In Part One of our interview with Emmy winner Suzanne Rogers, the actress recounted her past as a New York Rockette and her early years on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. In Part Two, she shares her highlights of Maggie’s story lines and the devastating illness that led to her leaving the show.
We Love Soaps: One of Maggie’s struggles in the early years was with alcoholism.
Suzanne Rogers: Yes, and that’s when I won my Emmy. The sad thing about it was that the audience was so in love with her being who she was, when they decided to turn her into an alcoholic, they were just appalled.
We Love Soaps: How did you feel about that choice?
Suzanne Rogers: The writer at the time was Ann Marcus [DAYS head writer 1977-1979]. How it used to be years ago was that when the writers would change hands, and we would get new writers, they would sit down and talk with each one of us individually and try to get to know us so they would know how to write for us. They would ask if we had any opinions about where we wanted our character to go. So when Ann Marcus took over the show, she called me in for a meeting. I went into her office and sat down. And she said, “Well, I’m just going to tell you: I don’t know how to write for you.” And that was the conversation! My mouth dropped open. She said, “I just don’t know what to write, you’re just so good, you’re a goody two-shoes. If you have any ideas, just give ‘em to me.” I said, “I don’t have any ideas at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.” At the time, you think, “Well, I don’t want to be a prostitute. [Laughs] So what can she do? If something traumatic happened to her, maybe she would start drinking.” So the next time we had a meeting I said, “Well, I have an idea. If some trauma happens, maybe she would start drinking.” [Ann] said, “Oh, let me think about this.” So that’s how it started. It was my suggestion, but I felt like if I didn’t say something I was going to be gone.
We Love Soaps: Did you have personal experience with that, or know anyone who was struggling with alcoholism?
Suzanne Rogers: No. I didn’t. So it wasn’t an easy thing. I mean, with the musicals you sometimes see people go out at lunch and come back a little too happy. The only experience I had was with that. Well, that’s not what they were looking for, they didn’t want a happy drunk. But the audience didn’t want this to happen to this character and so I’ve always said I was the quickest drunk in the world because it only went on about three or four months. And then it was over. They sent me to Alcoholics Anonymous and then for the rest of my tenure on the show I’ve always had iced tea or a glass of water with lemon in it. Any time there’s a toast I always have a tall glass and everyone else has champagne glasses. It’s been something I made sure I did the rest of the time I’ve been on the show. Consequently, though, that storyline is what I got the Emmy for.
We Love Soaps: Do you remember which episode or what you submitted that year?
Suzanne Rogers: At the time you could submit two cuts. [All together] you could submit three different pieces. So I did an argument Mickey and I had over losing Janice. It was fierce. The middle cut was the variety show with me dancing [a 1979 special DAYS episode], and the last cut was the day they came to take Janice and I just broke down. I went to the window to see her leaving and then came back to this empty apartment. I walked away from the window and then that was that.
We Love Soaps: And then when Janice came back 10 years later and was murdered [by Harper Deveraux], there was certainly ample opportunity to revisit this storyline for Maggie [of her alcoholism], but unfortunately they did not.
Suzanne Rogers: No, see, it really all depended on who was writing for the show. If they liked you, or if there was some ulterior motive to write for other people, you have to just bite your lip and take a step back and let the story go as it’s supposed to go. I’ve always loved my work. I’ve been very protective of my character. That was the most far off that she went, the alcohol story line. But it was saving myself, I could see the writing on the wall. This particular writer didn’t want to write for me. You just have to go along with it.
We Love Soaps: Then a few years later [in 1981], you were front and center for what, at the time, was a groundbreaking storyline. I’m referring to the surrogate storyline.
Suzanne Rogers: Yes, it was. No other soap had done that. It was really unusual. And then the twist: every one thought it was Even Wyland’s [Lane Davies] baby, and it turned out to be Neil Curtis’ [Joseph Gallison]. Evan and his wife wanted a baby, and she couldn’t carry the baby. I wanted to have a child, and Mickey was sterile. He couldn’t have children. That had been the whole thing with Mike and Bill. So I wanted to have a baby, at least experience having the baby. So this was a really groundbreaking idea, to have the wife have a child through another couple. So that’s what I did. I was carrying this baby. And they were in a car accident, and wife was killed and he knew how much I wanted this baby. So he gave me the child. But as time went on, it wasn’t his sperm, it was Neil Curtis.
