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.