Thinking Fans Comment Update October 9: James says Aunt Liz was often the voice of the audience … while Dave Feldman recalls her vicious streak … and more. See Comments below.
By Marlena De Lacroix
As you know, Tony and Daytime Emmy winning actress Irene Dailey died of colon cancer September 24 in Santa Rosa, California. She was 88.
Her Aunt Liz on Another World (1974-86, 87-93) was a most memorable and invaluable supporting character on soaps, the epitome of a provocateur / Pain in the Ass. In other words, if you were a Matthews or a Cory and you were going through some kind of problem or crisis and saw her coming, you knew you were in for a real verbal wuppin’. Meddling was her game and no one, I mean no one, made trouble for characters on soaps better than Irene Dailey’s Aunt Liz. That’s because theater-trained Dailey played Aunt Liz as a living, breathing unhappy human being, not as a cartoon or caricature.
The first Aunt Liz on AW — I remember her well — was played very much in the comic vein by Audra Linley. Audra Linley, who later became infamous as Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company? One and the same! Lindley’s funny voice did it all. But when Dailey took over the part two actresses later, Aunt Liz became a real, multi-
Supporting characters like Aunt Liz used to make the tapestry of soap opera rich and textured. Today, hardly anyone like her is even considered for casting on a soap. Poor us!
dimensional person. Dailey was always so vital, so strong and so real on screen that her Aunt Liz became one formidable power in Bay City. Remember Dailey’s bright blue eyes, alive with anger and fight, her posture always proud, her chest ever thrust forward? Underneath that feisty surface, however, simmered a fierce inner turmoil mixed with a secret but intense vulnerability.
Such a powerful actress was needed to play up against the almost gigantic, multi-layered and very moody characters featured in Bay City in that classic “theater” era of AW, the earlier years written by Harding Lemay, and a great many of them produced by Paul Rauch. For example, there was the stubborn, proud Rachel, as exquisitely played by Vicky Wyndham; the stubborn, bigger than life Mac, played by the magnificent Douglas Watson.
Aunt Liz was Mac’s secretary in those days, but she clashed with everyone, especially the leftover members of her own Matthews family. Old AW fans, wasn’t it obvious sometimes that Liz had a crush on Mac? Could that help explain her ever frustrated personality, her non-stop angst and antagonism? Of course, even before Dailey played her, Liz always was a walking headache. Dailey’s Aunt Liz was a true supporting character in the best soap sense, her inner turmoil drawing out the worst in other characters, making for some many spectacular fights and on-going personality clashes. Good grief, was that woman unhappy!
Irene Dailey won a Tony winner for her performance in The Subject Was Roses. By the time she came to AW, she had dozens of theater and early TV credits. How deeply the theatrical talent pool enriched AW! Hardly anyone who is cast on soaps today has experience like this. And — gasp! — Dailey, who won a Daytime Emmy in 1979, was over 40 when she started on soaps! Supporting characters like Aunt Liz used to make the tapestry of soap opera rich and textured. Today, hardly anyone like her is even considered for casting on a soap. Poor us!
Here’s a quick personal word about Dailey. When I moved to my block here near Gramercy Park in Manhattan almost twenty years ago, I was thrilled to learn (somehow, I can’t remember now) that Irene Dailey lived right down the street from me, in the building over the Chinese restaurant on the corner of Third Avenue. I never saw her, nor met her, but I always think about her when I walk past the building. Of course, it’s nice that soap opera fan moi lives so close to Aunt Liz, but to tell you the truth, I was and still am in awe that I could live in a place so close to the former home of such a renowned actress, a total professional who was the best at what she did. Rest in peace, Ms. Dailey.