By Marlena De Lacroix
One Life to Live‘s 40th anniversary is next week. I’ve watched the show for 39 of those forty years, so it’s been a big part of my life! And it has meant a tremendous amount to me. Thinking Fans, I’m interested in how OLTL has affected your life, what it has meant to you, your evaluations and memories of the storylines which have meant the most to you personally. How has One Life changed your life?
Here’s my One Life to Live story:
I am 14, maybe 15, a latchkey kid in Queens, New York, watching TV after a day of high school. I’m watching ABC, waiting for that weirdo vampire soap, Dark Shadows, to come on. In the time slot before Barnabas, all of a sudden I see three actors sitting around a table eating dinner in a threadbare apartment in some industrial town somewhere. They are SCREAMING at each other.
“Larry, you’re a Wolek, you’re not supposed to fall in love with a princess who lives in a castle on the ritzy side of town,” says Anna, a 40ish woman with a sharp nose.
“Shaddup, Anna,” says a 30s Vinnie, who looks darkly Italian to me. “Don’t tell our brother Larry what he should and shouldn’t do. He’s a doctor, he’s gonna be better than us, he’s gonna get something out of life, and if that red-headed girl Meredith wants him, then let him feel like he’s a prince. What’s for dessert, anyway? My sister Anna’s desserts are never very good anyway.”
“Lousy! You’re lousy, Vinnie! Getta outta here!” screams Anna.
“Hey, don’t I get a say in this?” says 25ish, blondish Larry, the youngest in the family.
“Gettadda here, Prince Charming,” scream Vinnie and Anna in unison.
Vinnie and his future wife Wanda
I sit up in recognition and pay attention. This show is nothing like the other soap I had just finished watching, on another channel — NBC’s Another World. That one had taken place in a beautifully decorated middle class house full of WASPs, people who wear jackets and ties to breakfast and a mother and a father who politely say good morning to each other. In that soap town, two impossibly blond daughters, both with perfectly teased hair, had spent the half hour actually wringing their handkerchiefs (!) while complaining about their boyfriends — in perfectly modulated voices.
But here on ABC, this other soap is set in a town called Llanview, where people scream and tease each other and go to work as secretaries and factory workers and know that the purpose of a family is … to lovingly run each others’ lives by screaming at each other. The working class Woleks are exactly like my working class family, the working class Passalacquas, who scream at each other every night over dinner in Queens, New York.
This is how I fell in love with a new show called One Life to Live.
In 1969, long before the King of Queens and just before the advent of Archie Bunker, what a revelation it was for me to see an ethnic, screamingly loving family like mine on television, let alone a soap opera. The Polish Woleks — secretary Anna, working man Vinnie and freshly minted doctor Larry, were real to me, not like the Midwestern-perfect Andersens of Father Knows Best, or the never-raised-their-voices Cleavers of Leave It to Beaver. Finally, a soap opera about life I recognize, a soap opera that has the human sense and good humor to be about … me.
Viki, originally played by Gillian Spencer, and Joe, her future husband
And so I keyed into One Life to Live, a show I am still watching 39 years later. Why? The characters were real! And the story of Viki, the show’s leading lady, kept me glued for decades. But it wasn’t only Viki and OLTL‘s ethnicity that kept me watching so long. There’s a simple explanation for why the show has kept my interest throughout its ups and downs. I’ll tell you all here next week as we celebrate the show’s actual anniversary date. Now you tell me what OLTL has meant to you.