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?

Daytime’s Most Famous “Love to Hate” Characters

By Marlena Delacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Eric Braeden as Victor Newman: Still Machiavellian after all these years

For any soap opera, a “love to hate” character is money in the bank.  Fascinated by their endless power to manipulate other characters and instigate interesting plots, these diabolical characters are adored by audiences who avidly follow all that they do. 

“Love to hate” characters dot soap opera history and frequently have long lives.  One of the first “love to hate” females was Lisa on As the World Turns, played by Eileen Fulton. Lisa drove her husband Bob and other ATWT characters crazy for decades.  On Another World, the original Rachel, played by Robin Strasser, was a “love to hate” character who evolved into a heroine, subsequently played by Victoria Wyndham. Stasser went on to play another and more famous “love to hate” character, Dorian Lord, on One Life to Live for decades.  Another iconic “love to hate” character, All My Children’s Erica Kane, made famous by Susan Lucci, quickly became the heroine of her show and was beloved for four decades as she stirred up trouble for generations of characters in Pine Valley.

“Love to hate” characters are usually played by women, but there have been some notable exceptions.  On AMC, James Mitchell’s Palmer Cortlandt caused trouble for his daughter Nina for years.   On TheYoung and the Restless, Eric Braeden’s conniving Victor Newman has been the catalyst of many twisted plots for 30 years. And he’s still going strong,mastermindinglots of problems for his children Adam, Nick and Victoria, and causing his wife Nikki to leave him over and over again. (They recently reconciled after Nikki forgave him for hiring a Cassie lookalike to frighten Sharon. But does anyone believe Victor is properly repentant and will change his Machiavellian ways? )

Right now, there are two “love to hate” characters on soaps who are relatively new and fascinating:

Spunky Quinn Fuller (Rena Sofer) came to The Bold and the Beautiful’s Forrester Creations as a jewelry designer along with her illegitimate son Wyatt.  Since arriving Quinn will do anything to help Wyatt win over the love of Hope Logan, including threatening and torturing Wyatt’s brother Liam, who is also in love with Hope.  This week Quinn even threatened to kill both Wyatt and Hope.  Quinn is so delicious as a “love to hate” character, she’s sure to be with us for a long time.

And on General Hospital, Nina Clay, as played  by Michelle Stafford (who originated and played another “love to hate” character Phyllis Summers Newman on The Young and Restless) has turned out to be a real terror since she came to Port Charles to bust up the romance of her husband Silas and Sam Morgan.  She has even resorted to faking paralysis to get her husband to feel sorry for her and stay with her. In interviews, Stafford has stated that Nina is a sociopath – great news for connoisseurs of “love to hate” characters.   She certainly has a long future ahead as a troublemaker on GH.

So, do you have a favorite baddie, past or present? Please share.

Paul Rauch, R.I.P.

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

Paul Rauch, surely the greatest executive producer in daytime soap history, died today in Manhattan at 79 following an illness.  

Paul Rauch
Nobody did soaps better

Marlena had the honor of covering and knowing Paul from 1980 onward, during which he was executive producer of Another World, Texas, One Life to Live, Santa Barbara. Guiding Light and The Young and the Restless. He generously taught me so much about soaps during our many interviews.  In the industry, Rauch was known as intimidating, but I found him to be a tremendously charismatic and complicated man who was great creative leader and a premier innovator in the art of soaps. No one knew soap production better than Paul.  He was always moving with the soap times. I always maintained he was a genius — which he loved.  Rest in peace, Mr. Rauch.

He is survived by his wife, concert pianist/playwright Israela Margalit, two children, two stepchildren and three granddaughters.

When Paul became executive producer of his last soap, Y&R, in 2008 (the job lasted until 2011). Marlena wrote this column about having known him over the years:

                                                                                                    

PAUL RAUCH FOR REAL!

September 19, 2008

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

Paul Rauch. That name may send you screaming from the room if you ever worked for him unsuccessfully, if you judge a man in totality by his bad soaps (Santa Barbara, Guiding Light) or if you are a typical internet poster who relies on rumors, innuendo and chapters of tell-all memoirs.

But now that Rauch is back as co-executive producer of The Young and the Restless (at the age of 74, after recovering from a heart attack) I’d like to offer some first person testimony. And I can do it freely and ethically because I am a journalist, and don’t have to work for him.  I knew and interviewed Rauch regularly from 1980-2001.

