All My Children’s Eileen Herlie Dies; Her Myrtle Was a Beloved “Mom” to Us All

Eileen Herlie

Thinking Fans mourn the passing of Ms. Herlie:  Pat loved her cosmpolitan gypsy flair … Tess relished her confrontations with Langley … Dale says she stole our hearts … while Joey wishes for Myrtle’s blueberry muffins and lemonade … and more. See Comments below. 

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By Marlena De Lacroix 

I just heard that Eileen Herlie passed away today at age 90 from pneumonia, and as an old All My Children fan, I’m pretty choked up.  As Myrtle Fargate, the carnie turned Pine Valley character confidante and advisor since 1976, Herlie was universally loved.

Myrtle was all hearty humor and blithe spirit, yet she was also warm and wise, and she was one of the best mother figures ever. She was not the biological mother of the twin character Kitty and Kelly, played by Francesca James, but through some plot twists became just as close to each of them as an adopted mother.(Myrtle came on to AMC initially as a drunk hired by snobby Phoebe Wallingford to fake being the mother of Kitty, in order to harm Kitty’s romance with Phoebe’s son Linc.)  And she was surrogate mother to characters such as Susan Lucci’s Erica Kane, after Erica’s mother Mona died, and, most recently, to Thorsten Kaye’s  Zach, who is so lost he really needs a mom. At one point she was also revealed to be the  long lost biological mother of the wandering Rae Cummings, played by guest Linda Dano. With real wisdom, humor and a nurturing spirit, Myrtle became another reflection of the woman who created her, and whose spirit has permeated the show since its creation in 1970 —  Agnes Nixon.Hamlet

Ironically, while Myrtle was a carnie, Ms. Herlie was one of English and American theater’s great Shakespearean

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Eileen Herlie, Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney in Hamlet 

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actresses.  Her Gertrude in Laurence Olivier’s landmark 1948 film Hamlet was definitive.  She was way too young for the role then, 13 years younger than Olivier as Hamlet. But such minor barriers never stop an actress of her stature.  She played Hamlet’s mother again at a more age appropriate time in her life, in the 1964 Broadway production opposite Richard Burton, and the next year in a filmed version of that production. In 1955 she played the role of the spirited Irene Malloy in the Broadway production of The Matchmaker, Thornton Wilder’s comedy that later became the musical Hello, Dolly.   She was nominated for a Tony, playing opposite Jackie Gleason, in 1960′s Take Me Along, a musical version of Eugene O’Neill’s light-hearted play Ah, Wilderness!

Shortly after her 1976 debut on All My Children, I came all the way into Manhattan from an outlying college just to see Ms. Herlie in a well-received Broadway play called Crown Matrimonial.  I was a twin English history freak and devout AMC fan.  Ms. Herlie  played Elizabeth, the Duchess of York and eventual Queen Mother of England, who became embittered as a result of the 1936 abdication of her weak brother-in-law King Edward VIII to marry the American divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson. The abdication left Elizabeth’s sickly husband to become King George VI.  Elizabeth despised Wallis. Because of the abdication, Elizabeth’s entire family was uprooted and changed forever and she was furious. Herlie was magnificent in the difficult, highly emotional role, and it was shocking for me to see her play a Royal, while on AMC at that time she was a very lower class English woman who worked in a carnival.Eileen and Susan

It’s called real acting, honey, and we in daytime were so fortunate to have Ms. Herlie for as long as we did.  She worked until recently this year!  Like Irene Dailey (Aunt Liz,  Another World)  who died earlier this week, she invested all her versatility and rich theatrical acting  experience in her soap role. For her effort, she was nominated three times for a Daytime Emmy. Who could ever forget both her comic and seriously dramatic scenes opposite the great Louis Edmonds, who played  “aristocratic”  Langley Wallingford, a.k.a Lenny Vlasik,  the secret ex-carnival star who married society grande dame Phoebe Wallingford (the late Ruth Warrick).  Only Myrtle knew of Langley’s real background and she tortured the hilarious stuffed shirt with that knowledge for years!

