One Life to Live: Defending Dorian

Thinking Fans defend Dorian, too:  Rebecca demands, ”Dorian has always been a great soap villainess. I have a big problem dorianthinking that she actually was in her cups at the party she hosted for Markko — as we all know, soap villains do not lose control. I want the indomitable, formidable woman that Dorian is back on screen, giving no quarter to her enemies and taking no prisoners!” … Marilyn Henry adds, “I have long thought Robin Strasser one of the finest talents in soaps, maybe in all TV” … while Jennifer rages, “I am outraged by the callous and heartless writing, not just for Ms. Strasser, but for this iconic character” … and more. See Comments below.

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By Marlena De Lacroix

I have been a Robin Strasser fan since 1969 when she, George Reinholt and Jacquie Courtney drew me into the soap world with the pathos of the Rachel, Steve and Alice’s storyline on Another World.  Robin StrasserThe passion, the tears! It was the best love triangle ever!  Rachel was the neurotic spoiler, the villainess, and Robin made her grasping inner pain so harrowing (Rachel was deserted by her father as a child), I can still feel the hurt decades later.   And after 40 years (through Another World, All My Children and One Life To Live) Robin is still here, as OLTL‘s Dorian.  And so am I, having followed her through all of her long and distinguished soap career.

In all those years, Robin has never given a bad performance, never failed to be anything less than riveting, or at the very least  extremely interesting  in any soap scene.  We love her!  She is daytime soap opera!  And on a personal note, is there any other soap actress who has aged so well — naturally?   She doesn’t mind that we know she’s 64 (born on V.E. Day 1945, her middle name is literally ‘Victory in Europe.’)  She still looks youthful and  beautiful. 

It’s way too easy for soap writers to fall into cliché.  Robin is, after all, an older woman.  In our soap world of 20-year-old uneducated, unsophisticated heroines, it’s only too tempting to write an older woman who can be easily marginalized — and  laughed at.  It’s an ugly stereotype.

 And in public appearances she’s always dressed with stunning perfection. Like Dorian, Robin loves all things French. She is the rare soap actress who understands and can do chic.

So what I’m about to say isn’t aimed at Robin.  It’s aimed at the writers, producers, costumers and make up people at OLTL:  Don’t turn our Dorian Lord into a hag!

In the last few months, Dorian has looked increasingly alarming. She’s been plastered with too much makeup, including lots of black liner.  She’s worn way too many wigs, falls, and chignons.  At her party for Langston’s graduation, she wore two wiglets and a fall full of curls. (The fall looked exactly like the one we recently found in my mother’s wig box, circa 1968). She also wore an orange and white dress ensemble which I thought at first was vintage from the 60s.  Then I looked closer – it wasn’t charming in a retro way, it was just ugly and loud.

And the desecration of Dorian didn’t end with the awful makeup and dress. Pained by the abrupt desertion of her new lover Ray a day or so before, Dorian took some sort of pill at the party, and started screaming like a hellfire banshee at everyone. She loudly fired Moe and Noelle, effectively telling Marko’s strait laced parents that Langston and Marko had sex.  She screamed at Sean and threw him and Rachel out of the house.more dorian

Gentlemen of OLTL, Dorian Lord is not Helen Lawson.  And Robin has never been written or dressed as such.  There’s a fine line between an older woman and villainess who is a soupcon eccentric and a character we have watched and loved for decades made to look and act like an absolute ass because she lost a man.  The day Ray left, Dorian upended a whole table of food she had Moe cook for a special romantic dinner.  How soap opera!  How fake!  The real Dorian would never do anything that cliché.  Instead, she’d go to Viki or Blair and cry and harangue all over them for six months worth of scenes — at least!

I think it’s way too easy for soap writers to fall into cliché.  Robin is, after all, an older woman.  In our soap world of 20-year-old uneducated, unsophisticated heroines (I mean, bimbos), it’s only too tempting to write an older woman who can be easily marginalized — and  laughed at. That hag! It’s an ugly stereotype.