I’ve always maintained that, despite his stormy temperament and the people he is said to have hurt, Paul is a genius.

I knew him when he was in New York executive-producing Another World, Texas, One Life to Live and Guiding Light.  Like everyone, I had terrible, terrible times with him (I have stories — let’s just say no one could intimidate a young girl reporter better than Paul) but then again I had incredibly engaging and enlightening conversations with him over the years, too.

Ironically, it is the same young students of soap opera out there cursing at him on the net who would probably die to have to chance to have an audience with him.  Every time I interviewed Paul, I learned more in 20 minutes about the fine art of making soap opera than I ever could any other way. A serious art collector (it always cracked me up that Paul had a print of Edward  Hopper’s classic painting “The Lighthouse at Two Lights” in his office at Guiding Light), he has an incredible eye for the visual composition and texture of the image on screen.  Between that and his up-to-the-second technical knowledge, his explanations of such things as his lighting ideas, why he photographed scenes in radical new ways, and his innovative location shooting techniques, made you appreciate what he was after in a fresh way. Or he could make you understand why soaps are now casting models with perfectly beautiful faces by explaining why the technicalities of cable competition (which was new in the late 90s) called for such a (to me, awful) thing.

And he has amazing taste in actors.  Before you scream “Kim Zimmer” at me, this is the man who gave great actors like Ray Liotta (he grew up on Another World) their show-biz starts.  I used to see him all the time at the New York theater in the 80s scouting talent.  He recognized and relished using superb leading actors like Vicky Wyndham (AW), Beverlee McKinsey (AW and Texas) and Erika Slezak (One Life To Live).

He’s produced soaps for 40 years (two Emmys), moving with the times from style to style.  There were the classic, almost Shakespearean quality of AW (which was soap opera nirvana for the Thinking Fan); the campy, high budget days of OLTL, and even the very early days of GL (before he and those boobs Brown and Esensten poisoned us with the clone story).

Because he moves with the times and is a genuine Thinking Producer, Paul is a great choice for Y&R.  Among other things, the show needs a definitive post-Bill Bell style, since it’s been drifting all over the place since Bill’s death. Y&R is his kind of show: it is rich in dramatic texture and has many sophisticated characters (the Abbots, the Newmans) that are tastefully wealthy.  Although I haven’t seen Paul in years, I’m sure he still approaches his work with all the intensity and meticulous attention a show like Y&R badly needs to stay on top in these troubled, troubled soap times.

Welcome back, Paul!

Marlena Refreshed and General Hospital Done Right

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

Hi, darlings!   How do you like the marlenadelacroix.com site’s new look?  Marlena needed to be refreshed, so I went in for some work.  If Jeanne Cooper can have her face lifted so publicly on screen as Katherine Chancellor so many years ago on The Young and the Restless, and the equally sublime Linda Dano went on record with  having had portions of her face touched up when she  was on  Another World (where she played Felicia Gallant). I’ll be out there and publicly acknowledge … some “surgery” done … on this blog.  I’ve brought aboard a photo of  the  statue of  “The Thinker,” (right)  which Marlena saw at the Rodin Museum the last time she was in  Paris, as some inspiration for all of  us Thinking Fans.  You think a chisled male body is something they invented for  just for soap operas? Marlena loves Mr. Thinker for his  brain and his reflective nature, of course!

Speaking of beauty, I just want to give an admiring shout out to the hair and make-up   departments of General Hospital for making Kristen Alderson look [Read more...]

What’s a Daytime Emmy Year Without Complaining? Or Even Watching?

For a full report on the Viva Las Vegas Daytime Emmys, read the post following this one by Marlena’s friend, TV columnist Ed Martin.  But first …

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daytime emmyBy Marlena De Lacroix

Due to a car malfunction, Moose, Nigel and I had to stay away an extra day this past Sunday, (delightfully) stranded in a cabin without a TV.  (I made a fabulous salt-free dinner of Thai noodles with chicken and scallions from scratch.)

And so let it be recorded in anno domani 2010 that  moi,  Marlena De Lacroix, missed the Daytime Emmys.  Marlena, who has never missed watching or attending the daytime awards in thirty years.  Marlena, who first went to the Emmys in 1980 in the old Waldorf Astoria, and flipped when I saw that year winners, Another World‘s Doug Watson and One Life to Live‘s Judith Light, live and in the flesh?  Wow!  What an amazing moment in my career that was.    

