Asa, Ace of Characters: Phil Carey Remembered

phil carey 

Thinking Fans pay their respects to Mr. Carey: Dale says, “There’s a big hole in Llanview these days named Asa Buchanan. His presence is still very much felt, but it’s never going to be the same” … and Steve recalls, “What made Asa so real was that he truly did love his family, even if he showed that love in the wrong way” … while James adds, “I hope Phil and Bucky are up in Heaven having a good ol’ time” … and more. See Comments below.

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By Marlena De Lacroix

Any executive  producer of today’s desperate-for-ratings soaps would pay a ransom in gold and maybe sell his/her soul, too, for an actor like Phil Carey.  An actor who, on his debut, instantly grabs the viewer’s attention; is immediately  talked about everywhere by all soap fans; is charismatic, funny and charming, and has both sex appeal and a real  edge. 

So it was that great ladies who ran ABC Daytime back in 1979 (Jackie Smith, Jozie Emmerich) knew exactly what they were doing when they cast veteran movie and primetime actor Carey in the role of Asa Buchanan on One Life to Live. One of the

We longtime One Life To Live fans almost don’t need the old tapes.  We can practically see Phil Carey’s scenes in our minds.

first things they had fifty-something Asa do was parachute from an airplane into the birthday party of his barely twenty-something new beloved, Samanatha Vernon. How’s that for a grand entrance?

Asa was bigger than life and a Big Bad Daddy when he arrived in Llanview from Texas to live with his sons, Bo and Clint.   The easy thing to think was that he was created in the image of Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing, who was at the time reigning over primetime on Dallas and all of pop culture, for that matter.  But Phil Carey made Asa  an original,  and wildly outlasted the other supervillains of the Dallas and Falcon Crest era.  early PhilCarey’s vivid, mercurial and in equal measures heartful and hilarious Asa was a huge part of OLTL‘s Llanview for 28 years.

Besides a heart, the character had a brain that was sharper than any other character’s on the show (or anywhere else on daytime, for that matter), and his truthful pronouncements about Llanview doings were often exactly what you the viewer was thinking. (He must have been so much fun to write for!) If you were an OLTL fan, Asa’s daily antics and humorous, right on-target perceptions were must-see TV.  

How sad for OLTL fans to hear Saturday that Carey, 83, had passed away — only a few days after Clint Ritchie, who played Asa’s older son,  Clint. The three Buchanans (including younger son, Bo played by Emmy-winning  Bob Woods) were a family, both on and off the screen. So much of their real camaraderie and mutual caring came though on the screen.

What made the character of Asa truly entertaining all those years?  Was it the character’s 14 wives Phil marriage(Marlena invites her readers to name them in, in order, including repeats),  the women for whom he competed in the early years with such younger men as Bo and Max?  The lovely character-rich mellower  scenes he shared in his older years with butler Nigel or true love Renee?

I think the secret of Asa’s popularity and endurance was Carey himself.  Today on soaps, actors over 35 are rarely cast, and most young soap actors who are given the bulk of story responsibilities have little or no acting experience whatsoever.   When Carey came to soaps, he was already 54 and had a long, rich career in acting in movies and primetime. 

He had done zillions of parts — Carey moviepolicemen, soldiers, sailors, cowboys.   He worked with great stars of the  50s and 60s and was an eyewitness to  a lot of Hollywood history.  His fans are lucky we can actually watch so much of his early work on DVD.  My favorites are Calamity Jane (1953), in which he played opposite a very young Doris Day, and the classic Mr. Roberts (1955) in which he plays a shipmate of Henry Fonda’s. A working actor (check out his long, long list of credits on the imdb.com) almost all his life, daytime was lucky to get someone as seasoned and creative as Carey.

Unlike so many other long-running characters on daytime, his character was always interesting and vivid, even up to the end   We longtime OLTL fans almost don’t  need the old tapes.  We can practically see Carey’s scenes like these in our minds:  Asa seeing his thought-dead wife, the mother of his sons Olympia (a woman who had come to Llanview calling herself Nicole) for the first time at the ball … Asa at the ranch yelling at his sons Clint or Bo (or both) … Asa with his grandson Matthew, tenderly telling him what it means to be a Buchanan … and hundreds more.