Well, Dorian is no joke, and neither is any other older woman on daytime   The OLTL writers would  never write material like this for Viki, because Erika Slezak  would charge the writer’s office armed with her six Emmys and rightfully clunk those writers over the head with them.

And so I’m asking for respect both for Dorian Lord and for Emmy winner Ms. Robin Strasser.  Stop dressing and making her up as a circus clown. Dorian is Dorian, not because she’s older, neurotic, and rich.  She’s Dorian because she embodies equal measures of nastiness and vulnerability,  the later often exquisitely so.  Strasser’s so good at portraying this duality that she’s kept us, her fans, literally enthralled for 40 years.  One Life to Live viewers love Dorian. She is not to be trivialized or marginalized.   Llanview is not the Valley of the Dolls. 

Comments

  1. JaiJai says:

    How very divine Marlena! LOVE the Valley of the Dolls reference! And I totally agree.

    Dorian has always been slightly over the top or larger than life but never a caricature and you are right, they sure have been playing her as one lately. A little camp goes a long way!

    Marlena says: JaiJai, you are right, a little camp does go a long way. Perhaps the only soap character who could ever get away with a camp o.d. was Felicia Gallant as played by Robin’s friend (and mine) Ms. Linda Dano on Another World in the 1980s. Remember Felicia’s divine camp-off with the real Liberace, an AW guest star? Those were the days, mon ami! I still say soaps aren’t soaps without Linda Dano. I miss her!

  2. esther says:

    Bravo!

    And for the record, I think Robin owes you a huge bouquet of flowers for this. At the very least, it should be framed on her dressing room wall. ;)

    Marlena says: Thanks, my dear Esther. Actually, I was thinking that a mention of this on Robin’s infamous hotline might tickle me …

  3. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    Well said Marlena. Dorian Lord is a woman of layers and contradictions but she has not ever been an old hag that would feel sorry for herself. Even at her worst Dorian Lord would still attempt to maintain apperances and try to flaunt her fabulousity in the faces of her friends, family and enemies. Her typical response would be to run over to Viki and find a way to make Viki feel bad about herself.

    Oh and two other characters I can think of that could typically get away with campy material were GH’s Lucy Coe played by the fabulous Lynn Herring, remember her campy and entertaining Nurses Ball performances where Lucy or Katherine would always end up in their underwear because they would fight for the spotlight? And the other is B&B’s Sally Spectra who let’s face it was the truest definition of camp there ever was.

  4. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    I also think that Andrea Evans was excellent at playing campy roles as Tina on OLTL, but i agree, nobody does it as well as Robin Strasser!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Wow. In many respects you have expressed my thoughts and what I have posted on other sites –Valley of the Dolls, indeed. They would never pen any such humiliating scenes for Viki, Bo, or a majority of the other characters on the show. If you ever call her hotline it has been warned that this is not to be the last drunken humiliation for Dorian. Heck half the cast gets to be present for her next one!

    I am outraged by this callous and heartless writing not just for Ms. Strasser, but for this iconic character. I have watched this show (really only for Robin Strasser’s Dorian) since 1980 when I was in grade school. Let me tell the writers who I believe Dorian Lord is. She is barely suppressed rage. She is a brilliant, clever, manipulative woman. She is a knockout. She is fire and ice. She is Llanview’s Eva Peron even though she would think Jackie O. She is Anne Boleyn –a woman who could make a man dismantle a church, and later want to cut off her head.

    Dorian Lord is many things, but she is NOT a victim or a drunk. Appearance is important to her. If these writers do not understand the essence of these characters they should not be writing for this show.

    Shame on the writers and producers for their actions and especially for the disgraceful failure to yet continue Robin Strasser’s contract. There is NO excuse or reason (finances or not) to even consider letting her slip away. Keep her on contract.

    Thank you once again for a great article and especially for writing one about my favorite actress. The only quibble I would have is there is no way they can make the stunning Ms. Strasser look a hag.

    Marlena says: Bravo, Jen, for this letter, especially for your imagination in comparing Dorian with Eva Peron, Ann Boleyn, Jackie O etc. Wish my college writing students could write as colorfully!

