Marlena’s Personal Recollections of Soaps’ Greatest Headwriters, Part Two

Marlena is ecstatic about the warm reaction to the recent Part 1 of this column. I’m thrilled you liked what I wrote about three great headwriters: Agnes Nixon, William J. Bell and James E. Reilly. This week, I humbly present my recollections of three more:

Claire Labine (1934-2016): Co-headwriter (with Paul Avila Mayer) of Where the Heart Is and Love of Life; co-creator and co-headwriter (with Paul Avila Mayer) of Ryan’s Hope; headwriter of General Hospital and One Life to Live.

Anyone who was lucky enough to know Claire Labine knew that she was pure magic. Everything about her — was it her Irish roots? — was charm, deep warmth and wisdom. I particularly loved Ryan’s Hope, which she created with Paul Avila Mayer, because it was only soap located in New York City, my hometown. Maeve Ryan (played by Helen Gallagher) and Johnny Ryan (played by Bernard Barrow) owned Ryan’s bar in upper Manhattan. Their children and all the characters who frequented the bar or worked at the nearby hospital were intelligent, interesting and contemporary.

One of those characters had a big influence on me and, I’m sure, many others: Ryan daughter Mary (originally played by Kate Mulgrew, later of Star Trek: Voyager and Orange Is the New Black), a newspaper reporter. Her romance with jittery Jack Fenelli (played by Michael Levin) was smart and sophisticated in the manner of the screen legends Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

What set Ryan’s Hope apart was its sharp dialogue — which was particularly pronounced during confrontations between its strong-minded characters. What great payoffs this show gave its viewers! It also pushed the envelope with plot points that bordered on outrageous, but the show still managed to maintain a strong emotional core. Who could forget the selfish, needy and manipulative Delia (played by Ilene Kristin) angrily shoving her husband, Frank Ryan (played by Michael Hawkins), down a flight of stairs to his near death, then getting him to promise not to tell anyone about her part in his fall; or a fed-up Maeve, sick of Mary and Jack misinterpreting each other, locking them in a basement and keeping them locked up until they had talked out their differences; or a gorilla grabbing Delia (then played by Randall Edwards), carrying her up a tower and dropping her. From 1977 to 1984, the series won six Daytime Emmys for best writing.

After the demise of Ryan’s Hope in 1989, Claire became the headwriter of General Hospital (1993-96), where she wrote one of the most tragic, timely and devasting soap stories ever (produced by the talented executive producer Wendy Riche): the death of young Stone Cates (played by Michael Sutton) from AIDS in 1995. Who can forget Stone’s last minute on earth when the young man, blinded by the disease, asked his girlfriend, Robin Scorpio (played by Kimberly McCollough), to stand by the window in the light, and she began to come into focus for him. “I see you,” he exclaimed. “Oh, Robin, I see you.”  We in the audience collapsed in grief.

For a time, it was a special treat for me to live on the same street in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn as Claire and her family. And I treasure the memory of running into her at a Brooklyn Cyclones (a minor-league affiliate of Marlena’s beloved New York Mets) baseball game in Coney Island.

I know I’m not the only person in the soap world who still misses Claire. Like so many other women who have worked in daytime drama she had brains, wisdom and talent.

Douglas Marland (1934-1993): Headwriter of The Doctors, General Hospital, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, Loving (co-created with Agnes Nixon) and A New Day in Eden (creator).

I was blessed both as a soap opera viewer and a daytime drama journalist to have known and loved Douglas Marland. As I’ve written previously, Doug was a former actor who loved the soap world and everyone in it. And no one wrote for actors (female actors in particular) better than he did. Remember Doug’s masterwork characters Franny and Sabrina on As the World Turns, the twins who launched the career of Oscar winner Julianne Moore? How about the driven businesswoman and protective mama Lucinda Walsh (played by the great Elizabeth Hubbard)? His women were always strong — and always rang true.

In person, Doug was all kindness, and he was a true man of the theater. One time, I rode with him in his limo to the Loving studio, and he could not stop raving about a new actress on the show, Susan Walters (now Diane on The Young and the Restless), who played Lorna. Another time, I saw him sitting with his muse, the late Lisa Brown (who played Nola on Guiding Light) at a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which starred a young Alec Baldwin (Billy, The Doctors) and Jessica Lange. Disastrously, Lange’s voice wasn’t large enough to fill the theater, and the audience missed half of her lines. There was a similar, though lesser, problem with Baldwin; his projection was uneven and his enunciation needed work. At the end of the play, Marland, who clearly loved Streetcar, whispered in my ear, “Look what they’ve done to my beautiful play.”

Finally, I’ll never forget the day that I, as editor of Afternoon TV magazine, presented him with the magazine’s Best Writing Award at the Guiding Light studio. The ceremony was attended only by three people: Doug, my assistant editor and me. In his trademark custom-made blue suit, Doug accepted the award with a speech that was Oscar worthy. He was at the height of his creative powers when he died suddenly of complications of abdominal surgery at age 58. How much I, and everyone else in the soap world, have missed him.

