The No. 1 villainess of TV soaps
By Ronni Ashcroft
August 23, 1977
Each weekday afternoon when Delia Reid Ryan Ryan (she married both brothers) climbs into her round, red-velvet bed with two ceramic angels looking down on her, devotees of ABC's super-soap, RYAN'S HOPE, gnash their teeth. Others hiss.
Frankly, Delia should be allowed her rest, because in the two years that the Emmy Award-winning RYAN'S HOPE has been on the air, Delia has already pushed her husband down a flight of stairs (causing paralysis and near death), wrecked his political campaign (to keep him away from work and near her at home), had an extramarital affair (over Chinese food), attempted to jump off a building ledge (to gain attention), seduced her husband's brother (whom she always loved) and lost her baby in Riverside Park (she was working on a difficult puzzle, which would have awarded her two weeks in Miami Beach).
Delia Ryan is surely the bitchiest new character on daytime television. Fans spend endless hours lovingly hating her. Some even think she's 100 percent justified in doing what she does! You see, when Delia pushed her husband down a flight of stairs, he had just told her that he was leaving her for another woman. That is the special fun of the character of Delia Ryan - one minute she's got you in her corner, the next you want to wring her neck.
That's why it's so astonishing that the young actress who plays Delia is as positive in her private life as Delia is negative in hers. Ilene Kristen, at 26, is so full of spirit and health that it's a wonder she's able to pull off Delia's bitchiness so convincingly.
Ilene was born in Brooklyn, where the family lived "on the wrong side of the bridge." She is basically a dancer, having been trained since childhood. At the tender age of eight, she was part of a Cuban dance team that performed in the various beach clubs of Long Island.
By the age of 15, she was appearing on Broadway in the musical "Henry, Sweet Henry." In 1969 she was branching out, working with a group called Six New Happenings doing satirical skits. "We were all underaged," she recalled, "and they booked us in the largest room at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe. When the owners saw how young we were, their jaws dropped. We were kicked out as soon as we started to perform - and Johnny Carson replaced us. We were pretty awful."
Ilene has gotten considerably better since. She's appeared in a movie, Preacher Man, and worked for producer Dick Scanga on the Broadway show "Lenny." She's also had some unusual jobs along the way. She once catered the opening-night party for Lenny and wound up having to make 200 deviled eggs. She worked for set designer Robin Wagner on "Jesus Christ, Superstar," but got too spacey on the glue that they used on the props.
Things were better onstage, especially when she won the starring role as Patty Simcox in the original Broadway production of Grease. Here was a chance for Ilene to play a wholesome, nonbitchy, ponytailed high-school darling. Ilene makes a face at the thought. It seems that Delia is far more real a character to Ilene than was Patty. "Patty was everything I ever hated in girls I went to school with," says Ilene. "I had to learn to understand her." Shortly after some workshop theater, she landed the role of Delia on RYAN'S HOPE.
Delia, for all her faults, is someone very much respected by the actress who plays her. "Listen, Delia's had it rough," says Ilene in defense of her character. "She comes from a miserable background and she's starved for attention. Once she gets it, she uses it badly, but there's an awful lot of love in her dying to come out. Of course, once it comes out, it's misdirected."
Claire Labine, a writer for RYAN'S HOPE, agrees that Ilene is "exquisitely protective" of Delia. Labine knew that when they were creating the character of Delia, they needed more than "the traditional bad girl." They wanted, instead, someone with desperate insecurities who wasn't evil - just someone who caused other people pain because of her own needs. Ilene sympathizes with that.
According to her mother, Myrna Schatz, Ilene "sometimes gets upset knowing that Delia has all of these problems and that the writers will probably never change her." But Mrs. Schatz is thrilled whenever Ilene comes to visit the family in Florida, because even though it "isn't restful, everyone knows her."
Many soap opera fans wonder if Ilene is starting to act like Delia in her own personal relationships. She recently split with her guy of seven years because he didn't understand her "addiction to work." Ilene's response is defensive. "What would it have been like in another seven years?" she asks. "We had worked together writing songs and performing in a rock group, but there were many other things I was interested in as a performer and there was some jealousy of that."
Today there is one particular man who is fulfilling her life and who is "tremendously supportive" to her. Ilene has no problem about where Delia ends and her own personality begins. "I don't think I'd fall into traps the way Delia does," she insists. "There's a little Delia in all of us. But we either catch ourselves or we don't. I know how to edit myself, and I'm not the jealous type."
The type of person Ilene is could easily be called "hugely devoted to the arts." This summer, in addition to play Delia, she will produce her first film, After the War, for New York University's film school. And she recently became the co-owner with Ray Blanco of a movie theater in New York City called the Jean Renoir Cinema. It was an old theater and Ilene, Blanco, and their friends had to clean up years of dirt. "We even had to put in the projection booth ourselves," Ilene moans. The theater's objective is to provide a good showcase for independent filmmakers. At the moment, Ilene and Blanco are enjoying the success of the First Cuban Film Festival. Chances are that with Ilene's eagerness and commitment to what she does, there'll be more successes in the future.
Ilene points out that her partner named the theater for Jean Renoir because he felt the French director had been passed over. It is doubtful that Ilene will ever suffer such a fate. Her energies are boundless and, unlike Delia's, well directed. Delia Ryan may have a red-velvet bed, but Ilene Kristen has track shoes. We've only just begun to watch her go.