Saying goodbye to friends, and family, and loved ones is never easy. Sometimes it can be the most difficult moments in one’s lifetime. So it was with that in mind, I could not fathom how on earth I was going to handle this trip from Los Angeles to New York to say farewell to the cast of One Life to Live, and the beloved citizens and town of Llanview. Yes, as they say it’s “only a soap opera”, but as we know for myself and for many of you, it has touched our lives in such a profound way, and this series has been there for us through all the ups and down in our lives, as we followed our television family through its trials and tribulations. At the time of the flight, there was still belief that at the eleventh hour Prospect Park was going to resurrect the show and move it online shortly after its final episode on ABC. However, I just could not see it happening in the timeline they had laid out, and had a very uneasy feeling going on this trip that things were all not going to neatly work itself out …if at all. There were just too many unanswered questions. Now looking back, Prospect Park cheated not only the press and the actor’s proper closure for this final press junket, but misled people during a critical time in the show’s history … its ending! And as for how the fans were cheated; don’t get me started on that, because the show should have never been cancelled in the first place! One Life to Live is still as viable as a product as ever! In fact, this past year prior to its cancellation and through to the end, it was on a creative high coming up with unbelievable drama, and it reflected so in the ratings with the show being for most of 2011 at # 3 of all the remaining soaps, and not at the bottom of the heap, which is the usual spot reserved for a series when it is destined for cancellation and sent to soap heaven.
I considered it an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to attend the final press junket of the 43-year old series! 43 years, and I have watched at least 41 of it. Imagine the nostalgia I was feeling! I had some traveling companions on this junket. They were a group of wonderful reporters from Los Angeles from different mainstream outlets, who knew I was the “soap guy”. And thus in turn, were there for me with warm hearts always checking in with me to see how I was doing knowing that soon we would be arriving at ABC Studios on West 66th Street and I would being seeing OLTL’s home for the very last time.
Being escorted through ABC’s hallways and seeing the images on the wall of Erika Slezak, Hillary B. Smith and Robert Woods, John-Paul Lavoisier and Michael Easton, I knew I was in an uphill battle on this day to try and hold it together and not fall apart in front of the amazing cast, who I had gotten to know for the last two decades, some for three decades! When the junket began and I began seeing so many familiar faces, with a lump in my throat it was time to get down to business, because I wanted to above all else to not let myself or the audience that follows me down. I wanted to come away with some parting words from the various members of the cast; young and old, newbies and the veterans, of what it was like to be part of life in Llanview, because they can take the show off the air, but they cannot take or erase our memories. (Unless of course, you have a syringe filled with some meds from Troy McGiver or Lindsay Rappaport, nearby) But on this day, it would be a day filled with lasting moments and final impressions that I will treasure. And so it begins …
It had been a while since I had seen Michael Easton who has played John McBain with such a quiet intensity that truly made him not your “normal” soap guy, and Michael agreed when he admitted, “John McBain is a character that can be hard to like, and we have this debate all the time because he is the one character in daytime, who didn’t say, ‘I love you’ for six years! That is pretty tricky, to be that contained and it’s hard to always be that. And in daytime the guys that do that are charming and rich, and they look great, and they are all the things you would think you would want. Then along the way you get these guys who don’t always give you what you want. I think that is the great appeal of John to the female audience that they are going to help this guy. They are going to be the person that changes him.” Of course, Easton’s on-screen love life has paired him with some very special ladyloves during his time in Llanview. “I have been the most fortunate guys on daytime,” Easton recounts. “I hear some of these tragic actor stories where you work with somebody that you are not fond of, but I have been lucky enough to work with Melissa Archer (Natalie), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Evangeline) and the lovely Kassie DePaiva (Blair) who I have to say that about her or she will hit me! (Laughs) You have to address her in that way! (Laughs) I also enjoyed working with Gina Tognoni (Kelly)! I have been wonderfully lucky. But since Melissa has had to put up with me the longest, I would probably say that I have a very special relationship with her.” And of course, all the women in America give a collective sigh of “HOW CUTE!” when John holds his son Liam! So just how is working with the babies? Michael told me, “I had a baby recently in real life, so that dynamic changed. I always imagined that John would not be very good with kids. So it’s fun to keep that in my mind in the scenes with his son, Liam. You know most of the daytime fellows are charming, so it’s nice to not be so much so, and play that part and have people respond to it. It is also nice to play the small gestures that you still have that connection for this child, and love for this child. On top of that, kids are great because you never know what they are going to do on camera! It’s kind of like working with Trevor St. John (Ex-Todd/Victor Jr.). You never know what they are going to do!” (Laughs)
As we parted company, I wanted to know if Michael truly knew how beloved he was from the fans of the show, and the special connection between the actors and their audience. With that, it was time for the first misty moment of the day, when Easton relayed, “It does make me feel good to hear what the fans have to say. I was down at ABC Super Soap Weekend one year, and there was a lady in my autograph line and she said, ‘My daughter goes for her chemotherapy every three weeks and she saves up your episodes. We watch them while she is getting treatment for the five and half hours we are there.’ You hear something like that and it changes what you feel about what you are doing here. And for one moment, you feel pretty good. I know everybody says they have the best fans, and I know there must be some drunk and gambling crazy fans somewhere, but it is really true … we have the nicest people. Their commitment and passion for what we do is extraordinary.”
