In Part One of my lunch interview with Louise Sorel, the actress discusssed her early career, her relationship with Dame Judith Anderson, and the unfortunate (yet ambivalent) fate of Laken Lockridge's pet pigeon. In this part, Ms. Sorel shares receiving a letter from President Reagan, the end of Augusta Lockridge, and the beginning of Vivian Alamain.
We Love Soaps: SANTA BARBARA debuted in 1984, became critically acclaimed, and Augusta Lockridge had a certain fan in the White House.
Louise Sorel: Albeit demented. I mean, Alzheimer’s you know.
We Love Soaps: So you actually received a letter from President Reagan [in 1985] wishing Augusta to get well soon. Any idea how that came about?
Louise Sorel: I nearly fell on the floor. I thought my friends had done it. I have friends in Washington. I thought it was a joke. I called them and said, “Very funny.” They said, “What?” “You sent that letter, that was very hysterical.” My friend’s husband was Reagan’s photographer. I said “Come on you guys.” They said, “We didn’t do anything.” And they didn’t. So it’s a mystery.
We Love Soaps: Did you ever hear from him or anyone from the White House again?
Louise Sorel: No, but I went to NBC and I told them about it. I said, “You can have it, I don’t know what you want to do with it.” They said, “We don’t want to embarrass the White House.” But it did get out there.
We Love Soaps: And then you left SANTA BARBARA and went to ONE LIFE TO LIVE. What was that like?
Louise Sorel: I can’t go into a lot of it. I was there a year. The character didn’t have any humor. And I can’t function without humor. I felt it just wasn’t right for me. So I went off to France and studied French. Then I thought, “Oh my God, what am I going to do, I have no work.” Then my mother called and said, “They want you back on SANTA BARBARA.” So I went back. And things changed a bit.
We Love Soaps: What had changed when you went back?
Louise Sorel: Again, the turnover in writers, producers, too many chefs. And then it had been sold to New World. Then New World got all involved which was a big mistake, except they sold it to Europe, and that was a huge thing. It was a bunch of guys running New World. They decided they should have their “bunnies” there [a lot of cute girls]. There were too many hands in the pot. Then there was a problem with the Dobsons. They left the show, to put it nicely, and I was heartbroken over that because I thought these are the people who created the show, they should be there. And then someone came to produce and direct the show who told me he was getting rid of the Lockridges, which was frankly a lie. Because they were in the midst of bringing my husband back, Nicky [Nicholas Costner who played Lionel Lockridge], and Jack [Wagner who played Warren Lockridge]. But he said he’s getting rid of the Lockridges. So you can imagine how I felt then.
Louise Sorel: Anyway, the character was suddenly turned into an alcoholic. And I was enraged. That part I don’t mind saying because it was very obvious. My only fun out of that was that every time they would say “Augusta is drinking,” I refused to drink. So they would say, “She’s becoming an alcoholic,” but nobody ever saw her drink. It was the only thing I could do to save my, you know. I thought it was terrible they made her an alcoholic and I told them so.
We Love Soaps: What did you see as problematic about that?
Louise Sorel: There’s no justification. It was to get rid of me. I’m a theater person, so I was brought up to really care about your work, to do it justice, and to really protect it. I spent my whole young life doing that. And you can’t always do that on soaps, everybody is rushed. But I do believe in protecting characters. I think that’s why, as crazy as she was, Vivian [Alamain on DAYS OF OUR LIVES] worked. Some of it I really questioned, but I would commit to everything they would ask me to do. And the audience bought it.
We Love Soaps: My understanding was that your reason for leaving SANTA BARBARA the last time had to do with a story line twist for Augusta where she would get involved with a certain character.
Louise Sorel: Yes, that was part of it. But that’s because I was up there [in the producer’s offices]. I did question it. It was a story where my sister Nancy [Grahn, who played Julia] had been raped by Tim Gibbs [playing the character of Dash Nichols]. She comes home, she falls in my arms, she’s sobbing. And now I’ve seen that I’m now going to go out and do the rapist as a romance. I could not believe this! I was supposed to be sitting on a boat, in my bathing suit, with my binoculars, eyeing him, finding him very seductive, and I just said, “There’s got to be a limit, this isn’t right.” I went up to see Bridget [Dobson], I still hadn’t learned that I’m just the actress and have to keep my mouth shut. So I said, “Br-Br-Brigdet? I don’t know how this wonderful character that I have could turn to the rapist of my sister. I don’t think a character could do this. “ “Well, we like it” [was her response], but we’ll think about it.” What happened was “Snip, snip, snip,” they took it out.
We Love Soaps: They cut the story?
Louise Sorel: I wouldn’t back down on that. But that wasn’t the end of my character, by the way. Another producer came in, the one who told me he was cutting out the family, which was not true.
We Love Soaps: One of the things that has been hard for me as a soap viewer over the past decade or so is to constantly see these decisions being made that we don’t agree with.
Louise Sorel: You just don’t know what’s going on. A lot of politicking. In my case, [pause] I know what the reason was. Let’s say it was not a professional reason. And I don’t respect that. If you really come to blows with somebody, and they’re doing awful things then that’s whatever. But this had nothing to do with the show.
We Love Soaps: And of course after you left, the show really started sliding in the ratings, and was canceled not long after.
Louise Sorel: I will never forget what an arrogant moment at the end of SANTA BARBARA [the last episode] when Paul [Rauch] threw the cigarette down and stomped on it. What the hell was that? How dare he. That’s the kind of stuff that is just so unprofessional. I mean, he is a very good producer. He’s not stupid.
We Love Soaps: So soon after you were hired on DAYS OF OUR LIVES.
Louise Sorel: It was six months later. I thought, “Oh well, where do I go now?” And my friend who was producing on SANTA BARBARA and then on DAYS OF OUR LIVES called me and said, “There’s a role coming up,” and I said, “Oh NO!” Because it was right next door, on the same fucking stage practically. She said, “Well, it’s work.” So I went over to meet with them. And they were testing seven women. They said, “Would you test?” I said “No.” I was right next door. They could see what I was doing. And then they called.
Stay tuned for Part Three in which Ms. Sorel describes her experience on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, burying Carly alive, and life as a box of a french fries.
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.