In Parts One and Two of Nelson Aspen's interview with the legendary soap writer and author Thom Racina, they discussed the politics behind the scenes at GENERAL HOSPITAL in the early 80s, why the FBI was called to the set, how Elizabeth Taylor changed the course of soap history, and so much more. In this final part, Thom shares how he helped Brad Pitt jump-start his career, and saved Anne Heche from being fired. Plus which show did he write in his underwear? Find out below!
Nelson Aspen: You have a Brad Pitt soap opera connection. How does Brad Pitt fit into the world of soaps?
Thom Racina: I put him on ANOTHER WORLD.
Nelson Aspen: How did you know Brad Pitt?
Thom Racina: I put up a little sign at Screen Actor’s Guild that said, “Needed: an actor to be a personal assistant. To walk the dog when he needed it. Drive the scripts to the studio...” This kid shows up. He’s cute, he’s full of energy and says, “I’m an actor,” which of course they all are in L.A. So I hired him. We became very close. He moved in with me, in the maid’s room. He had his own life, and yet we became good buddies. My parents loved him, they became the new family he had away from Missouri. Anyway, I came home from DAYS early one day, just in the last few months. I saw him doing this scene with this girl in my living room...
Nelson Aspen: An acting scene?
Thom Racina: Yes, right. I did see him do some other scenes in other various parts of the house. [Laughs] So I went to ANOTHER WORLD a few months later. I settled in to New York. I said to them, “I’ve got this terrific kid. He can play 18, even though he’s 23, we can give him a two year story. And I wrote a two year story for him. They brought him to New York, and he did the one day on ANOTHER WORLD. Then we sat down with The Idiots around the table. Procter & Gamble, NBC, and one after another [they said], “He can’t act, he’s not good looking...” Maggie DePriest said he had bad skin. Finally at the end I turned to John Whitesell and said, “Give me this.” He said, “I know he’s your buddy but I’ve got to tell you Thom, this kid sucks. He’ll never be an actor. Tell him to go be a plumber.” I had to go home and tell him. He cried, and I hugged him. I said, “Listen asshole, you are now going to be able to audition. Before you didn’t have a SAG card. Now you’ve got it, you did one day, and you’ve got it. This is my gift to you, now go out and prove me right.” And he did! Had they liked him, he would have been a soap star forever. The universe works in mysterious ways.
Nelson Aspen: Jennifer Aniston auditioned for SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and didn’t get it. It was a blessing. With John Whitesell it’s odd. I worked with him on two different shows and he was a very good judge of talent most of the time. He found Anne Heche.
Thom Racina: And we fought for her. The writers loved her, and nobody else did. The network didn’t want her and we loved her.
Nelson Aspen: Joanna Going was another one he found.
Thom Racina: But Brad did something for me. People say, “Oh you gave him his start, he doesn’t talk to you anymore.” I say that people come into our each other’s lives for a certain time. Sometimes it’s a lifetime, other times it’s for certain times and you do not mourn that. You take that and say, “This was a wonderful thing.” He kept telling me, “You’ve got to write a movie, you’ve got to write another book.” He wanted to play a psychopath. So I wrote my book, “Snow Angel.” which got me out of daytime, because of Brad. He pushed me to do that book. Every time I talked it out with him I got a new idea. He was eager to play it, now he’s too big a star to do it. But he gave me that renewed interest in going back to writing novels.
Nelson Aspen: Let’s talk about the AS THE WORLD TURNS cancellation. You have some friends connected to the show. One of my oldest and dearest friends in Marcia McCabe, who is married to Chris Goutman, the Executive Producer of that show. He has said on the record that he has no plans to get “all nostalgic” in the remaining months of the show. He’s going to stick with his current plans to do what he planned to do. If you were writing AS THE WORLD TURNS and knew it was ending in June, how would you treat it?
Thom Racina: That’s a tough one. We did that both on SANTA BARBARA, which I closed with Pam Long. And also on GENERATIONS, which was really tough because Sally [Sussman] and I created that together. We wrote every episode of those two years. To end a show is a really tough thing. I think you have to trust your instincts. But you want to give the fans what they want. I don’t believe that you just do whatever you like, screw them and leave them hanging. I think you owe something to these people that have been there for all those years. I would make it heartwarming and kind of wonderful. As long as it’s real.
Nelson Aspen: This from The Ice Princess?
Thom Racina: [Laughs] Yes, a little snow, a little science fiction wouldn’t hurt. But something that touches your heart. It’s all about the love stories. Luke and Laura, that’s what it was all about! It wasn’t about snow or saving the world, or any of that crap. It was about the love story, and all that was just the setting we threw it into. That’s where AS THE WORLD TURNS should end. The love stories should really come together and grab you. Easy for me to say!
Nelson Aspen: I want to see the Hughes family, I want to see nostalgic. As we wrap things up, let’s free associate. Let me be your therapist. “No shoulds” as my friend Damon tells me. Free associate: Who do you love in daytime?
Thom Racina: Writers. Susie Horgan, who has become my writing partner. We didn’t really know each other when we were doing the shows. She won an Emmy and I didn’t and that pisses me off still. We are dear and close and she is my second family. Sally Sussman Morina, who is one of the best, one of the most talented, and a dear dear friend. I have a lot of respect for Ken Corday. A lot of people trash him and don’t respect him. I always thought he was a lot more on the ball than a lot of people said. I remember Jean Passanante. I didn’t know her well but I liked her. Actors? There were so many over the years who were terrific. You, for one.
Nelson Aspen: I wasn’t fishing for that. I was waiting for you to get to the end and say, “You left Nelson Aspen off!”
Thom Racina: We’ll put Nelson on the list.
Nelson Aspen: You mentioned Colleen Zenk Pinter at one point. She can do anything.
Thom Racina: She can.
Nelson Aspen: I actually preferred it when the soaps weren’t so camp. I preferred it when she was more of a heroine and less of a mommy dearest. But she looks fabulous, and she can act the pants off anyone else in her scenes.
Thom Racina: And she’s a great person! I had dinner with her the other night, she’s one of the favorite people in my life. I love her. And what she’s done with the cancer, that’s courage.
Nelson Aspen: Anybody else that strikes your mind? Was there anyone at YOUNG & THE RESTLESS that you wished you had more time to write for?
Thom Racina: YOUNG & THE RESTLESS was very interesting for me because I was so hands on being a headwriter in all the other shows and always being in the studio with the actors. YOUNG & THE RESTLESS I did in my underwear at home. I never went in there once. I never had anything to do with the show. It was a very unusual weird kind of situation. You don’t really feel the distance, but it was odd.
Nelson Aspen: Thom Racina on the state of daytime. Past, present, and possible future. We thank you for coming in and chatting with We Love Soaps who are great admirers of yours. I’m honored to get to chat with you, we’ll see you again next time.