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.

Sunday Reflections 12: Young and Restless’ Blah 10,000th Episode … General Hospital’s Sabrina and Her Fantasies, and Connie and Her Body Shot

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

The Young and the Restless: So, what did you think of Y&R’s 10,000th episode, aired Thursday?  This was the one in which a “dead” character came back for his own funeral. In this case, it was Victor Newman, in what seemed to be his 438th resurrection.   (It was actually his third).  Well, in the episode’s defense, it did feature the entire cast, including characters like Esther, Traci and Danny, albeit in overcrowded group scenes.  The relief at seeing Victor alive (in a $10,000 suit, after months of grimy togs) along with such Newman family characters as Victor’s daughter Abby was kind of sweet.    And Victor and Nikki had an episode-ending reunion love scene, a rarity in the history of soaps:  a scene where a couple actually ends up happy.

Victor and Nikki, together again
Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott

This celebratory episode was a treat for viewers who have never seen a soap before, but longtimers who had seen it all before were probably left feeling blasé.  For some, it may even have bordered on soap self-parody, as was accurately predicted by former Marlena contributor Patrick Erwin in a letter last week.  The over-arching problem with the episode was that it was pedestrian soap opera.  And a Y&R special shouldn’t be that un-special after 10,000 episodes!  The episode was also emblematic of the last two years or so of the inexplicably top-rated Y&R, which may be summed up with one word:  blah.  Both the show and the special episode were produced and co-written by the recently fired Maria Arena Bell. [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 10: Katie Couric’s Talk Show is So-So … GH’s Fast Wrapping Up Remote … Y&R: Why did “Red”’s Hair Suddenly Turn Brown?

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

So what did you think of Katie, Ms. Couric’s new talk show?  I have mixed feelings about it.

Couric herself doesn’t bother me.  Au contraire – we should be proud that daytime television, which marginalizes older women, is spotlighting a 55-year-old.  Katie’s usual intelligence does shine through on the show.  Plus she’s the real deal as a journalist, a terrific interviewer.  She has the professional acumen to ask the difficult questions — on her first show she asked Sheryl Crow if she knew about Lance Armstrong’s drug use while she was dating him. (Crow copped out and said she doesn’t talk to him much anymore.)

Katie Couric

One of the show’s main problems, though, is that so far it hasn’t measured up to the Couric intelligence.   It’s been focused too much on what I call the girly-girl lightweight subjects, like weight and romance.  Wasn’t the interview with shallow Jessica Simpson just a bore?  Who needs yet another recommendation for Weight Watchers, as Simpson went on about her weight loss and even brought on her WW counselor.  Katie gave over an entire show to a feel-good author named B’rene Brown who just burbled on for endless segments about how beneficial it is to make yourself vulnerable to romance and all in life. She was so New Age-ish and so full of hot air that the show just went on interminably.

As I’ve written, a daytime talk show shouldn’t appeal only to women. It should appeal to all people who have brains, as The View does.  Katie herself seems [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 4: The Young and the Restless’ Jeanne Cooper Book Reviewed; General Hospital

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

The Young and the Restless:  Like gossip on old movies and TV and the soap opera world? Like to laugh?  Wanna get all the inside whispered into your ear by a great soap opera icon?  Then get yourself a copy of Not Young, Still Restless (HarperCollins) the very frank and entertaining autobiography of 83-year-old Jeanne Cooper, who has starred as Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless since 1973.

Cooper, who was brought up in a modest household in Taft, California, fell in love with theater and became a Hollywood contract player (and later television freelancer) during the 50s, all before she came to Y&R.  She appeared in such movies as The Girl From Wyoming with Maureen O’ Hara (who initially tried to push younger actress Cooper into the background) and Let No Man Be My Epitaph (where she became friends with Shelley Winters.)   For more than  two decades she was a most prolific guest star on primetime shows (from Wagon Train and Perry Mason to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Bracken’s World) getting to really know such stars as Barbara Stanwyck, Raymond Burr and her dear longtime friend, Barbara Hale.

