This feature was first published and presented exclusively inside the 42nd Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy program/almanac that was given out to all those attending the awards ceremonies. Through the courtesy of the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences (NATAS), On-Air On-Soaps Michael Fairman who wrote this piece for the program, is posting it here for this online exclusive.
The feature paying tribute and honoring Days of our Lives upcoming 50th anniversary is filled with notable quotes from interviews conducted for this piece with DAYS cast members: Deidre Hall (Marlena), Kristian Alfonso (Hope), Melissa Reeves (Jennifer), Alison Sweeney (Sami), Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes (Doug and Julie), Eric Martsolf (Brady), and the series executive producer Ken Corday.
Now below read how the DAYS stars and EP Ken Corday reflect on some of their most memorable moments and storylines during their time with the series, changes they have witnessed over the decades in Salem, and personal accounts of their time with the NBC daytime drama series.
DAYS OF OUR LIVES TURNS 50: A Celebration of Love, Heartbreak and Drama in the Afternoon!
If you think making it to 50 in the world of daytime drama is an easy feat, think again! Just speak to the actors and the producers, or anyone behind the scenes that has worked on Days of our Lives, and they will tell you that it’s really not that surprising that the series has made it to this milestone. The longest running scripted series in NBC television history will have its golden anniversary on November 8th, 2015. The show premiered back in 1965 when conversations were happening in black and white in the Horton family living room. While the times have changed, one key theme has remained a constant … family. The series created by Ted and Betty Corday has continued its family legacy with son Ken Corday as the series executive producer. Family struggles, triumphs, loves, and tragedies have been a hallmark of the show, as well as devastating heartbreak, groundbreaking stories, and the shocking and the outrageous.
Being part of the first family of Salem, the Hortons, is a badge of honor for any performer, as well as following in the footsteps of series patriarch and matriarch, the late MacDonald Carey (Tom Horton) and Frances Reid (Alice Horton). Long time cast member Melissa Reeves (Jennifer Horton) recalls when she found out she would be a member of this most notable of all on-screen clans: “People were like, ‘What? You’re gonna be a Horton? That’s a good thing!’ I was like, ‘Oh good. OK, great. Does that name mean something in this town?’ (Laughs) I have come to realize the enormity of it.” The camaraderie of those fortunate enough to be part of the DAYS ensemble has always been very special and unique. Alison Sweeney, who appeared on the soap for almost 22 years as Sami Brady, related, “When I think of all my big life moments – the DAYS cast and crew have been there. The camera guys had to approve my boyfriend. There were two tables of DAYS people at my wedding. They survived my pregnancies with me… You name it!”
Throughout its 50 years, DAYS has tackled groundbreaking and emotional issues including the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) storyline involving new mother Marlena (Deidre Hall) back in 1980. “I was approached about the story, because there was a great debate among the executives as to whether the ‘Crib Death’ should happen to the audience, or whether they should be warned about it, and get to tune-in from a safe place, Hall recalled. “At the end of the day, it was decided that when a woman walks into that room and finds her baby has died, she doesn’t get a warning. So to do service to those people, we would not warn the audience about it. We got phone calls, and thousands of letters from people saying, ‘Oh, my gosh! It happened to Marlena the way it happened to me.’ It was a moving storyline for a huge number of fans that have been through it, and it was cathartic. It was certainly a first for daytime.” In 2014, DAYS wrote the same-sex gay male wedding between two core characters, another first for daytime. Alison Sweeney watched her on-screen son Will (Guy Wilson) take his vows to Sonny (Freddie Smith). She recalls it was quite the tearjerker … for her: “I still groan about how I was such a mess during that wedding. I couldn’t stop crying! I kept looking at Bryan Datillo (Lucas) because he and I used to joke about some day playing grandparents on the show, and to be actually seeing ‘Will’ get married was just very emotional.”