After that, Myrtle became a Pine Valley staple, a mother figure to many characters — a mother who was by turns loving, funny, sarcastic,  wise and comforting. We should all be so lucky to have a Myrtle in our lives to lean on!  AMC will indeed never be the same without Myrtle, or Ms. Herlie.

Comments

  1. Dale says:

    Marlena, this is terribly sad news! Two great soap legends passing in one week.

    My first soap love was AMC circa 1975. A little less than a year into watching that show, Ms. Herlie debuted as con artist Myrtle Lum, who worked with Phoebe Tyler to scam Kitty Tyler into believing that Myrtle was Kitty’s mother. Do you remember that? She did if for the money that Phoebe was paying her, but she came to love Kitty and eventually confessed her crime against her. Although AMC was so well written at the time, only a consummate actor can make the actual words and performance burn into your memory for 32 years!!

    I remember well Myrtle’s confession to Kitty (and Lincoln!), as well as the subsequent confrontation with Phoebe. Those were the days! Soon afterward, Kitty died, and Myrtle left town. One day, about a year later, LInc got a call from…..Myrtle! I remember it so well! And she told LInc that “Kitty” was alive! Well, it turned out to be Kelly, Kitty’s twin. But no matter….Myrtle was back! And she never left. I was so happy!!!

    Herlie played the character as tough, tender, smart, and loving. No wonder she stole our hearts!!! What a loss for AMC and the acting community. I shall miss Ms. Herlie.

    Marlena: Thank you as always, darling Dale! I love that you remember the details of Myrtle’s early days. She was such a great and most importantly unique soap character. She was beautifully conceived and written by Agnes and played by an actress like no other. Genius times two! We hardlly ever see that in daytime anymore, let alone two working together!

  2. Traci says:

    The only thing you forgot, and maybe it was on purpose, was that Myrtle was also the true mom to Rae Cummings, as played by Linda Dano. =) Granted, it was an odd storyline, I get it, but it gave something to the very beloved character of Myrtle, and it also sqeezed in LInda Dano’s character for all of us Dano Fans.

    God bless Myrtle!

    Marlena says: Oh thanks so much, Traci, for reminding me of this! Of all the soap characters in the world, only Myrtle could be believable as Rae’s mother. Seeing Dano and Herlie work together on AMC was heartwarming. I am and have always been a huge Dano fan! Bring her back to daytime, I say!

  3. Joey says:

    Both Myrtle and Eileen will be greatly missed. I often wished I could escape my own life and head on over to Myrtle’s boarding house for some blueberry muffins and lemonade.

    One small correction, though — Myrtle wasn’t the biological mother of Kitty & Kelly; she was hired by Phoebe to pose as the mother.

    Marlena says: I’ve checked my personal sources and made the correction. Thanks!

  4. EricMontreal22 says:

    Thanks for such a touching tribute to someone who was a great, classy lady– Her character, Myrtle, was also truly one fo the last of a sort of soap character that no longer seems to exist…

    Marlena says: Thanks Eric, that means a lot to me coming from a soap historian. A character like Myrtle no longer exists because as I said above: 1)there are so few genius headwriters with real hearts and/or wise woman/motherly instincts in daytime anymore, and 2)there are so few genius theater-trained actors in daytime anymore. I know you are a huge Loving/The City fan Eric, but may I humbly suggest you study the Nixon days of AMC (1970-1996) to REALLY understand what goes into making a soap great.

  5. Matthew Cormier says:

    I am so saddened by this loss. Eileen is one of the greatest performers to ever grace the entertainment medium and her loss is momumental to entertainment as a whole and to “AMC”. Though i am a bit too young to recall most of Myrtle’s glory days i have fond memories of Myrtle being a confidante and motherly figure to Erica, Bianca, Kendall, Brooke, Maria, Dixie and countless others. It was always Myrtle that could restore logical and common sense into a room. When Erica, Brooke, Maria and Opal went at it, Myrtle was there to calm everyone down.

    I will always recall Myrtle as a major character in AMC history and her loss is major.

