Guiding Light’s Last Fade-out: Only Love Can Save the Soap World

By Marlena De Lacroix

I thought Kim Zimmer looked absolutely gorgeous in her last scene on Guiding Light set a year after the action, when Reva and Josh pledged their love “always.”  Clad in a  emerald gown, the top of her blond hair nicely swept back, she looked truly amazing.  A goddess, indeed.

Surprised I wrote this?  Well, I m going to surprise you even more. I really don’t want to nitpick the details of the last episode of GL.  Bitching and moaning about which characters’ stories were poorly concluded and which other characters’ stories

At least if it had to end, GL was still about love when it went down.  Not misogyny, not hate. And truly, truly, I really do believe that if the soap world is to survive, only love can save it.

surprisingly didn’t get a windup is way too easy.  The ending of a 72-year-old soap  needs deeper examining.  What does it mean to the long history of the show?  What does the end of Guiding Light mean daytime drama’s fast slide into oblivion?

Oh, heavy questions.  Like most viewers I was too busy crying to answer them while  watching the final scene as Reva and Josh and Reva’s little son rode off into the sunset. I always cry at the end of every soap.  Losing our sometime life-long other worlds is heartbreaking!

Plus, I was no fan of the new, cheap, miserable looking outdoor production model.  Outside of Otalia and Justin Deas’ performances, I didn’t find anything on the show that I wanted to write about. So I assigned GL to my then contributor Patrick Erwin, who did a superb job both here at my website and later copiously on his own, A Thousand Other Worlds.

As I watched the last week of episodes, I knew I was one the zillions of fans who loved the show in the glory years of its the past (particularly in JFP mid-90s and the Marland early 80s years) – once loyal fans, many of whom gave up on the show long ago and were back for one last, sad look.

At the end, the characters we loved were leading very surprising lives, to say the least.  I can’t believe they killed off Alan Spaulding   Vanessa was remarrying Billy? (Those poor mid 90s Matessa fans must have freaked out) and Lillian was married to Buzz in a double ceremony filmed at the Lake Mohawk Country Club in Sparta, New Jersey.  That’s sweet! The Four Musketeers who took the show by storm in the 80s were back,  paired off together at the end. Phillip and Beth and Rick and Mindy. Speaking of Beth,  where was Judi Evans?  Ancient viewers know that Beth Chamberlin replaced her  in that role 22 years ago!  

Looking at all the couples who wound up together in the end, such as Otalia (who was stupidly denied a kiss!) and Vanessa and Fletch (Jay Hammer had obviously preserved the hat) and especially, finally ever-arguing Reva and Josh (who strangely I never really liked before) made me feel really happy.  Others were given promises for the future,  such as a very pregnant Lizzie and her husband Bill.

In all the years and finally again in the last week, GL served up the kind of the world that Irna Phillips had envisioned (well, expect for God as a character) as Springfield life, when last scenes were scenes of romance, friendship, family and brotherhood.  There was hope for the future. For a record 72 years, Irna’s sincere beliefs — the tenets of civilized society and faith — guided the show and us.

On GL, there were no recent shock and awe additions such as mob hits to foreheads of preteens, no impalings of angelic policemen, no truly misogynistic murders of young women legacy characters by women psychos.  (Young & Restless, how twisted and misunderstanding of you to have crazy Patty spend the same week GL ended stalking Colleen in a forest. This week Colleen dies!) On GL, somewhere off in the woods towards the end of the final week , Jeffrey (or was that Richard?) was shooting at … Edmund? Well, at least it wasn’t shown in the last episode.

I know most fans don’t like executive producer Ellen Wheeler’s sappy choice of theme song, “Only Love Can Save the World.”  But I like it.   You know those deep questions I asked above?  Here’s the beginning of the answer. At least if it had to end, GL was still about love when it went down.  Not  misogyny, not horror-movie-esque gore,  not hate.  And truly, truly, I really do believe that if the soap world is to survive, only love can save it.

Comments

  1. Raymond P says:

    Dearest Marlena,

    Your thoughts on the farewell of my beloved soap matches my own. The show ended as it should on a positive upbeat note with the reaffirmation of life and (in the case of Alan) redemption.

    As I sat watching the last week of episodes, I was surprised on almost a daily basis to find tears streaming down my cheeks. It dawned on me as the week went on that I was sad about Alan’s death, the relationship n I’d never see these characters again and the melting of the denial I’d harbored since the cancellation announcement.

