Nothing sudsy about Julia
By Dana Kennedy
February 13, 1992
She's Brooke English, the poised, successful journalist who's juggled an overheated love life and complicated family ties for 16 years in a close-knit Pine Valley. Turbulence often surrounds her friends and family, but Brooke is rock-solid.
At the moment, she's pausing thoughtfully on the stairs in a local restaurant, recalling something in her past before she rejoins her ex-husband at their dinner table. As she stares wistfully into space, the red light on the ABC-TV camera abruptly goes off.
Her reverie is broken. Brooke English emits a shriek. "What's my next line?" she yells, careening down the stairs and across the set.
Flinging open the flimsy prop door, she grabs a script she's hidden outside. After scanning it, she stashes the script under a table and runs back to assume her position on the stairs. She purses her lips, the red light goes on and Brooke English is very much back in control. Or so it seems.
The woman who's really in control is Julia Barr, a 40-ish actress who lives in Englewood, N.J., with her husband and daughter. Since 1976, Barr has worked as Brooke English for 12 hours a day, four or five days a week on daytime's second-most popular soap opera, ALL MY CHILDREN. About 7 million people watch the show every day.
Barr spends almost as much time during one week as Brooke English as she does Julia Barr. Even her friends, she says, "sometimes slip and call me Brooke."
Soap work is demanding. A sitcom like WHO'S THE BOSS? tapes 26 episodes every year. Soaps like ALL MY CHILDREN churn out 260 episodes annually.
Major characters like Barr usually memorize between 20 and 40 pages of dialogue a day. It's grueling work; blue-collar acting.
Cast members on soaps depend on each other and there's little time for prima donnas, feuds and jealousies.
Barr, who won a Daytime Emmy Award for best supporting actress in 1990, says she chose to stay with the show all these years because she wanted a secure job during her daughter's childhood.
Sometimes the two worlds of Julia Barr and Brooke English collide in unsettling ways. In 1979 Barr and a boyfriend went o the Caribbean and discovered a nude beach.
"We got undressed," Barr recalls. "We're standing there naked and I suddenly see this big fat woman waving at me and yelling, 'Hey, Brooke!'"
Barr suggests storylines involving Brooke to the show's writers. She fields correspondence from viewers, many of whom reacted strongly when Brooke's daughter was killed by a drunken driver.
Barr monitors the kind of clothes Brooke wears and the lines Brooke speaks, insisting on different jewelry or a script change if she thinks something is inappropriate.
"But we're two totally separate people," she says. "Brooke is more serious and organized. I'm much more of a goof. And what she does for a living is totally foreign to me."