  6. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    What wonderful memories of Eileen and Myrtle. Thanks for sharing them with us. I can only image how mindblowing it must have been like to see her on stage as the future Queen Mother and on screen as Myrtle Lum at the same time. Ahh, to live in the Big Apple.

    Myrtle came along at a time when Agnes Nixon was filling AMC with other side of the tracks characters who often had nefarious schemes — Billy Clyde Tuggle, Donna Beck, Estelle LaTour, Tyrone, Benny Sago, Kelly Cole, Langley/Lenny and Myrlte. I’d never expereinced downtrodded desperate characters like thiese before. I was repulsed and fascinated by them since they represented people I’d never met before. Not in real life. And not on the soaps I watched.

    But Myrlte had staying power and a heart. She outlasted all of them. Myrtle was another voice of the audience character who often spoke the truth and always cut through the bull to the heart of the matter. Always liked her spunk.

    While I will fondly remember the mother-daughter type relationship Myrtle and Kitty/Kelly shared, some of my fondest memories are of her with Chris Bruno, who played gay teacher Michael Delaney. They had nice chemistry togehter and we certainly needed her motherly voice during that storyline.

    And speaking of chemistry, she had the most amazing chemistry with Thorston Kaye. In fact, Myrtle and Zack’s chemistry is far better than anyone they’ve paired him with so far. I’ll miss seeing their scenes together.

    I do hope AMC does a fitting tribute to her along the lines of what they did for Ruth Warwick. After 32 years on the show, she certainly deserves it.

    Marlena says: Thanks for this wonderful letter. You are right about Myrtle surviving all Agnes’ other nefarious characters of the period. And I agree with you about Herlie’s wonderful chemistry with Kaye — can it be because both were highly trained theater actors? How I dream of talents as superior as Herlie’s to act against Thorsten in the future! Outside of scenes with Herlie, Thorsten’s classical thespian talents have been so ill-used on AMC.

  7. AMCHistory says:

    Ms. Marlena,

    Thank you so much for this article, since hearing of Ms. Herlie’s passing I was waiting for your reflection. You had the opportunity to interact with Daytime’s finest, a caliber that Ms. Herlie clearly contributed to.

    I write the History features and the “Where are They Now?” for the All My Children History project and the Pine Valley Bulletin. I could only dream now of ever getting the honor of interviewing Ms. Herlie. She must have so many stories about the early days of television, life on the stage, and the golden age of film.

    I am scouring my computer for as many pictures of Ms. Herlie from her time at AMC. Unfortunately, I do not have many. She was definitely one of AMC’s unsung heroes. You know you had a classic episode when Eileen was on. Supporting in terms of storyline, but always the focus of the scene. Oh Ms. Herlie, you will be missed.

  8. BL says:

    I really don’t have a favorite scene or story with Myrtle. I just appreciated her presence in Pine Valley; that she was able to speak the truth and those around her listened. The boarding house she ran was somewhere that was safe and welcoming for characters regardless of their status in the community. I knew Eileen Herlie had been classically trained, but I didn’t know her credits. This is a loss not only for those who watch soaps.

  9. Pat says:

    Lovely tribute Marlena…

    Eileen Herlie brought heart to AMC, she brought a cosmopolitan gypsy like flair to AMC. Her smile, her talent and her grace sustained her for decades.

    The thing with Eileen and Myrtle is that neither one of them got “old” in the sense that so many characters become. She stayed active, stayed feisty, stayed vibrant and stayed unique. That is a testament to Herlie and the enduring popularity of Myrtle, especially on a network like ABC where getting past 40 is a crime.

    In losing her, I feel that I have lost a member of my extended family for Eileen was ‘that’ kind of actress. She touched people in ways that I don’t think she ever could have imagined.

    Goodbye Eileen and Goodnight sweet Myrtle. God Speed.

  10. Violet says:

    I actually cried when I heard this news. When you’ve watched soaps for 30 years, these characters are like family members. I started watching ”All My Children” in 1979, and I remember Myrtle and Langley’s hilarious interactions. She knew his true identity (Lenny), and he was TERRIFIED that Myrtle would blab to Phoebe. It took 5 years for the secret to come out.

