Strong. Fierce. Independent. Brilliant. These are just a few of the words that are spoken when you bring up the name “Susan Flannery” in any conversation. But what does she think about her illustrious career in television and films, and well as her activism in AFTRA? Please enjoy this unique conversation in which Ms. Flannery shares her reflections on her past, insights about her present, and hopes for her future.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It is so great to talk with you. Some of my earliest memories were my mother and I watching you on DAYS OF OUR LIVES as Laura Horton.
Susan Flannery: Oh my God! In those days there were so many women who stayed at home. That’s totally changed now. I was once standing at Dodger Stadium with my kid. I was standing in line getting hot dogs. I was in line and I was aware there was someone behind me. I turned around and looked up—this guy must have been 6”5’, he looked like a hulking football player, around 35 or 36-years-old. He leaned down and smiled and said, “Dr. Laura?” I was already on B&B by this point, so DAYS OF OUR LIVES was so long ago! I said, “Your mother must have made you watch when you were sick.” He said, “Yes, but I loved that show.” That was my favorite. So many kids watched the show when they were home sick.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You are originally from New York?
Susan Flannery: Yes, actually Jersey City, New Jersey. Lived in New York and Jersey and went to Cathedral High School in Manhattan.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you move to California to pursue acting?
Susan Flannery: I did. I went to Stevens College in Missouri and then spent some time at Arizona State University, then California.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Were you building up to an acting career or were there other interests?
Susan Flannery: I always knew I was going to be an actress. I studied drama. I was supposed to go to Yale but I decided I didn’t want to go to New York and do the stage. I wanted to come here [to California].
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did television appeal more to you than theater?
Susan Flannery: Film and television did. I was trained in theater, and that was fabulous. I would tell every person who wants to be in film or television to go do as much theater as they can. It teaches you to use the whole instrument. So many times you get these kids who have no experience. They’re talented, but they’re acting from the neck up, they don’t know what to do with their hands. I thought if I did stage I’d get really bored saying the same lines over and over again for six months or something. That’s why I wanted to come out to California.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did DAYS OF OUR LIVES come to you?
Susan Flannery: I had a wonderful agent named Meyer Mishkin, and a guy in his office named Bob Shure. He had actually left the agency, he had been gone three or four months. He called me at home, he said, “There’s a part that I think you should go up for. I can call the casting director and have him call to have you come in.” So I went over and that’s when I met Betty Corday, Ken Corday’s mom, who ran the show. They had worked very close with Irna Phillips on AS THE WORLD TURNS. Her husband [Ted Corday] was quite brilliant. He was a director, and Betty originally was a casting woman. I came on a year after DAYS OF OUR LIVES started.
When I came on, they had just brought Bill Bell on. He wanted to recast this Dr. Laura character because he didn’t like the girl [Floy Dean]. He was just starting, and they gave him thirteen weeks to pull the show up in the ratings. Betty called him in Chicago and said, “We found this girl who we think is right.” They casted me for six weeks, they said it was a six week part. They didn’t have VHS back then, he would have to watch the show when it was on. He saw the first show I was on. He called her and said, “That’s it, that’s the girl.” And then he wrote the show around me. And I did the show for eight more years. I never had a contract until the last year [laughs]. I worked every day, five days a week, I just refused to sign a contract. He and the network and Betty gambled on me staying. And he was great, he was a wonderful writer. This was his first show alone not under Irna. He told me that he wrote for the first two years every single script.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: By himself?
Susan Flannery: Yes. And back then it was every day, they only had New Year’s Day off. It was 259 shows a year, two years in a row. Then he hired people to come in. He was so determined to be successful in his own right. And of course he was a genius in my mind.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: He really saw the potential of Laura to become the central force on DAYS. When you learned that the role was going to be a psychiatrist, did you study psychology or psychiatry?
Susan Flannery: No [laughs]. I just took what they gave me and played it. The truth is, I never saw a patient. They would open a scene and I’d be standing at the office door saying, “Alright Mrs. Smith I’ll see you the same time next week." Then I’d close the door, head to the desk, and someone from the family would knock. It would be MacDonald Carey [Tom] or Edward Mallory [Bill]. But I never saw an actual patient.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What are some of your memories of the show then? I know it was a 30-minute show with a very tight cast.
Susan Flannery: Very tight. It was a great cast. It was MacDonald Carey and Frances Reid (Alice), and they set such a professional tone for us. Denise Alexander (Susan) was there at that time, Ed Mallory and John Clarke (Mickey) were the romantic leads. Then they brought in Susan Seaforth (Julie) and then Bill Hayes [Doug]. Bill Bell was the first writer to ever include music. When he brought Bill Hayes, he (Doug) opened a little restaurant on the show, and had him singing. He expanded it and opened it up. He moved it out of the concept of radio into actual television. At that time so many soaps were photographed radio shows.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Can you tell me more about those differences?
Susan Flannery: When you’re doing radio and the door opens, the audience has no idea who is stepping in the door. “Oh hello Ron, it’s so good to see you,” and you say their name. When you’re on television you don’t have to say, “Hello Ron,” because they’re right there. You don’t have to have quite as much dialogue. And he adapted to that visually quite well. He had a couple of great directors that helped him, that really stretched it for him and started shooting things in a different way.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please go to Part Two in which Ms. Flannery talks about her Golden Globe Award-winning performance in The Towering Inferno, leaving DAYS, and going toe-to-toe with J.R. Ewing on DALLAS.
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..
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