By Terry Ann Knopf
June 14, 1981
It seemed like such a small point. Dr. John Dixon and his rambunctious daughter Margo were having one of their usual quarrels over her affair with James Stenbeck. Dixon was supposed to chase Margo up the stairs - only to suffer a horrible fall.
"Once again, the stupid writers didn't know what was going on," said Larry Bryggman, the outspoken actor who plays the infamous Dr. John Dixon on AS THE WORLD TURNS. The silly script called for me to fall down the stairs, even though I was on my way up. The writers only think We're down a point in the ratings, so let's have John Dixon hit his head.' "
As finally played before the cameras, John Dixon ran up the stairs, paused momentarily dazed, then accidentally knocked his head against the stairs - whereupon he then took his tumble. Moreover, the actor refused a stunt man and insisted on playing the scene himself.
The incident is indicative of the careful attention that Larry Bryggman has given his character for the past 11 years. With extensive stage experience (including a stint with the now-defunct Theatre Company of Boston), Bryggman is one of the hardest-working and most meticulous actors on the daytime scene. Boston Globe drama critic Kevin Kelly recalls him as "very solid," and he received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for outstanding actor this year.
Bryggman currently occupies an unusual position on WORLD TURNS. He is hardly a standard leading man type, with his prominent nose and Dutch-boy haircut. He violates the soap opera axiom that as a character gets older, his part gets smaller, as with Lisa (Eileen Fulton) and Dr. Bob Hughes (Don Hastings). He virtually never appears in fan magazines, considered a necessary evil by most actors.
And yet, Dr. John Dixon has emerged as the star of the show. With AS THE WORLD TURNS having plummeted from first to fifth place in the ratings over the past few years, the producers have opted to build the entire show around him. John Dixon is accused of raping his wife. John Dixon gets run down by a would-be killer. John Dixon suffers optic nerve damage and goes blind. In one exhaustive stretch, John Dixon appeared in 56 out of 62 episodes.
Stopping off in Boston en route to a much-needed vacation in Martha's Vineyard the other day, Bryggman consented to his first newspaper interview. He was accompanied by Jacqueline Schultz, the actress who plays his wife Dee on the show. (Bryggman and his real-life wife are in the process of getting a divorce.) Over a light melon lunch at the Ritz Cafe, Bryggman spoke with refreshing candor about the role he created and the soap opera world in which he works.
One reason for his success is that he is willing to fight for his character's integrity, which frequently places the actor against the producers, writers and sponsor. "I've never thought of John Dixon as a villain. He has his good days and bad days," said Bryggman.
Indeed, the recent storyline in which John Dixon allegedly raped his wife Dee precipitated a crisis on the set. "The Dobsons (headwriters Jerome and Bridget) wrote the key scene as assault and battery. They had John ripping the lamps out of the wall. I thought it wasn't character-right (a term he used several times during the interview). I refused to play the scene that way. Procter & Gamble had to send their representative in from the West Coast. They finally agreed to tone down the sensationalism."
Bryggman was extremely critical - if not contemptuous - of Procter & Gamble. Calling the powerful owner-sponsor "reactionary," he said: "WORLD TURNS is an old-type soap opera. P&G thinks more of their products than the show. They hire advertising people to produce their soaps. They are afraid to take risks. For example, when Ian McFarland (the composer) had his fatal heart attack while having sex with Dee, they wouldn't show them making love. P&G wouldn't even let John drag the body out. It had to happen during a commercial."
Warming to the task, Bryggman also accused Procter & Gamble of being cheap. "They're very budget-conscious. If we shot a scene in the Boston Garden that cost $200,000, P&G would say, 'We'll do it for $150,000.' That's what happened in Greece. They botched that up real bad. They didn't even have audio."
The actor was referring to the two weeks' worth of on-location shooting in Greece last year with Kim Stewart (played by Kathryn Hays) and Nick Andropolous (Michael Forest). With scenes of the Acropolis, the Temple of Poseidon and the Greek seaside, the footage was used over a four-month period on the soap. But in the absence of any sound, the effect was more of a stilted travelogue inserted into the show, with a minimum of dialogue later added through long shots and lip synchronization.
Larry Bryggman makes no secret of his preferences. "I don't like soap operas. TV is such a slapdash affair. Theater is an actor's medium; television is a director's medium. When Dee and I do a love scene, they play music under us and about 1000 people are involved."
Still, there are a few compensations. "Some days it's so much fun, you want to say, 'Keep the money.' And besides, Oakdale now has an international airport that flies straight to Greece," he said laughingly.