June 11, 1945
Soap opera's biggest single earner (as high as $250,000 a year) is a 43-year-old ex-Ohio schoolmarm named Irna Phillips. Weekday mornings the 45 characters of her three current shows (THE GUIDING LIGHT, TODAY'S CHILDREN, THE WOMAN IN WHITE) troop past an NBC microphone in 45 minutes of virtually nonstop emotionalism. Last week, on the anniversary of her 15th year in radio, Writer Phillips was wrestling with a newly publicized approach to her craft. She called it "social significance."
Irna Phillips suddenly realized one day that she had been "subconsciously" educating her listeners all along. Thereafter, she resolved to do it consciously. She began firing questions at agencies all over the country — Child Welfare, the American Legion, the War Department, the Red Cross. Her chief question: "What is your problem and what can we do to help you with it on our programs?" When some responded with case histories, she energetically knitted the true-to-life histories into her already complicated plots. At the moment, the problems of returning veterans dominate her stories.
Just as she used to lug in illegitimate children (to the unconcealed horror of conservative NBC), she is now pushing forward such delicate plot material as amputation cases.
Example of the trend is THE WOMAN IN WHITE. Otto Schultz, blinded in the Pacific, falls in love with gentle Jennifer Burton, whom he has never seen. Will Jennifer's father, Dr. Burton, be able to do anything for Otto's sight? Will Otto still love Jennifer if he no longer has to lean on her? Meanwhile, Otto has managed to slip across several effective plugs for international cooperation.
Miss Phillips is in dead earnest about her "personal crusade." Neither her sponsor (General Mills) nor NBC has gone out of its way to encourage her. The U.S. Treasury was once politely cool to her offer of GUIDING LIGHT as a free medium for selling war bonds. But shrewd Spinster Phillips, certain that she is on the right track, has hired a special "sociological and psychological adviser" to help her carry on.