  6. Giada says:

    I’m not familiar with Dorian, as you know, but I agree with what you said. Mature and educated people are always welcome. And my, soaps could be the stage for making us understand what it means to get old. How you preceive yourself and you you’re perceived by others. No one gets younger. That’s a storytelling goldmine with real-life emotional resonance that is so rarely shown.

    Marlena says: Giada, does television not broadcast One Life to Live in Italy? I feel sorry that you’ve never seen La Stasser and Erika Slezak (Viki) in action—these ladies are magnificent. I’ve grown up watching both of them, and I’m growing old with both of them, too. This is why I’ve been so vocal about any soap making fun of older women. A soap has to show just as much respect for an older woman as it does at least to the ever-popular young hunk. Or else none of the show will resonate with the real life of viewers at all!

  7. Marilyn Henry says:

    The graduation party was that pure evil side of Dorian, yet the way Robin plays her, you know she was really hurting and as usual, shooting herself in the foot. Robin can bring such pathos to that character–she is a truly magnificent actress.
    I have been watching this woman for years doing this thing that makes you hate her, yet care about her at the same time. Ray got her hopes up and he was so passionate about her–yet he left. It seems that someone always is leaving Dorian–usually with good reason, because if it isn’t circumstances, it is her own nature that drives them away. Someone commented that when Viki is hurting, she goes to others to talk and feel better; when Dorian is miserable, she wants everyone else to be miserable, too!

    It is sometimes said we get what we deserve and in Dorian’s case, she gets what she subconsciously feels she deserves. She causes so much pain and therefore deserves so much pain, and she cannot seem to find a way to prevent either.

    I have long thought Robin Strasser one of the finest talents in soaps, maybe in all TV. She brings so much to this character. I do agree about the harsh make-up lately and wonder why? The hair is too dark, the eye makeup to black, the lips too red. She’s such a tiny woman and the full skirts do not help to give her height. But I felt that loud outfit was meant to echo her loud disintegration. Costuming should fit characters’ moods and scenes and seldom do anymore. (Witness Olivia’s laughably over-exposed bosom at work–what decent woman would dress like that at her place of business? So you know what the assumption has to be about her…..)

    Robin Strasser is a jewel. I am assuming she, like Dorian, must have been very unhappy when TPTB failed to sign A Martinez to a contract–I certainly was! (They messed up big time, letting him go.)

    I keep thinking back to that scene over a year ago when Dorian stood up at the shareholder meeting of B&B, dressed all in black, and made her amazing take-over and she was majestic! What blazingly superb TV that was. I know you don’t always like OLTL, but I find it so superior to the other ABCers. This week has been especially good….

    Marlena says: It took a while for A’s Ray to grow on me (bad plotting with the uncovering that both his ex-wife and daughter were psychos.) But once he got into Dorian’s orbit he really caught fire — with Dorian! They were, as the kids say, hot! It’s a terrible, terrible shame she wasn’t signed to a longterm contract — given mature writers, they could have set all of Llanview on its ear together. But what do we have now? Eva and Zsa Zsa, as I call them, the acting-free Morasco sisters. If they are the Gabors, then Robin has to be Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, at least now Marilyn? Do you agree?

  8. Cheryl says:

    Hi there Marlena,

    Welcome back! And thanks for keeping an eye on my favorite–Robin Strasser. I have been watching her and appreciating her talent since her days on Another World, as well. I have to wonder if the writers truly understand this character or respect Ms. Strasser and what she brings to this role. Now Dorian is popping pills and drinking. Why? It’s so “un-Dorian.” I just have to question where the writers are headed with this as I have heard there is another upcoming scene with her getting drunk publicly. Dorian is NOT Roxy! Is this the beginnings of a story or a disgrace? Ms. Strasser and Dorian Lord have many fans who love her and are concerned about Dorian being stripped of everything (including regrettably the wonderful A Martinez as Ray)–especially as the actress enters contract negotiations.