    But it was something much more profound for me. As I watched Wednesday’s episode and the aftermath of Alan’s passing, I found myself thinking about the character of Alan Spaulding. How he first came to Springfield and was brilliantly played by Christopher Bernau. How my mother would talk back to the tv after some dastardly deed of his with Roger Thorpe was uncovered. How his up and down relationship with Philip hit a little too close to home at times.

    As my thoughts drifted, they turned from Alan to other characters and storylines over the 39+ years I have watched. Going down memory lane and looking back, the “light” suddenly came on for me. I realized that my sadness was rooted in the show’s demise, that is true. But the majority of it was the reminder of time has slipped by so quickly in my own life and of those around me.

    For as I reminisced about GL through the years, I realized that the show was a steadfast and strong companion. In some of my darkest hours – and in fact in my darkest hour – I was able to find solace in that time of day when GL was on. No matter the turbulence or turmoil I faced, I was able to count on the antics and actions of the residents of Springfield to lift me up and help me face another day.

    I am also able to look back upon many positive events in my life, many of them with a direct link to GL. My love of of the show in the 1980s and the soap genre in general brought me to my beloved New York City where I completed the transition into mature manhood. My being a fan of GL, gave me one of the greatest thrills of my life in meeting (at the time) my favorite magazine writer, the Countess Marlena De LaCroix. (OK, I made the title up, but still..) I also made many new friends and when I moved West and began work in the “biz” I befriended a producer who was a writer on the show until the bitter end.

    The ending of GL is the ending of my watching daytime dramas. With the exception of this show, I have been soap free for sometime. The transition should be an easy one for me. I’ve tried watching some of the other shows and I find them too dark, depressing or even violent. OK, I may from time to time take a peek at B&B or Days.

    My only regret now is that we won’t be seeing La Zimmer on the tube anytime soon. I know many people do not like her, but she was always my guiding light.

    Peace to all

    Marlena says: Oh Ray! This letter was so beautiful, it made me cry. Though we haven’t seen each other in years, “the Countess” still loves you! (Ray was a member of out sub-GL friend/internet group sub-GL in the 90′s) Hope all is going well for you in your Hollywood/MTV life!

    BTW, thanks for bringing up the incomparable Chris Bernau. He was pure magic and sheer sexual power as an actor! Love your memories of identifying with the original Alan’s rocky relationship with Phillip. And your continued love for La Kim? I forgive you.

  2. Cherry Ames says:

    Marlena, I wholeheartedly agree with you re: love and saving the world and the soaps. I have been an on and off again GL watcher-watched initially with my Grandmother(s). Listened as my granma would say how Charlotte Bauer needed her “ears boxed”!

    I had not watched for some years when I read about this dynamic actor playing Reva’s son. Tom P. was extraordinary-even though he left no scenary unchewed. Whenever Reva and Jonathon were in scenes together it was clearly “no holds barred” and oddly fascinating and watchable. Then Otalia evolved ever so slowly. My goodness. The 2 actresses seemed lit from within and they truly had a love story. I appreciated that it WAS a love story — it just happened to be between 2 women. Chrystal Chapell and Jessica L. (who played a hilarious Mary Magdalene on Rescue Me) — well, there are no words.

    I am sad that the show ended but it had an amazing run-72 years in total. Kudos and high praise to Irna Phillips who created the show and the genre. I can’t help but think Irna had it right with her simple and moralistic story telling. She had her saints and sinners and always the villian(ess) was eventually punished-usually by death and the saints were rewarded. In a world where justice is so often denied, and no good deed goes unpunished and bad deeds ofen seem to reap rewards, watching her shows felt good. If Irna or Bill Bell or Marland or so many of the pioneers of soaps were alive today, would the soaps be in such jeopardy? Maybe, probably but at least they wouldn’t have changed so radically and disappointed and alienated their core audience. Soaps were never high brow but were at least good stories that made sense. I am sorry I can’t say that about any soap airing today. The last days of GL weren’t perfect but at least we had happy endings and even Frank — at long last — had a woman! (Still upset that Olivia and Natalia had no onscreen love scenes but in my mind, they were smoking hot! And I happen to be a heterosexual woman — go figure!).

