I had the privilege of being invited to attend the tribute for Frances Reid (Alice Horton) which was being held right across the way where she taped her performances as the matriarch of one of soaps classic families for more than four decades. Frances passed away last month, at 95 years old, and until now there has been no gathering of her colleagues and friends. I didn’t know what to expect because the designated place for the gathering was the NBC Commissary. But then it made sense, since then cast members and crew who had been working all day could easily get to this celebration of her life. What I was not expecting was the many DAYS actors, past and present who were there. Frances’ nieces, who live in California, were also in attendance. But what I noticed most of all, were the plates of donuts at each and every available table. What a great touch! After all, what kind of a tribute would this be to the woman who fed all of the Horton’s and their loved ones special donuts, without some to nibble on? And, donuts were a through line of the speeches and memories shared by those who spoke to pay homage to Frances Reid.
The evening started with an emotional Ken Corday (DAYS, executive producer), whose mother and father, Ted and Betty Corday, started Days of our Lives some 43 years ago. Ken reminded the room just how much Frances’ incarnation of Alice made all of us in the viewing audience want a caring and understanding mother just like that. Of course, as detailed by everyone who spoke, Frances was a far cry from the character she played on TV… at times foul-mouthed or politically incorrect, direct, brazen, and one heck of a tough dame. Ken told a magnificent story of when, then DAYS head writer James Reilly, was killing off ten major characters as part of the Salem Stalker storyline, that Reilly told him one of the last victims was to be Alice Horton, Ken kind of freaked out. How was he going to tell Frances Reid that they were “killing” her character? All the while trying to keep the secret that all of the victims of the storyline did not really “die”? (DAYS fans will remember almost a year later they were all very much alive on the island of Melaswen…backward for New Salem!) But the hardest part Ken said was, how do you tell Frances Reid that Alice will die from choking on her own donuts? Well, he admitted that he had to let Frances in on the truth that it was only a “temporary death”! He just couldn’t bring himself to pull the wool over the matriarch of the Horton clan.
Deidre Hall (Marlena), who was back amongst her former colleagues, did more of a “roast” type speech on Frances’ life on DAYS with her co-stars and crew. And, she reiterated what a trouper Frances had been the day Marlena made Alice “choke” on her own donut and face her grisly demise. Deidre’s statements showed throughout that whether you loved Frances or feared her, you always respected her. And with tears in her eyes, she reminded us, what we all know, ‘that we shall not look upon her like again’. Suzanne Rogers (Maggie) read a note from Frances’ former on-screen son, John Clarke (Ex-Mickey) who could not be in attendance at the tribute, and then shared how Frances told her three important lessons to survive on DAYS: “Always come to work prepared, don’t keep people waiting, and know your lines and you will get along just fine.” Suzanne went on to say, “Frances took me under her wing and she made sure I learned the proper etiquette for working on stage with other actors.” Suzanne was given a special pendant by Frances from one of her many travels, and in honor of this day, with tears in her eyes, Suzanne showed it proudly to us as a memento and a sign from Frances that will always connect them.
Bill Hayes (Doug) detailed how Doug would often flirt with Alice. In fact, one special episode while Alice was gardening he decided to sing a ditty to Mrs. H. Bill sang it for us, and remembered how Frances with one look could convey exactly what she was feeling… good, bad or indifferent! He would describe her as “a cream puff … crusty on the outside, but soft inside.” But it was the final speaker, Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie), who struck the balance between the feisty lady they all knew and loved, and the character she played on television. And it was Susan, choking back the tears, that when Days of our Lives at some point goes off the air, and all the baby-switches and affairs, and other soapy scenarios are long forgotten, it will be Frances’ Alice that people will associate with DAYS. And with that, Ken led us all in a toast. We lifted our glasses, “To Frances!” And on that special moment, we then watched the clip package to end all clip packages, which featured Frances as Alice in all her glory… bloopers, swearing, forgetting names and characters, and those unforgettable moments with MacDonald Carey as her Tom, Peter Reckell as her Bo, and Melissa Reeves as her granddaughter, Jennifer. It was the final clip shown, that was shot in 2006 when Melissa was exiting the show (for at that point the final time, moving to Nashville with her husband, Scott Reeves) that brought us all to tears. Melissa knew that Frances was ailing at that time and her health was getting worse. She knew that this would be the final time that she would see her beloved, Frances, and on-screen grandma, and the scenes, as told to me by Melissa, were exceedingly hard to get through. The words spoke for themselves. And here is that clip. The scene begins at 1:38 seconds into the video.
As I looked around the room through tears and smiles, I hugged Peter Reckell (Bo) who of all the long-standing cast members I have shared the most experiences with. I detailed to Peter that I have a special clip of Frances and he from my days at SoapCity.com where the two of them do a short interview together about Alice’s donuts and her love for Bo. Frances rarely did any interviews, which made this now such a gem to have. From Melissa and Scott Reeves, Patsy Pease (Kimberly), Susan Flannery (Ex-Laura, now Stephanie, B&B), Wayne Northrup (Roman), Maree Cheathem (Marie), Alison Sweeney (Sami), Kristian Alfonso (Hope), Nadia Bjorlin and Brandon Beemer (Chloe, and Ex-Shawn, now Owen, B&B), Jason Cook (Ex-Shawn, now Matt, GH), John Aniston (Victor), Peggy McKay (Caroline), Louise Sorel (Vivian), Arianne Zuker and Kyle Lowder (Nicole, and Ex-Brady, DAYS, now Rick, B&B), Eric Martsolf (Brady), Shawn Christian (Daniel), Leann Hunley (Anna), Patrika Darbo (Nancy), Lauren Koslow (Kate), Jay Johnson (Phillip), Molly Burnett (Melanie), Judi Evans (Adrienne),Wally Kurth (Justin), James Reynolds (Abe), Mark Hapka (Nathan), Casey Jon Dietrick (Chad), and Crystal Chappell (Carly), and the aforementioned, Deidre Hall and Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes, it was quite the crowd! Crystal, Peter and I stayed close together during the viewing of the tape reel and the tribute, and there was nowhere else I would have rather been standing. Yes, it was SRO!
After all was said and done, I had the opportunity to speak with two of Frances’ nieces, one who also spoke during the tribute. They, along with Missy Reeves detailed to me how Frances would love to hang out in her dressing room with the actors for long periods of time and just chitchat. Frances did not have her own children in real life, so Melissa was like the granddaughter she never had, and they shared many dressing room moments together. I walked my way through the crowd and saw Patsy Pease, who told me how this gathering made her feel happy, and yet sad, seeing everyone again. We all hope Patsy (as had been announced) will be returning to the screens with the rest of the Brady and Horton clan for the special episodes that will memorialize Alice, which are scheduled to start taping the week of April 8th. I also made note that I had to have a quick moment with one of my other favorite actresses and people in the soap biz, Judi Evans (Adrienne). I have been thrilled for her to be back on DAYS, but for how long we just don’t know. Judi is still working at her day job at Forest Lawn Cemetery as a Grief Counselor, something she tells me is extremely rewarding. As the crowd thinned out, I shared a few minutes with Ken Corday and his wife, Sherry, before heading out for the evening. As I got into my car to drive home, I thought to myself, “Wow. I actually attended a private memorial tribute to the woman who I watched growing up on my TV set in 1968, when my love of soaps first started.” And from a boy from Wisconsin, who never would have thought he would actually have made his way into the soap industry, and to be part of something like this, was something I will always treasure. And yes, Frances, if you’re reading this from Heaven’s Gates, I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home and got a box full of buttermilk ones. Happy now? (Laughs)