While DAYS brings the drama, it has also been known for the outrageous! Look no further than former head writer, the late James Reilly, whose twisted plots included burying a character alive, and Marlena’s possession by the devil! Ken Corday remembers when the plots were pitched: “Originally, I would say to Jim, ‘Are you serious? You are going to bury someone alive for a week and half?’ And, ‘They are going to puke green soup, and their head is going to spin around? No, no, no.!’ (Laughs) But, again, the way it was woven into the fabric of the show it was just as effective as the baby-switch stories we have told. The outrageousness in the 90’s seemed to work really well. These days the viewers are a little savvier.” Kristian Alfonso, who has played the popular Hope Williams Brady for decades, was really put to the test when she played multiple roles mostly at the same time: Hope, Princess Gina, Hope as Princess Gina, and Princess Gina playing Hope. “If they had told me that it was going to be as big of story as it was, with all these different characters, I totally would have panicked. I thought, ‘How am I going to do this? How am I going to learn my lines … her lines … this one’s lines,” Alfonso shared. “Trying to keep straight who knew what, and when they knew it, and playing opposite myself, was so challenging. I remember I would fall asleep with my scripts on my chest. But, it was the most amazing experience as an actress.”
Super couples have also been synonymous with Days of our Lives, from: Bo and Hope, Patch and Kayla, Shane and Kimberly, Justin and Adrienne, Marlena and John, to the show’s original super couple … Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes (Doug and Julie Williams) … who were the first soap stars ever on the cover of a mainstream publication, TIME Magazine back in 1976. When Doug and Julie got married on the air for the first time, most of America tuned-in! “There were 16 million people watching, it was that big of a deal,” Bill Hayes said. “We had students not go to class. People wouldn’t go to work, because back then you couldn’t tape the show!” Susan added, “Fans sent snap shots of everyone they knew dressed up, and having champagne and cake in honor of Doug and Julie’s wedding.” As to the success of the super couples of Salem, Ken Corday says he can’t take credit: “I never invented the idea of the super couple; that was really the viewers. It was kind of the perfect storm. Everyone who we cast at the time seemed to have the “IT” factor. Then when the actors would get thronged during public appearances, we realized this is something we need to run with and not ignore.”
Days of our Lives has had its share of Daytime Emmy winning moments, and none more special than enduring veteran Suzanne Rogers’ (Maggie) winning the very first Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy back in 1979. Rogers recalled: “I remember sitting there, and Frances Reid was in my category! Oh, my God! So, they were presenting the category and named all the nominees. I was the last one, because “Rogers” was after “Reid”. Then, the late Al Freeman Jr., who presented the award, announced: “And the winner is “Susan” … and Susan Brown from GH is in front of me. I lean forward and say “Congratulations!” … and he says “Rogers” … “Suzanne Rogers!” There were about 17 steps down the aisle, and then more to get up to the stage! All I could think of was ‘Don’t fall!’ I couldn’t believe it!”
No matter what’s on the screen, Days of our Lives would not be where it is today without its passionate fans who have stuck with the show through its ups and its downs. Daytime Emmy winner Eric Martsolf (Brady) relates: “I’m one of those crazy guys that actually does a lot of fan events during the year. I love the flight home from these events, because it makes me remember and realize why we’re doing it. I think we can easily forget that we just come to our little warehouse in Burbank, and we do our little skits, and we go home. But the fact is; there are people out there that depend on us, and these stories. I was talking to a 16-year-old-girl at an event I did in Florida. She had several operations and she had special needs. She came right up to me and said, ‘You saved my life. I just wanted to let you know.’ It was that simple, and that made that trip worth it. I love the fans. We all know we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them in the first place.”
As the anniversary approaches, the iconic MacDonald Carey and Frances Reid are no longer with us, but their presence still reverberates throughout the show. The soap’s opening to this day is still voiced by Carey with its signature line: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of our Lives.” Kristian Alfonso remarked: “We keep them alive on the show; we talk about them. They’re our family. The love I had, and still have, is enormous for both of them. I miss them very much.” The chair that still sits in the Horton family living room set belonged to Alice Horton, and as the show continues its unbelievable run, could that privilege be handed down to another generation? Melissa Reeves, who was close to Reid, and plays granddaughter Jennifer, shared, “It would be much more of an honor than I can even fully understand, because that was Francis, and that was huge to me. To think that I would ever be that person in her place is kind of mind blowing. I hope we keep going, and our show continues to live on.”
What were your favorite quotes shared by some of your DAYS favorites for this tribute piece? What has been your favorite memory of Days of our Lives through the years? Share your thoughts below!