    Marlena says: Cherry baby, thanks for understanding what I wrote about Irna and her “moral” traditional world. No one, especially kids, seems to know right from wrong anymore and if you don’t grasp that central concept , than soaps a la Irna and the ones we had watched and love for decades don’t make any sense. How do you tell a complete love story with no values, no beliefs? I don’t know.

    And I, a straight married woman, agree with you — Otalia was a great, hot love story. Started earlier and fully realized, it definitely could have saved the show.

  3. Dave F. says:

    GL is one of the few soaps I’ve never watched on a regular basis. But I decided to watch all five of the last week’s show and I found it moving. I was missing all kinds of character points and subtext, but I still found it deeply affecting, largely for the reasons you spoke about.

    The show seemed “lived in” in a way the ABC soaps are not. On AMC, I can believe that the actors are friends, but in GL, it truly seemed like the characters were friends and family. I was especially impressed with Ron Raines’s work.

    R.I.P. Guiding Light.

  4. liz v. says:

    Ha! Will poor Beth Chamberlin *ever* get credit for playing Beth 4x longer then her predecessor did?? It always cracks me up. Anyway…Judi Evans, is over on As The World Turns these days, and I hear that ATWT is next on CBS’s chopping block.
    The 4 Musketeers being coupled off and happy was the *only* good thing about the GL finale, IMHO. I can’t believe they bought back Lisa Brown, Maureen Garrett and Melissa Hayden and barely gave any of them a line to speak!

  5. Mitch says:

    I think the main thing I took away from the last week of shows was,”Why couldn’t they have done this sooner?” Why were we subjected to a remorseless murderer wander around town for a year, why were we subjected to Daisy, who had no qualms about giving said murderer his alibi, even though he killed her own cousin? Why did we have to watch non entities eat up screen time while the tried and true characters sat on their hands? Why were we subjected to that crappy faux lite rock music in the background, while they had the old musical cues on hand to use (i.e. the Jeva theme used in the last scene.) Why did they wait until the next to last day to revisit the Bauer kitchen? Why did we spend all our time for the last four years stuck with the Coopers while the other families wilted in the background?

    I know people don’t want to pass blame over the still warm corpse of GL, but Wheeler’s GL is a prime example of what is happening to the incestuous little world of soaps: where “talent,” is only brought up from within, “creative,” ego trumps what the audience wants, and a demographic, which is never going to come around, is chased after to the detriment of the audience that is already there.

    RIP GL, it didn’t have to happen this soon, but thank the soap god’s no other hack producer and writer can screw it up even worse.

  6. Daniel R. says:

    Hi Marlena…wonderful review/non-review of GL’s passing.

    I have to say what Ray wrote above was spot on. I had many tears during many of the moments in the last few weeks of episodes, but strangely none during the final show. I was smiling as it ended, because as you said Marlena, there was love, faith and a surprising sense of serenity. It wasn’t “good bye”, but “fare thee well” and “always”.

    In some sort of comfort mode, I spent last weekend slowly reading “The Guiding Light”, the 1938 book published in conjunction with the radio show. It is a clever recap of the first year and a half of the show’s first storylines, with chapters “written” by the major characters as prompted by Reverend Ruthledge, who provides the first and last chapters. I surmise the true author was Irna Phillips…it has to be. It’s that good.

    It crystallized for me what GL was all about: the characters and the common struggle that is life. As I finished each chapter, I felt connected to each character. I understood them. The storylines were one thing, but the script infused each character with dimension, personality and color (the first person narrative helped, I’m sure, in radio days). As the book obviously had to leave the stories open ended, I was disappointed…I wanted to know what happened next to Fredrika Lang, Ellis Smith, Rose Kransky…and wasn’t that the appeal of the show? Of soaps?

    I don’t think GL ever truly lost the knowledge that deep, complex characters are integral to the success of soap opera, at least with its longest running characters (the show had become populated with many one-dimensional characters, admittedly). Not so oddly, many of those long-running characters (Reva, Billy, Phillip, Josh, Lillian, Frank) were either created or developed by Pam Long, who clearly knew Irna’s secret.

    Glad you tuned in to say “fare well”, Marlena. It helps to know we were all there together!

    Marlena says:Hi Daniel. Here’s one of the reasons I decided to do a “non-review” of the last episode. Last year, when Jim Reilly passed away, voices on the internet were bashing him and his work before he was even buried. Maybe I’m older, but I think bashing someone/something right away is insulting. I was trying to take the long view about the episode, exploring what it means in the context of soap history.

