In Part One of my interview with Don Hastings, the legendary actor discussed beginning his career in theater, radio, and a foreign entertainment medium called television. In Part Two he discussed starting on AS THE WORLD TURNS, as well as acting and writing under Irna Phillips. In Part Three, he shares insights into being a soap writer, and what it takes to make a daytime soap successful.
We Love Soaps: Did you ever get the urge to write again [after writing with Irna Phillips for AS THE WORLD TURNS]?
Don Hastings: I wrote for GUIDING LIGHT twice, under two different headwriters. But to me, if you’re going to write it, then you have to watch it every day. We’ve had writers who don’t, and it shows. Also, I never wrote the one hour show, this was a long time ago. In the half hour, you only had three or four writers. We’ve had as many as fourteen on our show at one time. To keep some kind of semblance of order, chronological, and keep characters things straight, it’s pretty difficult. With three writers - Irna, her daughter, and me - we could just call each other and say, “I want to change this,” and [Irna] would say, “Talk to the guy who’s got the script right after yours.” That’s how we would change things. She was amenable to that if she liked the idea. But there were other times she would just draw the line and you didn’t cross it.
We Love Soaps: For most of the 1960s, AS THE WORLD TURNS was at the top of the ratings. What do you attribute to the success of the show during that era?
Don Hastings: I think it was the time we were on, women were at home, they would put down their baby to nap and then relax for half an hour. When the show became an hour that was a bigger commitment. And women used to watch more than one. They would watch two or three shows when they were 15 minutes. EDGE OF NIGHT and WORLD TURNS were the first half hour live soaps, and everyone followed suit. Also, Irna knew how to do it. One time she left the show, and the ratings went down and the share went down. She left to do an ABC show, I can’t remember the name. She said she was “tired” and then, bam, don’t you think she puts a show on ABC about three months later. She offered me a job on that show, when she moved to ABC she called me. That show was kind of successful but nothing like the other shows she created. Susan Sarandon was on it.
We Love Soaps: A WORLD APART?
Don Hastings: Yes. Actors that had worked with us on WORLD TURNS were on it. Anyway, P&G got her back, and I remember this because that’s when I started to write for her. They said, “If you can have a 15 share by September we’ll be thrilled and we’ll give you a bonus.” She said, “You’ll have a 15 share by May.” This was January. And by God we did. She just took the show back and whipped it into shape.
We Love Soaps: How did she do that?
Don Hastings: She redid the storylines. She threw out everything the other people had done. There was a character the other writers had brought in as a romance for Dr. Bob. The law firm that Chris Hughes belonged to was Lowell, Barnes, Lowell and Hughes. This character’s name was Barnes, the daughter of one of Chris’s partners. Irna in a meeting said, "Barnes didn’t have a daughter. End of character." The girl was off the show. That was the end of that. She literally just turned the show around and we had the share P&G was looking for, which is four times what it is now.
We Love Soaps: As a writer and an actor, what do you think are the ingredients that make a daytime soap successful?
Don Hastings: People that have been writing our show for years have been saying that our show is all about relationships. And that’s a lot of baloney. Right now it’s all about hopping in and out of beds and murder and mayhem. It has very little to do with what Irna had in mind which was, if something happens to a person in a family, it affects everybody. It not only affects that family, but it affects the neighbors. You put a drop in a swimming pool, and you see how the ripple effects everyone. It’s a lot of what the nighttime soaps are doing.
We Love Soaps: I think what most of the shows do now, as you said, is short term story line. Murders, mobs...
Don Hastings: And women get cheapened by sleeping with everybody. There are very few heroes. Nobody is perfect, we find that out with Tiger Woods and our politicians. Everybody makes mistakes. But those mistakes have a ripple effect that I don’t think is even thought of now. It’s, “Okay, we’ll end that story. Who are we going to have screwing next?” To me, it’s one of the reasons that the shows have lost their way. I think they’re trying to do things that they don’t do well. And I think the audience that they’re after gets bored with it. Good story and human stories are much more interesting to the American public.
We Love Soaps: And that is completely missing from the shows now, including WORLD TURNS. I think that was most obvious this past summer when your character was in the hospital, having surgery, and there was a very small circle of people that even came to see him.
Don Hastings: That story was aborted. There was to have been a long story about that.
We Love Soaps: Can you tell me what the story was originally intended to be about?
Don Hastings: It’s hard for me to tell you because what I was told by several people never happened. They lost interest in the dynamics of it. It was to have involved the whole Hughes family, but that’s all I can tell you. I really don’t know. It was never really fleshed out to me, other than it was to be a long story arc. And it just stopped. Maybe they get audience reaction that they weren’t interested. But I said to our producer, “Every two years Bob has a stroke, or a heart attack, or he falls down, or he’s poisoned.” There’s got to be more motivation for things to happen then something that dramatic, or trumped up.
We Love Soaps: Looking back on your time on AS THE WORLD TURNS, can you tell me some of your favorite stories?
Don Hastings: The one I mentioned that Douglas [Marland] did when we went to London and Venice. Kathy [Hays], Julianne [Moore], and Steven Bassett, who played Seth Snyder. The bad guy was a very good actor named Charlie Cioffi. That was the whole thing that Kim & Bob’s daughter had not died at birth, but had been stolen and replaced for a baby that did die. We went on this trip where we kept seeing this young woman who looked like Frannie. And it turned out to be the other one. Even though they had different mothers, Julianne played both parts.
We Love Soaps: And, of course, she went on to do many movies after that.
Don Hastings: She’s a great girl.
We Love Soaps: Do you keep in contact with her?
Don Hastings: Noelle Beck is a good friend of hers. Every once in a while she’ll say, “Julianne said to say hello to you.” We sent messages back and forth. I haven’t seen Julianne in years.
EDITOR'S NOTE: What about Don’s least favorite stories? Please press here where we discuss Emmy’s, cancellations, and his memories of “when they put us geriatrics on an elevator at Radio City Music Hall.”
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 is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.