And right off the bat, Cooper tells you who she slept with in those glory days — David Janssen and Robert Taylor (!) were just two. Very quickly you see that the strong woman who survived and thrived in the difficult word of Hollywood had tremendous vulnerabilities, revealed through her running painful description of her love/ hate relationship with her husband, agent and producer Harry Bernsen.  He was a handsome, cheating money moocher, and she eventually divorced him. But their three children (actor Corbin, Collin and Caren) became and remain the lights of her life. What a proud, deeply loving mother she appears to be!  (She now has eight grandchildren in a tight knit family.)

Cooper confesses that The Young and the Restless saved her life.  After her bout with alcoholism, Bill Bell personally sent her to rehab.  Cooper delightfully details all the leading names of the actors and backstagers she’s known through [Read more...]

Ten Happy Halloween Questions

By Marlena De Lacroix

1.  Isn’t it most curious that two of the most intelligent women characters in daytime — Dr. Marty Saybrooke on One Life to Live and fashion mogul Jackie M on The Bold and the Beautiful – have gone from brunette to blonde in the last few months?  Fashion, or just another attempt by the networks/shows to “dumb down” smart female characters?  Regardless, Susan Haskell and Lesley Ann-Downe continue to look gorgeous and act with integrity!

2.  The great, the one and only Eric Braeden; my revered and beloved Robin Strasser — am I the only one l who feels used and tired out by … Continued below

Halloween Marlena

MARLENA AND NIGEL’S HALLOWEEN POOCH PARADE

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Continued from above … being drawn into their public contract negotiations?  Sure, they don’t deserve pay cuts!  But can’t they keep the drama and tragedy private?  The press gets [Read more...]

The Downward Soap Spiral Accelerates

By Marlena De Lacroix

Bonjour, everyone.  This November will mark 20th anniversary of my becoming Marlena De Lacroix, soap critic. Marlena’s mission has always been to write the truth as I see it, no matter how impolitic.   

But now, for me — I repeat, for me — it’s clear that we’ve reached the end stage of network daytime soap opera, a medium we have watched forever and loved so much.   Perhaps that’s why I find watching soaps and writing criticism so difficult

For years, we’ve watched and believed plots that would be unlikely or even ridiculous if they actually happened. But the secret of great soap opera is that the best and brightest writers knew how to craft and pace storylines so that they were EMOTIONALLY believable.  Not any more.  Not now!

right now.  Fans, posters and columnists are angry and hurt.  A critic can beat soaps with a baseball bat every single week, but what’s the point?  I used to write about soaps because they were fun to write about, sheer joy!  Now, [Read more...]

The Daytime Emmys: Happy At Last

newFor another view of the Daytime Emmys, read the post following this one by Marlena’s longtime friend and colleague Ed Martin.  A veteran TV industry journalist and analyst, Ed is a columnist for JackMyers.com.

By Marlena De Lacroix

From out of a dying soap industry, from out of a cable network I never watch, last night arrived the most unexpected shock of my decades-long soap watching/journalism life: a Daytime Emmys that was pretty good.  Who know that after most of us gave up the fight and moved on to other lives that daytime would finally get what we (the actors, the press, and hopefully the fans) had fought for forever: a Daytime Emmys that wasn’t condescending to daytime soaps!

Hooray!  No soaps-are-stupid jokes!  It’s taken the always awkward Daytime Emmys since 1974 — the year they were first broadcast by themselves – not to make fun of what they’re celebrating.  Even though this year’s ceremony was on 

Best of all, without the traditional sneering and disrespect for soaps, many moments of actual warmth emerged.  It’s called professional showmanship with heart, and the producers of the Emmys this year have it! Yes, yes — emotion — that’s what daytime soaps are all about.  And used to be about. 

such a small scale, it grew large because it finally treated soaps with dignity. They are not, as most people in the world think, and we soap fans know in our hearts – a punch line!

Unlike in past years, the host wasn’t sleazy or smarmy (like Bob Barker) or totally miscast (as Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott unintentionally were [Read more...]