You don’t care that I missed watching the 2010 Emmys?  Then why, when I got home, did I find 312 messages on my computer complaining about the Emmys, asking me what I felt, from friends, Romans and [Read more...]

A Letter to Marlena De Lacroix (a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman)

Dear Ms. Passalacqua Hayman: 

I wanted to write to tell you how much I enjoy reading your columns and your insights into the soaps.  You are the reason I started buying Soap Opera Weekly so many years ago and I was sad when you left.  I bought that magazine every week, at first for your columns, but then cause I just loved it.  I would not get a subscription

I hope something comes along and saves our shows from themselves, but that alarm has been ringing for a long time.  Why can’t those in charge hear it?

because I wanted to buy it every week so the cover would not be damaged with those damn postal stickers.  Their covers used to be so good — those were the days!  I was pleasantly surprised to find your web site recently and am excited to read what you have to say about the state of soaps today. 

I, too, am just saddened by the state of the soap business these days.  I, of course, do not pretend to know all it takes to make soaps or [Read more...]

Marlena’s Midsummer Night’s Questions

Thinking Fans’ summer thoughts on Destiny et al.:  JTG says Shenell Edmonds’ Destiny is no stereotype. “It’s obvious OLTL’s writers are positioning Destiny as Matthew’s first girlfriend. Most of the time, the stereotypical ’mammy’ character is either sexless or oversexed. That is not the case with Destiny” … while Mike Goldberg confides Destiny has made him a believer again. “I haven’t been interested in teen romance in years” … and more, on many topics. See Comments below.

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sunBy Marlena De Lacroix

Bonjour everyone!  I’ve been taking it easy this summer, staying cool in the pool with my new pooch (see above).  Yet I’m still watching soaps and have a bunch of questions I’d like to ask.  As always, I welcome your comments!

1.  Why hasn’t anyone in the soap press asked major actor John Rubinstein — a Best Actor Tony winner for Children of a Lesser God in 1980 and a million other TV roles, plus being the son of the late piano genius Artur Rubinstein — why he’s playing a minor little part on The Young and the Restless?  His Dr. Taylor is the crooked [Read more...]

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 [Read more...]

Soap Shrink to Thinking Fans: Ways to Cope with Recent Soap Deaths

Thinking Fans on the passing of beloved soap characters:  BL says, “Feelings are feelings, and if someone did something magnificent in their career or touched you emotionally, it should be honored” … while renee says, “I know they’re not physically real, but if we’re blessed they’re emotionally real” … and more. See Comments below. 

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By Damon L. Jacobs

This is not an easy time to be a soap fan.  Already we are coping with declining ratings, pre-emptions, time changes, and signs of behind-the-scenes instability.  But this week the Thinking Fans are coping with not one, not two, but three significant creative and artistic losses.  What’s worse, the NAW’s (Non-Addicted-Watchers) in our lives usually have a limited ability to relate to our pain and sorrow.  

Unlike stars of prime time TV shows or movies, soap actors/writers form unique relationships with us viewers.  They are in our homes several times a week, sometimes for decades at a time.  We often go through school and college

Respect your relationship with the person who has died …  Appreciate the values they brought into your life.

watching our favorite character go through similar struggles.  We may enter and exit relationships; we may give birth to children and watch them grow up, all with that comforting surrogate family member entering into our homes during the day.  They come to symbolize [Read more...]

Irene Dailey: That Exquisite Pain, Aunt Liz

Thinking Fans Comment Update October 9:  James says Aunt Liz was often the voice of the audience … while Dave Feldman recalls her vicious streak … and more. See Comments below.

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Irene Dailey

By Marlena De Lacroix

As you know, Tony and Daytime Emmy winning actress Irene Dailey died of colon cancer September 24 in Santa Rosa, California.  She was 88.

Her Aunt Liz on Another World (1974-86, 87-93) was a most memorable and invaluable supporting character on soaps, the epitome of a provocateur / Pain in the Ass.  In other words, if you were a Matthews or a Cory and you were going through some kind of problem or crisis and saw her coming, you knew you were in for a real verbal wuppin’. Meddling was her game and no one, I mean no one,  made trouble for characters on soaps better than Irene Dailey’s Aunt Liz. That’s because theater-trained Dailey played Aunt Liz as a living, breathing unhappy human being, not as a cartoon or caricature.

The first Aunt Liz on AW — I remember her well — was played very much in the comic vein by Audra Linley.  Audra Linley, who later became [Read more...]