Rest in peace, Mr. Carey.  OLTL fans will never forget you.

Comments

  1. Dale says:

    Marlena, thank you for writing such a lovely and heartfelt tribute to Mr. Carey and to Asa. Your respect for the man and he character he played are evident.

    What a loss! Asa and Phil ruled Llanview for almost 30 years. And you are right; who needs video tape when we have so many fun and funny Asa memories in our minds! How many times did he disinherit and disown Clint and Bo? LOL! How much did he adore and respect Viki at one time? How much did he love his grandchildren and great grandchildren? Just how rich was he? As for those many many wives, I’ll let somebody else do the honors of listing them as I have done so before. If I recall correctly, Marlena, you only got nine of them! Hee hee!

    And as much as we all loved Asa, he wouldn’t have had the impact and longevity he had if it were not for the actor who played him with gusto, vigor, bluster, humour, and energy: Phil Carey. I am deeply saddened by his passing, but I am thankful that we had him for as long as we did. At one time, Phil/Asa were prime OLTL real estate, and Asa was the center of so many front burner storylines that you do not have the space for me to list them here. I am not sure if later regimes really understood how lucky they were to have him. This was an ACTOR with sheer presence. Who could take their eyes off the screen when Asa was on? Who didn’t laugh at his scenes with Nigel? Who didn’t root for this character even when he was at his villianous worst/best?

    There’s a big hole in Llanview these days named Asa Buchanan. Wisely and touchingly, the show still pays much attention to the legacy of Asa Buchanan and the family he left behind. His presence is still very much felt, but it’s never going to be the same. I’ll never again see Asa yelling at Bo with that big booming voice; I’ll never again see him romancing his next wife; I’ll never see another tender scene with him and one of his grandchildren. But it’s OK. I have 29 years of memories stored away.

    Marlena says: Thanks for your wonderful, well-written memories too, Dale. You’re partially right — I can name all of Asa’s brides — only I can’t remember which ones he was married to twice! Can you, dear? Asa had more spouses than anyone in daytime television, I think. Can anyone confirm this? Erica on AMC has been married eleventimes, that I know. I’m sure the number of Lisa’s husbands on As the World Turns is in the stratosphere also, but I can’t remember them all. Can anyone? Who else on daytime has been a super serial groom or bride? I’m appealing to you soap know-it-all types. Marlena’s brain starting chipping away on soap factoids the day I hit … 39.

  2. esther says:

    A beautiful, loving tribute for a man who was bigger than life and brought this particular viewer a ton of pleasure. Thank you so much, Marlena.

    Now — enough with the soap deaths, please. Not sure how much more we can all take.

    Marlena says: Thanks, Esther dear. But so many deaths, almost all at once! I like writing obits, but not this often, and especially not about people I really liked. It’s a lot of pressure, and depression.

  3. antmunoz says:

    Olympia
    Pamela
    Samantha
    Delilah
    Becky Lee
    Pamela
    Renee
    Blair
    Alex
    Alex
    Renee
    Gabrielle
    Rae
    Renee

    Hard to believe Dorian wasn’t in there somewhere, huh? LOL

  4. Truvy says:

    Well said, Marlena.

    On another OLTL-related topic, I wonder if you’ll be issuing an apology to the writers and producers for your recent baseless comments about the origin of the sex act Dorian was purported to have performed on David Vickers? Robin Strasser has gone on record stating that it was not in the script, and was her idea. Perhaps next time you and Michael Logan are ready to level another diatribe you’ll first get your facts straight, as most “journalists” would.

    Marlena says: Wait a minute Truvy, aren’t we grieving her over Clint and Phil’s deaths with this column? You tastelessly ask this question … here?

    So here’s the answer, bub: Didn’t TPTB put that awful sequence on the air? The network and the executive producer are ultimately responsible for all that happens at the show! And the rest, you must be kidding. Mr. Logan and I together have about 55 years of professional soap journalism experience between us.

