In Part One of my interview with Don Hastings, the acclaimed and beloved actor shared his past as a child actor in theater, radio, and a new entertainment medium called television. In this part, he shares his beginning on AS THE WORLD TURNS, becoming a writer for the show with Irna Phillips, and the long-running west coast soap that almost stole him away.
We Love Soaps: You were on EDGE OF NIGHT, how did the role of Bob Hughes come about?
Don Hastings: My part on EDGE OF NIGHT was a character called Jack Lane. I was the hero’s brother-in-law. John Larkin played Mike Karr while I was on it. John left and went to the [West] Coast. There were only about ten of us that were under contract at that time. Irna [Phillips] had seen me on that show and said, “That’s who I want to play Bob Hughes.” Two other guys had already played it. A 12-year-old named Bobby Alford, then Ronnie Welch played it when Eileen Fulton first came on the show. I left EDGE OF NIGHT the 1st and 2nd of October  and started on WORLD TURNS the 4th and the 5th. I did four shows in one week on two different soaps. But that was Irna. And then the part of Bob became a more important part than it ever had been before. Bob and Lisa became a hot story line. People like Rosemary Prinz and Mark Rydell were the hot couple the first four years of the show playing Penny and Jeff. Then we were next in line.
We Love Soaps: Why do you think the character of Dr. Bob became so popular?
Don Hastings: Irna was interested in doing a story of a young doctor growing up, raising a family, and being married to kind of a ditz. They gave us a lot of air time, much more so than the characters before. So we were on almost everyday. That kind of segued into Bob becoming one of the leading men on the show.
We Love Soaps: Was the show 15 minutes or 30 minutes then?
Don Hastings: It was always a half hour.
We Love Soaps: How long did you film it live?
Don Hastings: When we went to the hour was when we went to tape. We were the last live half hour show. Everyone else had gone to tape.
We Love Soaps: Did you have any concept that you would still be there 50 years later?
Don Hastings: No. I had had other long jobs. Three years in [the play] "Life With Father," six years on CAPTAIN VIDEO, four and a half years on EDGE OF NIGHT. The contract comes up, they make it worth your while to stay, so you stay. There were a couple of times I was going to leave for other projects, but they talked me out of it. I just thought it’s a nice job. I like the people I work with. California never interested me, though there was one time Columbia was interested in me to do one of their soaps, to get a show on the air. It was when DAYS OF OUR LIVES went on. Then, if you had a lead on a successful show, every time a new one would come on yo would get a call, “Do you think you would leave?” ABC called me a couple of times.
We Love Soaps: So you were asked to be on DAYS OF OUR LIVES when it started?
Don Hastings: Yes, as one of MacDonald Carey’s sons. There were two shows that went on. One was called MORNING STAR. Ted Corday, who had been the Executive Producer of WORLD TURNS started DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Ken Corday’s dad. Ted offered me a job out there, he gave me the scripts [for both shows] and said, “Either one of these, I just would like to have you with me.” I declined because I thought, “I don’t know if I want to go to California. Plus, if I want to do a soap, why not do the one I’m happy on.”
We Love Soaps: Before Kim there were some other loves for Bob. Certainly Lisa was quite popular.
Don Hastings: Eileen was very popular. There was a whole raft of people that always thought Bob and Lisa should get back together. Even when we got to be, not exactly old people, but through the years people would say, “You and Lisa belong together.”
We Love Soaps: What do you think about that?
Don Hastings: I think at one time, yes. But Kathy Hays is very popular, and Bob and Kim is a popular one. I don’t think it’s going to happen, and we don’t have much time to do much more anyway.
We Love Soaps: Bob seems to have become a symbol for honor, for dignity. Do you see him that way?
Don Hastings: No. I’ve known a lot of physicians in my life. I hate the word “channeled,” but I have channeled a couple of doctors that I really admire. When I started out I was in medical school. So the character that Irna started was molded by what she saw me do. The other writers have just picked that up. Doug Marland was exceptional at that.
We Love Soaps: What were his stories for Bob and Kim?
Don Hastings: When Julianne Moore was on the show she played two parts, my two daughters by two different mothers. Bob and Kim had an affair while he was married to [Kim's sister] Jennifer, who had left him. He thought he was going to be a free agent. When he came back from his illicit night with Kim, [Jennifer] was there saying, “I’m pregnant, I’m not going to leave you.” That was an eye opener. That was before Doug. Then Irna came back, and she didn’t like that at all. She came in and said, “We have to reinstitute you as the true blue guy.”
We Love Soaps: Irna saw her characters as saints or sinners.
Don Hastings: She was very protective. She never called me Don, she only called me Bob. I had a different relationship with her than most actors because I was also writing some scripts for her. But even then I was Bob.
We Love Soaps: Even when you were working with her as a writing colleague she would call you Bob?
Don Hastings: She would call me Bob more often. Once in a while she would call me Don.
We Love Soaps: What was your experience of working with Irna like?
Don Hastings: We used to rewrite stuff, I would fool around with the dialogue. Helen Wagner said, “You’re really good at this, you should write.” We were allowed to fiddle with scripts a little bit, but not a whole hell of a lot. If Irna noticed it, she would get annoyed. Helen mentioned something to Irna, who called me and said, “I heard you want to write.” She sent me some [script] breakdowns. I was going to write for ANOTHER WORLD for Pete [Harding] LeMay. I did some sample scripts for him, he was really good, he helped me get an idea of how to do it, with a different method than Irna. Irna said, “If he can write for Pete then he can write for me.” P&G eventually said okay, but they were not thrilled with an actor who is on their show writing for that show.
So I started to write for her. In some ways it was scary because she was tough. She would send me an outline, then a day later say, “Where’s the script? I need the script!” We got along pretty well, but I used to say that not only could I lose my writing job but I could lose my acting job as well because she had control of both of them. I finally stopped because one week I did five shows and wrote three. And that was too much. Too much stress. I said, “I’d rather go back to being an actor.” She said that was fine.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Three in which Don Hastings shares what he feels are the ingredients in a successful daytime soap opera, and revealed the changes in Bob character this past summer. Also, which was his favorite story? Come find out!
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.