By Geri Jefferson
Soap Opera Digest
Helen Gallagher (Maeve Ryan on RYAN'S HOPE) is an intricate and elegant study of a woman in sublime and incontrovertible opposition to....whom? Herself? The Universe?
She is a rare and gifted talent who, like the flowers and the mountains, is a steadfast gift, and a gift that, because of its steadfastness and consistency, can often be taken for granted.
Let me take you to the beginnings of this great lady, to the beginnings of Ms. Helen Gallagher....
"I always wanted to be a dancer, I mean, I can't remember a time when I didn't. My family was very musical. My father sang and my mother sang."
"Your family was not surprised then when you started to pursue your career?"
"No, no - as a matter of fact - my mother was always very supportive of what I wanted to do (as she was with my brother). Even though we were poor she managed to scrape together the money for me to take a dancing lesson...but I was so shy....I remember when I was about nine I started (lessons) with some girlfriends, and when they quit, I quit. I later begged my mother to let me take private lessons. She scraped up the two bucks. I was good. But then when I was fourteen I became an invalid from asthma and I decided that if I couldn't dance, I'd teach....algebra."
"Yes, I always loved math. I'd do problems and get into a deep concentration. It was an escape from whatever I was bothered about."
I wondered what a woman, so young - with so much talent, could be "bothered about." As our conversation progressed, I began to see....
In Helen's own words, "Irish women...are very responsible types but the men are so irresponsible....I have always been totally supportive of myself, no one has ever supported me...I really had dreams of some man coming along and taking care of me - those were my dreams, but in reality no man ever came along and took care of me, I took care of them." (These statements of Helen's peppered our talk and I could see, and well understand the 'other woman' living in Helen's body.)
"Was it annoying for you to learn that your dreams and your realities were so different?"
"Well, it confused me...."
Helen, although a woman of great strength, must have tired of always having to draw on that strength. A strong woman, I think, although pleased and proud of her independence - sometimes resents not having a strong, trustworthy, male figure in her life whom she can turn to. Is it not, after all, wearing - even on a stone - if it is continually exposed to the elements--with no thought or hope of shelter?
We spoke again of her career...this time we were in the late '40's - 1947 to be exact and Helen had her own show. Manhattan Showcase was a fifteen minute television program that ran for about a year. Helen was the hostess and also sang. By that time, Helen had already appeared in many stage roles running the gamut from dancer to singer/dancer to musical comedy to drama. She, of course, had also left her impressive mark in the hearts of the early television viewers with appearances on Show of Shows, Ed Sullivan Show, Kraft Music Hall, Bell Telephone Hour and many, many more. And always she had her eye open for new experiences, new roles to play, new characters to bring to life - new ways to give herself to the audience she loved so much. The stage and screen for Helen became a resting ground. A haven. A place of relief. A friend.
"I got fired from time to time...but I was always singing and dancing."
"You said when you're on stage you feel 'safe'...are you really only comfortable on the stage?"
"....That place is my salvation. That's why I need the stage. If I didn't need the approval or the applause or the laughter - and that kind of mirror, in a way, of your own identity--I probably wouldn't be on the stage."
"Do you think people on the stage have more of a need for 'their own person' than perhaps someone in a less public position?"
"I think what they have is a less curable state."
"Well, then they really need more...do you feel that if you weren't on the stage you would have less of a need for a person to be your own?"
"Well, I don't think one person could fill the needs of another. The need is so great, the stronger the need, the weaker the person - the identity person. And that need to reach all those people and get love from those people and give it back is what makes a good performer."
"Do you think that your commitment to your career had any effect on your marriage?"
"I'm sure there was. Obviously, the marriage hasn't lasted and the career has, so you can see where my priorities must have been. But I wasn't conscious of that. I do everything as if it's going to be done well. I chose a man that obviously wasn't made to stay married. Although I'm still married (Helen is separated from her husband), I really think that the reason I stay married is that I don't really see any great possibilities that I'll meet anybody - the men I would find attractive no longer find me attractive and the men that find me attractive, I no longer find attractive."
"It sounds like what you're doing is accepting the fact that you're going to spend a great del of your life with you."
"I've done that so far and, in a funny kind of way, even when I was married."
"Does that ever bother you?"
"I would think there would be some anger about that. I would think there would have to be some natural grief."
"No, not really. All the pluses in my life are also responsible for the minuses. I have an awful lot of things in my life and I don't have others. I mean, the women who have it all are so bloody frustrated they can't stand it. I think it's better not to have all because then you can have something to wish for. It's really terrible to be miserable around a swimming pool....to get what you hope for and still be miserable is the worse thing that can happen."
Perhaps oddly, and certainly sadly, Helen finds herself in the midst of an internal struggle with regards to her personal relationships. I say "sadly" because it is an age-old (although perhaps only recently have women begun to deal with it) problem. "I don't think it's possible yet for me to give in a relationship what I think is needed and still have some of me left over."
For years, women, taught that their lives could only be a mirror image of their husband's (and that husbands were an absolute necessity) could do little by way of freeing themselves from the awesome burden of being someone else, without incurring the wrath of masses. Although Helen did not directly receive this indoctrination, she grew up in a time where the preachings of it were rampant. Helen realizes that the only healthy thing is to always make sure that regardless of the involvement, she must always keep a piece of Helen for Helen.
She is a woman of many dimensions - living in a time that perhaps, although suited for her creative energies - is not quite right for her emotional requirements. She is indeed a lady of elegance - residing in a time and space that she can only add to by mere virtue of her existence.