Now I know I am getting up there in age, but to see sitting in front of me Eddie and Kristen Alderson (Matthew and Starr) and how they have grown and turned into quite the thespians, has been fun to witness over the years. Kristen acknowledged, “I think what is so special about our time on OLTL is that the fans have seen Eddie and me as their family members. They will go, ‘You remind me of my daughter!’ And, we relate to them as well, as well as all the cast and crew, and the press that have been there to support us, and influenced us, and grown up with us. We feel like we are a family, and that has been the best part of it. The thought of it coming to an end makes me weepy. On the car ride up here we talked and had these discussions of: ‘Has the ending of the show hit us?’ But I think last night and this morning doing these interviews and the cast photo, I have this big knot in my stomach.” Eddie concurred, “I feel that now it is ending!”
I then asked Eddie what he would want to say to Hillary B. Smith (Nora) and Bob Woods (Bo) for all the years they have spent together on-screen as the Buchanan family. Eddie took a moment, and with tears in his eyes said, “Just ‘thank you’ … they have been so great. We have spent most of our lives here at the studio, and they have been like second parents to me. Bob and Hillary have been so supportive and they are both so talented. They have helped me grow as a person and as an actor. I have gone countless times upstate to Bob’s country house and I am a good friend of Tanner, Bob’s son. I don’t know how to thank them, but everybody has been so great, and yes, people have come and gone, but everybody has helped us.” Kristen jumped in, “The number one thing is …we have to make sure that this is not goodbye. That we will still stay in touch with many of the people here. It’s just that we won’t be visiting this house anymore. But, Starr will always be a part of me. I love Starr. If Starr is still able for me to play again somewhere down the road, and I could do other things, I will do it.” Eddie added, “It’s almost, now as I look back on my time on OLTL, that we were not playing characters, because Kristen and I have been Matthew and Starr for so long! It’s almost like they are our alter egos. There is so much Matthew in Eddie… and Eddie in Matthew… that we are basically the same.”
Ah those Ford Boys… er men… were next! David Gregory (Ford), Nic Robuck (James) and Lenny Platt (Nate), who haven’t had that long a connection to Llanview, and because of that, had perhaps a different spin on how life in Llanview is coming to an end. Nic felt, “The nature of our business is that shows get cancelled all the time. No matter what show you are on, they get canceled. They don’t run forever. And so for us to have the experience we had on the show is incredible, but I am excited to move forward, and take what I have learned with me. I have become a better actor because of it. It’s exciting!” David said it is a double-edged sword, “The flipside is, it is scary. We have all been fortunate to be working actors in New York City for the past two and some years, and work is nice to have. I talk to crew members who have been with this show for 30 some years and I feel for them. This has been part of their life and something that they counted on. I do agree with Nic that being young in this business is exciting, but it’s also bittersweet like, ‘What’s next?’ It’s scary, but a good kind of scary.”
So what were the guys’ favorite storylines? The Ford boys had some wacky ones, that’s for sure. Nic revealed, “My favorite storyline was when I first started and I stole cars, and kidnapped Starr and her baby. We were shooting guns and stealing things and it was all very quick and exciting. Never in my life did I think I would be playing a storyline like that. Starr and Cole were an iconic couple and very popular. So for me, it was very intimating to try and take over from Cole. I am very grateful to have him bestow that responsibility on me, and that fan response has been positive. They really enjoy us. JARR … the fans call us! It’s a love/hate thing, which is a good place to be on a soap. They watch because they hate you, but they watch because they love you. You earned their respect, which is nice.”
David added, “You know there was not one specific storyline of Ford’s because it all just sort of took off, which was fantastic. I got family on the show with my brothers, and that took me to a new level. Then I got a mother and a father, and with that came a dark secret past. And then I got a son. And when you keep adding these elements, the writing went from the guy who sleeps with anything that moves, to dealing with my father, and then I have this son who I am not going to treat the way I have been treated. I feel like it is part of the same story but come full circle. I was in the make-up chair one day and someone said, ‘Who are you with now?’ And I said, ‘I am with Tess.’ And they said, ‘Well, you are with the right family.’ I was tied to the Buchanan family in that sense, even though that was in a negative light. I went through this whole thing with Tess, and then to restart with Jessica. But because they took their time with it, it was not about sex or the romantic side, but it’s that we had this child together. I feel like it gives you an obstacle to overcome, and that is good and I liked that.”
