The world no longer turns for Helen Wagner
By Michael Kuchwara
April 28, 1981
NEW YORK (AP) - She's poured more cups of coffee and listened to more troubles than Mrs. Olsen and Ann Landers combined, but after 25 years of playing Nancy Hughes on the CBS soap opera, AS THE WORLD TURNS, Helen Wagner is out of a job.
"I am not retiring," declared Miss Wagner, who, a CBS spokesman said, left the show last month because she and the network "could not come to a contractual agreement."
"I had nothing whatsoever to do anymore," the actress said recently describing the gradual elimination of Nancy from the show - she had one line in three months - and her decision to leave.
"There just hasn't been anything to Nancy's character," Miss Wagner said. "Anybody could read the lines I've been given. I haven't been in the kitchen for a year and a half."
Soap opera buffs know that Nancy's kitchen, located at that mythical Midwest community of Oakdale, has been an important part of the show since its debut April 2, 1956.
It's where problems involving the Hughes and Lowell clans were discussed, rediscussed and then discussed some more.
WORLD TURNS has always been the most traditional of soap operas, celebrating the family, of which Nancy, and her husband Chris, played by Don MacLaughlin, were the anchors.
It was the show which celebrated the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Christmas. And for nearly 20 years, it was No. 1, generating huge ratings and profits for CBS and its owner, Procter & Gamble Productions.
With the death in 1974 of its creator and head writer, Irna Phillips, and gradual success of youth-oriented soaps on ABC, WORLD TURNS slipped in the ratings.
It's still among the five top-rated soaps, CBS said, but a turnover of writers and characters changed the tone of the show.
The WORLD of today is much sexier and turns at a faster pace, blurring characters, especially the newer ones who are in and out of the show within six months.
"Writing an hour show, five days a week, 52 weeks a year is very, very difficult," Miss Wagner said. "To make all the little details fit is very demanding."
"But if you're going to write WORLD TURNS, you're going to have to do that. It's about the details of people's lives and their interaction rather than the thrust of the story.
"I am very much aware that as the years have gone by, the character must change," Miss Wagner said. "I don't expect to be used in the same way as I was in the beginning of the show.
"But I see no reason not to involve Chris and Nancy in the kinds of situations that their present age (early 60s) would be," she said. "Don and I have never objected to being aged as we went along."
Her husband and manager, Robert Willey, said "Helen and Don MacLaughlin were the only happily married people on the air. As far as the writer's job is concerned, writing a happy marriage is incredibly hard to do."
The character of Nancy Hughes has not been written out of the show, Miss Wagner said. She is still there for writers to tap in any future episodes.
"I have never really criticized what the authors have wanted to do," she said.