Jim Reilly, Very Fondly Remembered

Thinking Fans remember James E. Reilly: Jonnysbro says nobody else could have written Passions … Fabobug says Reilly “knew how to think outside the bubble” … Jenn appreciated how he used his Catholic background … and more. See Comments below. 

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By Marlena De Lacroix

It’s one thing to write an obituary for an actress you’ve seen and admired on television, and quite another to write one for someone with whom you were friendly for many years.  To tell you the truth, I don’t really feel like writing at all right now because Jim Reilly died today unexpectedly at the age of 60 while recovering from cardiac surgery.

Jim and I were friends for years for two reasons:  we both liked to laugh, and, as two stay-at-home writers, we were self-chosen outcasts in the fairly social soap industry.  He was an infamous recluse.   Whether he was writing Days of Our Lives or Passions, I knew he was alive because I’d get phone calls from his various lavish new homes, successively in Los Angeles or Amagansett or Connecticut.   He met

Timmy, invented by Jimmy and played by Josh, was a character who evoked pure joy.  At least for me … and I’m sure for a lot of you out there.

me for lunch once in Westwood around 1992 when I in Los Angeles, and as we ate he kept saying, “I won’t come out for anyone. Bill Bell, yes, and you, yes.  And especially not for Ken (Corday, by then his hated Days boss).”  But when he said things like that, he didn’t sound bitchy.  He just laughed and laughed. Jim always laughed.

Because Jim knew exactly who he was.  He had no pretensions whatsoever.   He grew up in a  Irish working class family in the Bronx.  He went to Catholic schools — and if you watched his soaps, with their collection of nuns, priests and other Catholic characters, Christmas Eve Midnight Masses and even exorcisms, he never let you forget his Catholic upbringing.

Jim didn’t sit in the back row dreaming of being a soap writer. He told me simply how he found his vocation: “I was in my third year of med school and I went to a party in Palm Springs, and someone came up to me and said, “You want to be a soap writer? And I said ‘yes.’” Well, that was his story, no details offered. I believe it.

When I met Jim at a group interview I did when he was co-headwriting Guiding Light with Lorraine Broderick and Stephen Demorest, he boasted that he had already worked as a writer on nine shows, just about every soap but One Life To Live.  And by then it was only 1991!  He looked like an adored old boyfriend I had from college, and that’s how we started talking and joking.  The next thing I knew he was in L.A. writing Days, eventually levitating Marlena, and getting outrageously good ratings for doing so.  Suddenly, he was a celebrity headwriter for doing what no one else in the industry seemed to know how to do anymore in a suddenly changing medium: raise ratings.

But when he won “fame,” he continued to stay just where he earned it: on daytime soaps.  The one thing I ever heard him despise was fellow soap writers who put on airs.  “They’re always saying, ‘Well, what I really want to do is primetime, but for now I’ll have to do this.’”  Jim loved daytime, loved living and creating in our little daytime world. And was he ever creative! I think he really loved daytime most because he could create something in his head, and almost instantly it would be on the screen. Where else, he’d marvel, could that happen so quickly?

Whether it was the Marlena exorcism, or the many personalities of Susan Banks on Days, or Tabitha going back to 1620 to go on trail in the Salem Witch Trials, it would all come out of Jim’s very fertile imagination.  My favorite Reilly story, which I must have written about a dozen times, was Underground France on Days. That story, where John was going to have his head cut off in the guillotine, just cracked me up.  It was so elaborate, so nuts.  But nutsy in a fun way — and Jim did it because he knew French history! Jim was very well read, very up on the events of the day, very knowledgeable on many academic subjects.  When he created Hecuba, the character Robin Strasser so wonderfully played on Passions, he had me running to the bookstore for a copy of the Iliad.

At the end, Passions was full of very bad storylines. I’m sure soap board posters will use the occasion of his death to bitch about this anew. But oh the imagination, and the ideas, and most of all the good humor Jim had!

For Passions, Jim created my favorite daytime character ever for a 3’2″ actor named Josh Ryan Evans.  (He passed away in 2002.)  He was on the show a few months before I realized that Timmy was really Jimmy. Remember all the crazy fantasies Timmy had?  When he disco danced a la John Travolta? When he became a WWI doughboy?  When he was Rasputin’s butler (Tabitha was having a wishful romance with the fabled Russian monk).  When Timmy dressed up as a miniature doctor?  (Remember, Jim went to med school?)  Jim loved making up these outlandish situations because he knew Josh was a great actor who could play the hell out of them all. Timmy, invented by Jimmy and played by Josh, was a character who evoked pure joy.  At least for me … and I’m sure for a lot of you out there.

My favorite Jim memory happened in December 2000, when I was present at the first meeting ever of Jimmy and Timmy. It occurred at the NBC Experience store here in New York, when Josh was in town for a personal appearance.  Not only did Jim come out of his seclusion to meet Josh, but he arrived smiling … and sociable!  They shook hands, big Jim and little Tim, just like Walt Disney and his famous creation Mickey Mouse in a famous photograph. Jim was so happy that day, he dived into a crowd of Passions fans, accepting compliments and slaps on the back. The famous recluse wasn’t alone anymore.  He was swarmed by fans who just loved what he did best … which was to create.   That’s the joy, laughter and real  affection  with which I will always remember Jim Reilly.

Comments

  1. Matthew says:

    Thank you, Marlena, for a very touching insider’s view on what made Mr. Reilly tick. Your revelation of Jimmy being Timmy explains an awful lot and puts some of the things he did I maybe kinda disagreed with into perspective.

    While Mr. Reilly made some very controversial moves in his days (no pun intended — well, maybe slightly) there is no arguing the influence he’s had on daytime as a whole.

    Bravo, Madame Delacroix!

  2. Rakesh says:

    What an awesome tribute! :)

    I never knew JER grew up in the Bronx. Wow. Is his birthday really July 15th?

    LMAO @ him hating Corday. I loved Josh/Timmy too. Jim never forgot Josh and Timmy. He made sure he ended Passions with them.

  3. esther says:

    Another beautiful tribute. My condolences to you. I’m glad you have such joyful memories.

    This makes three. Please let this be the last death in daytime for a long time.

  4. Fabobug says:

    HI Marlena,

    Thank you for such an illuminating eulogy. I’ve always been critical of Reilly, complaining how he ruined the soul of the DAYS I knew, and resented the way he seemed to intellectually undervalue his audience.

    BUT, I respected the way he kept the integrity of Passions consistent through the years. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but one may argue it was the most creatively stable and consistent soap from the past ten years. He certainly knew how to think outside the bubble.

    Through your view, I feel I can better understand how Reilly used his characters to connect with the world from which he secluded himself. It gives me a very different perspective on his work.

    During the day I couldn’t help but fantasize about Reilly sitting alive and well on his Melaswen island, laughing at us for buying into the ruse of his untimely death — just like a plot hatched by a Crane of a DiMera. Somewhere I’d like to think of him in complete control, knowing our memories and words will always keep him alive.

    Marlena says: Damon, so sincerely glad you are our Soap Shrink 24/7. It never occured to me that recluse Reilly used his characters to communicate with the outside world. I know what a big Days fan you have always been, so for you to extend your empathy to Jim, when you didn’t like the way he wrote your show, is a great demonstration of empathy. Which is the important lesson you taught me to feel a few months ago when I was dealing with someone who was hurting me a lot!

  5. JONNYSBRO says:

    Marlena, first of all I want to give you my condolences because you lost an amazing friend. It is so facinating you got to talk to James Reilly because he was such a mystery to so many. Marlena, I think many people give credit to Nancy Curlee who was head writer of GL but Reilly who was also at the helm is overlooked. When you see old school GL, the Reilly themes were there in those stories. He had a much bigger influence on GL than probably most give him credit for.

    Marlena, his DAYS run from 1992-1997 was a phenomenon. What I loved about Reilly’s writing was that it was outlandish, ridiculous and nutty, but his climaxes made it so worth it. I loved Marlena’s possession, Maison Blanche, Aremid and Sam’s comeuppance, but most of all his gold was Kristen/Susan. That storyline was so wacky but it was so addicting to watch it. It was definitely Eileen Davidson’s career high. The climax of Kristen/Susan brought the highest ratings DAYS had seen in years and almost overtook Y&R. He made Corday such a fortune. Corday IMO never appreciated Reilly in that respect. I think he was upset when Reilly left DAYS to create Passions when DAYS was coming off of such a ratings high.

    The first year of Passions, I loved it. It was goofy, badly acted but so fun to watch. I loved Timmy and Tabby. Passions was so James Reilly because nobody else could have written that. Passions was his baby. I am so glad he got to finish the show. Marlena, can you imagine if Passions was still airing and a new head writer writing it?

    The major thing is how after Reilly became so famous, every head writer tried to copy at one point. Nobody could do it. We saw recently on OLTL with 1968 or any of those type of Reilly stories or when Esensten/Brown did the Clone. Reilly even commented on the Clone storyline and said it did not work because you were not invested in the Clone. With Marlena’s possession you were totally invested with the characters. IMO I hope daytime pays tribute to your friend because IMO there will never be another James Reilly. He was wild, creative, interesting, entertaining and a major part of daytime. It is so sad because daytime lost another big legend. No matter what he will always be remembered.

    Marlena says: Thanks for the terrific letter, Jonny. I agree totally with you that Jim never got enough credit for the very early 90s Guiding Light for which some soap critics reward “full credit” to Nancy Curlee. When I interviewed co-headwriters Jim/Lorraine Broderick and Stephen Demorest in 91 at the GL studio, Curlee had just left for maternity leave. She was never mentioned once in the interview, and I never heard about her “legendary” status until more than a decade later here on the internet.

  6. Dave Feldman says:

    What a lovely obituary, Marlena. I’m sorry for your loss and the loss of all who enjoyed his work. Here’s hoping Jim’s having fun with Timmy up there.

    Marlena says: Thanks, Dave. Old soaps friends always mean a lot to me!

  7. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    What a nice tribute you’ve written So sorry you’re having to write so many lately.

    But what a specail honor that he’d come out of seclusion to have lunch with you or Bill Bell, but not Ken Corday! What a compliment! You two must have really struck up a friendship.

    I so admired much of what he did on Days the first go round. Second time, not so much so.

    And Passions was a wonderful treat. The first four years were amazing, even if they moved so verrrryyyy slowly. But he sure knew how to mix camp wiht drama! That show never recovered from the death of Josh Ryan Evans in 2002. And knowing Timmy was Reilly’s alter ego explains a lot.

    Thanks for the memories James Reilly.

  8. That picture of Reilly resembles Josh Ryan Evans. It’s fitting that he was Reilly’s alter-ego. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more evidence of a soap writer having fun than Reilly’s scripting for Timmy. Thanks for the story of their meeting.

  9. christine says:

    Wonderful tribute! I agree, he had wonderful imagination! Some stuff was bizarre, tasteless and just dull, but Salem Stalker SL is a soap CLASSIC.

  10. John says:

    It is fashionable to deride Reilly now but there is no denying that Days gained viewers in the mid 90′s when every other soap was losing viewers. Yes, he created fantasic, and shall we say, outrageous stories, but they were grounded in the real history of the characters on Days and in larger than life romantic conceits. He got, for example, that John Black would die for his soul mate Marlena, and that this was true regardless what the storyline circumstances were.

    I was overjoyed when he returned to Days and began the serial killer story; my joy soon turned though when the story stopped making sense. I guess we will never know why this happened (network? Corday? reilly? ) but the story didn’t match the quality of his previous stories. The ending was quite glorious when Marlena was shot in John’s arms but it devolved in the island morass.

    Still, Reilly’s writing gave me great pleasure over the years.

    Smooth sailing Reilly. RIP.

    Wonderful obit, Marlena.

    The “other” Marlena says: Thanks! I’m glad that a John and Doc fan was happy with a lot of Reilly’s work. I can tell you personally that Jim loved writing for John and Marlena, and that he had only the highest professional regard for both Deidre and Drake.

  11. Matthew Cormier says:

    I never had the honor to watch any of Jim’s shows (being a die-hard ABC fan since the mid-late 1980′s) but his loss is a major one for the daytime community and this is a void that cannot ever be filled again.

    I pray for his family and friends.

  12. Jenn says:

    Thanks so much for the Reilly tribute. I have watched his work through the years on Days and Passions, and I complained about his writing repeatedly, but there were many many wonderful things about his stories. Sometimes when something like this happens, you are suddenly much more aware of all of the good things, rather than the negative. I loved the fact that Passions was so diverse and wacky and campy. Its campiness is what made it great, at least in the beginning. And even though the Marlena being possessed storyline is reviled, I thought it was quite fun at the time.

    I also appreciated the fact that JER brought his own religion into his stories. Even though I don’t go to church, it was interesting that most, if not all, of his characters were typically Catholic. During his reign at Days of our Lives in the 90s, the Catholic church was such a huge presence, and he also really knew how to build up to a huge explosion. My problems with Passions in the later years was that none of the secrets ever really came out. What was so great about his run on Days during the 90s is that, no matter how long the story dragged, eventually you knew that there was comeuppance. Sami’s secrets would eventually come out, and who could forget Kristen Dimera’s world crumbling around her when Susan’s teeth flew out at her “wedding” to John? And JER usually knew who the bad guys were and who the good guys were. He knew how to make you hate the villain and want his/her secrets to be revealed eventually, unlike another soap writer, who enjoys writing his gangsters as the “good guys”. But alas, that isn’t about him, this is about JER. What’s ironic is that, just a few days ago I had read a rumor about him possibly returning to Days, and I was actually excited. I wasn’t fond of his last tenure at Days, but DOOL has gotten so bland lately, I was truly hoping for something to shake the show up. And JER definitely knew how to shake things up.

    He will be sorely missed.

    Marlena says: Great letter, Jenn. I love that you see the big difference between Guza and his bad/good guys on GH and Jim’s classic storytelling (i.e. Reilly always knew right from wrong!). In real life Guza and Reilly were friends, and worked together (for a time) on Sunset Beach.

  13. Alvin says:

    Reilly’s contributions to daytime will never be forgotten, no matter how controversial and polarizing they were. Reilly know how to build stories and climax them in the most eventful ways.

    He added his own spin to traditional soap opera storytelling. He understood how to make couples rootable and how to make villains interesting and quirky.

    That said, I personally can see why he doesn’t get much credit for early 90′s GL. He was only there for a brief time, from 91 to early 92. Nancy Curlee and her husband, Stephen Demorest were there from 91 to early 94, so of course many would attribute most of the credit on to them. When Reilly left the show in early 92, it continued to get better. When Curlee left in early 94, GL lost a certain sophistication and complexity to its writing that there before, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Keep in mind, Stephen Demorest continued to write the show by himself for a time after the departure of Curlee. Also, writers who were on the team during this, Patrick Mulcahey in particular, have always spoken highly of Curlee and Demorest’s immense contributions to GL’s early 90′s golden era, and not make any mention of Reilly or Broderick.

    Marlena says: Thank you for clarifying the Reilly/Demorest/Curlee/Broderick GL timeline. All I know is I enjoyed the era and was fortunate to do my my GL headwriter roundtable back then no matter who gets ultimate credit for all the success.

  14. Kade Carrington says:

    What a great piece Marlena! I never saw his work on anything but PASSIONS but when I was in high school that was THE high-point of my day, my gal-pal Dara and I would RUSH home to catch the show (I missed the first episode but she saw it and quickly shoved me in front of episode two!) We were obsessed with it and defended it everywhere we could, in our minds beyond the crazy storylines were well-defined characters and plots that truly were the definition of soap opera…years went on and I grew up (LOL!) and left PASSIONS behind due to too many re-casts and frustrating pacing issues BUT I’ve never forgotten just how amazing rushing home to see it was back in the early days…better to have loved and lost I guess!

    From what I saw on-screen JER was a spiritual and curious man and I think now that he is in another place, a better place he’s probably amazingly happy! He was a master at the cliff-hanger in my opinion and now he knows the ultimate cliff-hanger resolution…what happens next! :)

    Marlena says: Kade darling, as I was reading this I pictured Jim in angel’s wings. Stranger things have happened. I am very upset by his death!