Now as for Lenny, should we safely assume his favorite moment had to be that Nate ended up in the porno film, Hold the Diploma shown at the “Vicker Man Premiere”? Platt confirmed our suspicion! “My mom called me and said, ‘I can’t believe you are doing that.’ But my mom is very Puerto Rican, so it was thrown in with some Spanish cursing! (Laughs) But I had a great time. I think soaps can be very melodramatic at times, and with this heightened reality I had such a great time playing this absurd storyline … being blackmailed into porn! I mean, no 18-year old guy gets blackmailed into porn! (At least I hope not!) I think it was funny to do this scene where I was forced against my will to do something so preposterous. And then the scene at the “Vicker Man Premiere” was a blast! I will tell you that no one in the cast knew what I shot, and a lot of it did not make it to air. Somewhere there is some risqué bootleg footage that we shot, just me and a cameraman, but I did do too good of a job, obviously. It was too realistic! (Laughs)
And there was this moment I related to Lenny… Where did the bubble gum chewing fixation come from that was the basis for Matthew getting caught for punching Matthew in the head? Lenny explained, “I chew lots of bubble gum! (Laughs) That was a weird thing, too. I was not chewing gum when I originally punched Matthew. That came after the fact. The producer said, ‘You know what? We are just going to have you chewing gum and that is the thing that will get you caught!’ The whole thing was so preposterous, and to embrace that and work with such great actors was great. Austin Peck (Rick) was so funny, and he helped me find my inner porn star!” Lenny also recalled his excitement to learn that he would be involved with Dani, (Kelley Missal) when he first landed on the series, “When I got here I remember they told me I was going to be involved with Todd Manning’s daughter. My mother would occasionally watch One Life, and I remember Todd Manning had this checkered past, to say the least. I thought it would be really fun to butt heads, and it was fun to work with Trevor St. John. I loved getting to work with the rapist/killer’s daughter.” (Laughs)
Jerry verDorn, who as Clint Buchanan has transformed from a real snake in the grass to almost redeemable, saw how many of his cast mates were walking around with some tears on this day, and also revealed how he would like to see Clint’s ending. I only got a moment with Jerry, as I was running back and forth from the interview press tables and back to the video interview area. I needed to clone myself on this day, clearly! (Calling Kim Zimmer!) Jerry noted, “It’s always interesting when you are ending a show to find out what your last scene will be. I would like Viki and Clint to be together at the end. I think some of the audience members would like that. I would just like to get rid of the ankle bracelet so I can leave the house and go somewhere else. But I hear people are crying around her today… Kassie DePaiva… she cries at the commercials! Kassie has a big heart.” (Laughs)
And as I was sitting there with Jerry, I remember looking up and seeing Ron Carlivati, Frank Valentini, Lorraine Broderick and …. Agnes Nixon. They had all shown up to take part in the cast photo shoot, but were not participating in the junket that day. It was like Llanview daytime royalty all showed up at once! I checked in with Frank and Ron on how they were doing, and of course, seeing this final press day wasn’t easy for them. I spoke a few words to Lorraine, but it was back to work as they headed towards the elevator to take what would end up being the final time the cast would officially be together as a unit. It was heartbreaking to think about, and incredibly sad to see.
As I turned around from that incredible scene, I spotted Terri Conn (Aubrey) who I have loved since her time as Katie on As the World Turns. Then it was our turn to talk along with On-Air On-Soaps “Newcomer of the Year” Josh Kelly (Cutter)! Josh revealed how he felt about his first soap experience, “I love it. I was optimistic coming into it and I was looking at it as a learning experience, but I liked it so much more than I thought I would. I did not think I would end up being with people who were so approachable and helpful, like Terri. Add to the fact, that the execs allowed me and encouraged me to be funnier. Frank and Ron were like, ‘Do more of your goofy stuff and we will work it in!’ I am always happiest when I am being goofy. I got to work with some great people here. I had heard about the character of Alex Olanov, so I loved that she turned out to be Cutter’s mom. I had met Tonja Walker (Alex) my first or second week here. I did a scene with Robin Strasser (Dorian), where Robin gets mad about David changing his MyFace status to: In a relationship with Alex Olanov. So that was funny. I loved working with both of them. When I first started working on the show, Tom Degnan (Joey) and I started right away being best friends. So our scenes were fun to play, because there was so much duplicity going on, and there were so many levels to play. I loved the one scene where Aubrey decided she was going to marry Joey. So I kiss Terri, and then I go kiss Tom to cover it up. I did not tell Tom I was going to do that!”
