In Part One of my interview with legendary soap writer Claire Labine, Ms. Labine shared her writing process, reflections on her early career, and how mothering contributed to her understanding of soaps In Part Two, she discussed her battles with ABC, struggles with recasts, and the psychological underpinnings of the Ryan family. In Part Three, Ms. Labine discusses controversial storyline choices on RYAN'S HOPE and GENERAL HOSPITAL, and her reaction to the criticism that her work is “too depressing.” In Part Four, the Emmy winner dished about life at GENERAL HOSPITAL, the pressures of continuing the Luke and Laura legacy, inventing Sonny and Brenda, and why Jason Quartermaine was given amnesia. In Part Five, she reflected on her stints on ONE LIFE TO LIVE and GUIDING LIGHT.
In Part Six, Claire Labine shares more about her struggles with GUIDING LIGHT and Paul Rauch, plus the absurdities of focus groups.
We Love Soaps: What were your favorite stories from writing GUIDING LIGHT?
Claire Labine: What I totally loved was giving some dimension to the bad prince, who was a wonderful actor [Edmund, played by David Andrew MacDonald]. And getting him connected to the little girl [Susan], the one whose father got crisped saving the baby [Jim], Edmund had totally understood her bouts of teenage rebellion, and totally won her over. She settled down under his influence. Then his wooing of Beth was so much fun. And I adored Harley. We kept trying to do a story between Justin [Deas], Maureen [Garrett], and the actor who played the brother...tall guy with dark hair who had a troubled history with the show.
We Love Soaps: Jordan Clarke?
Claire Labine: Yes. And they didn’t want to do it. The screen just came alive when we had Jordan and Justin facing off over Maureen. It was terrific! And nobody wanted to touch it.
We Love Soaps: Why not?
Claire Labine: I don’t know! Because they were nuts! Because it was gangbusters. We couldn’t resist, we would just throw these scenes in to fill because we just wanted to see them all together because the chemistry was marvelous. And we had the profound satisfaction of sitting in on a focus session. I hate focus sessions. I said to Mickey [Dwyer-Dobbin], “Okay - one ear, that’s all.” It had one of those scenes at the tail end of another scene. It was one of those [focus] sessions where the audience has a button at the end of the arm of their seat. And they would press it and we could see whether they were interested. If the little line went up gradually, that meant there was growing interest in what was going on. If it went up dramatically, that meant there was a lot of interest in what was going on. We had pretty good averages for this show. Maureen was in the bar but not the focus. Justin was there. Jordan walked in and Justin gave him a look and this little graph shot straight to the top! It was the highest recognition of interest we had all day. But that “didn’t count.” The tester knew what she was supposed to say. She was smart enough to read where the network’s interests were and she was reinforcing them. It just made me kind of ill.
We Love Soaps: So even when they use focus groups, and those focus groups convey that they want to see an actor of a certain age, they’ll spin it...
Claire Labine: If the network is against it, forget about it. If the network has something in their head in the other direction, they’re going to do the other direction. I was tired of beating my head against a wall by that time.
We Love Soaps: What was it like to work with Justin Deas after so many years [Justin left RYAN'S HOPE in 1978].
Claire Labine: Oh, it was wonderful. I adore him. He’s just one of the best actors in the whole world. You could give him the phone book and he would make it work. If he decided it was going to be funny, it would be funny. And if he decided it was going to be a tragic phone book, then it would be a tragic phone book.
We Love Soaps: You were also reunited working with Maureen Garrett, who had been on RYAN'S HOPE [1981-82].
Claire Labine: She’s one of my all time favorites. I think she is a great human being and a wonderful actress. I would love to write for Maureen again. She has a farm in Central America! Somewhere. She’s spent a lot of time down there. I really would love to talk with her about that.
We Love Soaps: Your disputes with Paul Rauch were well discussed at that time.
Claire Labine: Were they? I didn’t know that. I was trying to be so discrete!
We Love Soaps: This was also when the internet community started discussing these things. What were the points of contention between you and Paul Rauch?
Claire Labine: Well, they weren’t fights. Paul is enormously charming. It was just disparate points of view. That’s really what it was. It was all about the material. It wasn’t personal at all.
We Love Soaps: Do you remember a specific example?
Claire Labine: Yes, the two princes, Jeffrey and Edmund. That was a bone of contention. But they had played that story for so long, there were no new beats in it, and I couldn’t figure out where to go with it without staying on that island [San Cristobel] forever. The whole thing baffled me. When there are too many cooks I get addled. If I can stay straight with an idea that has touched me and made sense to me... where I get in trouble is when people start changing it and I lose my direction. We go back to [the point made in Part Three] you have to write for yourself. You have to believe in what you’re writing if it’s going to have any resonance with the audience at all. That’s basically it for the Paul Rauch business.
We Love Soaps: You wrote for Crystal Chappell on ONE LIFE TO LIVE and GUIDING LIGHT.
Claire Labine: What a peach. What a peach! I think we succeeded in making that character [Olivia] more complex instead of just a bad girl with fangs. I loved her, and I loved the way Crystal played her. What an actress.
We Love Soaps: She is. In its last year, GUIDING LIGHT actually told a wonderful story of Olivia falling in love with another woman.
Claire Labine: Really? That’s neat.
We Love Soaps: And they actually ended up living happily ever after at the end.
Claire Labine: That’s lovely!
We Love Soaps: How about working with Kim Zimmer?
Claire Labine: She was a peach. She was a real trooper. She’s awfully nice, and she played to the hilt everything that came her way.
We Love Soaps: As you know GUIDING LIGHT went off the air a little over a month ago.
Claire Labine: Yes, that’s very sad. You hate it when a show is canceled. It really is a tremendous loss. I was totally detached from GUIDING LIGHT by that point but I really felt a pang and felt so sorry for them. It’s such a bunch of troopers. It’s sort of tragic. The idea of Irna’s first brilliant beautiful baby coming to an end, that’s tough.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stay tuned for the final part of my interview with Claire Labine, where we discuss her life after GUIDING LIGHT, more details about the development that was turned down in favor of SUNSET BEACH and PORT CHARLES. Plus she answers the question: Would you come back to daytime? You may be surprised by the answer!
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 has started blogging again at www.shouldless.com.