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Harding Lemay Interview: Part Two

In Part One of my interview with Harding Lemay, the legendary writer spoke about how he landed his job on ANOTHER WORLD, his relationship with Irna Phillips and the gay storyline that almost came to be. In Part Two, find out which actor helped Mr. Lemay learn how to write for soaps, which leading actress irritated him by reading lines off her sleeve cuffs, how he became know as "Mr. Why" and his unique experience working with Paul Rauch.

We Love Soaps: You were definitely a forward thinker.
Harding Lemay: Well, I wanted to shake it up. ANOTHER WORLD particularly, and I think all Procter & Gamble shows, were all vanilla white people. They were middle class, fairly affluent, and I wanted to have classes. I wanted to have the very, very rich, and the middle class, and the poor. So I introduced the Carringtons - Iris and her family the Corys - and at the same I time I introduced the Perrinis - Joey Perrini and his family. Joey Perrini was just an [off screen] name on the series when I took it over. Constance Ford who played Ada would tell her grandson when she wanted to talk with Rachel, “Go play with Joey next door.” Well I brought the whole family in. And Joey was played by Ray Liotta, who was a wonderful young actor. I wanted to show that our society was made up of more than just that middle class vanilla type midwesterner that Irna Phillips created.

We Love Soaps: Now it seems they’ve gone back to that, showing mostly vanilla whitewashed communities, with very little diversity.
Harding Lemay: I know, it’s too bad.

We Love Soaps: Did you ever get directives to use simpler language, or were you ever cautioned not to allude to literature?
Harding Lemay: No, and I didn’t do it much because I don’t like that in writing particularly, unless you’re writing about literature. I think it’s the author showing off, not the character. I’m not going to talk about Proust as a character, only a writer would do that. But I was also taught a great lesson the first month I was at ANOTHER WORLD by Connie Ford, who played Ada. I had written a final tag speech in one of the crucial scenes. And when I got to the rehearsal, Connie cut the entire speech and did just one line from it. Now she was a wonderful actress, a very laconic actress, and didn’t need a lot of language. And I realized something: you write to what the actor does. And I never overwrote a scene for her again.

I could write anything for Beverlee McKinsey, she could use language any way you wanted her to. Or Irene Dailey [Liz Matthews]. Or Annie Meachum [Louise Brooks]. And Douglass Watson. But Connie taught me how to write for television. On that one day, she also read a line I had written. She knew I was in the control booth, and looked right in the camera and said, “Whatever the fuck that means.”

We Love Soaps: When you started, Steve and Alice [played by George Reinholt and Jacqueline Courtney] were a very popular couple for quite some time. What happened?
Harding Lemay: Well it’s interesting about actors on soaps. Some of them are wonderful. Some of the best actors I’ve worked with are on soaps. But, I think some of the worst ones too. Jacquie Courtney didn’t ever memorize her lines. She read them off her [sleeve] cuff. I called Paul [Rauch] the producer and said, “Why is she always looking down?” And he told me. And they were extremely difficult on the set. The producer wanted to get rid of them more than I did because I wasn’t on the set. But they created lots of problems with other actors. I am told they would sit on the sidelines and criticize other actors during rehearsals and things like that.

Harding Lemay: And also, I wanted a different kind of central character. I wanted to reverse Rachel. I wanted to show Rachel becoming a sympathetic character by becoming her mother’s mother while Ada was pregnant. So they could switch the idea of a the goody two-shoes blonde. And then I also really wanted to make Iris the bitch of the show. Because it was much more interesting for me to have a witty, sophisticated, wealthy bitch than a poor girl struggling her way up as Rachel had been.

We Love Soaps: It sounds like the actors kind of had carte blanche before, and then you set some limits on them.
Harding Lemay: Well, the writer doesn’t really have a great deal to do with actors, basically. Although I worked very well with Paul [Rauch] and we agreed upon certain things. [Alice] was a monotonous role to write because she didn’t have a wide range as an actress. George Reinholt was a very good actor, but he was very difficult, impossible actually.

We Love Soaps: Can you give an example?
Harding Lemay: [Groans] He would just create scenes on the set all the time. He refused to say lines. Some stupid words. Instead of saying, “In the meantime,” he would say, “In the interim.” But he would throw other actors off. There were some actors who did the same thing but not as deliberately. And he apologized to me. Years later he came up to me at a function and apologized.

We Love Soaps: He did? What do you think led him to apologize?
Harding Lemay: Actors are victims of all kinds of personality stress, I think. I’d call it more than “problems.” They’re under a lot of tension. I’ve worked in the theater a long time, most of my life. It’s a high pressured business. I have a lot of respect for actors. I was an actor, and I was a lousy actor.

