Irene Dailey: That Exquisite Pain, Aunt Liz

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.

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Irene Dailey

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. 

Comments

  1. Leona says:

    That was a beautiful tribute. Thanks, Marlena, for paying tribute to a brilliant actress and character.

    If there’s a heaven, I hope Hugh Marlowe (Jim Matthews) greeted Ms. Daily with a warm “Lizzzzzz…..”

  2. Damon Marstletoff says:

    Time for you, Marlena, to write several posts about the greatness of Harding Lemay and his writing. It has been strangely missing from this blog!

    Marlena says: What???? Lemay was a long time ago; he was perhaps the only soap great headwriter I never got to interview. However, I learned all I wanted to about him in his book Eight Years in Another World, a real tell-all. Did you know that Lemay, Irene Dailey and Marlena all lived on the same cross-street near Gramercy Park? Lemay boasts in his book about the fabulously cushy townhouse he bought with the dough from AW. He since moved to the West Village; I recall years ago being introduced to him outside his new home, which I think formerly was a church!

  3. esther says:

    Great tribute for a great actress. I remember when she popped up on AW after being gone for so long and I was just so happy — it suddenly felt like home again. She added so much while given so little.

    Thanks for doing this tribute.

  4. Gianni says:

    I never did see Aunt Liz but I was an AW fan from the time I was 11 until the time it ended and your column just reminded how much I miss AW. It was a quintessential 2:00 soap, at least in the 90s when I watched. Not action packed or silly, just good old-fashioned soap with good normal people. It seems like Liz was a true AW character. May she rest in peace and may AW rest in peace. Thanks again for the memories:)

  5. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    Wonderful tribute. Aunt Liz was a wonderful pain in the butt. The character always irritated me, but that was her job. Just like there are gossipy buttinskyies in real life, Liz was always there to stick her nose into everyone else’s business. Characters like that helped make Bay City feel like a real place. I’ve certainly known plenty of Aunt Lizes over the years.

    Looking back, I think she often served as the voice of the audience, saying things viewers were thinking at home.

    But some of my fondest memories of Aunt Liz were with Kyra Sedgewick who played Liz’s granddaughter Julia Shearer 1981-83. Julia brought out a softness and tenderness in Liz that I’d never seen before. Made me care about the character more.

    Thanks for the memories Irene Dailey. RIP.

    Marlena says: Thanks James, and your line about Liz being the voice of the audience is so smart. And I appreciate your memories of Kyra Sedgewick on the show — she was a great actress then as now. At the time she was on AW, we did a big story on her in the magazine I was editing then, Afternoon TV. Our photographer took some shots of her at home. Well, Kyra didn’t like them. Even though she was about 14 at the time she called me and screamed at me like no one else ever has. Memories, like the corner of my mind …

  6. BL says:

    Thanks for this tribute. When I heard the sad news, I was hoping you would have something on Irene Dailey. They don’t make characters like that anymore.

  7. Dave Feldman says:

    Thanks for the tribute to a lovely actress. This was an example of a great re-cast.

    That said, I don’t agree with the way you characterized Audra Lindley’s portrayal. I think you’ve forgotten how vicious the early Liz was and with what gusto and fearlessness Lindley dove into the role. I’ve always felt that Lindley’s strength was in dramatic roles rather than comedy, but after Three’s Company, and possibly because Lindley was so funny and wacky in real life, the die was cast.

    Audra Lindley’s Liz fit seamlessly with Robin Strasser’s Rachel in the same way that Irene Dailey’s synced with Wyndham’s Rachel. I don’t think AW was ever stronger than when Strasser, Lindley, and Ford were all on the show at the same time.

    Marlena says: Dave, I stand corrected and thank you for your sharp memory. AW was my very first soap; I think I was about 12 or 13 during the years Lindley was on. I had forgotten her Liz’ vicious streak. And I agree with you, AW was never stronger than in the Agnes Nixon years when she, Connie Ford and Strasser were on (even in the ensuing Lemay/Rauch era!) I’m so flattered you read the column. As senior soap watchers it is our sacred duty to pass down the good word as to the excellence of soaps past.

  8. Eplinlover says:

    Here’s hopin’ that all our Another World Alum that have passed are in Heaven watchin’ Hulu & AOL!

    Rock on Aunt Liz!

  9. Fabobug says:

    Hi Marlena,
    Thank you for such an eloquent description of Ms. Dailey’s talents. She had the ability to bring dignity to an otherwise thankless role as the supportive busy body. There was always something comforting about seeing her on AW, no matter who she was annoying.

  10. Carl says:

    Thanks Marlena for letting us know about Ms. Dailey’s passing and for this wonderful tribute. I started watching AW in the mid ’80s, and I remember when Aunt Liz (and Dailey) returned. I thought it was excellent. There are actors who improve every scene they’re in, every line they’re given. Obviously, Dailey was one of them.

    Marlena says: Thanks as always, Carl.

  11. Steve says:

    I know there was a Liz who was written out early on, replaced by Audra Lindley. Then there was Nancy Wickwire, the actress they named Ada’s daughter after. Wasn’t she the more venomous Liz.

