When you look up “class” in the history books for daytime television, you are most likely to find Suzanne Rogers. For 36 years as Maggie Horton on DAYS OF OUR LIVES she has embodied heart, spirit, and a quiet resilience. But behind the warm smiles and supporting words of wisdom lies an actress who has struggled with a crippling autoimmune deficiency and emotional problems which nearly prematurely ended her career. Please join me for this rare interview in which this Emmy winning talent shares her memories, her hardships, and her inspiring triumphs over her inner battles.
In Part One, Suzanne Rogers shared aspects of her early professional life in new York, how failing a Y&R audition led to success on DAYS, and memories of her first story as Maggie.
We Love Soaps: At the Daytime Emmys we spoke briefly about We Love Soaps, and how we talk on our podcast about how much we love Maggie. I want to change the name of it to “We Love Maggie.”
Suzanne Rogers: Thank you! It’s nice to be back with some work. There was a little dry spell there. I’m just glad to be having more work, I really am thrilled.
We Love Soaps: Now to go back, I understand that you when started as a New York Rockette, you were the youngest ever hired at the time at the age of seventeen. How does one go from being a Rockette to a West Coast soap star?
Suzanne Rogers: Well, I did some musicals in New York. My whole background had been singing and dancing. That’s what I thought I was destined to do. One job begot another job, which begot another job. Through all this, I wanted more to do. I wasn’t satisfied being the dancer with just a little bit to do. I wanted to do something where I could speak or something. So the little of money I would make I would put back into acting classes in the morning, because [in theater] you could run and get things done during the day. The college I went to was the college of “bettering myself.” I knew there was more inside of me I wanted to do. When I was in "Coco" with Katherine Hepburn, Gene Nelson said to me, “You really should go to California.”
Suzanne Rogers: Then the next musical I did was "Follies" with the same choreographer, Michael Bennett. When they were talking about bringing the show to California I went to Hal Prince and said I would like to go, but I’m only going to go if I can do the [lead] part. There would be no sense in me coming out here to be in the chorus, I had to come out here so whoever was going to see the show would see me in a part. So he offered me the part of Alexis Smith, and when we came out here that’s what I was doing, and that’s when Al Onorato at CBS saw me and had me come in to read for YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS only wanted blondes at the time for the lead family. But the girl across the tracks, Sally, was the girl who didn’t come from any money. That’s the part I read for. They took that [audition] tape, and showed it to the people at Corday. They had me come in and read and that’s how it all got started.
We Love Soaps: Were you disappointed about not getting that initial role on YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS?
Suzanne Rogers: No, I didn’t know to be disappointed. I wasn’t even sure what soap was, but my agent said, “This is a new soap, you should audition for this.” They were looking for people that could sing. It was a musical thing within this family—all the daughters did something [musical]. Because I sang, that’s why he set me up for YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. When I walked into the office for the reading the producer said, “Where’s your blonde hair?” I said, “I’ve never been a blonde.” So it was obvious I wasn’t going to get the part. But the tape was sent to Corday. They had tests, and they brought me into read with seven other girls. I, at the time, didn’t know I had dyslexia, but I knew I had a hard time with dialogue. So I went out into the car and I went over it and over it and over it. I went in, read for the people at NBC and Betty Corday. John Clarke [Mickey Horton] was sitting there. I didn’t know who he was. The test was on Friday the 13th. There were two of us that tested, this blonde and myself. My agent called me afterward and asked how it went. I said, “That blonde came in all pretty. You told me to come in with jeans and a little print shirt. I came in looking all casual, and she came in looking all gussied up. What was that all about?” He said, “Oh well, that’s what they told me.” On Monday I didn’t hear and I thought I didn’t get it. I called my agent and he said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, you have to go over and pick up your crutches.”
We Love Soaps: After a career of dancing and singing, did you know you were auditioning for a character who couldn’t walk?
Suzanne Rogers: No. I said to them, “It’s a good thing you hired a dancer to do this.”
We Love Soaps: Maggie was a fan favorite right away.
Suzanne Rogers: She was on the farm. It was a different look. The show had taken place in a city and this was on a farm. It was checkered tablecloths. There were things that were appealing to a large number of the audience. It was like middle America. She ran this house on her crutches. She had a handyman and she had a beau who had loved her from the time they went to school together. The very first time Mickey comes up to the door he doesn’t know who he is because he’s lost his mind. He doesn’t remember who he is. He has an “M.H.” on his belt buckle and says [his name is] Marty Hanson.
We Love Soaps: This story between Mickey and Maggie was so popular that you told me there had been talk of a spinoff.
Suzanne Rogers: When the show takes off they talk about taking a couple and spinning it off. The audience liked the setting so much, it was so different. They hadn’t seen a soap take place on the farm, in the rural areas . County fairs, animals, working on tractors, things they had never seen before. Wes Kenney [producer of DAYS from 1968-1979] said, “Oh no, we’re signing you to a contract, you’re not going anywhere.”
We Love Soaps: I don’t know if people realize that Maggie being on crutches wasn’t a plot gimmick, she was really crippled for the first two-and-a-half years.
Suzanne Rogers: It was almost three years.
We Love Soaps: After three years, how did the decision get made to allow Maggie to walk without them?
Suzanne Rogers: They wanted to bring Mickey back to town, and they felt there was a strong storyline between Bill [Horton] and Mickey. He was beginning to remember. There were pictures taken at the County Fair. Tom Horton and Bill had seen this picture and Tom is the one who said, “That looks like my son.” That’s how it started.
Suzanne Rogers: Eventually Tom, Bill, and Laura [Horton, played by Susan Flannery], came out to Brookville to see who this man was. And by then, this man had married me. Mickey had always said, “You need to get yourself checked and see if there’s anything we can do about your legs.” So when I went into town, I went to this main hospital. They told me to sit in this one office and on the desk was a picture of this woman and this man...and the man was my husband! But I didn’t know he wasn't Marty [and really] was Mickey. [Laura] was still legally married to him. Then Bill ended up operating on me, and I started in physical therapy. Bill kept saying, “There’s nothing wrong with her.” Of course Mickey is saying, “Then why can’t she walk?” I didn’t walk because I thought if he didn’t have me to take care of then he would go back to Laura. Here’s this famous woman doctor, and I’m a nothing on a farm. I thought I was going to lose him. It was psychological thing as to why I couldn't walk. [Mickey] gave me a pair of red shoes, and this was the famous scene. He said, “You walk, and I’ll take you out dancing.” This was his way of telling me it was going to be okay. But I was still afraid of Laura. It all the hit the fan when Mike came to the farm to see Mickey. Mike, his son, came to the farm, and got hurt working on a tractor. When they went to do a blood transfusion, he didn’t match. And that’s how it all came out that Mike was not his son.
We Love Soaps: And I think again people need to realize that this whole story you’re describing played out over the course of seven years.
Suzanne Rogers: And when he found out Bill was Mike’s father, he tried to kill him. He did shoot him in the hand. It was an intense story of family. The family was so strong. That’s how Maggie got [introduced]. The people who remember her then just love her because she’s been through so much, so many things.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part Two, Rogers will recount Maggie’s historic groundbreaking storyline, the scene that won her the 1979 Emmy, and the personal tragedy which nearly ended her career.
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.