We Love Soaps: Ten years later [in 1991], what did you think of this change of story when it was revealed that Neil was Sara’s father, not Evan?
Suzanne Rogers: That was hard to swallow. When you’re playing one thing for so very long and then all of the sudden you go “Oh, okay.” But that’s what the soaps were, it was the extended animation. And if you listen to it, that’s what’s going on today [in real life]. People switching sperms! There’s a woman on the news yesterday who gave birth, thought she was giving birth with her own egg, and it wasn’t hers at all, the frozen embryo was somebody else’s. It’s going on right now! I mean we did that storyline so long ago and now here it is.
We Love Soaps: People have always mocked or looked down at soaps for being out there but in this case, as you said, reality imitated art.
Suzanne Rogers: It’s come all around. It’s come full circle. Because that’s what he [Neil] did, he switched sperm around and put his in the petrie dish.
We Love Soaps: Now in the early 1980s, a lot of the focus of the show shifted onto the next generation.
Suzanne Rogers: Absolutely.
We Love Soaps: I wonder if you could tell me about what led up to your decision to leave the show in 1984?
Suzanne Rogers: The thing of it was, I [Maggie] was always married to an older man. So when they say, “the shift is going to the younger generation,” I would think, “But I am younger!” I was having a hard time dealing with that. So I thought I’d better keep myself looking good. So I exercised, I ran, and I was doing 10Ks and all this stuff and I was getting hoarse. I had gone to Europe on a theater tour for the show, and I thought maybe I had picked up something there. I went to an ear, nose, and throat [doctor] and he said, “You have a fungus,” so they gave me antibiotics for two weeks. I took them, but it wasn’t going away. When you’re an athlete, or a dancer, anyone who’s in tune with their bodies, they know when something is not quite right. I was still exercising, and I remember thinking, “This cold is just dragging on.” I just didn’t know what it was. Nobody seemed to know what it was.
Suzanne Rogers: So Lanna Saunders, who played Sister Marie [Horton], said, “Let me take you around to some doctors I know. We’ll just see what’s going on.” So I went to different doctors, and all they kept doing was talking about how high my blood pressure was. I’m thinking, “It’s high because I don’t know what’s going on.” It’s like you keep running around in a circle because nobody knows what the answer is. And so I went to about eight or nine doctors. Finally they sent me to UCLA and the doctor over there and within about fifteen minutes the doctor said, “You have myasthenia gravis.” I looked at him thinking, “What did he just say?” I had never heard of it in my life. I said, “O...kay. Give me some pills so I can get well.” He said, “Well, it’s not that easy.” In the meantime, Lanna is sitting in the room and she starts welling up and I asked her, “Is it bad?” And she said, “I’m just glad it’s not what I thought it might be.” What Lanna thought I had was MS [multiple sclerosis]. The doctor said, “It’s not a degenerative illness, but what you have right now you may have the rest of your life. I’m going to put you on some pills, and hopefully they will help.”
The pills didn’t help. I went through three to four medications. And the last one that seemed to work was called Prednisone. It is a miracle drug, and it is a lethal drug. It has these horrific side effects where your face blows up, it’s called moon face. That kind of tells you what happens to your face. You get this spare tire around your middle. It was just horrific, but, in taking this medication, it did help the symptoms to get better. I couldn’t speak. From the neck up, I had no control over my eyes or my mouth.
At this point, nothing was showing up on camera yet. Nobody knew, they just thought I had a bad cold. And my contract was up in August , and this was June. So I told them that I was going to try to see what else I could get. I knew I had to leave the show. I knew I had to get off the show because I knew something was wrong, and I had to give the doctors a chance to figure out exactly what it was and get me well. So they wrote me off the show.
In Part Three, Rogers discusses the role of emotional healing in her recovery process and shares how her Irish temper saved 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.