    Marlena says: Thank you so much, Cheryl. You know it never occured to me that Robin was going into contract negotiations around now. Very interesting. We’re not going to let ABC let Robin go, are we? I also think that as much as the current writers like to torture Dorian, they love Robin. She must be a hell of a lot more fun to write for than … just about anyone else on the show. And isn’t Tuc Watkins (David) due back soon? Your can’t have David without Dorian!!!!

  9. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much, Marlena, for your eloquent and intelligent defense of the character of Dorian on OLTL. I literally could NOT believe my eyes when I saw her acting out at the party , and agree wholeheartedly that it was completely out of character for her to behave in such a fashion. Dorian has always been a great soap villainess, and altho I might have believed the initial scene wherein she lashed out in a fit of anger and frustration and overturned the table, I have a big problem in thinking that she actually was in her cups at the party she hosted for Markko—as we all know, soap villains do not lose control. Like you, I can’t help but think that there must be some nasty misogyny going on at OLTL for such scenes to be written, and I want the indomitable, formidable woman that Dorian is back on-screen, giving no quarter to her enemies and taking no prisoners. Dorian (and RS) has more charisma in her little finger than all of Frons’s pets put together do in their entire bodies, and it’s high time that OLTL recognized this, and began writing for her accordingly.
    Also, a bit OT, but the sexism on this show with Todd and his happy harem is driving me bonkers! WHAT are the writers doing to Tea and Blair (formerly intelligent women), by having them behave in such an idiotic manner? It’s totally unbelievable, and has to stop, but I’m afraid that, much like the bogus sanctification of Sonny and Jason on GH, as long as Frons is in charge, it never will.
    However, I must thank you once again for giving such a spirited and cogent defense of Dorian—-I know I speak for all her fans when I say that it is greatly appreciated!
    Rebecca

    Marlena says: Thanks, Rebecca, for connecting what I just wrote about Robin to the sexism on the rest of the show! Frankly, I’m getting sick of writing about it, but just when I do, they have a judge rule that Tea, Blair and Todd should live together a la Three’s Company, or as you hilariously describe it, Todd’s Happy Harem! I’ve blamed Frons repeatedly for not putting an end to the sexism on the show. But you know what? It would help our cause if the male viewers of OLTL even acknowledge the sexism. Remember how many of my male readers couldn’t understand why I was so upset when Todd slept with/raped an amnesiac Marty? They can’t see it!

    BTW, love what you had to say about soap villains never losing control. That’s very true. Would GL’s Roger Thorpe or Days Stefano Di Mera ever put on as pitiful a show as Dorian did at Markko’s party? Lucinda on ATWT? I think not, darlings!

  10. antmunoz says:

    I’m just curious…what does Robin Strasser think about the crap that’s been handed to her during the past year or so? Should we really be worried about Robin being let go? Or should we worry about Robin QUITTING? This is not the first time that OLTL hasn’t appreciated or respected her…and, sadly, it won’t be the last. And she’s left OLTL a couple of times already. (I remember you loved her as Hecuba on PASSIONS, Marlena.)

    And would we blame her if she quit?

    Marlena says: Wasn’t Hecuba divine? Jim Reilly (Passion’s headwriter) created that character especially for Robin and absolutely adored how she played it. “She’s a pro,” said Jim—that was always his highest compliment to a performer.

  11. Dave Feldman says:

    Has there ever been a better soap villainess than Robin Strasser? Especially as Rachel Frame. Over the years, Dorian has seemed to alternate shades of villainy, but on AW, she was more likely to embody all phases on the same episode, especially when she was alternating between torturing Alice and then going home and being battered by her mother, Ada. Well, at least Ada gave as good as she got!

    As much as I admired Nancy Pinkerton, it was a great moment for OLTL when Robin Strasser claimed the role. Thanks for the great article, Marlena.

    Marlena says: Thanks, Dave. I love that you remember how many different shades of emotion Robin could play in one episode as Rachel on AW. Do you think any tapes that far back of AW exist anywhere? Would the Museum of Broadcasting have any, or P&G have any locked them away with old versions of Tide? Or was NBC, like ABC, still erasing their tapes amd taping over them in the late 60s? I’d love to see Connie Ford and Robin Strasser scenes today! Now, that’s master acting! Wowsa!

