In Parts One, Two, and Three of our interview with Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes, my mother, Joy Jacobs, and myself, discussed with this dynamic duo their pre-DAYS careers, working with Macdonald Carey, Frances Reid, and Betty Corday, as well as the healing aspects of daytime soaps. In Part Four below, Susan reveals previously untold insights, reflections, and regrets about her past on-set behavior. Then both discuss working with the much-missed Brenda Benet.
We Love Soaps: Susan, you refer many times in yours and Bill's amazing book, Like Sands Through the Hourglass, about the benefits of letting things go, about having been a “pain in the ass” on the set of DAYS, and how your behavior was fueled by your insecurities.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Yes.
We Love Soaps: How did you come to this insight? How did you learn to let things go?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Part of that is knowing that if it was my job, then I would have the job title. And if no one has given me the job title, there must be a reason for that. It’s not my responsibility. There are times you can see an easy fix. The last day I worked, I was doing it again. We were all laying roses on [Alice Horton’s] coffin. And all those roses had their big plastic water containers at the end. So when you were laying 20-30 roses in a pile, you would see the roses, then you would see these big plastic things sticking up. I couldn’t help it, “I think it would look better if we took these thingies off, don’t you think?” Silence. Gary [Tomlin], the producer, called out, “We’re going to take the ‘thingies’ off the roses.” [Laughs] We had already taken them off anyhow. I was justified again! Be happy with what you get to do. If you are faultless in your own performance, then maybe there is a justification for you to butt into someone else’s work and say, “I think this might work more easily if we try it this way.” There are better ways to do that than to say, “That was awful.”
We Love Soaps: And you have said that?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: I have said that. I don’t think I want to say that anymore. I would rather have everybody be happy, and the work be a little less. I would rather everyone leave the studio without feeling like they have failed at something.
We Love Soaps: Did you ever feel your intent was malicious with your fellow actors?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Hopefully not. I certainly had moments where I wanted to put somebody down. I’m not proud of it. Maybe I was successful and regret it. I do regret it. I regret being mean. I regret being a mean person, and I don’t want to be a mean person. That’s why I love Billy. He doesn’t have that, he doesn’t encourage that. I think I’m nicer since I barnacled onto Bill Hayes.
We Love Soaps: A lot of people who are insecure and act mean toward others never take the time to ask themselves these kinds of questions, or consider behaving differently. What made you want to change?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Getting fired helped. And then being asked back. And having had plenty of time to ruminate over what I did wrong or what I could have been wise about. It’s amazing to me that I’m still around on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. I am amazed. Because even though Julie is a core family character, the family focus has changed completely. To still be invited back to the show is a privilege. I can remember telling Al Rabin, when I was invited back to the show [in 1989], “You are the producer of the show. I am not the costumer, I am not the writer, I am not the director. I am not even the set director, am I? I know I’m not. Please just let me come back.” He was so enthusiastic about my rehire and I was thrilled with gratitude. You don’t get many second chances in life.
We Love Soaps: Can you tell me about working Brenda Benet?
Bill Hayes: I worked with Brenda a lot. She was a gorgeous lady. Very competent, good actress. I’m so sorry she came to the end that she did. I often felt that we could have done something or said something that would have prevented it. Although she went through a very difficult time just before that. She lost her son. It must have devastated her a lot more than we knew.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: I had known Brenda as a Deb Star. We had been Junior Starlet kind of girls together. We had gone on trips together for the Republican Party because I had an in there at that time. She tagged along. She always had a mystery about her, a restraint. She was such a lady. And very private. I knew her but I didn’t really know her. I had betrayed her trust in a significant way when we were girls. She asked me specifically not to do something, and I did it. And she didn’t say, “I forgive you for that.” She was hurt her, I hurt her, I felt bad. So when she came on the show [in 1979] I felt I was already behind. She got to work with Billy all the time during the year I didn’t. That was very frustrating. My mother was head writing the show and I was nothing but frustrated and insecure. And then when all the terrible things happened to her child, and she lost him, I was confounded with regret for how I had treated her and the help I had never been. I was no help.
Bill Hayes: She was very private.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Extremely private. But fortunately, before she killed herself, we did have a long conversation, that was a healing conversation. We addressed the points. And thank goodness I didn’t hear of her death with the knowledge that I had not tried to clear the air, that I had not gone the extra mile to make things better. It was a terrible blow to the cast, a terrible blow to everyone who loved her. Some people took it very personally. But she had been so depressed, so secretive, we just didn’t know.
Bill Hayes: I don’t think she confided in anybody.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: She didn’t. But the costumer knew she had lost 20 lbs just prior in the past month. He knew she was drinking and she was going downhill physically. He would see her naked, he could see the big changes she was going through. It felt awful. We were also had a certain point in the storyline. If she had done this three weeks earlier it would have fouled up the storyline, and fouled up the show. It was as if she waited until the moment to make her exit from life that would hurt people the least. Al Rabin called us all together at Lanna Saunders’ house to talk about it. The whole cast. Anyone who wanted to come, just to be together, and vent. You are in counseling, you know how important that is. We’ve had had other losses along the way, but that had never been done. Al Rabin was a family counselor through his temple, and worked on a suicide hotline. So he really knew how to talk to actors.
We Love Soaps: What did you learn from this experience?
Bill Hayes: That’s difficult to say. I wish we had known the state she was in. But again she was very private. She said never said to anyone, “The death of my son means the end of my life.” And we were working together every day. She never said that to me. She told us about how he died in her arms from a constricred throat. Then suddenly he was gone, he was not revivable.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: In twelve hours. From being okay to being gone. We should have done better. We all should have done better by her. That kind of workplace is not the kind where you are all going to reach out to each other, hold hands, and say, “Let’s stop the Bubble Machine and address this.” The clock is your enemy, and you have to get a show out whether someone is having a nervous breakdown or not.
Bill Hayes: So what did we learn? To try to be aware of other people and what they are going through.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: To try to be aware of other people’s struggles. And to be kind.
We Love Soaps: Did you ever feel moved to apologize or make amends with other people after that?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: I sure hope so.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please press here for Part Five in which the Hayes's discuss the end of Doug & Julie's supreme run in Salem, as well as their individual returns to DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Until then, you can learn more about the past and future of the Hayes's at their website by pressing here.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve".