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.
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.