Terri piped in how much she also loved Cutter and Aubrey’s duplicity! “I was just thinking about when you would come out in a towel, and it was the first time Cutter came into the room. I was trying to talk my way out of it, and all of a sudden you end up standing there and I go, ‘What are you doing?’ And you go, ‘I’m your brother!’ And I am like, ‘Whaaaat?’ That was fun. And then running back and forth and putting clothes on and taking clothes off, that was fun. I miss working with Josh. We started out as this group of four relatively new characters. Gina Tognoni had been on before. That is really tough to do with the daytime audience, because they don’t want to watch new people all together. So that was sort of a strike against us starting out. I think with the way the writing was, and the way we all played the story together, we made the most of it. But I think ultimately they had to put us with other people so people would actually invest in it. I think it’s interesting to come back to our relationship now that we are more a part of the canvas. So who knows what will happen at the end?” And what about those rumors that it would be revealed that Aubrey might be somehow connected to Karen Wolek/Katrina Karr/Jenny Wolek, since her birth-name is Christine Karr? “I don’t know for sure,” revealed Terri, “But there was an idea of having Aubrey be a part of the history of the show, but it didn’t happen, obviously.” Looks like sadly, now we will never know!
When Florencia Lozano (Tea) walked into the room, I was all smiles and we hugged, and I think perhaps I was teary-eyed. I think Florencia and I really connected a few years back when we did the first video interview together for On-Air On-Soaps. To say that I think this woman is a powerhouse of an actress would be an understatement. I also got the opportunity to give hugs to Ted King (Tomas) who, because he took off for the Big Apple, I have not had the chance to see as much as when he worked on GH in L.A. Florencia admitted to me it’s tough to wrap up the series, especially in the predicament Tea finds herself in! “All of this is tough to play for everyone. There are a lot of goodbyes. Ted and I are left in sort of anguished positions, and it’s great for the story and where it can go. I love that Tea is pregnant now and that she is going through all this emotional sturm and drang, and yet there is this beautiful thing happening at the same time. This is a very big ending on a lot of levels for all of us. And the drama the fans are feeling, we feel that. We know what this means for them.” Ted echoed Florencia sentiments by adding, “Well, my character is not allowed to be happy, (laughs) and he is really stuck and in his final moments. They are difficult to play, and it’s hard to finish any show. I have been on quite a few and the emotions behind the scenes completely overlap with the work on the screen.” Florencia also shared, “I had an acting teacher tell me once, ‘Never forget you get to do this.’ And that is true. We get to do this and have a personal cathartic experience, and use our demons and express ourselves as human beings. People watch that and feel moved, and that is a pretty great life to get to have. I am tremendously grateful.”
I also wanted to note to those who read this special blog, that while Roger Howarth (Todd) was in attendance, he did not participate in any of the press interviews. Apparently, he had a heavy tape day. Also, if you look at some of the outfits the actors are wearing in my photo wrap-up, you might recall that some look familiar … as this was the day of the taping of the wedding of Rex and Gigi! And speaking of John-Paul Lavoisier (Rex) and Farah Fath (Gigi), I couldn’t have been more proud of this young couple and how far they have come as performers, and how much in love that they are and that they had found each other in the magical life that is created day in and day out at OLTL. Farah summed it up best when she said, “We are walking away from this with a tremendous amount of memories. I think for us in ten and fifteen years to go back to YouTube and see our first scenes, or kiss together, is such a unique way for a couple to have met. I think on our last day, it’s going to be nostalgic and sad. Rex and Gigi will always be in our hearts. One Life to Live is the foundation for John-Paul and Farah’s relationship, and so we will never forget this place.” JP quipped, “We will talk about this forever! Not a day will go by where we won’t think about One Life to Live. For the rest of my life, I am going to go ‘Remember this? Or, Remember that?’ It was very special. It’s hard knowing that I am not going to see 90% of the people here again. There are crew people who are moving to the Carolinas, and people are going to move on to other projects. This is the test about who cares about whom with anything when a big-shake-up happens. And as for my long-time scene partner, I would be shocked if Bob Woods (Bo) and I don’t stay in touch. It’s my understanding that Bob visits California, but it will be no where near as much as I see him now, and it’s going to suck!”
Perhaps, one of the more contentious on-screen relationships of the final season of OLTL was that of Shane Morasco and Jack Manning, played by Austin Williams and Andrew Trischitta. I had the opportunity to sit down with the boys and get some insight into the final social issue tackled by the legendary OLTL… bullying/teen suicide. Austin explained, “For me, the suicide scenes and the bullying were challenging to play, because I have not been through anything like that. It is terrible for anyone to go through it. For the storyline, I pretty much had to make myself feel like Shane and make it like everything that was directed to Shane was directed at me. I just made myself really depressed.” Andrew then explained how he made Jack so despicable! “You kind of have to put yourself in that place, and especially for Austin. And being a bully to him just takes a little bit to get that kind of anger out. Then once you have it, it’s easier to continue to play. It is certainly easier than what he had to do, which was being on a roof and trying to kill himself, and about to jump off! And by the way, I swear, I am not a jerk in real life!”
