Harding Lemay Interview: Part Three

In Part One and Part Two of our interview with former ANOTHER WORLD head writer Harding Lemay, he spoke about how he landed the job writing for the soap, how Constance Ford help teach him how to write for the genre, and the problems he had with George Reinholt and Jacqueline Courtney. He now shares his feelings on ANOTHER WORLD spinning the character of Iris off to TEXAS, his return to the show in 1988, and how network interference increased over time.

We Love Soaps: Do you keep in touch with people from your time on ANOTHER WORLD?
Harding Lemay: Well, Irene [Dailey] died last year. And Bevey [McKinsey], I kept in touch with Bevey. Vicky Wyndham I did for while. She’s apparently very happy, doing her sculpture, living up in the country.

We Love Soaps: Many of your colleagues have passed away in recent years. How are you doing with that?
Harding Lemay: Yeah, they were my age, or a little bit older. It’s sad. The big shock was Doug Watson many years ago. He was a very close friend, and also a wonderful actor. He was wonderful to write for.

We Love Soaps: Did you ever get pressure to write for the younger characters [during your first stint as ANOTHER WORLD's head writer]?
Harding Lemay: No. There was a point, about a year before I quit, when they said they wanted to get rid of about eight actors, and they should all be over fifty. Since I was writing generational stories all the time I wouldn’t do it. And they didn’t force it. They suggested things, but when the ratings were high they didn’t push much. If the ratings were beginning to slip a little, they would. I don’t think I ever lost a battle, except the one with the gay boy [See Part One of the interview].

We Love Soaps: If I understand this correctly, you wrote these 60 minute scripts by yourself?
Harding Lemay: At the beginning I didn’t. At the beginning, the setup was that the head writer got a lump sum, and paid from that sum five sub-writers who did the scripts, but he did the outlines. And one day I made a terrible mistake, I sent the same outline to two different writers. I was short a script so I wrote it. And I realized it took much less time to write it myself then to rewrite somebody else’s because I tried to keep as much as I could of the other person’s script. And then there was this big problem with one writer who sued me, so then I wrote them all.

We Love Soaps: So you’re saying you wrote five one hour scripts a week all by yourself?
Harding Lemay: I think I did most of the hour shows on my own [NOTE: ANOTHER WORLD expanded to an hour in 1975].

We Love Soaps: And this was before computers! This was before you could copy and paste and delete things.
Harding Lemay: We had these eight sets of carbons. My brother was my office manager and he typed them for me because I was a very fast, but inaccurate typist. So he would type them send them out the producers, to the sponsors, to the people at the network.

We Love Soaps: Do you still have that typewriter?
Harding Lemay: No, I use a computer. [Laughs]

We Love Soaps: What happened to the typewriter you used to write all those scripts?
Harding Lemay: It wore out. I never used an electric typewriter. I went straight from a manual typewriter to a computer. I tried electric but I would always rest my hands on the keyboard and there would be a lot of “Zs” on there.

We Love Soaps: After you left ANOTHER WORLD, Beverlee McKinsey was spun off to TEXAS [as Iris Cory]. What did you think about that?
Harding Lemay: I think that was a big mistake because it didn’t use her correctly. I mean Bevey was a wonderful actress, and she had an edge. That edge was used best in a somewhat unsympathetic part. They made her very sympathetic in TEXAS, and it didn’t work. And she knew it. She told me once that she made a big mistake, but she made a lot of money. [Laughs] And that’s what interested her. She was a delight to work with.

We Love Soaps: So when you were asked to come back to ANOTHER WORLD in 1988, was the plan to be a consultant or the head writer again?
Harding Lemay: I don’t know what they had in mind, really. I was the head writer for awhile. And then there was a strike. And during the strike they hired some NBC people to do the writing. Then they fired me and kept the ones they used during the strike, and the show got worse and worse and worse. But even by then, when I went back, it wasn’t going to work. I could see they weren’t interested. They weren’t excited enough by what I wanted to do, whereas before they had been very excited about the ideas I had. Procter & Gamble were very upset by my book [“Eight Years in Another World”]. I was very harsh on them. Nobody thought they would ever hire me again. But they were in deep trouble, so they hired me, and forgot all about it.