We Love Soaps: Why do you say you were a lousy actor?
Harding Lemay: I was a terrible actor. I didn’t like acting. I didn’t want to be an actor. I didn’t like to be watched. And if you’re an actor, and you don’t like to be watched, you’ve already defeated yourself. All my friends were good actors, Jason Robards, a young [Marlon] Brando, and all these kids I knew, and they had something I didn’t have. I wanted to write. I wanted to write the words.

We Love Soaps: Did you ever hear from Jacqueline Courtney ever again?
Harding Lemay: I’ve seen her occasionally. She’s been very pleasant, very nice. Interestingly enough, my wife and I had our 9th wedding anniversary party at The River Cafe in Brooklyn last night. And a woman came up to me and said, “You’re Harding Lemay, aren’t you?” And I said, yes. She said, “I’m Cathy Greene. I played Sally Frame as a 5-year-old.” [Sally was] Alice’s daughter. She’s now 45. Her companion is the one who owns The River Cafe so they made a great fuss over us, and we got everything we wanted. [Laughs] She reawakened a lot of memories of that period. She was a wonderful child actress.

We Love Soaps: How would you describe your relationship with Paul Rauch?
Harding Lemay: Professionally wonderful. He is one of the best producers, probably the best producer I have ever worked with. Personally, we’re not the same kind of person.

We Love Soaps: Meaning?
Harding Lemay: Paul needs a lot of attention. He needs a lot of, I’ll use a kinder word, encouragement perhaps. He’s a very needy man. I don’t really have to have a lot of attention from people. Maybe in my personal life from my family I do, but not professionally. And he could be very difficult and dictatorial but he never was with me. Very early on we had one blowout when he told me to do something and I said, ‘I won't.’ And he said, ‘Yes, you will.’ And I said, ‘Why should I?’ And he said, ‘Because I'm the producer!’ And I said, ‘Well, fuck you.’ And I hung up. Five minutes later he called back and said, ‘Can we talk?’ Never had a problem with him after that. That is a bullying technique that I learned in publishing. If you give in the first time, they’ve got you forever. You never let them get that first hold on you. That also comes from being one of thirteen kids.

We Love Soaps: So why did it end? Why did your time on ANOTHER WORLD end?
Harding Lemay: A lot of reasons. One is that I was pretty well burned out. They had gone to 90 minutes, which was insane. I didn’t want to do it. In the first place, I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think you could stretch the actors that much. You can’t have an actor on in eight scenes out of twelve. They can’t memorize that much, and the leads are on three times a week. It didn’t work because you couldn’t stretch the story either. And I was getting tired, I didn’t need the money anymore, luckily. [My] kids were growing up and out of school. And I wanted to go back to writing plays.

We Love Soaps: After you left, I think it’s a universal consensus the show went downhill.
Harding Lemay: I watched it for awhile because the guy who took over, Tom King, was a good friend of mine. I had trained him. I don’t know what really happened. I suspect he couldn’t stand up to the pressure. For instance, they used to want me to write trials. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s trials on television, and I wouldn’t do it. I just said, “I don’t know how to do it, I’m no good at it, and it will be lousy.” You know the good person is going to be freed eventually, and the bad person is going to go to jail. Then they did silly things, like Mac kidnapping his baby, something way out of character. And then I didn’t watch it anymore, I figured they were going to ruin it. And they did. I built from character. They would call me “Mister Why?” because my first question when we were discussing what was going in the scene was, “Why? Why are they doing that?” If you can make sense out of the “why” then it’ll work. And if you can’t then it doesn't work, it doesn’t come from character.

Stay tuned for Part Three where Mr. Lemay discusses returning to ANOTHER WORLD in 1988 and the pressure to cater to the younger generation.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.

5 comments:

  1. I was too young to watch Another World. I found this video on George Reinholdt having fallen on hard times:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGTKVQZs4_k

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  2. I was very appalled by the racist banter between Jacobs and Lemay over the discussion of White characters. This dampened an otherwise interesting interview considerably.

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  3. What racist banter? What did they say that isn't true? Soaps have been fairly vanilla through out their existence. Maybe you are racist.

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  4. Anyone who watched Jacquie Courtney play her two roles on OLTL and in other dramas can attest to the fact that her range as an actress was more than most. Lemay clearly just never liked a lot of those actors personally, and his book reads like the ultimate diary of an ego-maniac far more filled with hubris than even George Reinholt was.

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  5. I agree. After reading Lemay's book, his stated intentions with certain plots and characters were not often what transpired on-screen. Jacquie Courtney -- a truly engaging presence and mesmerizing actress -- has been trashed by Lemay for years. Yet, he and Rauch retained some pretty horrible actors during their reign of terror -- Gail Brown, Susan Harney, Hugh Marlowe, Susan Keith, etc. And speaking of ethnic diversity, did Lemay ONCE write a signficant role for an African American or Latino character? Vera Moore and Terry Alexander were hardly used and were never contract players. Expanding the show to an hour would have been the perfect opportunity to give them a storyline -- instead, they just vanished.

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