All My Children’s Kelly Ripa — She Won the Lottery

This is a review of Kelly Ripa’s autobiography, Live Wire:  Long-Winded Short Stories, published by HarperCollins:

In 1990, a fresh, exciting character played by a phenomenal new 20-year-old talent named Kelly Ripa debuted on All My Children. The character was Hayley Vaughan, the illegitimate teenage daughter of Arlene Vaughan (played by Olivia Birkelund) and wealthy Adam Chandler (played by David Canary.)

The Jersey girl, fresh from a few appearances on dance shows, made an immediate impact. She was smart and interesting, and viewers loved her as a slightly Goth teen. Agnes Nixon, the brilliant creator and headwriter of AMC knew exactly what to do with this fresh young talent.

First, Nixon placed her in storylines in which Ripa could learn from AMC’s most seasoned pros: David Canary, a veteran of Bonanza, played her domineering father. Movie and Broadway star James Mitchell played her uncle Palmer Cortlandt, a Pine Valley rich guy.  Another co-star was Hayley’s wildly creative and dynamic “Uncle Pork Chop,” Trevor Dillion, who was played by the always dynamic James Kiberd.

Learn from the old pros she certainly did, and Nixon evolved Hayley quickly from a party girl to a teen with severe alcohol problems.  And, as always, Agnes gifted the promising character with a perfect love interest, introducing a very handsome young Mateo Santos, played by Mark Consuelos. It was love at first sight, and the on- and off-screen couples were married in 1996. In fact, Marlena remembers the very day she heard that Ripa and Consuelos had eloped!

Hayley was an instant fan favorite, and Kelly was a natural. She was so smart, and so captivating. Pine Valley fans loved her right away.

As time passed, everyone kept an eye on Ripa, including then ABC Daytime Vice President Angela Shapiro. Kathie Lee Gifford was leaving her popular ABC morning show Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee. Regis Philbin, a television legend, was in his 70s and needed a very young counterpart to take Kathie Lee’s place. Kelly won the lottery ticket when she was picked by Shapiro as Regis’s broadcast partner.

It worked—kind of. The younger demographics of the old talk show got a nice ratings bump. At the same time, there were hints of trouble. Kelly was fresh and new, but she reportedly was hard to get along with. She was charming with guests from all parts of show business. But viewers occasionally sensed tension between Kelly and Regis.

(Note: Not long after the beginning of her work with Philbin, Ripa also landed a role on an ABC sitcom called Hope and Faith. She played Faith Fairfield from 2003-2006.)

While Kelly clowned around on Live!, backstage problems were noted by interested onlookers in the business. When this autobiography came out early this fall, Regis loyalist Kathie Lee Gifford appeared on Marlena’s favorite local morning show Good Day New York and asked viewers not to buy the book out of loyalty to Regis Philbin (who died in 2020). Gifford felt that Ripa had not honored Philbin’s memory.

But in the end, did it matter? The show’s success continued after Philbin’s retirement, with Kelly moving into the prime spot. She wrote this autobiography and was featured on the cover of People. The book became an instant best-seller, which it remains to this day.

Oh, how crazy show business is! Shouldn’t Kelly have been so grateful to the people who gave her the boost that lifted her so far beyond “noted soap opera actress”? Not just her fairy godmother, Angela Shapiro, but TV icon Regis; they literally made her a star? Oy!

Back to the book: Marlena finds it almost too saccharine to be true. Kelly has spent many wonderful years — first along with Regis, and later along with Michael Strahan and Ryan Seacrest — interviewing stars and charmingly mugging for the camera. To ABC, she has been gold. This year, she also hosted a summer game show, Generation Gap, that I liked a lot.

Unfortunately, her book is a difficult read. And if it’s meant as a gift to her multitude of fans, why are there no photographs? I’ve rarely seen a biography or autobiography without at least a few.

Also, I would have liked to learn more about what it was like for her on All My Children during the golden years we all loved. Instead, we get cutesy-poo anecdotes about her life with Mark (a great talent IMHO); her kids, Michael Joseph, Lola, and Joaquin Antonio; and her parents and in-laws.

Kelly, I really have no interest in your sex life with your husband, which absorbs way too much of the book. Instead, tell me something of substance about your remarkable kids and the celebrities you’ve met on the talk show circuit over all these years. At the very least, Kelly, stop name-dropping and tell us more about Agnes Nixon, your All My Children castmates—and particularly the great Regis Philbin. (If you didn’t have an easy relationship with him, tell us about it, while making sure you give him his due.)