Austin, who as Shane, has had some very dramatic stories to play during his time at One Life… from cancer, to the bullying, to his on-screen mom “dying” revealed he was reluctant to look at this final script! “It is really sad having to say goodbye to everyone. I know tomorrow I am filming scenes that are pretty much the end for me. When I grabbed my scripts I was like, ‘No. I can’t read this now; I will save it for later!’” Andrew seconded that, “It’s hard, when you realize you won’t be here anymore. I have been here so much this year. It has been a second home to me.” I had to ask, “Does Andrew miss working with his first on-screen dad, Trevor St. John?” Andrew admitted, “When Trevor was working here, he was such a great person to work with … and his acting is so great, too. Because of that, to play Jack and Victor Jr’s relationship, it became a lot easier to like him and know that I have to think that he is such a great guy, and that “Scarface” killed him. Everyone knows Roger Howarth’s Todd as “Scarface” now! (Laughs). Roger is great too, by the way, but for the storyline it made it much easier to like Trevor’s Todd (or Victor Jr.) and not like Roger’s Todd!”
Sean Ringgold (Shawn) is that big guy that everyone has fallen in love with, who nobody thought would last this long on the soap, and neither did he, apparently. “One Life nurtured me,” the mild-mannered former bodyguard said. “They started me with under-five lines and then I got a little more, and then a little more, and then 20-30 pages. Imagine going to a workplace year after year, and you do it because you need the money, but you cannot stand the people you work with? Imagine to get the money … and love what you do? What more can you ask for – to love what you do and to be around people you love? It’s not an easy thing to deal with, being cancelled, as you see these people everyday and then you hang out and party. So it’s never easy to walk away from something so huge. This show has been on 43 years. Some people have been here much longer than me … 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years. These people are your family. And so when you see everybody getting together for the final cast photo shoot upstairs, it chokes you up. This has changed my life!”
Sean went on to say just how special it was working with his Little D., Shenell Edmonds! “Shenell is like my adoptive sister. I truly love her. She is a beautiful spirit and a loving human being. They could have not cast anybody better in the role of Destiny. When I am working with her you see our relationship on camera and that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.” When asked if there is anyone in the cast he wish he could have gotten the opportunity to work with more, Sean confessed, “I wish I could work with Erika Slezak (Viki) and Bob Woods. Those two are just so incredible. Robin Strasser was a phenomenal person to work with. As Dorian, she is so in character that you don’t know what’s real and what’s not! She keeps you on your toes. Robin just keeps coming up with things. She is a firecracker, and I miss her. I would have loved to do more with her.”
Next, I had the opportunity to speak with Little D herself, the scene-stealing Shenell Edmonds (Destiny) and her BFF, that other little scene-stealer, Kelley Missal (Dani). With Destiny pregnant and Dani’s mom, Tea, also pregnant, how did the gals see their storylines coming to an end? “I would like for everyone to be involved in Destiny’s pregnancy,” revealed Shenell. “Bringing someone into the world is a big responsibility, especially when you have such a tight family around with Mrs. Evans, Shawn, and Greg. They were always there for Destiny. I think if Destiny was able to bring the Buchanan’s into it, I think it would be one big happy family, and the child would grow up happy. I think Dani should be the god-momma to Destiny’s baby.”
Kelley added, “Danielle has reacted to so many things and so many people that it has made her into this strong, edgy, nervous, kind of girl. I would like to see her go into a battle with herself. I would like to see her take the stress and use it negatively, but then turn it around to a positive thing, because that is real, and that is what people do.” Shenell also said she was proud of how her role as Destiny just took off! “I am grateful for everyone who had helped, and bouncing off of Kelley and becoming best friends from enemies, and working off the same boys, and then working off different boys, and the musical. We are so grateful to all the fans that have kept us here and helped us keep moving up and up.” Kelly was also proud of her accomplishments, “If someone had told me when I was 15 that in a year I would be here, and then a year from that I would be at this place, I did not think that I could achieve this. Coming here and playing around with everyone , and learning the ropes, and sort of diving straight into it, I feel so blessed to have gotten to go in this direction with my career.”
