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.