  5. Steve says:

    What a beautifully written goodbye. You say it all. I feel so guilty when I get upset about the passing of these actors, because I can’t imagine what their friends and family are going through, but in many ways, they became our friends and our family. We know them better than we know many people who happen to share blood ties with us or a casual acquaintance.

    When I watch those old clips of early Asa, I’m always struck by how handsome Phil Carey was. He remained a striking figure throughout his run on the show, but little by little the towering facade of early Asa was filled in by a much more complex character. What made Asa so real was that he truly did love his family, even if he often showed that love in the wrong way.

    I think my favorite time with Asa was when he shared that OTT, crazy story where he humiliated Rae Cummings at the Woman of the Year dinner and she blackmailed him into marriage. I just couldn’t resist the sheer delight of Phil Carey and Linda Dano in a story together. The way Asa said, “Gretel” still makes me smile.

    And just for fun…

    Olympia, Samantha, Delilah, Becky Lee, Pamela, Renee, Blair, Alex, Renee, Gabrielle, Rae…I can’t remember if he married Alex again.

    Marlena says: Thanks so much, Steve. And you’ve put into words what I’ve thought about often: over the years these characters become a lot more familiar to us than people who come in and out of our lives over the years.

    Phil Carey was handsome — if you watch his old movies you can see that even more distinctly. He was tall and carried himself wonderfully, which you can especially notice in the many movies in which he wore military uniforms. I always thought it was a hoot when Asa hated someone and he used to express it all in the way he said their name. Remember how he used to call his hated ex-wife Blair names like “that little hussy” etc.? What a great and truly original character Carey created in Asa.

  6. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    Wonderful tribute to a wonderful actor and a fantastic character. Asa was so much fun! A larger than life character who no matter how outrageous his antics, and there were so many, really made you care about him.

    I was so upset that they killed Asa off in August 2007. But given ABC’s upper management refusal to renew his contact, and Carey’s refusal to continue without a contract, I realize, now, that they made the right. decision. At least Asa got a proper send off and made several more appearances after that. And the amazing thing is that Asa has been driving story for the 1.5 years since they killed him off.

    I’ll take a stab at naimg his wives.
    1. Olympia
    2. Pamela (as Jeb Stewart, but it wasn’t valid since Olympia was still alive)
    3. Samantha Vernon
    4. Becky Lee
    5. Delilah
    6. Pamela Stewart
    7. Renee
    8. Blair
    9. Alex Olanof
    10 Renee
    11. Rae Cummings
    12.Gabrielle
    13. Renee

    OK that’s 13 of the 14. Can’t think of any other one he married. I know he romanced Mimi for a long time, but don’t think he ever married her. And he also romanced Mimi’s mother Lucinda for a while too, but don’t think he ever married her either.

    I hope Phil and Bucky are up in heaven having a grand ol’ time. It’s rather fitting that the two passed away in the same week. I think both of them would have wanted it that way.

  7. Melanie says:

    A lovely tribute, thanks so much…

  8. David says:

    Very touching tribute! Thanks for that. What a time is has been with the loss of daytime royalty these past months. I am still remembering the tears I shed at “Myrtle’s” funeral on AMC. I don’t know what kind of tribute they may do on OLTL since “Asa” has already died but I am sure they will have something.

    I think about the daytime vets that are no longer on soaps that we will all lose one day … Ann Flood, Audrey Peters, Lydia Bruce, Maeve McGuire … so many I can’t think of them all.

    I hope we can avoid the losses of actual soap operas too. I wait on pins and needles to find out if GL will make it past April. I was shocked as to how close it came to cancelling AMC too!

    Cheers!

    David

    Marlena says: David, there you are, darling! I missed you! How’s your mom? It is frightening the rate at which soap vets are dying. And as far as losing soaps goes, no one wants to lose even one.

    I know you are keeping up as always with GL. Since my writer who covered the show for me has moved on, I have begun watching again. So Phillip’s back? David, would you be able to update me what happened before he “died”? Was he married to Olivia at one time?