In addition, Kelly also got put into the enviable, or scary position, (depending on how you look at it as a young actress) of being cast as the child of Todd and Tea, played by Trevor St. John and Florencia Lozano. Kelly revealed it is something she relished! “I loved Trevor, and Florencia was one of the first people I worked with. She said to me, ‘If I need anything, or have questions, come to me and ask.’ I felt that support from her right off the bat, and then getting to know her as a person and playing that strong bond on camera was really an amazing experience. She is so loving, so talented, and so genuine. Feeding off her and bouncing off of her is an experience. You are on set and you go, ‘Wow, that felt great.’ I thank her so much for that. And Trevor is just so fresh, and unpredictable. He always has such great ideas. He makes it so interesting to work with him, and he is hilarious. Trevor is so much fun and taught me a lot. He taught me most to react. Yes, the script on paper tells you the emotion to play, but react and bring something fresh to the screen.”
I have always been impressed with Mark Lawson (Brody) and through the years Brody has had his share of drama, babies, and a tortured love life! Mark revealed a little bit about Brody’s final days, “Brody is good at getting his teeth kicked in and getting back up. I know I am in the last two days of taping. So we will see what happens. I am going to be a snot ball after filming my final scenes. It’s going to be crazy! I didn’t realize on how being on a five-day a week show would impact how I understand to work as an actor. The first year, I proposed to my then wife, the next year I got married. This last year my wife and I thought, ‘It’s going to be over soon. I am not going to be on this show much longer.’ But my wife and I have looked at the show in three-month increments, and that never stopped, since I got on the show. I have never stopped thinking this is going to be it. I will have a bad day on set and think, ‘I will be fired now. That was not my best.’ And, they keep giving me the good faith to keep going, and they keep trusting me to do a good job. And even though when I think it might be a test like when I have ten pages of monologues holding a baby, (laughs) I think I either really pissed Ron off or he really trusts me.”
But what did Mark take away from his leading ladies? He started with Bree Williamson (Jessica). “Bree taught me about protecting yourself on camera and making sure you get the coverage you need. Sometimes you do that in sneaky ways. I am not calling her sneaky, but I am calling her professional. And in watching the way Bree worked, it informed the way I worked. I feel like we have, and had, great chemistry, and I enjoyed playing variations on playing crazy together. (Laughs) I think fixing that relationship would be a really cool storyline. I think we got too sweet to quick, and too safe to quick. Having it be messy and breaking stuff on the walls would be fun to play.” Next, Mark talked to me about Melissa Archer (Natalie)! “With Melissa, I feel I was a little bit in the dog house before we started, because she knew how hot I think she is and how sexy I think she is. I had already gotten warnings from my wife about that, but she is such a giving and available and open actress. I mean who does not love a redhead! She is a firecracker! Melissa will say ‘good morning’ to everyone when she walks out on set and she will say ‘thank you everyone’ when she leaves. Everyone appreciates that. She brings it everyday.” And let’s not forget Farah Fath (Gigi)! “Farah was in my screen test. She was my first glimpse at how someone who has been on this show works and behaves, and the kind of work that they do, and how they prepare. We had a weird dynamic because of the story. I was supposed to be in love with her and she was supposed to be blowing me off. It was interesting, and when I was working with Farah, I had to learn the differences between who you are personally, and who you are as a character, because there can be some confusion, I think, when you get locked in to a long term role. She is very cool. It was so long ago, though!” (Laughs)
Most of all Mark has been most moved by the interaction with fans that have come at the most unlikely of places, proving there is no fan like a One Life fan! “There has been a moment and an accumulation of moments of how many times I will get noticed on every different subway stop in New York City. Or, I will be going in and out of a grocery store and I will be stopped once inside and stopped once outside. Those things are impactful to me. Another thing that is impactful to me is when guys recognize me. Guys can tell me whole chunks of the storyline and it blows my mind. I was up in Harlem and this little kid walked past me and said, ‘Hey, you play Brody, don’t you?’ Those moments are great for me, because it makes me feel like our show is reaching people, and I am reaching people. That is very special.”
Shenaz Treasury played one half of the last ethnically diverse couple to grace the town of Llanview, as India’s Rama Patel! Shenaz actually came up with a plan to diversify One Life if it can ever get a second chance at life, “I like that the Patels were not the stereotypical Indian couple. I am so thankful to Frank and Ron for that. They were like, ‘No speak in your own voice.’ A lot of Indians speak like I did on OLTL, which surprises people! That is why they should get characters from other countries and nationalities so it can actually be a global soap opera. That is the state of the world now. If OLTL ever moves to the Internet, people from all cultures could at some point be represented!”