    Sadly I think I missed many of Liz’s glory years, but no matter how small the scene, Irene Dailey always lingered in the mind. I believe Irene was the reason Liz outlasted most of the Matthews family. They even fired Irene in 1986 during the first hacktackular reign of Maggie DePriest, but she was rehired the next year, returning to the Cory living room with sunglasses and putting on fake airs to get a laugh out of Mac.

    I remember when Liz accidentally told Matt about the circumstances of his conception. Rachel cast Liz out of their circle, and a deeply shamed Liz quit her job as Cory receptionist. Those scenes were hard on the heart and also a very, very strong reminder of the bond between Mac and Liz. He couldn’t stay mad at her for too long.

    I also remember when Liz found out Josie was Russ’ daughter. She unloaded on Sharlene, gritting her teeth and raging that Sharlene had LIED RIGHT TO HER FACE. Sadly, Liz was only a small part of this story, but that moment was pure gold, shockingly good.

    I imagine that Liz is still in Bay City, popping in on Josie to offer parenting advice and more than a little judgment, popping in on Rachel and casting glares at Carl, and popping in at the invisible but presumably still bustling Cory Publishing to ponder the bygone days of White-Out and typewriter ribbons.

    Marlena says: Steve, thank you for the specific memories of Liz. I forgot about the underlying affection between Mac and Liz and that Maggie written out Liz at all. Your remark about Liz still working at Cory “pondering the days of White Out and typewriter ribbons” is priceless! What a rich, rich soap Another World was, what a priceless character Liz was, especially as played by Dailey. I remember Nancy Wickwire; she was a pretty fierce Liz in her day.

  12. NF says:

    Thanks for this beautiful tribute. It’s comforting to know that there are still some people who remember how extraordinary AW was in the 70s! Sadly we will never see again so wonderful a group of actors and actresses in daytime ever again.

    Irene Dailey has always been one of my AW favorite actresses with Beverly McKinsey (Iris), Nancy Frangione (Cecile), Beverly Penberthy (Pat), and Susan Sullivan (Lenore), Maeve Kinkaid (Angie) and Christine Jones (Janice) to name a few. And what great supporting actresses AW had: Gretchen Oehler who played Vivian (and I think passed away recently) was another lady who came from the theater and was certainly not your typical soap “beauty.” Yet name me a viewer who didn’t LOVE seeing Vivian open Iris’ penthouse door or bring her famous Martinis … She did so much with so little and added so much to our viewing pleasure. And can we forget Louise, another original (I loved her voice-her diction), Sylvia Kosloff (Iris long-lost mother), Blaine’s mother from hell (was it Betty Ewing ?), Alma Rudder (and her alter-ego waitress) who tormented first Blaine then “Cecil” as she liked to call her. And Kathleen Widdoes’ Rose Perrini and her moral values and concern for her children. So many wonderful actresses and performances from mostly the 70s and the 80s.

    Sadly Irene Dailey’s death reminded me of all that we had and all that we lost. When they cancelled AW 10 years ago it ended my soap viewing days. AW was my favorite even though the last 15 years of it were not that great. I stayed loyal because of the memories, because of the actors and actresses I loved but who were mostly gone from the show. But until the end there was always the hope that a head writer or a producer would have the intelligence of bringing back those wonderful characters in Bay City. I certainly would not have ended the show with a gorilla that’s for sure …call me crazy but to see old favorites coming back to Bay City to stay for good would have been more enjoyable. The last two weeks of the show could have been the occasion for Jamie, Sandy, Blaine and Maggie to come home to the Cory mansion. Willis and Gwen back from Australia, Cecile back from who knows where and CERTAINLY Iris back from prison (what a character assassination that was!!!) And as a last little wink to Harding Lemay’s genius to have Michael Randolph opening the Matthews old house with his ‘life partner’ and maybe Aunt Liz not very far behind … how about in Alice’s old bedroom ? Now how would have SHE reacted to that situation ? Oh well … we’ll never know … Thanks again Marlena.

    Marlena says: But merci beaucoup for bringing back a great era of AW to me! What talent that show had! And how much of it came directly from the Broadway theater scene of the 70s and 80s!

  13. antmunoz says:

    NF, you just wrote the true, definitive ending of AW. I’ll never think of Carolyn the Gorilla again. Wouldn’t it have been great to see Pat, Marianne, and Missy again too?

  14. Mike says:

    My memory of Irene Dailey was at the Daytime Emmys in 1979, when she was named Best Actress. She walked up on stage to accept, with her pocketbook in hand. As she ascended the stairs, she motioned for a fellow nominee and co-star that year, Beverlee McKinsey to join her on stage…which Ms. McKinsey graciously declined. They just don’t make ‘em like this in daytime anymore.

  15. Wanted to see what Miss Dailey was up to lately and was saddened to read she had passed away. She truly was a remarkable character and made you sit up and take notice of her. Started watching AW around 1981 when on summer break fom grade school, only wish I could have seen more of Aunt Liz’s work from the 70′s decade. I certainly enjoyed her work whenevever I was able to watch, just wished she had more story to work with. When I think of the dearly missed AW I truly think of aunt Liz first and as much of a pain as the character was I always wished she was my aunt as well. May Miss Dailey rest in peace knowing she made Bay City a fun place to visit!

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