Henry Slesar (1927-2002): Edge of Night, Somerset, Search for Tomorrow, Capitol.

Marlena has always gravitated to smart, cerebral soap opera. And there was never a daytime soap that was as intelligently written as Henry Slesar’s Edge of Night, which centered on mystery and suspense stories in the city of Monticello. Slesar started his career as an advertising copywriter, wrote prolifically for detective magazines under many pen names, and published several novels. He was a particular favorite of the late director Alfred Hitchcock and wrote for the iconic director’s popular TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

While he was headwriter of Edge of Night (1968-84), he simultaneously had stints as the headwriter of Somerset (1971-73) and Search for Tomorrow (1978), and in 1974-75 he was the creator and headwriter of the prime-time CBS series Executive Suite. But Edge of Night was Slesar’s masterpiece. It featured mystery plot lines with endings viewers could never guess. The lead sleuths, of course, were Police Chief Bill Marceau (played by Mandel Kramer) and District Attorney Mike Karr (played by Forrest Compton from 1971-84). Other residents of Monticello included rich matriarch Geraldine Saxon (played by Lois Kibbee), her nephew Sky Whitney (played by the late, much missed Larkin Malloy) and his eventual wife Raven Alexander (played by Sharon Gabet) — oh what a divine soap supercouple! Representing the city’s younger population were Jody Travis (played by Lori Loughlin of future Full House fame; Edge of Night was her first TV show) and her boyfriend, the dreamy Preacher Emerson (played by Charles Flohe, later known as Charles Grant).

What was great about Edge of Night was that the show was as intelligent as its headwriter (and it was beautifully produced by the late Nick Nicholson.) When I interviewed Slesar in his Upper East Side apartment/office, he was all business. No gossip, no self-aggrandizing. All brains. Just the facts, ma’m —  in the spirit of the wonderful mysteries he crafted.

A soap opera for a sophisticated and soap savvy audience — that’s exactly what Edge of Night was. Marlena heaven!

Comments

  1. P. KELLACH waddle says:

    So thrilled you talked about Slesar– even his non Edge stuff thrilled me ..Jingles the Clown on Somerset and Steve Kaslo’s death…wondering…did you leave GL off Clsire’s list and OLTL off Henry’s list for space reasons? ……the first 4 years of RH …the first 4 yrars Doug’s ATWT…Edge 70 to 79…those are prob my fave 3 soap stints ever!

  2. David Johnson says:

    MAGNIFIQUE, MA CHERE MARLENA!! ANOTHER WONDERFUL WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE IN SOAPLAND!! MERCI BEAUCOUP, CHERIE. THREE GREAT SOAP WRITERS!! ALAS, THE ONLY ONE I ACTUALLY MET WAS CLAIRE LABINE. I’LL NEVER FORGET HER SERVING US LUNCH IN HER KITCHEN IN THE HOUSE IN PARK SLOPE. 🙂 TERRIFIC MEMORIES!! THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR BRINGING IT ALL BACK TO US.

    Marlena says: Merci beaucoups! Oh distinguished soap press colleague and dear friend–the often-treacherous roads we have traveled together over the years! That afternoon was wonderful–like you!

  3. What a fun walk down Memory Lane…much appreciated, Marlena! Back when head writers had vision and were allowed to use it and weren’t interfered with by network heads thinking they are more talented. I miss what they were able to accomplish. Thank you for sharing your recollections of those writers from soaps’ glory days.

    Marlena says: Thank you Esther as always. What a great point you have in the networks letting headwriters be headwriters. As you know, CBS never put any restrictions on Bill Bell because his “Y&R” (and later “B&B”) made them millions of dollars.

  4. Douglas Marland…..we will never see the likes of him again.

    • Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a Connie Passalacqua Hayman says:

      Marlena says: How we both loved Doug–and his work. Thank you for writing such wonderful columns about the Proctor and Gamble soaps here in my blog over the years. Moose, Nigel and I love you!

  5. Sorry I never got to meet Henry especially since I was an Edge geek and later discovered and still watch AlgredHitchcock reruns.
    I think your part one and part two point out most of all is how great and entertaining and insightful a show can be with a strong head writer with a strong pov and limited network interference.

    Marlena says: Thanks as always Alan. You are so right about headwriters historically doing their best work when they are not bothered by network interference. Back in the 80’s Bill Bell was making so much money/profits for CBS with “Young and Restless” they let him have total control. I also recall that ABC let Henry write whatever he wanted on “Edge.”

  6. My dear Contessa, two fabulous columns and totally agree. Any thoughts about the Dobsons? They did well on ATWT and GL as well as their baby SB.

    Ray: Bridget and Jerome Dobson, were both on screen (their imaginative soaps!) and in real life a trip to interview. I loved their “Santa Barbara”-and as you may know Bridget is the daughter of Frank and Doris Hursley (who created “General Hospital.”

    Thank you as always longtime reader and friend!

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