We Love Soaps: Tell us about Betty Corday.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Betty Corday was no child when I met her. I originally auditioned for Ted Corday [in 1965]. She was very involved. She watched the dress rehearsal, she gave extensive notes. She gave notes to the writers, to the directors, and sometimes she gave notes to us.
Joy Jacobs: Every day?
Bill Hayes: Yes. They were notes to improve the show, but not just carping.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: No, they weren’t carping. Like, "Doug, don't pick up the mug unless you pick it up by the handle. Button that other button.” The notes about my hair went on and on and on. The only time I flared up at Betty that I recall was her coming into the make-up room with another note about my hair. I said, “You don’t want me. You want a walking talking hairball.” How on earth I could have said that to her I don’t know, but it’s not a moment I am very proud of. She tried. And then she aged. And then she got frail and her notes became a little difficult to follow. When my mother was head writer [in 1979] she would get pages of notes, and calls 3-4 times a day from Betty on the work that was already on the air, and on the work that was coming up. They had a good relationship, very respectful.
Bill Hayes: I admired Betty very much. She was intensely involved. She had experience with soaps. She had worked on soaps, had acted on soaps, had been involved with them for many years. She knew the genre, and it was a huge change from when her husband Ted started the show. Then he died shortly after the show began.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: It was all on her. Wes Kenney, the second producer of the show, was then brought in and Bill Bell was brought in, and they turned it around. They were a unit with Betty all the time. Then Ken came to it slowly and reluctantly because it was his mother’s project.
Bill Hayes: He wanted to be a musician, he wanted to be a composer.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: He didn’t plan to be standing behind quarreling actors all the time. That was not his idea of a good time. He had his own talents. So I would say that Ken has never been as much as a presence in the booth as much as his mother was. He is someone who is in the upper echelons, talking to the executives, fighting for the show. You don’t ever see Ken coming onto the stage and giving a note about your shirt, or anything else.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: Two weeks ago, we had a mass of people coming in for Alice’s memorial, and Ken was on the stage a lot, almost all day. And Mary Beth Evans [Kayla] had a camera, we all had cameras. And she handed it to Ken, she asked him to take a picture of us, just four people. He said, “alright, which button do I press?” Then more people kept coming into the picture. First six. Then eight. Twelve. Sixteen. Twenty. Everyone wanted to be in the picture. And he’s down on his knees pulling back to get everyone. I was so moved. Production stopped as Ken took this picture that meant so much to everyone to get to be in, and that he was taking it. I just loved it. I said to him afterwards, “It is wonderful to have you here. Bill Bell used swan in on his sets, and it always raised the moral.” He said, “I needed to be here. For my own sake. For Frances' passing.”
Bill Hayes: Betty was a strong thinker for herself. Ted must have been a strong thinker, I never met him. They married from different backgrounds at a time when it is not easy to do so. It’s still not easy for a Catholic and a Jew to marry. But they did it and they had a wonderful relationship. I think that was part of her gift.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: It has to be because of Betty that the show did not collapse and go away.
Bill Hayes: Right. She was at the helm for about twenty years.
We Love Soaps: What were the biggest changes you noticed after Betty stopped working on the show?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: We’ve had a range of involvement with NBC depending on who was there. Columbia Pictures owned a piece of it, NBC owned a piece of it, Universal now. The show has suffered because of that from time to time. It hasn’t always been rosy. There have been times when the show had to fit in with the profile of the network. “This is the network of youth. This is not CBS with all those old people watching with really high ratings. We don’t want that. Let’s kill off the old cast and bring in a fresh new cast to be part of our lineup.” That was a hard time. And that was the decision of a group of executives that did not like the soaps.
Susan Seaforth Hayes: It’s easy to fire somebody. It’s harder to find a replacement that is an improvement. You look at the history of who has been in charge of NBC Daytime, and it is a very long crawl. It is a long, long list. We have survived despite some of the leadership we’ve had from the networks. I think our producers have held the show together against all odds. I know Bill Bell never put up with much interference. And he was in such a successful strong position, they didn’t dare. For example, they wanted to see the [show] Bible. He’d reply, “I’m not going show you The Bible. The Bible is in here [points to head]. You’re not going to give me notes on this.” So there was continuity. B&B and Y&R have had tremendous continuity. And they’ve been at the top of the ratings for a long time. Ours has had less. The continuity it has had has been due to the Cordays.
We Love Soaps: Bill, in your book with Susan, you shared that you were reluctant to begin working on a soap opera before you started.
We Love Soaps: I think soaps still get a bad wrap for that. Some shows have contributed to that.
Bill Hayes: Maybe that’s true, maybe some soaps are bad.
Joy Jacobs: It’s an interesting thing because there are a lot of soaps on at night, but they don’t call them “soaps.” They’re continuing stories about families and things.
Bill Hayes: I was just amazed and how good the actors were on DAYS. I remember sitting and watching Susan Flannery run her lines with somebody. She was so real I couldn’t figure out if she was running the lines or just being Susan. She was so so real.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Three in which Susan discusses her pre-DAYS history on GENERAL HOSPITAL and THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, plus Bill and Susan discuss working with Frances Reid and Denise Alexander. How did doughnuts become such an essential symbol in Salem? Come back to find out!
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".