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.
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.
Ironically, while Myrtle was a carnie, Ms. Herlie was one of English and American theater’s great Shakespearean
Eileen Herlie, Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney in Hamlet
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.
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.