  15. Kade Carrington says:

    Sidenote: The ONLY other time I ever was SO hooked on a soap as I was with PASSIONS was watching those USA Network Edge Of Night repeats! LOL! That was another show that was a master of cliff-hanging. I wonder if JER was a fan of that as both that show and his work on PASSIONS seem so alike in ways, the cliff-hanger in which it seems all is revealed only to come back the next day and see nothing has changed…then again at the end of the show another cliff-hanger that seems to reveal all only to be de-bunked in the next episode…yet somehow you were STILL on the edge of your seat! Not many people can write like this!

    He was truly a talent that will be missed!

    Til we are all able to be with him again!

  16. Mel says:

    What sad news, one of the great ones is gone. JER introduced me to soaps and gave me my all time favorite soap characters John and Marlena. Many of his stories, Possession, Aremid, and Maison Blanche gave me reasons to laugh and for an hour a day put my hectic life behind me.

    There were rumors last week that JER was on his way back to Days, the last hope for the show. I was looking forward to seeing what creative stories he would create to pull viewers back in, too bad we’ll never know.

    RIP Jim, you gave millions years of great entertainment.

  17. Steve says:

    Wow. This reminds me of when Doug Marland suddenly passed away. I had very different feelings about these men and their contributions to daytime, but still I am flashing back to 1993 when poor Doug suddenly passed on.

    So, anyway, I’m just going to list the positive, which is the years of surprising and often entertaining material he provided for Vivian and Ivan. Yes some of it was just paper-thin and degrading, but looking back now, if I have to choose between Louise Sorel being forced to wear a stupid costume and Louise Sorel being dumped by DAYS due to her age and Vivian becoming a distant memory, then I’ll choose the stupid costume. I just loved Vivian and Ivan to pieces, and no matter what she did, Vivian was never hated. I remember Louise said in one interview that she had expected fans to attack her in the street because she buried Carly alive, but instead she got nothing but positive responses and good wishes.

    I also loved the Susan/Kristen story he wrote. It became a bit of a mess later on, but that first story, with the “mean mean mean”, the Lisa Marie doll, Susan making John dress up in the Elvis ’68 comeback special jumpsuit and Abe dress as Colonel Tom Parker, Kristen and Marlena sitting around in a storeroom eating pork rinds and talking about how they were going to get fat, Kristen’s false teeth flying into Vivian’s champagne glass, i just was entertained every second. And my all time favorite moment, when Susan attended the failed wedding of Austin and Sami. She kept telling people the wedding wouldn’t happen because weddings never happen in Salem. The “smart” characters told her that was silly, and then sure enough, no wedding. Susan just smirked and said she was right, weddings don’t happen in Salem.

    Thanks for the laughs, Jim. I think we all need those these days.

  18. Giada says:

    Thank you very much, Marlena, for you lovely tribute to James Reilly. It makes me appreciate him more. I am sorry you lost a friend. I was very much saddened by the news. I was also quite shocked, I have to admit. I remember there have been strong concerns about his health and his life in the past, due to his weight, but it was many years ago and I never truly entertained the possibility in my mind of losing him so suddenly and early. He will be missed.

    I love that you see Timmy as his alter-ego. It makes sense. You couldn’t have shed better light on his creative power. I am double minded about him as a writer. I disliked what I believed were limits to his work: detachment from reality, one-dimensional characters, repetitiveness, men and women obsessed with just one single goal they wanted in life, characters talking by themselves… At the same time, I truly admired his vision, his love of the genre, his keen knowledge of soaps conventions, his boldness in plot choices, his fantasy, his uniqueness.

    His soaps were not for everybody, but you don’t need to be for everybody to be good. I wouldn’t have wanted all soaps to be like his, but one soap like his was fun to have. Also, he understood the identity and integrity of a show. He never made GL something it was not. He experimented on DAYS a show that was more compatible with that, and of course he made PASSIONS as he wanted it to be.

    Some say his work was more a parody soap than a soap. In part I believe it to be true. For this reason I don’t agree with the contention that he talked down to his viewers. I think that, quite the contrary, he was quite the intellectual in constructing his stories. His content might have been ludicrous at times, but the structure around which he build it showed that he expected his audience to know the dynamics, and relished in the soap conventions and sometimes its exasperated use of them.