The hardest part of the day was still to come. To go on camera and talk to Hillary B. Smith, Robert S. Woods, Kassie DePaiva and Kristen Alderson and Erika Slezak and say my goodbyes! But before that, I had to take this opportunity to ask Erika’s on-screen daughter’s (two other women who have delivered one amazing performance and performance after the other), Melissa Archer and Bree Williamson, what they learned from playing Erika’s on-screen children, as Natalie and Jessica! Bree told me, “I think that Erika has taught me how to navigate through this business with class. She is a leader within this cast and she handles things with class, and I am talking about even the hard stuff.” Melissa then told me, “I learned a lot from Erika. One of the greatest things she has taught me is to slow down sometimes, and I think that is a great lesson. Sometimes, I will be stuck, and I can just go to her, and she can so eloquently and so easily explain it, or change it, or change the perspective for me, so I understand it, and also how to just be. Erika is the matriarch of this show and the head honcho of the actors, and she is not snobby. She is someone to look up to, and that is pretty cool. You don’t get to be that fortunate some times in your career.” Bree then added, “I will miss Melissa. I will miss her friendship and I think she is an exciting actress. With Melissa, there is just not a malicious bone in her body. She is so honest and I just adore her. I love her.”
Next, when I went to sit down on-camera to speak with Kassie DePaiva and Kristen Alderson. I knew it would be tough. I gave Kassie and Kristen’s some hugs and we began. The one thing I remember is looking over at Kassie with tears streaming down her face as she explained what the fans have meant to her and the show. “It’s a beautiful thing to go out and do ‘meet and greets’ and to meet the fans,” she said. “You know how much your existence as Blair has changed their lives. But not only as Blair, but as Kassie, because of the soap magazines and the media, they also know about Kassie DePaiva’s journey. They know I have a deaf son and they prayed for me and prayed for my son. They sent blessings to me for my marriage. It is amazing genre. I don’t think there is any genre that has such a beautiful fan base. They search out information on us, because they love us and they love the characters. They have taken the ride and escaped in the fantasy, and it’s a beautiful thing. It saddens me that this is ending a chapter on network television. This show has touched fans in such a miraculous way. I don’t think what the network puts in its place will ever be like this was.”
When it was my time to speak with Hillary B. Smith and Robert S. Woods, two people who have been so beloved by this show and this industry, and to be sitting down with them to conduct this final interview, I knew that between the three of us, this was going to be difficult. I could barely bring myself to look at them. I love these two people, both on-screen and off. The fact that after the years we have all spent in this industry that this was our final time ‘officially’ together…it was a somber moment. But I have to say, I think what you saw on this video interview of us, was the real deal …high emotions, sadness, and while trying our best to celebrate the legacy of the show. But the quotes that stuck with me were when we discussed the fans as Hillary in tears said, “I want the fans to know, we know. They have been so generous and so kind. They have given to our charities, and making gifts and food… homemade rugulah for God sakes, we know!” Bob chimed in with, “And the fans would make trips to the studio for hour and hours to just say hello to us and say ‘thanks.’” And of course, what choked me up was how Bob and Hillary discussed what it was like to work with each other. Bob revealed, “I woke up to the fact that it was so easy, after we were broken up on-screen for ten years, to be back together. And, the fact that the fans waited for ten years for this reunion and that they stuck by it. And then, they were so happy when it finally happened. I was so struck by that, because I kept thinking and telling them, ‘No. It’s over. Don’t you get that? Their lives have taken completely different directions. Doesn’t anybody get it but me?’ But as it turns out, I was the only guy who didn’t get it until we were re-teamed. And then I went, ‘Wow. This is like stealing money and so easy!’ This last couple of years has been really fun. We came back together and it blew me away. I could not believe it.” Hillary paid ultimate compliments to her longtime leading man, “It was fun and exciting to work with Bob. I couldn’t wait to get to work to see what they had written for us. And what is really fun is when you find someone who you can play comedy and drama with seamlessly in one scene, and still hit all the highlights you need to as an actor. It is very special.”