    Myrtle was a gem. I loved her sage advice (drawn from her years working in the carnival). Eileen was always great. Never did she give a less-than-stellar performance. I loved her in scenes with Susan Lucci’s Erica. She actually had chemitry with every single character (young and old).

    Bless her. She will be missed…. Pine Valley (and Daytime) will never be the same.

  11. Dave Feldman says:

    Gee, what a wonderful tribute. Eileen Herlie was a particular favorite of mine, She was able to pivot better and faster than almost any actor on soaps. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see her work with Thorsten Kaye, but her comedy bits with Louis Edmonds and dramatic scenes with Francesca James are indelible in my mind.

    Along with Ina Hopkins/Sallie Gracie on One Life to Live, Myrtle/Eileen made boarding houses seem better than the Ritz any day.

  12. tess says:

    Myrtle was such a unique character. ALL MY CHILDREN once had a plethora of fun, one-of-a-kind characters, Myrtle, Opal, Billy Clyde, Ray Gardner. I even liked Hector Santos. But now daytime is about hunks and babes. Alas!

    I so enjoyed Myrtle’s confrontations with Langley, the late Louis Edmonds. Myrtle knew that she was familiar with Langley, but she couldn’t recall where she had seen him. Langley vehemently denied knowing Myrtle. “I’m a respected professor,” he exclaimed to Phoebe. “Where would I have know this coarse, dreadful harridan? She has me confused with someone else, my sweet.”

    But he knew Myrtle alright. Years ago, Langley had snatched Myrtle’s pocketbook.

    Such fun! Rest in peace, Eileen Herlie. You brought joy to millions and you will be missed.

    Marlena says: You Thinking Fans choke me up! What beautiful letters and memories you send! The incredible things you say, such as AMC History’s “She was a supporting character, but always was the focus of a scene;” Pat’s “She brought a cosmopolitan gypsy flair to AMC. She never got old;” Violet’s “She had chemistry with every single character old and young,” and Dave’s “Eileen/Myrtle made boarding houses seem better than the Ritz.”

    We old soap fans really are a community as we mourn such a great lady, aren’t we? You Thinking Fans all make me so proud to be able to write this column. (And Marlena apologizes for not being able to respond individually to letters this morning. I have class this afternoon and must prepare. xxxooo)

  13. esther says:

    I had no idea until I read this that she passed away. I’m so sad. This has been a very bad week for lovers of great soap acting. Beautiful tribute.

  14. Jermone Briggs says:

    What a huge loss this is for AMC. Myrtle was such a great, one-of-a-kind character. There really was no other like her. I’ll miss her so very much. Even though she was featured rarely in recent years, her appearances were a treat and a shot of fresh air. Myrtle was always young at heart. We should all be like Myrtle when we reach our golden years.

    RIP, Eileen Herlie—-and Thank You!

  15. Gianni says:

    What terrible news. Given AMC’s terrible track record with their living veterans I always feel like these characters, my sorta family members are leaving me at an alarming rate. But with Brooke, I can imagine she’s out of town, Dixie…not really dead. With Myrtle, I feel like my dear great aunt is gone forever. Devastating.

  16. n69n says:

    Even in the years that i wasnt watching AMC, knowing that Myrtle was there, and that I could return to her at any time, gave me a feeling of safety.

    That’s gone now.

    We are all getting older…its frightening to think of a future without the comforts of All My Children

    All blessings to Eileen Herlie & our dear sweet Myrtle.

    Marlena says: What a sweet, sweet letter, Norn!

  17. Harold the Dog says:

    One of my favorite Myrtle moments was at the wedding of Jenny and Tony Barclay. Greg bursts into the church right before the “I do’s” and some guys– including Tony’s father–try to hold Greg back. But good old Myrt attacks Tony’s father, allowing Greg to rush to Jenny, whisking her away.

    Pine Valley has lost it’s last mother figure. Myrtle took over for Grandma Kate Martin. Now they’re both gone. Sad.

