News - Soap Buzz

11 November 24th, 2013 ATWT Stars Recall Assassination of JFK And How It Interrupted Them Live On The Air!

Courtesy/NYTimesP&G

All this past week, America had been remembering the horrific events, and how the country changed because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago on November 22nd, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

But it was the beloved and iconic soap opera, As the World Turns that has a very special place in history!  It was ATWT that was the only live network show going when Kennedy was shot.  The episode was only ten minutes into it, when the voice of Walter Cronkite broke in with his CBS News bulletin on the shooting.

In this fascinating piece from the New York Times over the weekend they relate, “ATWT was the only regular program being broadcast nationally by a major network — specifically, throughout the Eastern and Central time zones. In Washington, the NBC and ABC affiliates were scheduled to present TV Beauty School and Divorce Court. In Dallas, a discussion of winter coats with hidden zippers was the focus of The Julie Benell Show, a local effort by the ABC affiliate WFAA. ”

Don Hastings, who played Bob Hughes related to NY Times on what went down that fatal day: “Phil Polansky, our cameraman, said, ‘Don’t tell the actors what? The president’s been shot?’ He had headphones on, and he was talking to the control room. We got our cue and we just kept going, because no one else knew what to do.”  But the Times added that, “Mr. Hastings was unaware that the news was already blacking out the first half of his scene.”

Eileen Fulton, who played Lisa Hughes related her story in which she had no idea what was going on while she was performing her scene with her on-screen mom Elma (Ethel Remey): “I had a very emotional scene.“When we finished, my cameraman, Joe Hallahan, had tears running down his face. I said, ‘I’m good, but I didn’t know I was that good.’ ”

Later, when the cast got together on the Monday, to try to time and rehearse Tuesday’s live show, Don Hastings kept ducking into the control room to watch the funeral cortege.  He said about rehearsals, “They kept coming to get me, because I was just destroyed at that point.”

But it was Rosemary Prinz, who played Penny that gave the most insightful news of all to NY Times! Prinz had hoped for some mention of the assassination of JFK on the next episode.  But ATWT creator Irna Phillips, wanted nothing of the sort to happen to disrupt her fictional town of Oakdale and its citizens.  Prinz stated, “She was the meanest bitch on the planet, and you can quote me!”

However, Prinz recalled how she got an opportunity to work it in on her own in a scene with Grandpa Hughes (Santos Ortega):  “I was supposed to go on about Tom and his father,” she recalled, “and I said instead: ‘Oh, Grandpa, here we are talking about little Tom. My God, after what the country has gone through, it seems so out of proportion. But, of course, we have to go on.’  An infuriated production team promptly descended on Ms. Prinz.  Prinz added.  “I said, ‘I just went blank and said the first think I could think of, and then I got back to the script.’ Everyone knew I was full of it. But I made the point.”

So, what did you think about Prinz’ statement on Irna Phillips? The recollections of Don Hastings, Eileen Fulton and Prinz?  We thought it was pretty terrific that the N.Y. Times remembered how historic ATWT was, and how it played into American history on that fateful day of November 22nd, 1963.

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  1. jimh(leave it to beaver) says:

    That horrible tragic moment in history i still remember but its a little fuzzy: i was 3 years old at the time…my mother and i were at a local department store…many customers were near the tv sets including me and my mother when JFKs assasination was announced…i didnt clearly understand what really happened but i remember moms sad look on her face and gasping, ‘Oh, dear God, no!’ It would be a few years later when Robert Kennedy was killed when she told me what happened that day and where we were at when President Kennedy was shot…imo it seems are country slowly went downhill after that: before there were plenty of jobs and factories, and i lived on a treelined street that was a mix of middle class and poor but most neighbors were friendly and kept their yards clean, and you could keep your doors unlocked…there were some problems in and outside our house but things were still better then than now. By the 1970s to the present factories closed or moved to China, my old neighborhood is rundown with drugs and troublemakers, and people are more rude, violent and vulgar than ever before…we’ve become trashier and more anti family(its hard to sit down and find something the whole family can watch together…there is very few choices but not much plus kids and adults have too many distractions that seperate them…its hard to get everyone together. After the loss of Kennedy things were and never wil be the same again…meanwhile, anyone who hadnt seen the moment when ATWTs was interupted for JFKs assasination report can find it on youtube.

