called lifeboat.

    Marlena says: But Mary, we only set sail this afternoon!

  4. Dale says:

    Marlena, just to clear it up: YES, Pamela Peyton Wright did indeed play one of Dorian’s cellmates waaaaaay back in 1986!

    Marlena says: Dale darling, where did you find this info? I looked on the imdb.com and couldn’t find it.

  5. cher says:

    Here’s a link re: Pamela Payton-Wright’s dual role: http://www.geocities.com/oltlx2/

    I would like to see RC delve into the relationship between Addie and Dorian and even Blair and Addie, now that Blair is curious about her father. RC was on board when the Labines wrote the Canton backstory for Dorian so I would be intrigued if he explored this with Addie’s current behavior.

    Marlena says: I looked at the website, which lists all the actors who have played two or more roles on OLTL, and enumerates the plot histories of each. Wery impressive and it brought back a lot of memories for a OLTL fan like me. But who can remember so many tiny details? My brain is at the age where I can hardly remember my real middle name…oh..oh. er..it’s Marlene, right?

  6. Misha says:

    If OLTL is a lifeboat daytime soaps are done. I don’t get the appeal of Mr Carlivati, I really don’t. Does the future of daytime lie in repeating practically every storyline from the 1980s? This is what they are doing. It’s like an extended version of VH1′s I Love The 80′s only without the entertaining commentary and even that gets old after the first 5 airings. And don’t get me started on how Llanview is quickly becoming an African American free zone.

    Now about Addie. She, like David, are only used for humor with the occassional moment thrown in to help sell a plot point. Maybe one day they will explore WHY and HOW she went about this metamorphosis.

    Marlena says: As I wrote last fall in a column called “Don’t Anoint OLTL Best Yet,” one of the show’s glaring omissions is the lack of more black characters and perhaps a black family. And the show should bring Timothy Stickney (RJ) back full-time! There’s hardly a more dynamic actor on all of daytime right now!

  7. oltlforever1 says:

    I absolutely love the show since Ron took over! Fast storylines and excitement to boot! Loved your article, thanks!

  8. David C says:

    Just a brief note to thank you for yet another DESERVED series of kudos to One Life. However, Mr. Carlivati knows clearly that the last thing this shows is another character whose life is constantly filled with sturm and drang and Addie is a wonderful counterbalance to that. She’s not written as an imbecile and you know in every scene that she knows precisely what she’s doing. Or at least Addie does as portrayed by the perfect Pamela P-Wright. So Marlena, take a calming umbrage-free pill. a deep breath and sit back and enjoy the delicious treat Carlivati has made Addie into as part of Dorian’s menagerie.

    Marlena says: The mentally ill and/or the “cured” mentally ill are not funny. People in hospitals must be a big constituency for a soap like OLTL. Addie wearing scuba gear to dinner must be really insulting to people who are ill. David dear, get real!

  9. MD says:

    Marlena, Dale’s right, PPW played one of Dorian’s cellmates when Dorian was jailed for Mitch’s murder. She was sporting a darker ‘do back then (so was Robin Strasser for that matter). An episode from this era was once featured on the wonderful WoST website.

    As you’ve mentioned, PPW is a well-regarded theatre actress. Interestingly enough, she and Erika Slezak trained at RADA around the same time (they weren’t in the same class, but knew each other).

    I don’t think Addie’s ever looked more beautiful, and when she first came back “cured” I thought the story had a lot of promise. Instead, things quickly got silly and insulting, and demure for a day Addie was wackier than she’d ever been.

    I don’t know though, maybe, just *maybe* there’s an ounce of social commentary buried (deep, deep, deep) in this current plot with Addie and David. For all of institutionalized Addie’s charmingly kooky comments over the years, she’s always blessed the other Cramer Women with her kind heart, and her effortless, pure sage wisdom. When a Cramer Woman is in a jam, Addie always seems to provide just the right comment to make things “click”. Now, perhaps the writers are posing a question to the audience: Just who are we as “mentally healthy” individuals, and what the hell does “mentally healthy” mean exactly!? Plus, how do we react when we suddenly lose control of the ones we’ve had charge over? Are we truly happy for the liberated, or are we threatened by their newfound independence?

    We all know that Dorian is a control freak. She loves her sisters dearly, but wants them under her thumb. This isn’t just a “diva” thing. Addie and Melinda both have physically and emotionally abused Dorian in the past, so one can understand the psychological underpinnings of her need to control them. As a “cured” women, Addie has shown a desire to please herself (romantically/sexually) with a flippant disregard of Dorie’s feelings re: David. Addie’s said that for the first time ever, she feels like she’s the “real” her. Her family may be uncomfortable with this version of Addie, but how interesting that this character is an embodiment of the show’s very theme. This is Addie’s one life to live. Though she’s thrilled to be finally living it, all of her loved ones wish she’d revert to the life they’d have her live.

    ***

    I am aware of the fact that I’m probably giving the show too much credit, and I apologize for my long post, but Marlena you really got me thinkin’.