    I remember at the beginning of PASSIONS Sheridan and Luis constantly missing each others. They were about to meet and something stalled it, again and again. It was unnerving and I remember thinking right there and then: wow, he is really playing with us, teasing us with the rules. How bright. Also, I know a wedding he wrote (again on PASSIONS, if I remember correctly) lasted some 40 days, and again I though: wow, he understands soaps are a place of the mind, before being anything else. I believe most of his viewers understood that. I read a rumor that stated he was going to age instantly (as in SORAS) a newborn baby. I don’t think he ever did that, but that told me that they were getting his style, his playing with and stretching and having fun with the conventions. From this point of view he was really a soap lover’s writer.
    I must add I LOVED his cameo on “Friends”. I was so excited when he did it, back then. For someone like me, who didn’t know him personally, that shows the good humor you talked about.

    Someone mentioned Patrick Mulcahey. The two of them had nothing in common as writers, but, without having the presumption to speak in his place, I know for a fact that Patrick was very fond of Jimmy.

    Thank you once more, Marlena, for giving us a place to share our feelings, and thank you James Reilly, up there, if you’re watching, for all your storytelling.

    Marlena says: Giada, my wonderful friend in Italy — I always adore hearing from you. You have a very deep intellectual understanding of Reilly and his soap writing. I find it so assuring you are NOT actually condemning his 40 days of holding a wedding on Passions, but would try to understand it because “he knew soaps were a place of the mind.” Jim was about infinitely more than twisting plots and coming up with the greatest cliffhangers. I’m so glad that a reader like you is trying to understand who Jim really was, and not using the easy cliches and stupid, stupid comparisons I’ve seem used in idescribing him in blogs and in the press. Marlena has been mighty, mighty angry at the ignorant and totally insensitive things I’ve seen written about Jim over the last few days!! Many bacis for calming me down, Giada.

  19. BL says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, Marlena. :( Thank you for sharing the personal memories. My favorite character of his was Timmy, due to his heart and humor. I must admit I gave up Passions years ago, and have disliked many of his plots, but even if I didn’t agree with where it was going I was able to see the voice behind the scenarios.

    When I was in college, and Mr. Reilly was wrote Marlena Evans being possessed, I can recall how people who never watched soaps before were interested. While his version of Days wasn’t my favorite time in soaps, I can respect those who did love it and appreciate the fact that he brought new viewers in during that time frame. This in some ways helped and hurt daytime, but that’s a huge debate on-line.

    I always wondered what Reilly did exactly at GL, and when his influence was fully gone due to how his Days blackout while weeks longer than GL’s event had some common elements.

  20. PK ( Kel ) says:

    I am too saddened not only by his passing so young but because it was YOUR friend too when you have lost others not all that long ago, Marlena — you are in my prayers and thoughts for your losses — let’s make these the LAST ones for a LONG LONG TIME.

    And on professional soap notes –

    I was NEVER a fan of Reilly’s “WACKO” stuff post GL and Days. BUT I always respected his work … because often it quite simply WORKED. It was OLD time soap dressed up in newfangled fantastic Garb … and while Passions most of the time … esp after the loss of Josh … just made my friggin’ head hurt — that show was paced to the Nth degree — something no other show in recent memory has been since Bill Bell’s retrirement … Things may have been dragged out worse than on 1960′s Love of Life, for heaven’s sake … but they weren’t ever smacking of “Some SUIT said change this story pronto” and something goes wildly off track like we sadly see on an everyday basis now.

    And his DAYS still stayed invested in CHARACTER even with people with 17 identities and people turning into tigers … again it was NEVER My cup of tea and it again, made me annoyed to watch … BUT I always respected why it WORKED and why it drove up ratings.

    And for Passions … I too was saddened that sometimes the 1000s of hours waiting for secrets … would end up being so anticlimactic (TC’s shed? Rachel ain’t dead — Sheridan didn’t stab her — and her daddy Fitz ran off together and when they came back they were in like 9 scenes never to be heard from again???????????? )

    But I join the many who adored his GL (the blackout is in my 25 top soap storylines EVER) and wish all who loved him and knew him peace in their loss. I am sure him and Josh are having some Martimmys in heaven and chatting with Doug Marland and Henry Slesar.

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