It was my profound delight to have lunch with Louise Sorel in Manhattan last week. I found her incredibly articulate, hysterically funny, and an inspiration for anyone who stands up for what they believe. Sorel has played memorable roles in several daytime and primetime television shows and is best remembered by soap opera fans for stints as Augusta Lockridge on SANTA BARBARA and Vivian Alamain on DAYS OF OUR LIVES.
In Part One of our interview, Ms. Sorel discussses her early career, her relationship with Dame Judith Anderson, and the unfortunate (yet ambivalent) fate of Laken Lockridge's pet pigeon.
We Love Soaps: Ms. Sorel, it is so nice to meet you. I've been a fan of your work since...
Louise Sorel:1900! [Laughs]
We Love Soaps: Actually, since CHARLIE'S ANGELS. There was an episode you were on where you played a particularly vicious prison...
Louise Sorel:...Unpleasant. How do I get those? You know what, it's so much fun to play that. Most people I find who play those roles are antithetical to that and you get paid to be obnoxious. It's kind of fun because we all have that in us. It's just that some choose to act it out in real life and some don't. I don't. But I love to do it [on TV] where I can get away with it.
We Love Soaps: It seem like that's the type of role that's attracted to you throughout your career.
Louise Sorel:I don't know if it's attracted me, or... I played Don Rickle's wife. It's not like I've always been this evil thing. I don't see it, but I think I'm strong and that works for those roles. I'm not a victim person. Although right now I feel like one, but I'm not. [Laughs]
We Love Soaps: Before SANTA BARBARA, it seems you did a lot of guest work.
Louise Sorel:Well, I did [THE DON RICKLES SHOW] with Don Rickles. And I did a series that was basically a pre-runner to MURPHY BROWN, where I played the Candace Bergen role with the same writer who went on to write MURPHY BROWN. That was [LADIES MAN] with Larry Pressman and myself and Karen Morrow. That was the second series I did. Then I sort of did a recurring thing on another series. And the other stuff was one here, one there - all the early shows like MANNIX, THE VIRGINIAN, six MEDICAL CENTERS, and all those shows.
We Love Soaps: What was that like for you to just come on and be a guest?
Louise Sorel:It was fun because I'm very friendly. I'm a bit shy, but I also know exactly what I'm doing when I got to work, I hope. I think I instantly have a good situation for myself. I don't step on people's feet, and I'm quiet, and I just watch. So when I go on a set, I kind of take everything and everybody in, and so by the second day it is like home.
We Love Soaps: How did SANTA BARBARA come about for you?
Louise Sorel:Actually that came about because another actress was going to do it, who was on a show called GENERAL HOSPITAL, Jane Elliot. I didn't know she was going to do it. I think I had read for the Dobsons, then they went away or something and months went by. Then I think Jane was going to do it, and then opted out. I can't remember why. Actually she was very sweet. I had only read once and then they called and said, 'Would you do it?' And I said, 'Sure!' I had never done a soap. I had never seen a soap. And everybody said, 'You don't want to do a soap. You just don't want to do that. It's not what you do.' And I said, 'Well, gee, it's continuous work. We have Dame Judith Anderson and Nick Coster. How bad can it be?' And the role was terrific so we made a deal. Jane and I spoke and she said, 'You should get such and such' because she was going to do the show and she was very sweet about it.
We Love Soaps: What was that like working with Dame Judith Anderson?
Louise Sorel:Well, it was sublime for me because she immediately, for some reason, had this very strong response to me. We traveled together. I stayed at her house in Montecito. I saw her almost every week when she wasn't working on the show. I became entwined with her incredible history. I met the most amazing people through her - Derek Jacoby and all these amazing people she knew. And she felt something for me because I loved the theater too much.
Louise Sorel: We were entwined in a way. The first day we met, I was in a leopard bikini [on set]. I had no idea this woman was going to show up on set. We were on location in Montecito and someone came over and said, 'We want you to meet Dame Judith," and I said, 'Not like this! It's Dame Judith Anderson!' He said, 'We don't have time for you to change, just go over and say hello.' And I went over trying to be queenly or something meeting the Dame and said, 'How do you do?' She was complaining about the name of her character. They wanted to call her Birdie and she hated it. So she said, 'I don't know what to call myself.' I said, 'How about Madea (mah-day-uh)?' She sort of arched and looked at me and said, 'Madea (mah-dee-uh), my dear.' I said , 'I'm terribly sorry, my mother used to call it Madea (mah-day-uh).' And she said, 'It is Madea (mah-dee-uh)' And I was humiliated!
