Character Actors Add Much Needed Character To Soaps

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Bergen Williams as truth-telling Alice Gunderson on General Hospital

Soap stories, most of which are about romance and love triangles, do tend to get repetitive.  Adding variety and spice to this formula are character roles, which do a lot to make soaps more interesting.  These characters often provide comic relief and serve as “talk tos” for the main characters.

Colorful and amusing character parts have enriched soaps since the beginning.

On Another World in the 70s, Anne Meacham as Iris’s assistant Louise Goddard always drew laughs when she talked to plants about  the show’s tangled plots, “confiding” in the greenery in a deep, soothing voice. In the 80s, Brent Collins on AW  was memorable as Felicia Gallant’s wise-cracking sidekick.  (A versatile actor, he also played the evil, unfunny Mr. Big on As the World Turns.)  At the same time on Days of Our Lives,  Arleen Sorkin and  John DeLancie served as comic foils to leads Marlena and Roman – Arleen as the ditzy blond  Calliope and John as the stuffed shirt Eugene.  Meanwhile, on All My Children, the country-fried Opal (Dorothy Lyman, Jill  Larson) was the talk-to for Erica, and was so popular she became a main character.

Now more than ever, today’s meager menu of four soaps needs to be made tastier by the addition of the adroit services of stellar character actors:

All the goings-on at The Bold and the Beautiful’s Forrester Creations are comically commented on by Pam (Ally Mills) and her boyfriend Charlie (Dick Christie), turning the office staff into an irreverent Greek chorus. Often they “get” what’s happening before the main characters do. Pam, you may recall, was first to catch on to how crazy Quinn is.

A fine example of comic acting was on display just this month as Ilene Kristen guested on General Hospital as her old  Ryan’s Hope character Delia Reid Ryan, her patented kookiness undiminished by the passing years,  Delia, in a real stroke of writing brilliance, was revealed to be the mother of  Ava (Maura West).  Like mother like daughter — both are conniving  and mocking. This time Delia came to stay with pregnant Ava and her baby daddy Sonny and wound up busting into Sonny’s safe before she was escorted out of town by Sean.

Another comic character that is much beloved by the GH audience is Alice Gunderson (Bergen Williams), the truth-telling wrestler and former Quartermaine maid who is now a real thorn in the side of Tracy.  Alice is on to the fact that Tracy is trying to secretly take over ELQ, the family business.  Recently Alice proved she really does have a heart by having a heart attack, and now needs a heart transplant to save her life.

Speaking of thorns, a shining example of tour de force character acting is now being offered by Ray Wise, whose seductive con man Ian Ward is now a thorn in the sides of many Genoa City residents on The Young and the Restless.   Right now, he’s suing Nikki for emotional disturbance (!) because she lied and told him he was Dylan’s biological father. In this storyline, Wise has been particularly well paired with Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki) and Eric Braeden, who plays Nikki’s exasperated and combative  husband Victor.

 These are some of my faves. Who are yours?

Comments

  1. tess says:

    Love this post. Just the other day, in another forum, we discussed character actors. I talked about some that were on Y&R. There was Carol, Jack’s secretary and Lynn, Paul’s devoted Girl Friday (a threadbare description, I know), who called Paul, Boss and secretly loved him. With Paul recently being in the hospital, I was so hoping a frantic Lynn would drop in to visit him and yell that she hoped Austin fry for hurting a good man like Paul Williams. Back to character actors, there was Victor’s confidant, Colonel Austin and his girlfriend, Boobsie Caswell. Gotta love a babe named Boobsie.

    The late, great EDGE OF NIGHT had some wonderful character actors. There was Gunther, Sky Whitney’s chauffeur and Mrs. Goodman, the Cavanaugh’s wisecracking baby sitter. There was Morlock and Taffy Simms and Elly Jo Jamison.