    Marlena says: Harold the Dog—how my old AMC loving heart leapt when I saw that name! Harold had such personality! And that Myrtle moment attacking Tony’s dad enabling Greg to take Jenny away– what spirit, grit and goodness Myrtle had! I want my old AMC and Myrtle back! I’m sniffling here…

  18. renee says:

    My heart broke also when I heard this news and my first email was to my friend Di who I knew would understand the pain. So many memories of myrtle and all so wonderfully encapsulated by your wonderful readers. Marlena I love you for this column. But let me give a shout out to AMC who, although fleetingly, continued to give us glimpses of Myrtle. No, it wasn’t enough, but her last scene with Zach was a surprise and brought a big smile to my face as she mothered him and he took it. I thought wow, if Phoebe and Langley could only walk through that door, invite her to lunch, stop by the hospital and bump into Kate and the original Ruth (Mary Fickett) I’d probably miss how the scene would end because who can see when we’re crying…

    For the good times Eileen, this Bud’s for you

    Marlena says: Oh, Renee I love you too. You vision of all our past All My Children favorites … I’m really sobbing here … oh Pine Valley of old, the humor and the wildly original characters; full of heart and love and wisdom, the families, and the wit, home … the best soap, my favorite soap ever …

  19. Kathryn says:

    I hope AMC does a grand tribute to this fine lady. As others have already stated, Myrtle/Eileen was a force and she was always entertaining. I’ll miss seeing that red hair and carnie sass I guess when I need my Myrtle fix, I’ll have to pop in some of my old tapes. Gone, but never forgotten…. we love you, Myrtle/Eileen! I’m sure you’re in Heaven, chatting away with Fra Hefflin about your times on AMC!

  20. K. says:

    Ms. Herlie was one of the last of a disappearing breed: the mature, theatre-trained character actors who added so much spunk and flavor to the soaps they graced. I will NEVER forget Myrtle Lum Fargate, her boarding house OR her boutique.

  21. Diana Krantz says:

    Oh, I felt awful when I heard this news! Myrtle was like my second grandma. Yes, 90 is OLD, but she was so full of spirit. I loved when Myrtle drank spiked lemonade with Simone and they both dished about men! It’s those little intimate character scenes that I’ve always loved—and felt AMC always did the best. Myrtle was like Sophia on ‘The Golden Girls’…. very loving, but a no-nonsense dame. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, but she always was there to offer her advice and be a comfort to those in need.

  22. Nancy says:

    I know that Agnes Nixon wrote these words before Myrtle was created. But if there was ever a character who offered true, unconditional love and acceptance, it was Myrtle.

    So, in memory of her and the fine actress who played her…

    The great and the least, the rich and the poor,
    The weak and the strong, in sickness and in health,
    In joy and sorrow, in tragedy and triumph,
    You are all my children

    Marlena says: Thanks for sending Agnes’ words. Mothers and children (and surrogate children) has always been the overarching theme of All My Children!

  23. Edythe H says:

    Ms. Herlie as Myrtle was a Fiesty Old Gal, that could put the likes of Erica in her place in no time at all..When Erica was battling with Mona all the time Myrtle intervened and settled Erica down very quick. She became Erica’s confidate and a role model for all the women on A.M.C. At some point they all ended up talking to Myrtle and going to her for advise and help with their lives. A.M.C. will not be the same without her.
    She was a real Lady in every way…

    Marlena says: Thanks Edythe … a real lady in every way …

  24. Eviana DeMassey says:

    Myrtle was also a rare CROSSOVER DIVA in daytime… here is one of my favorite scenes. A delicious moment with Myrtle going to see Rae in Llanview (the city of misplaced souls and outcasts, in contrast to Pine Valley as community of family and ties) and bumping into her old Pine Valleyite Skye Chandler (little did they know they would be biologically related)…

    anyhow, Eileen and the genius Robin Christopher get into a bitching face-off of truly humourous proportions. All i can say is that the chemistry between Skye and Myrtle was cruelly underdeveloped. My only regret is that Eileen Herlie never got to crossover to GH after Skye was outcast from the Qs and give the likes of Tracy what for! Myrtle was an individual, and absolutely timeless. Remember her hanging out with Lena and Bianca in the first throes of their romance? She was a buddy to all ages, a true pal for everyone.