    At the time, even though Ada talked tough, I never thought she was “battering” Rachel. I thought of it instead as tough love. Perhaps because I grew up in a working class Queens household that could have been in the same neighborhood as Ada Downs’ flat!

  12. Steve says:

    The scenes with Dorian at the party were painful to watch. Some remarked that they thought Robin went too over the top, but I don’t know what you can do with such material. She at least played up Dorian’s pain. The scenes were all very plot-driven, and were yet another example of the very on-the-fly writing style on OLTL these days. Didn’t you love it when Dorian had no idea who Rachel was, even though her mother Nora once defended Dorian on murder charges? How about when Langston shoved Dorian, who had popped pills and mixed them with alcohol, into the pool, and was not seen to have helped her out? Dorian could have drowned. That scene was highly inappropriate. Langston seems to be going the road of Adrianna and Cassie…Dorian is the overbearing, bad mother who has to constantly feel ashamed.

    I’m just glad that horrible waste of space Moe, who can barely read his lines, is out of the mansion. I wish he were off the show period.

    Marlena says: I didn’t see the scenes in which Dorian was thrown into the pool. Yikes, even more humiliation! I remember months ago when I wrote an angry column about the blow job Dorian gave David on screen, feeling the show had similarly belittled her. And of course, a press person went and interviewed Robin, and she said it was all her idea. This is all a very complex situation. All we can do is continue to love Robin and Dorian, Steve.

  13. Antoine Jefferson says:

    I’m sure there aree dozens of actresses applauding the wonderful words set forth by you here. Your reverence for Robin Strasser the actress and appreciation for the character of Dorian do not go unnoticed. I’ve been watching OLTL for nearly two decades and reading you since later early 90s and I completely agree with every word you’ve written. (Last time SOW “GH: Where characters have character” back in the mid-90s)

    Marlena, I hope you continue to speak out more about Robin and the actors both male and female who’ve given the better part of their lives to their job playing characters on television, only to find themselves playing second banana, or a cartoonish creature or a talk-to, rather than talk-with overwhelming heaping of tweens or twenty-somethings who wouldn’t know angst if it sat down next to them.

    You’ve hit the nail square on the head, and I hope it makes a dent in the minds of TPTB.

    Marlena says: Antoine, thank you for remembering that column! That was when Claire was writing GH, right? It always makes me feel good when a reader recalls some of my long past SOW columns. Those were written literally in another soap century when there was so much to celebrate on our shows. Today, critics, including myself, spend all our time beating our once beloved shows to death with a club.

    Of course I will continue to write about the plight of veteran actors. However, a journalist is not a fan or an advocate. It’s our job — our only job — to tell the truth about what we see and perceive. And I did tell the truth about the way OLTL is humiliating Robin, even though I know it may be hard for her to accept it.

  14. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    Why is it that every other decade or so someone at OLTL decides they don’t want to write for Dorian anymore? Jill Farren Phelps very unwisely forced Robin and Dorian off the canvas during her tenure a move which almost destroyed the show and lost any credibility the show had with fans and from which it almost didn’t recover. When will they learn that fans LOVE DORIAN and want her on screen?

  15. J says:

    Marlena, LOVE this column!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. It should be mandatory for all OLTL writers and producers!!!

  16. Liz Conklin says:

    What a wonderful column! Dorian is full of awesome, Robin makes her that way, even when the writers don’t. She always has. Llanview was a dark and depressing place with no DorLor, IMHO. I love even more the respect she’s always had for the genre and her fellow actors. That respect shows every time she is in a scene.

    The swimming pool scene was the worst; then they did a close up of her and held it until the commercial started. It was nothing but shabby. I know I don’t count for much since three days ago, I was removed from any kind of demo because I committed the sin of turning 50, but I like what I like, anyway. Dorian is one of the few reasons I have left to watch OLTL, these days.

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