    ALL MY CHILDREN had fascinating character actors who were quite colorful, Myrtle Fargate, a reformed con artist, Langley Wallingford, an ersatz professor. The aforementioned Opal and her husband, Ray. Benny Sago, Phoebe’s chauffeur. He called her Duchess and she haughtily referred to him as Benjamin and she did not approve of his involvement with Estelle Latour, a former lady of the evening. There was Myra Murdock and Sloan.

    I frequently found character actors more exciting than the regulars. And most of the character actors could act. I think Y&R’s, Victor Newman could use a confidant these days. I’d love to see someone like Edie McClurg join the cast as Dreama, the Newman’s housekeeper.

    But we don’t see character actors as often as we used to because of the B word–budgets. Nowadays, every character has to be integral to the story line. Like you said, Marlena, character actors are often used as a talk-to, so the character serves a much needed purpose. They can elucidate story and characterization. And clarity adds to the audience’s viewing enjoyment.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Marlena, Alice still works as the maid at the Quartermaine Mansion and she’s not a wrestler anymore!

  3. Sam says:

    On DOOL, I used to enjoy Ivan, Vivian’s loyal manservant and confidant. I would get a kick out of the way he would call her “madame” all those years.

    On OLTL, for a quick minute, we had a great character actor in Mrs. Bigelow, Todd/Victor’s loyal secretary. She always wore a tie and had these big glasses. She was a hoot! Does anyone else remember her? She, like most character actors, disappeared without explanation.

  4. Sam says:

    on OLTL, Marcy started as a character actor and became a real heroine, as did Carlotta and a few others.

  5. Red says:

    Donna and Ginger (Tammy Lang and Allison Janney) were a hoot as the Spaulding maids on GL in the early ’90s. They always had snarky something to say about the goings-on between Jenna, Roger, Buzz, Alexandra, et al. To wit: “Mistress [Jenna] wouldn’t be so stressed if she was getting what she needs, and I don’t mean a game of field hockey.”

  6. wolfy says:

    I know the whole show was pretty much played for laughs, but when it comes to characters, you couldn’t get sillier than Norma and Edna on “Passions.” Norma ran around for months terrorizing everyone with her axe and the skull of her father (that she talked to!) hanging on her belt, and Edna … well, she was just crazy as all getouts as it was, driving her already nutty daughter even more insane. When the wedding between Edna and Norma took place, that had to be almost the craziest thing on the whole show (barring the fact that Precious the orangutan was a nurse)!

    Then on Y&R, you have a now Oscar-nominated actress who played Pearl..Yep, June Squibb played
    Pearl from 2008-2009 and again in 2012, working in the diner with Joe when Katherine met Patrick Murphy after losing her memory in the car accident with Marge Cotrook, her “twin.” I enjoy Squibb’s work, especially her latest gig, a cameo on “Devious Maids” as Susan Lucci’s character’s evil mom. She was a real hoot!
    wolfy

    PS – I miss the “fights” between Donna and Pam on B&B. Who else but Pammy would think of tying Donna to a chair, covering her with honey and then having a bear come into the cabin? Evil and funny at the same time!

  7. Richard says:

    Marlena,

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention Nigel Bartholomew Smythe, Asa and Renee Buchanan’s butler on OLTL! I always enjoyed seeing him first appear in a scene, then just waiting to hear Peter Barlett’s expert delivery of quick-witted barbs, sarcastic responses, facial expressions, etc. He was always a joy to watch and brought extra life even to the smallest of appearances. I watched OLTL from 1973 to it’s final episode….wow, how I miss the citizens of Llanview.

    • tess says:

      It’s a damn shame that ABC never reinstated ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Those short-lived online versions showed that the shows still had incredible potential. As they say, it is what it is.

  8. David C says:

    On Major League baseball’s All Star Day, you Marlena continue to bat it out of the park!Speaking of Delia’s appearance on General Hospital, anyone catch her reverence to Jillian Coleridge, one of her many female rivals for Frank Ryan’s heart on Ryan’s Hope?

Speak Your Mind