A likeable fashion designer from New York — that was all Brian Starcher knew about the soap character, Hank Eliot. Brian had already auditioned twice before at AS THE WORLD TURNS, for the roles of Craig and Kirk, so when the offer came to create the role of Hank, the actor was delighted.
Two weeks into the role, then executive producer Robert Calhoun dropped the bomb: Hank was, indeed, slated to be gay. In a soft low voice, Brian remembers, "This intense flush of homophobia came over my body. I thought, 'Everyone's going to think I'm gay.'" Calhoun suggested the actor go home and seriously think about whether or not he wanted to take on the role.
"I started thinking positive things about doing it and realizing that people who I love aren't going to care," Brian recalls. His agents didn't object, as long as the story was handled with taste and sensitivity. But, Brian had two other potential obstacles. The middle child of five siblings, he was apprehensive about his family's reaction — especially what his father would say. "My dad's my hero, a man of great character," Brian explains. "He was very strict. I called him up and I don't remember what he said first, but it wasn't negative. He called back and said, 'Look, Brian. I think this is a wonderful opportunity and I think you should take it. I'm going to support you.'"
As Hank's story unfolded, the character had to explain his sexual orientation to many Oakdale citizens. On August 18, 1988, twenty years ago today, Hank came out for the first time to Iva Snyder. The second clip is the following day when Iva responds.
At the time, Hank was the first male character to ever come out on soaps. The first female was ALL MY CHILDREN's Lynn Carson (played by Donna Pescow) in 1983.
When Hank came out to a teenaged Paul Ryan, Paul did not take it well at first. But later, after Hank was shot saving Paul from his father James, Paul realized what a true friend Hank was.
In February 1989, as his story continued, Hank called the father of Hank's partner, Charles, who is in a hospital in Charleston dying of AIDS. Charles' family did not want Hank to be allowed to see him. Hank left the show later that year.
Starcher was nominated as "Outstanding Male Newcomer" in the 1990 Soap Opera Digest Awards and ATWT was honored by GLAAD at their first annual media awards.
During his run, Starcher received numerous letters from fans who were happy to have a representation of themselves on the show.
Hank's story opened the door for other male characters to come out on soaps. In 1992, ONE LIFE TO LIVE introduced Billy Douglas, played by Ryan Phillippe, who came out but was written off a year later. In 2006, AS THE WORLD TURNS (Luke) and GENERAL HOSPITAL (Lucas) had legacy characters come out. But where have all the other stories about gay characters that could have been told? There have been a few here and there but none that really lasted or made an impact with viewers. Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) on ALL MY CHILDREN and Luke Snyder on ATWT have been only long-term gay characters with ongoing stories on soaps period.
For all the progress that has been made, and not nearly enough in my opinion, much of it is due to the vision of the late Robert Calhoun and Douglas Marland who went further with Hank's storyline than anyone had gone before.