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  2. Mark in FLA says:

    I love reading about what Ms Prinz said live on the air that acknowledged the grief the country was going thru. Good for her. Too bad Irna Phillips did not want to acknowledge what happened. Glad that Rosemary Prinz ignored her wishes to keep reality out of Oakdale!

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  3. Lew S says:

    Love it!!

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  4. Lin says:

    Good for Rosemary Prinz! I know nothing about Irna Phillips, but i’d say from what i read above, Ms. Prinz is probably right. I think bringing in what the country was feeling could only have helped the viewers feel better about their soap. I agree this was a terrific that the NYT included ATWT in their coverage of that horrible time in our history.

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  5. lenafreed says:

    I was a 16 year old HS student in November 1963 and my HS Social Studies teacher had the same reaction as Irna Phillips. As soon as we took our seats for our first class after the assassination he announced we were not going to discuss it. How sad!
    This assassination was a terrible turning point in our country’s history. Rosemary Prinz did the right thing!

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  6. Michael (not Fairman) says:

    Irna was so “into” her shows that she apparently insisted on referring to the actors by their character names, rather than their own names, when she spoke to them.

    She must have been a creative genius, to have been largely responsible, single-handedly, for creating and evolving the soap genre, but from everything I’ve seen, she was pretty much certifiable.

    I know that Rosemary Prinz had serious ongoing issues with Phillips and the other PTB practically the whole time she was playing Penny. This is a particularly telling anecdote in regard to what Phillips was like to work for–and that quote is just priceless!

    I think Lisa’s (long-suffering, with a daughter like that) mother was “Alma,” not “Elma.”

    What a great article, and it’s so nice to hear news about the ATWT vets. I miss them and ATWT (even as dreadful as it was for the last five years or so of its run).

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  7. Chip Coffey says:

    Back in 1986, I attended the 30th anniversary party for ATWT at the Palladium in NYC as the guest of Joe Rothenberger, a former ATWT executive producer. While chatting with Helen Wagner (Nancy Hughes), I recalled my mother telling me that she was watching ATWT when the show was interrupted with news of President Kennedy’s shooting. I asked Ms. Wagner about this and she recounted that she was in the middle of a live scene with Santos Ortega (Grandpa Hughes) when the announcement was aired. The actors continued on, finding out a few minutes later that the President had been shot. Ms. Wagner was a gracious lady and will always remain an icon of daytime television.

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    Kolsten replied

    I also got to meet Helen Wagner, but much later. I met her in June 2009 after she returned to the show after her husband died in real life. She was the most gracious woman I had ever met. I was on the set as part of an undergraduate school project that the National Braodcasting Museum and my school set up. She was by far my favorite interview. I also got to ask her about that fateful day in 1963 and her incredible scenes a decade earlier with Mac suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her actual scenes that day with actors Billy and Marnie were spot on!

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  8. Rodd says:

    I think it’s terrific that the NYT called upon the ATWT stars for their piece. It was a significant part of the nation’s context for that terrible tragedy; more so than we can realize today with a million channels to watch.

    I loved Ms. Prinz’s comments about Irna Phillips. It reflects the strong color of the early days of television. What fascinating stories these stars must have to tell!

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  9. RICKIE says:

    I adore Rosemary Prinz! She’s always been so starkly honest about everything — this, and her calling out Agnes Nixon for taking credit for All My Children’s Amy Tyler being a peace activist (the actress herself insisted on this when she agreed to sign a short-term contract to help launch AMC). Ms Prinz doesn’t go along to get along — I love that about her!

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  10. Mr Mike says:

    A.T.W.T. one of the best soaps ever.
    Real stories, about real life, without the need
    for Dracula’s, people coming back from the dead, etc.
    Just great story lines performed by wonderfully talented actors.

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