    i forgot to post the scene!
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=7kde53NaXTY

  25. sven says:

    The end of an era. I began watching ALL MY CHILDREN in 1976. I remember this was when Donna, the teen-aged prostitute, came to Pine Valley. Brooke also was introduced around this time. Longtime viewers: Who remembers the storyline in which Phoebe took a drunken tumble down the staircase and later faked paralysis? The memories of her rolling around everywhere in that wheelchair, with her flask of boozed tucked in her pocket……..too funny! Well, another character that was introduced in 1976 was Myrtle. I’ll never forget her. I loved the character from the very start and very much enjoyed how she wouldn’t take any crap from haughty Phoebe. All these classic characters are dying off. We need more of them. I rather watch 100 Myrtles or Phoebes than 1 buff model/actor wannabe.

  26. Cynthia says:

    Myrtle was such a colorful character. Like everyone else, I will miss her tremendously.
    From her stories of working in the carnival to her romance with Santa Claus, there never was a dull moment with Myrtle! Her fire never cooled down with age.

    Marlena, do you know if Myrtle will die in the upcoming tornado? Maybe she wasn’t supposed to originally, but now that Miss Herlie has passed, will there be a rewrite?

    Marlena says: I remember Myrtle’s romance with Santa Claus! I heard the rumor too about Myrtle dying in the tornado, but that would break my heart and yours too I am sure! I have had enough sorrow in my own family this year to deal with them killing off a beloved character in such a tragic manner. Such a death would be shocking — and that’s the kind of thing ABC thinks attracts new viewers these days. I want no part of it! Cynthia, I have no idea if this will actually happen.

  27. Jason says:

    I still remember her awesome scenes during the Bianca/Michael story!

  28. Gene says:

    Hi, Marlena, I want to give my condolences to the family of Eileen Herlie as Myrtle. I always love her frank talk to Erica, Kendall, Bianca, Zach, and the rest of Pine Valley and was not just an average elder woman. She was a lady who speak her mind and didn’t let anyone get over on her, but listen to many people’s problems and talk with them like she was like a mother to them. I hope that Pratt does right and give the character and the actress a big sendoff with a funeral fit for a queen of daytime, Ms Eileen Herlie.

  29. Daydreamer says:

    I had a chance to meet Eileen Herlie back in the early ’80s. She was lovely and had the same spunk and wit of Myrtle. It’s sad we will no longer see her grace daytime television, but no one can ever forget her. I, too, hope AMC does a nice tribute to her – devoting a whole episode.

  30. pjs says:

    Like so many others, I will miss those understandably rare but always welcome appearances of Eileen Herlie as Myrtle in recent years. Despite her frailty, she always delivered the goods. She knew that Myrtle was our voice in Pine Valley, that she could tell other character exactly what we’d want them to hear if we ourselves were in the same room with them.

    Myrtle was the last part of the old and original infrastructure of AMC. A story character as needed, but mostly one of those folks whose stands back and observes every one else’s story…as we the viewers do. Pine Valley used to have many such characters: Ruth, Joe, Phoebe, Charles, Mona, Kate, Stuart, Myra. They were the Pine Valley background against whom Tara and Phil, Erica and Jeff, Chuck and Donna, Linc and Kitty, Nina and Cliff, and every romantic and/or troubled couple or character played against. Myrtle lasted longer than most. Now, only Stuart remains.

    Even the powers that be seem to realized how frayed their infrastructure has become. How else do you explain the remarkable dialogue between current newbies Randi and Carmen about how they used to enjoy shopping at that woman’s boutique, mangling Myrtle’s name in an effort to remember it. But we were told through that dialogue that they had crossed paths with Myrtle and that she had been someone who had deemed them worthy of her help. Remarkable! That the show used Myrtle without even having her there to give some validation to the quickly made-up back history of 2 new characters shows us that the people currently running the show may actually have a clue as to what’s been missing.

    Myrtle and Eileen. You will be missed. The loss of a romantic couple or character will jerk our tears. The loss of the bedrock background characters and character actors leave a hole in the fabric of the show itself.

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