I was no longer that keen on doing it either. I didn’t need the money. And then I began to be a consultant. And it’s very interesting, the consultant’s fees were very high. You’d make $2,500 a day. I had a contract that said I had to be paid for three days a week whether they used me three days or not. I did that on four shows altogether. What you do is sit in with the other writers, make suggestions, and try to help them work out what they’re doing.

We Love Soaps: So a consultant doesn’t actually write dialogue? He just offers advice...
Harding Lemay: Well, and he brings, I suppose, some sort of outside perspective to it if he can. The last one I did was ONE LIFE TO LIVE [in 1998]. It was a very toxic situation with the writers. They weren’t a good group to work together, they were always cutting each other’s ideas down. There was no civility in the group. When you’re working with five writers you have got to have civility. You’ve got to mind your manners, and be kind. I mean, it’s not easy being a writer. But my ideas were usually on character, how to develop a character better. And always to work from characters. Because, you know, the problem is, it’s hard for writers, when you’re writing a script every day to write for character. It’s so easy to jump into what you’ve seen in the movies. Over and over again they would suggest we do a story that was based on a movie and I’d keep saying, “A movie lasts two hours. A soap opera has to have at least a four month story.”

We Love Soaps: When you came back to daytime in 1988, what had you noticed had changed about the process of doing a show compared to 1979?
Harding Lemay: Well I noticed one thing, particularly, that the network had a lot more say. When I did it, I never dealt with the network, it was in my contract. I wouldn’t deal with network, Paul [Rauch] had to. By the time I got to be head writer the second time, I had a long argument with the head of NBC daytime. It was on the phone. She never came East. Because we wanted to change Sharlene [Frame]. Sharlene was living on a farm, but you never saw her bringing eggs out of the hen house or anything. She looked like she came out of the beauty parlor all the time. And the woman on the phone said, “I won’t have my show have a woman who is a farmer’s wife.” The first thing is, I didn't like the ideas of my show. And the second thing I said to her was, “What world you come from?” [Laughs] That was the end of that relationship. But that would never have happened when I was there before because I never would have been on the phone with the network anyway.

We Love Soaps: Had the pressure increased by then to make stories for younger people?
Harding Lemay: Yes. They wanted younger people on the show. And it doesn’t work. There’s no way of making it work. Younger people are interconnected with older people. And the conflicts all come between the older people and the younger people. Not only the conflicts, but the warm moments come from the older people and the younger people together. And you can use that. You can use all kinds of variety if you have generational stories. But you can not do it if it’s just young people. And it’s silly to limit yourself that way. They think that young people in the audience only want to watch young people. And that’s not true.

We Love Soaps: I don’t know where the producers get that. I wanted to see stories about Mac and Rachel and Iris. I wanted to see stories about Donna and Michael, and Sharlene and John and, of course, Ada. Not necessarily the young characters they threw up there.
Harding Lemay: And young people know they’re going to be old people eventually. You’re interested in what you’re going to be like when you’re older. But you couldn’t convince the network people. They think in terms of ratings, and demographics. It doesn’t work, obviously, because it’s ruined the medium.

Stay tuned for Part Four where Mr. Lemay talks about the censored story he would have told on ANOTHER WORLD in 1988, his relationship with Jill Farren Phelps, and what he really thinks about the violent murder of Frankie Frame.

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.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this interview.
    I always wanted to be a mix of Harding Lemay and Douglas Marland when I grew up!

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  2. What a fabulous interview, Damon! I love Mr. Lemay's book, Eight Years in Another World--it's one of the most informative books about writing a daytime soap. I can't wait for Part 4!

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  3. I'm really enjoying the interview so far. Thanks!!!

    I'm currently reading All My Afternoons (1979) which also has an interview with Lemay. So it's a real treat to compare the interviews.

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