Louise Sorel: And then they said, "Would you take some photos?" So they sit her in a big chair outside like a queen, and put me on her left on the arm of the chair just leaning on it in my bikini, and my daughter on the other side. So she turns her fabulous face and nose this way, and her nose is now here [in her chest]. And she said [in Dame Judith’s accent], "Oh, well, there it is, isn't it." And I just thought, "Who is this woman, she's fabulous." That's how we met. It was near my birthday and she walked in and I was in the makeup chair. She had in her hand a ring of turquoise and gold that was given to her by the Chinese Prime Minister. She brought it to me and she put it on my finger and said, "Do you like that?" I said, "It's lovely." She said, "It's yours. From me to you with my love and admiration. Happy Birthday." And I had just met her. I get chills now thinking about it.
We Love Soaps: Sometimes in this world we meet others and just have soul connections with them.
Louise Sorel: Oh yes. Deeply. It was so painful when she died, I thought I was going to die.
We Love Soaps: I know there were frequent changes on Santa Barbara, on screen and off screen. What are some of the memories that come to you during that time?
Louise Sorel: I loved it because of the actors that were involved. Nick Coster, Nancy Lee Grahn, Lane Davies, Dame Judith, these were the people I worked with. And I said, “My God!” It was like doing theater, we were doing a play everyday. Nancy and I would rehearse, we would create things, they would let us, it was a very remarkable time. We would work till two in the morning, it was insane, because they didn’t know yet how to set up a show like that. So we’d go from six in the morning to two in the morning. And we all lost ten pounds! So we had good people, we loved rehearsing, we got to rehearse, the directors we had wanted to rehearse.
We Love Soaps: Was there ever a story you disagreed with?
Louise Sorel: The Dobsons [Jerome and Bridget] wrote a script where I was serving hors d'oeuvres to my family. Dame Judith, Nick, and the girl who played my daughter [Laken Lockridge played by Julie Ronnie], and my beautiful son John Allen Nelson [who played Warren Lockridge]. So I serve them hors d’oervures and say they say, “Oh that’s very good, what is it, rabbit?” And I say, “No.” “Oh, is it turtle, chicken?” [I say] “No.” I had taken my daughter’s pet pigeon and served it up as an hors d’oervures. First of all I am the animal advocate of the century. I will kill Sarah Palin when I have the gun in my hand. So I am now reading that I am going to kill my daughter’s pet. Strangle it, and bake it. For no apparent reason! Except maybe she said the wrong word to me. And this is a woman who loves her children. She’s not a mean parent.
Louise Sorel: So I called Dame Judith at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, I didn’t even know her then. I said, “Hello, this is Louise Sorel, have you read the script for tomorrow?” And she said [in Dame Judith’s voice] “Oh My God, it’s disgusting! Oh My God, you can’t possibly do that.” And I said, “I have to, could you make a call for me?” She said, “Oh Darling, I’m too old and tired to get involved.” So I said, “Okay, thanks.” Then I called my agent. I said, “Michael! They’re making me kill my pet pigeon.” He thinks I’m nuts. He’s an agent, what does he care? “They’re killing my daughter’s pet pigeon, this is insane. I won’t do it.” He said, “Then quit the show, Louise, I don’t know what else to tell you.” So I go upstairs to Bridget and Jerry. I said, “Excuse me. Um, you’ve written that I kill my daughter’s pet pigeon. I will not do that. I’m an animal activist. I will call the ASPCA and tell them that you told me I had to this.” And they’re like ready to kill me [laughs]. I didn’t know what else to do! They said, “We wrote it and we think it’s funny.” I said, “It’s not funny.” They said, “Well, we’ll think about it.” So I go downstairs. Dame Judith comes in, she sits in her make-up chair. And I’m sitting in mine. And Jerry comes in. She says, [in an English accent] “Jerry, come here. That poor girl, you’re making her do such a terrible thing. I mean, she can’t do that.” And he said, “Well, we kind of liked it.” And I’m sitting in that chair thinking, “God bless her.” Finally what they let me do is just alter the lines slightly. My daughter says, “Is it pigeon?” And I say, “Maybe.” Which is the same thing as saying yes, but at least I didn’t say “yes.” There was just the slightest possibility that it didn’t happen.
Louise Sorel: And then I thought my character was being...see I had never done a soap, I didn’t realize that characters fade into the back burner, I didn’t know all this stuff. So in the second year I said, “Wait a minute, I’m not doing enough.” And someone wanted me to come to a show in New York. And I left.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Louise Sorel, in which she shares her disgust with Augusta's rapemance, SANTA BARBARA's ending, and a fan letter she received from a certain occupant of the White House.
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.
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