It was time for me to interview on-camera Erika Slezak. I just couldn’t bear the thought of how I would sit there with the greatest daytime actress in the history of the genre and the lead performer of this show, knowing this could very well be the last time I am speaking to her during her 40-year run as Viki! But as many of you saw on our video interview, we both choked back the tears. It was a moment that as I am writing this to you still brings me to tears. But I feel so lucky and blessed to have had that time with Erika, to tell her for myself and for the fans how much she has meant to all of us, and how special her performances have been throughout the decades. But as fate would have it, after we talked for our all too short a time on-camera (I could speak with Erika for hours if someone would let me!) we got to sit down later off-camera, so we could chat a bit more about her One Life lived! I then asked Erika if there was any performance she would like to redo from her time at OLTL. And, surprisingly she said the final speech of her recent 40th anniversary episode where Viki recounts her life and that she survived everything thrown at her! “I would like to redo that speech right now if I could,” Erika revealed. “When I watched it, I thought I should have done something else, but that is after the fact and you can’t help it. But yes, at the end it’s that I will survive. And when Viki said to the alters, ‘I am stronger than you, and I am smarter than you, and I am not selfish the way you are, and you will never bring me down. I will have my ‘One Life to Live’. It talked about her father, and all the things she had been through in her life, and all the deaths of her husbands and dear loved ones, and that I will continue and go on.” And the fact that she will go on, that is who Viki is, and that is why I loved her so much. She can go down and she will always rise again. And that was my idea for Prospect Park’s name for their online network, The Phoenix… you know, rising from the ashes, but they did not like it.” (Laughs)
And as for the ending of the series, is Erika down for a Viki/Clint pairing? “I like Viki and Clint. They have a wonderful long history. She respects Clint and he recently went off the rails, and she understood that too. It had a lot to do with his father and the betrayal, but she knows who Clint is at his heart. We had a scene about that, and Clint and Viki have had a wonderful relationship all these years. I don’t think if Linda Gottlieb, who was the executive producer of One Life to Live at the time, would have said ‘OK. Now you’re going to be divorced and you’re going to be poor,’ that we would ever have gotten divorced. Clint was a very practical down to earth kind of a guy, and Viki comes from the other end of the spectrum, not money wise, but ideologically. Somehow they found a way to make it work. Jerry verDorn is a different Clint … a more sophisticated and educated Clint. I adore Jerry verDorn. He is like gift from God, and so I am very happy about that and how it ends on network television.”
And as much as Erika got to have some happy returns from Viki’s family members at the end of the run, there is one person MIA… Robin Strasser. Erika stated, “I miss Robin and Dorian, who is such a huge presence on this show. I am sure they could always find another villain, but she was so much more than a villain. I always said Robin brings something to the table, and I think I told you this, she brings a thanksgiving feast every single time she works…. so complete and so full and so rich, down to the rings on her fingers and the fingernails, and everything she does. You would go, ‘There’s Dorian in all her glory.’ It’s just awesome to watch, and awesome to work with. And I have always said the most important relationship, and the strongest relationship in the 43 years of One Life to Live, is Viki and Dorian. You know the final closure that we had on-screen, Robin objected to that, when it was written to say that they were ‘Frenemies’. Robin said, ‘Frenemies’ is not what they were, and so when she played the scene I think she said something else. But it was sad not seeing her here. Now, on the other hand, having Viki’s brother and sister back was great. Having Roger Howarth back is nothing short of brilliant. He is the most inventive actor. I love working with him and I have enormous respect for Roger. Having Andrea Evans (Tina) back as well was great. It had been a long time, but Tina has sort of grown up, and Andrea played it so nicely. Yes, there was a reason for it… she wanted Cord back. Andrea is also very interesting and very good. I have known her since she was a child of 17 or 18 with hair down to there. Now to see her grown into this woman with her family, it was lovely and a treat. It was a treat having all these people come back. Jessica Tuck (Megan) was back and that was a pleasure too! It was just amazing to see everyone one last time like this. I can’t tell you how much it all meant to me.”
As we concluded what would be our true final conversation, I asked Erika about how playing Viki has changed her personally. Erika answered, “Many episodes and stories that I have had the opportunity have changed me. But what we do is we live here for hours and hours a day, and it can’t help but affect you. When you play something that is important it is life changing … breast cancer … heart transplant … marriages and deaths … of course, it has to affect you. You couldn’t play it seriously if it didn’t affect you. I am very proud of the work, and proud of this show and the actors on the show. People do not have an idea of how hard we work. It’s not easy to come in here at 7AM in the morning and be on camera at 9:30AM and don’t make any mistakes. I am so proud of everyone who has stayed with us … the actors, the audience, and the people who put this show together. It was really awesome!”
The day had now come to a close. As I packed up my gear, and looked back at the now emptied-out room that for this day housed the chatter of the actors who made Llanview the thriving Mecca, where anything and everything can happen and is possible, I got on the elevator for one final ride to bring me to the lobby of ABC Studios. Dazed, I just stood there for a second thinking, “How can a show that is so vibrant and filled with so much love from the inside out be so easily snuffed out?” Sad but true, this is part of life. They say all good things come to an end, but I just wanted to believe that Llanview would always be on the soap map, and was invincible. Try as the network might through all the cancellation rumors over the last few years to bring it down, until they finally gave it the ax, it still went out in a blaze of glory! And, who says Llanview is truly gone? I will always, always, have Viki and her friends, families, and enemies and the town of Llanview, PA, in my heart and in my memory, God-willing for the next 43 years. Xo’s, Michael
To view my special photo gallery below make sure to click on the NEXT GROUP icon located to the right of the + symbol on the photo gallery thumbnail groupings. Or, you can watch it as a Slideshow!
Leaving Llanview Exclusive Photos
Photo Credit: MF SOAPS, Inc.