    Marlena says: Well, this is one brilliant letter, MD. You’ve put more serious thinking into Addie and the Cramer women than anyone since former OLTL headwriter Claire Labine. (Claire wrote their complex backstory, which I labeled “Freud personified” in a column years ago.) I think it is evident to everyone that the function of Addie as a dramatic character for years was to innocently add nuggets of pure truth to the lives of the Cramer women. But now?

    Plus, I love and adore what you wrote about Dorian and Blair loosing control over her. Would she choose to marry David for her one life to live? Well, wouldn’t we all, hubba, hubba? The fact that David will inevitably betray her and break her heart will make her just another crying soap female. Or will it? I doubt the current writers are invested in Addie as a serious character. They love comedy and camp as much as we do. But as I said, with her long history of mental illness, they are seriously misguided in making Addie the butt of jokes.

  10. Dale says:

    Let’s go to the instant replay, Marlena! I pulled tapes out last night to check … the show I checked from 1986 did not include a credit scroll so I don’t know the name of the character that PPW played during Dorian’s 1986 prison time, but do you remember that Alexandra Neill was also a cell mate? Of course Ms. Neill also had more than One Life To Live (Paige Miller)!

    Marlena, tell me, is it wrong to have over 300 tapes of OLTL stored in the basement? Or is this a question I should ask Dr. Jacobs? LOL!

    Marlena says: I know Dr. Jacobs reads these letters, so perhaps he would be willing to take you on. Dale, next week I am writing a long personal history of OLTL to mark the show’s 40th anniversary. I might want to consult your library!

  11. Moosebird says:

    Another interesting tidbit of trivia for you. Jessica Tuck, who played Megan Gordon (Viki’s and Roger Gordon’s long-lost daughter whom she had in the underground city of Eterna when she was Niki Smith and who performed one of the saddest death scenes as she died to complications with Lupus in her husband Jake’s arms, in soap history in 1992) starred in the 1993 telefilm Lifepod, which was a re-make of Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, except that it takes place in space in the future. More info on the film here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107415/

    Marlena says: Wow! I really dig the Jessica Tuck connection! But to tell you the truth, Lifepod in space isn’t exactly my bag.

  12. indydavid says:

    I’ve been trying to get back into watching OLTL since I stopped in the early ’80s, but what bugs me is how each scene in every act is like 15-30 seconds long. All that switching back and forth with no time for it all to sink in makes me queasy.

    What happened to the longer scenes with more meaningful dialogue? I guess it’s just a sign of the times to this old man — the attempt to attract younger viewers with short attention spans and a love of soundbites — nothing different to any other show.

    Marlena says: As you know the ship that is long-meaningful scenes sailed long, long ago on daytime television. Indy, thanks to dealing with my college students and sitting in front of the computer most of the time, even I don’t have a long attention span anymore. That’s my formula for destroying a lifetime of patience and book reading. You can do it too and learn to enjoy today’s soaps.

  13. Julien says:

    Oh wow, Dale, do you have footage of the Daisy Awards from the late ’80s?

    I would love to see some of those tapes!

  14. Gwynne says:

    I must say that I agree with David C. Addie knows what she’s doing–the scene where she explained to Blair that she was using David as much as he was using her, and that she was making up for lost time, was beautifully written and acted. I consider Addie a woman to be reckoned with, and I believe the OLTL writers do too.

  15. DS0816 says:

    Dear Marlena,

    I enjoyed your article.

    I haven’t been watching the soaps. But I did tune in to see Beth Ehlers’s final appearance June 23 as “Guiding Light’s” Harley—and I will tune in to see how well the five-time Emmy-nominated actress does when she debuts August 5 as Iraq War lieutenant Taylor McBride on “All My Children.”

    I say this because little [else] is interesting me [these days] in daytime dramas. But I do applaud what “One Life to Live” head writer Ron Carlivati has accomplished since [last year] he took over as the series’ head writer. But I gotta say, daytime is soooo bad now, that by comparison it can look like Carlivati is the success he is because he’s the only one who is either doing his job…or actually enjoying and appreciating his career at his job (and doing it well).

  16. Dale says:

    Julien, you bet I have the Daisys! I have to get with the times and learn to transfer tape to DVD before the tapes rot to dust.

    Marlena, if you need any facts checked for your OLTL tribute, just email me!!

  17. Marilyn Henry says:

    Hi Marlena!
    I guess I see Addie a little differently. I don’t think she is just ditzy comic relief–I think she is wonderfully funny, but that she has all her faculties about her, is perfectly aware of the effect she is having and delighting in it. She made that clear when she had her little talk with Blaire over why she and David married. Addie obviously enjoys being thought a bit wacky. It gives her license to misbehave–she can then live up to ‘expectations’.

    I alsp think Dorian and her need to run everything, to hurt the Bucanans by contriving to grab their company, does not please Addie or command her respect. She does not like this side of Dorian. Dorian in her soothing moments is a phony and Addie gets that. So she teases Dorian with the ditzy behavior, when all the time, she knows what she is doing. Look at her with David. The ‘get’ each other, they laugh well together, they have fun and in the scene the other day where Dorian sent for the doctor, you could see them sitting side by side, understanding perfectly how they were affecting the very controlling Dr Lord. They were practically finishing each other’s sentences. I laughed out loud when the psychatrist handed Dorian his card and asked her to call him so they could work on her ‘problem’.