  9. antmunoz says:

    David, sadly, I believe Lydia Bruce passed away last year. I seem to recall reading it in WEEKLY (which devotes so very little space to obituaries of daytime vets they assume “nobody remembers,” not even a photo!). imdb.com has a date of death for her as well.

    Thanks, Marlena, for reminding us of what daytime greatness was.

  10. Liz says:

    What a nice tribute. Asa won my heart the minute he hit Llanview. He had charm, charisma… LAYERS and LAYERS. Sometimes I loved to hate him, sometimes I loved to love him, but he always had my love. My favorite Asa scene was a Erin Torpey, the original Jessica. He’d given her the world’s ugliest prom dress. God love him, he was so ernest and sincere She thanked him then kissed him on the cheek and I wanted to cry. It was so sweet.

    Just as sweet as he was mean, loved him in scenes with KDP (Blair). That kind of loathing plus their raging chemistry should never be wasted. I missed him the minute he left Llanview, but knowing he can never come back, hurts my heart.

    There were so many wonderful Asa scenes with so many characters over the years, I could name them all day. He’d probably have charm and chemistry with a block of wood. For all he was, PC’s Asa was most definitely must see TV.

  11. renee says:

    Marlena,
    I was going to just write that what made Asa special for me was his bond with his sons, Bo and Clint because that triangular relationship among those three men, in real life and on the screen, was just … it made you cry. It led me to think of other special father – son(s), Ed/Phillip-Rick, Buzz/Frank, Pa/Chris/Bob-Don/Tom/Adam-Casey-Daniel, John/Andy, HB/Josh-Billy, Jesse/Frankie, Shawn/Roman-Bo-Frankie-Max, Tom/Mickey-Bill, Lee/Scotty, Edward/Alan/AJ-Jason, Luke/Lucky, …

    I could go on. Daytime does an amazing job portraying strong male bonds. I think even more than primetime or society. Normally we see and hear about mothers and daughters, and that got me to thinking about how those are portrayed on daytime. Marlena, I’m appalled. While I easily came up with father son connections, I had a hard time with somewhat healthy mother daughters. Erika/Megan. Nikki/Victoria. Anna/Robin. The Snyder family. Then I’m stuck. Generally women form bonds with nonfamilial friends, like Nikki/Kay.

    Someone help me out here, because I’ve gotten even more sad.
    And David, yes, so many more vets will leave us as time goes on. I also hope daytime doesn’t, and I hope the generations after us feel as passionate about and close to the actors who portray their favorite soap characters as we do, and mourn their passing.

  12. David says:

    Hey Marlena… I’ve missed you too! Busy time! Mom is great and says hello to you. Sorry to hear that Patrick has moved on but glad you will be watching GL again. In the last year it’s gone through a lot but I think it’s finding it’s footing again. It was great this week with Phillip’s return. Beth Chamberlain was amazing. So was the handsome John Driscoll whom I will miss a lot!

    Phillip was married to Olivia but by the end he was alone and going somewhat off the rails. I hope this is all addressed in the upcoming story!

    Thanks antmunoz for the Lydia Bruce update. Gosh, another one gone!!!! It’s time that the Emmys give lifetime achievement awards to those who have put in 20 years in daytime whether or not the actor is currently on a soap! Can anyone say “Ann Flood” or “Michael Storm”?????

    Cheers!

    David

  13. siport says:

    Asa Buchanan was an original. He was a soap character’s soap character. Larger than live, he was the Patriarch of Patriarchs, and no matter how mad you got at Asa, like his children, you just couldn’t turn away from him. I loved Asa. This is what a real actor can do…Asa had some storylines that were doozies, but I enjoyed them even as he drove me crazy. Carey was a professional – a true professional, and for those who doubt that older characters can bring endless storylines to a show, need look no further than Carey.

    This was a wonderful tribute.

    Asa loved his family. Even when he was doing the wrong thing by them, he loved him. It was his core.

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