In Part One of our interview with the legendary Nicolas Coster, the prolific actor discussed his roles in the early days of soaps including THE SECRET STORM and YOUNG DOCTOR MALONE, and why his name came up in a U.S. Senate hearing on "immorality." In Part Two below, Coster remembers his time on ANOTHER WORLD and ONE LIFE TO LIVE, the accident that almost ended his career, and beginning on SANTA BARBARA.
We Love Soaps: Your time on ANOTHER WORLD (1972-1976, after originally being introduced in 1970 and moving to SOMERSET for two years) is regarded as one of the most beloved and financially successful times in daytime history.
Nicolas Coster: No doubt about it.
We Love Soaps: Your character of Robert Delaney was being written by Harding Lemay at that time.
Nicolas Coster: He took over for Bill Bell. Bill was a great writer, and then Harding Lemay came in and he did an awfully good job. Also, I had already done several plays of Harding’s when he was an unknown playwright at the New Dramatists Guild. We had known each other for a long time.
We Love Soaps: You shared many scenes Beverlee McKinsey. What was that like?
Nicolas Coster: Well, I have to admit, it was not the most pleasant experience I ever had. She had a photographic memory, and she was patronizing of people who did not. Let’s leave it at that.
We Love Soaps: How about Douglass Watson?
Nicolas Coster: We all know Douglass was the prince of daytime. The crowned prince, the king, one of the grandest people I have ever known, ever. He ranks up there with Gregory Peck and Robert Redford. He was a fantastic actor and a wonderful human being. Enough good cannot be said of Douglass Watson. And everyone else says it, I have never heard an ill word against Douglass.
We Love Soaps: So by 1976 your career was taking off. Is that why you left ANOTHER WORLD?
Nicolas Coster: Actually the producer at the time (Paul Rauch) wouldn’t let me do [the play] “Benito Cereno” in the Bicentennial tour of Europe. He said it wasn’t convenient. I said, “Gee, this is probably the single greatest honor I’ve ever had in this country other than being in the Honor Guard in the army. I’m gonna go.” He said, “You can’t.” I said, “Yes I can, look at my contract, I wrote it. My agent was afraid of you.” He asked how much money I would be making. At that time, I think I was the highest paid male actor on daytime. I told him it would be $175... a week. He said, “You’d leave this for that?” I said, “I just did.” That was that.
We had our ups and downs during the years. When that producer came to SANTA BARBARA many years later we had our ups and downs there too. But we would laugh, talk about the old days. They were the glory days. I will say that Paul Rauch is the single most creative producer I have ever worked with. I worked with him on ONE LIFE TO LIVE as well, and later on SANTA BARBARA. I think he inherited a mess there. By the time he got it away from John Conboy it was a mess.
We Love Soaps: On ONE LIFE TO LIVE you played Anthony Makana. What can you tell me about Anthony Makana?
Nicolas Coster: A lot! Jean Arley was another great creative producer. She was grand and lovely. She was the Lady of daytime television. I don’t mean that as a sexual term. I mean that as a complimentary term about her manners, her attitude, and the way she treated actors. It was absolute par excellence. I had no intention of ever going back to daytime. I had done eleven movies in four years, everything from The Electric Horseman to Little Darlings. I was on a roll out here.
Suddenly this accident happened. I walked through a glass door. A friend was staying with me, his wife had left him. He was staying in our guest house. I was rushing back to get pillows and stuff. Someone left our den door closed, though I had left it open. I didn’t see this because it was dark inside the room. I went crashing through the glass door. My daughter said it looked like Pluto from the cartoons had just gone through a door. A big guillotine piece of glass came down and carved my arm half off. So I pushed myself up, called my friend, and said, “Hey, I think we have a problem.” When I got to the emergency room, Nurse Ratchet was there. She told me to take my thumb off the wound. I said, “Gee, I’m a scuba instructor, I think I’d better keep my thumb on the vessel.” She said, “Did you hear me? Take that thumb off that vessel.” I said, “Can I repeat that? My thumb is on the blood vessel.” She told me to take it off. So I took it off and blood spurted all over her [laughs].
I ended up with my arm paralyzed. I had it all sown back together by an expert guy in Cedar Sanai. I asked what the chances were of getting my arm back? He replied, “Remote. You are vintage. The chances of nerve regeneration are slight.” I said, “Oh really?” So I got in the pool and I read a lot about nerves and muscles. I started doing aerobic exercise. In 1982, they had not invented the term yet, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I was waving my hand through the pool, fluttering my fingers, taking bucket loads of Vitamin B1, which is good nerve food. Nine months later, I felt tingling in my fingers. I said, “That is nerve regeneration.”
So I got the use of my arm back, but not before getting this part on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. I told Jean that before I came back east she needed to know that I would need to keep my arm in my pocket for most of the time. She said, “That’s okay, a lot of actors do that.” I came back and the wonderful Robert S. Woods was my roommate. Woods and I and everyone else had the damnedest best time. We worked our asses off, and had great parties. To this day he’s a great pal.
As far as the story on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I looked at the outline for my character and saw a Gatsby-esque character instead of the cliché of the gangster who owns a club and would try to mask the fact he’s Italian American. I found that part prejudicial. I said, “I want to make him Gatsby-esque. He has created a life, albeit an artificial one, where he has falsified records at places like Yale, and created this aristocratic background which he did not come from.” That’s what we did. It seemed to be a good success. And then in the middle of that, Bridget and Jerry Dobson came, took me to lunch, and offered me SANTA BARBARA. I just couldn’t resist. They were the two most adventurous writers I’ve ever seen in daytime.
We Love Soaps: Let’s talk SANTA BARBARA. For many daytime fans this is your most memorable and beloved character (Lionel Lockridge).
Nicolas Coster: With good reason. They gave me free reign. And I don’t mean undisciplined free reign. Bridget and Jerry used everything that every actor brought to them on that show, including a lot of Lionel’s background, the fact I could dance, and the fact I was a boat captain. Remember John Allen Nelson who played Warren? I taught him to scuba dive on the show. His first ocean dive was coincidentally my first command as a coast guard licensed captain. We charted a big 65 foot boat on the show. And on the show, I took him underwater. A lot of people didn’t realize that. There were dozens of other stunts. Dame Judith [Anderson] and I had never appeared on Broadway together, but we both had a great friend in Laurence Oliver. So we used to talk lots about him. It was easily the most unique and colorful experience I ever had on daytime, and the most rewarding. Bridget and Jerry were amazing, and I want to give credit to the last writer too, Pamela Long. She was awfully good.
We Love Soaps: You played for many years against Louise Sorel as Augusta.
Nicolas Coster: She’s still a very close friend. I see her regularly. There is nobody like Louise, ever. She broke the mold. She is also a brilliant stage actress.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Three in which Nicolas discusses Lionel's weddings, sonnets, and erectile dysfunction. What story line prompted him to leave the show in 1988? Plus, what does he see as a main problem with most soaps today? Find out in Part Three!
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals, couples, and families 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."