    Smart as Dorian is, I feel she is crazier than Addie. The only fun she knows how to have is in manipulating others; her daughter, her friends, her sister, and all the Bucanans. She is most alive when she is scheming. You know I love Dorian and I love Viki–two of the very best characters in daytime, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find her sobering, a little humorous, and a lot dangerous.

    I don’t know about the scuba diving suit thing, wasn’t watching then, but I know I got a delicious giggle out of Dorian coming down the stairs in that black dress, enormous hat with veil and pulling on her gloves, ready to go pick off Bucanans. Talk about dressed to kill!

    I like Addie’s list and enjoy hearing the next thing on it. And I think she can take care of herself with David. She just may wind up breaking his heart!

    Marlena says: Marilyn, I’m glad you like Addie and I do, too. But the point of my column is that making a mentally ill person (or a formerly mentally ill person) act “crazy as a loon” is an ugly, awful stereotype. Even if Addie “enjoys it.”

    I do love what you say about Dorian, though. Only Robin Strasser’s brilliance enables her to pull off a Dorian who is very intelligent and deeply neurotic (you notice I’m am not saying “crazy”) at the same time. Because she and Pamela Payton-Wright are such great actresses, they are heavenly together in scenes.

  18. Lorrie says:

    I have to disagree about Addie. She knows exactly what she is doing regarding marrying David and has said so. The woman has a lifetime of missed opportunities to make up for. Why shouldn’t she have fun? And, as it turns out, Addie is a bit quirky regardless of whether she is sane or otherwise. I think she’s a riot. The character is clearly adored by the writers.

    I don’t see what the big deal is about Addie marrying Dorian’s ex. Sisters share bed-mates all the time on the soaps. Dorian hasn’t shown the slightest indication that she wants a relationship with David again. If Dorian really wanted David back, I’m sure Addie would return him.

  19. tess says:

    Hi Marlena,
    LOVED your article about ONE LIFE, however I want to make a correction. Shirley Stoller, to my knowledge was never married to Paul Mayer, co-creator of RYAN’S HOPE. Mayer’s wife was Sasha von Scherler.

    Marlena says: I stand corrected.

  20. norn says:

    i appreciate your writing and humor! But I have to say, I love seeing more of Addie any way we can get her! Ii think it’s wonderful that she’s having an active storyline instead of just popping up with pearls of wisdom now and then.

    And I don’t think she’s a victim at all … she told Blair that she knows Davi doesnt love her and she doesn’t love him, that she’s just having fun and making up for lost time. Her antics may be “wacky,” but I love seeing Addie have such an active life … she may be old, but she isn’t passive! She is grabbing as much life (and David Vickers’ butt) as she can get and I say good for her!
    What’s more, Pamela Payton-Wright is such a talented actress that however eye-rolling the script may be, she brings a warm sensitivity to Addie that just makes me happy!

    OLTL is the only soap i watch anymore and Ithink it’s been really great this past month!

  21. soapster says:

    I now know why ratings are dropping and soaps are not attracting new viewers — they are stuck in a time warp. I am a new viewer only five years watching and I can say that Mr. Carliavati is not impressing me at all. All these throwback stories to the eighties is a lack of vision on his part. I don’t know if I am watching Dorian or Alexis Carrington from Dynasty and why are all of the characters of the Buch men dumb? I doubt they could even run BE.

    This lifeboat isn’t going to make it to shore, if OLTK doesn’t move into the future.

    Marlena says: Interesting and valuable viewpoint! Marlena would like this EDITED letter to remind you all to sumbit your letters in standard English using upper and lower case. In other words, please use capital letters. I don’t have the patience to convert all those small letters to caps in the editing process. Plus, I am a college writing teacher!

  22. Melanie says:

    Terrific column! I didn’t have a problem with the way they’re portraying Addie, but after reading your commentary I can completrely understand why it can be seen as insulting and offensive. This might sound odd, but I think the difference between the way I viewed the “new” Addie and the way you viewed her, in some ways highlights the difference between the perspective of a longtime viewer (you) an a non-longtime viewer (me).

    I’ve watched OLTL on and off for 15 years and wasn’t too familiar with (or particularly interested in) Addie. When she was re-introduced to the show recently as “cured” I felt that they seemed to drop the serious mental illness issues of the character and instead chose to write her as “eccentric.” Because I thought Addie was sweet, funny and lovely, and because I wasn’t particularly invested in the character, I chose not to consider the greater implications of the way the character was now being written. I just thought it was a typical re-imagining of a character.

    So thanks for giving me a different perspective and making me see the bigger picture.

    Marlena says: Thank you so much Melanie for getting it! Now I can stop screaming every time I get a letter that says the writer that doesn’t get it, insisting that I don’t get that Addie is REALLY adorable and kooky.

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