Of course, part of Kelly’s charm on Live! is her skill in sharing memories and relaying anecdotes. Some of the memories and anecdotes that she has recorded in Long-Winded Short Stories are OK—but that cutesy tone in which she proudly and repeatedly intones “it happened to me” is tiring. Kelly, honor yourself and your loving family by sharing more specific memories. As we journalists say: Just the facts, ma’am. Cut the never-ending cuteness!

But I guess it all works as a product: The book is a best-seller and Kelly has appeared on the cover of People magazine. Still, we hardcore soap fans cherish soap star autobiographies that tell us something about the dynamics that went into making great soaps like the much-missed All My Children. This one lets us down.

Comments

  1. Dear Marlena,
    What a great review you’ve written here. Truth be told, when you first told me you were writing a column on Kelly Ripa and her autobiography, I really had no interest. I thought to myself, I want more Marlena critiques of my favorite soaps! Forget about Kelly!
    However, what I did not anticipate was your inclusion (and shame on me for that) of All My Children and Agnes Nixon’s stories! Or the co-stars that Kelly was fortunate to work with right out of the gate. Loved, loved, LOVED these recollections! (Hmm. Methinks that my beloved Megan McTavish should have gotten a nod here, however, for writing Hayley stories at the beginning of Kelly’s run). 😉
    I appreciate your sincere stance on Kelly, while not having any rose colored glasses on.

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

      Thank you dearest Chrissy. This was a disgrace. Thanks as always for supporting me through the years. Love you as always. And Nigel does t00

      • Love you too, my Connie dear!!! Ed and Nigel too! xxoo

        Thank you Chrissy–I love my fans–but you are my number one Marlena friend and reader–without your love and caring this gal could have never made it back!

        Always and always, Connie

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

        Thanks mu Chrissy!

  2. Maxine Bennett. C says:

    You hit the nail on the head!

    Marlena says: Thanks as always dearest friend!

    Love to Steve! Marlena and Nigel send kisses too.

  3. There is a lot to unpack here. Not with the book, that sounds like an overnight bag, maybe a pillowcase at the most, but your stuffed suitcase in response. Thanks so much for all you had to say here and I agree with Chris — I think what you bring to it with your recollections and stories about her time on AMC are things that if she had spent more time on, some of us would have considered supporting her more and buying it. But I guess she’ll sell enough anyway with just her Live! fans. At least we have you to fill us in! Thank you!

    Marlena says: Thank you so much dear Esther! I always liked Kelly. She is a wonderful actress and a great talent in all she does and did. I could just see her calling for her “Uncle Pork Chop” now.

  4. I believe I enjoyed the book more than you did, though I, too, was hoping for more juicy soap tidbits. Though, I did love the few that we got, including the revelation that Chris Goutman — a name we soap fans all would come to recognize in later years — directed Mark’s screen test with her. Also, that the infamous Erica/Maria baby switch (which notoriously put Marlena in none other than Agnes Nixon’s crosshairs) kept ‘AMC’ from writing in Ripa’s first pregnancy. (NOBODY ever upstaged Erica Kane, non?)

    Plus, were you as flummoxed as I was to read that ABC offered Ripa an (apparently) quite generou$ offer of only having to appear in TWELVE episodes a year when she decided to leave ‘AMC’ after, as you put it, hitting the television lottery with Regis? I had to go back and re-read that section four or five times to make sure I was understanding it correctly! I’m not sure what exactly the show would have thought or hoped it would gain with one Hayley appearance per month — not to mention the certain resulting cast jealousy such a megabucks move would have surely incited — but that particular passage blew me away!

    (Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, my dear dear pal!!)

    Marlena says: Brandon, as always great minds think alike. This is also strange. All I can say is that Kelly gains special privilege wherever she goes. Interesting no? I guess in the end, all the magic Kelly somehow brings to all she does must be documented and it is here in her much celebrated book. She’s young–don’t count a sequel.

    Happy Thanksgiving with love from Moose, Marlena and Nigel.

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

      Thanks Brandon for your letter. I wanted to know more about Kelly’s life too. The book is a bestseller–maybe there will be a follow-up.

  5. Patrick Erwin says:

    I remember that Hayley arrived on AMC at almost the same time as Bridget Reardon on GL. To me, Bridget – and Melissa Hayden – were so captivating.

    Ripa was enjoyable enough as Hayley, but her rise to the level of stardom she’s achieved, and the longevity of her career, mystifies me to this day.

    Patrick–Who becomes a star in American culture–and stays that way is certainly a success story. Kelly came from nowhere and look how well she is known now.

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