    Wow, where did you get that fabulous book? How can we get it? You are right, Pam told classic stories with classic characters. But I think Doug Marland did too during his headwriting stint in the early 80s, as well as other ancient GL writers. I think most soap writers have studied Irna’s classic model. It’s just that they have to deal with technology, changing network orders, fads etc. That’s where they go astray! The closest I’ve seen to her inventions lately was Sri Rao’s General Hospital: Night Shift. Where is Rao now that we so badly need him?

  7. nadine23 says:

    Hi Marlena,
    This is my first time posting here even though I have been reading your columns regularly, and enjoying them very much.

    I agree with what you said about the finale. However, there is one thing about it I wish you had mentioned – the way they dropped the Jeffrey and Edmund storyline at the very last minute. To me that didn’t make any sense, and made Jeva reunion less believable. It would have been more magical and believable if they hat explained what happened to Jeffrey in that year that made Reva to come back to Josh? Did Edmund kill him? Is he staying away because Edmund threatened to kill her children/grandchildren?

    Why do you think the writers would just drop it like that when they had 5 months to wrap the story up?

    Nadine

    Marlena says: Hi Nadine. Thanks for writing and I am glad you enjoy the site. I don’t know why Jeffrey and Edmund’a presence and their fate were not mentioned on the final episode. As I wrote above, maybe they didn’t want violence in the final episode. These characters were very vivid to longtime viewers and their futures important to the fans. Someday the reason it was omittedwill probably come out in an interview with Ellen Wheeler, if anyone wants to interview her, that is.

  8. Levi says:

    As a Reva and Josh fan I was happy at the end……I did love the one year advancement. Not many soaps (or if any) would do that on a final episode. As for the Jeffery and Edmund thing—sometimes I feel you can finish it open ended. I felt GL did pay homage to the show in putting the supercouple of all time (arguably) back together. I felt like Reva loved Jeffery but had the show gone on longer I felt like Reva and Josh would have reunited anyway (I would have hoped anyways).

    I felt it was great to see the lighthouse and the words the end in the background. I was satisfied. I really had no gripes. Although Otalia didn’t get their kiss I am happy they reunited.

    Now I hope though that the current gay storylines would pick up steam. I really just read about them now but I might check them out soon.

    But I was so moved really by the last song. I think the song made me cry longer or harder than I was planning on. Music has that affect. But I was happy to see Mallet throw Dinah over his shoulder one last time. And of course the beloved Danny and Michelle moving home again.

    GL ended with family together in the ballpark having a nice day. It was filled with love. And of course Josh and Reva—-true soulmates——–confessing their undying love. Love can save the world——–and the 7 remaining soaps need to get rid of the mob. And they need to get rid of the baby storylines. And demeaning strong characters (ahem Ashley Abbott).

    Family is what is about……..its what we want to see. Utilize what the Bauer kitchen was to GL!

    Let GL shine on in our hearts!

  9. DS0816 says:

    A delayed response from me …

    I thought “Guiding Light” ended with dignity. For as much as was possible.

    We had some graceful moments, such as when Lillian (the underrated Tina Sloan) asked for forgiveness at the grave of her late friend Maureen.

    The death of Alan (Ron Raines) was an appropriate ending for this complex, criminal character.

    The reunion of The Four Musketeers [Phillip played by Grant Aleksander; Beth played by Beth Chamberlin; Rick played by Michael O'Leary; Mindy played by Krista Tesreau] was a pleasant surprise.

    It was sweet to some unlucky in love — particularly Blake (Elizabeth Keifer) and Frank (Frank Dicopoulos) — finding hopeful new beginnings.

    The weddings of Lillian & Buzz (Justin Deas) and Vanessa (Maeve Kinkead) & Billy (Jordan Clarke) — as well as the optimistic future for Reva (Kim Zimmer) & Josh (Robert Newman) — gave us the message of love overcoming obstacles.

    Exec producer Ellen Wheeler — and the writers — gave “GL” a satisfying exit.

    Marlena says: Wow, DSO, I’m so glad you wrote this! I thought I was one of the only opinionators who didn’t shred it to bits. My Thinking Fans (you are all my old friends by now) are the only people on the net I seem to concur with these days

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