Colleen Zenk: The We Love Soaps Interview, Part Two

In Part One of our interview with Colleen Zenk, the daytime legend discussed her pre-WORLD TURNS roots, starting her 32-year-run on the show, and Barbara's classic gothic romances with James Stenbeck and Gunnar St. Clair.  In the next part, Zenk recalls her years flourishing under Douglas Marland's writing, and the dearth of airtime that followed.  How did she deal with being put "off the stove"? Find out below.

We Love Soaps: There was quite a transition in Barbara once Doug Marland started head writing AS THE WORLD TURNS in 1985 [after a brief stint at the end of 1979].  What did he see in her?
Colleen Zenk: It’s funny, I have looked at a lot of things on YouTube as well, both before Barbara’s transition and after.  I could never figure out what Doug saw.  But when I look back at myself at that young age before Barbara turned into Bad Barbara, I can see some of that.  I can see how he could say, “That girl could have an edge if I gave it to her.”  We didn’t have a young bad girl on the show at that point.  I think he positioned me perfectly for that.  The hard part for me as an actor was that it happened overnight.  I mean literally overnight.  Barbara and Brian (Mark Pinter) were supposed to get married.  Paul (Christopher Daniel Barnes) really objected to it.  She listened to Paul and told Brian she couldn’t marry him.  The next thing she knew Brian was shacking up with Shannon O’Hara (Margaret Reed).  Barbara went over to see Brian to tell him she changed her mind.  He opens the door, and there’s Shannon in Brian’s robe.  So she went home, slept on it, Lisa (Eileen Fulton) showed up the next day, and Barbara opened the door and was a new woman.  Literally.  She said, “Hello Lisa,” and it was a whole new attitude.  It was really difficult for me as an actor.  Doug would sit down with me.  He would say, “I need you to play it more this way.” I was having such a hard time because I felt I was taking so much personally.  I felt people were treating me differently. 

We Love Soaps: People on the set? Fans?
Colleen Zenk: No, not the fans. The fans were always fabulous.  For me it was what was happening within the company.  Maybe I was hallucinating, God knows what was really going on.  It was me being a really greedy actress having never really played a bad girl before, thinking that other people were thinking bad things about me.  It was stupid.

We Love Soaps: Was there substance to that? Did you have reason to think that?
Colleen Zenk: Frankly, yes.  Whether it was professional jealousy...certain people were giving me a hard time. 

We Love Soaps: Was there any part of you that could say, “So what, screw you.”
Colleen Zenk: I didn’t have that ability until at least ten years later.  Maybe at this point I can.  But I certainly could not back then.  I was much too much of a nice girl.  It was not part of me to stand up for myself like that. 

We Love Soaps: You have joked in interviews how the writers must have been bugging the dressing rooms because it was eerie how often things that you would talk about would show up in scripts.  So what was Doug Marland seeing and hearing in you to make this change in Barbara?
Colleen Zenk: I don’t really know.  All I know is that he really liked me and he really liked what I did.  He was very generous to me as an actress and a friend.  Mark and I would spend holidays with him and he became part of family functions.  So I don’t know what he saw. 

We Love Soaps: One of the things we appreciate about Doug Marland historically is his creating the first gay male character on daytime soaps.
Colleen Zenk: The reason it worked was because he introduced the character [Hank].  He became part of my story.  Hank worked for Barbara. The audience came to love him and root for him through Iva Snyder.  It wasn’t until much later that he revealed the reason he couldn’t get involved. She thought it was another woman.  But it was because he was gay.  By that point the audience loved him and he was accepted.  It was very brave for those times. 

We Love Soaps: Do you remember there being anger or fan resistance?
Colleen Zenk: I don’t remember there being any uproar at all.  I remember there just being positive reactions.  But let’s go back to how long that was.  Twenty years ago.  Pre-internet, pre-blogs, pre-chat rooms.  There would be no way to judge what people's real reactions were.

We Love Soaps: But people were vocal about sending letters and threatening to boycott sponsors when they didn’t like a story.  My understanding is this is why ANOTHER WORLD and DAYS OF OUR LIVES didn’t go ahead with gay stories in the '70s.
Colleen Zenk: But this was the late '80s. We were well into the AIDS crisis.  By that point I don’t think very many Americans were not touched in some way by the AIDS crisis.  I think there was a lot more openness to it.  I lost so many friends.  I lost five of my high school friends.  My entire theater group gone.  Gone. Two of them ended up in the same hospital room together at the end at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital.  It hit me profoundly. By the time Doug was telling the Hank Elliot story line, so many people had been touched.  There was more of an acceptance.  The one thing I wish that had been told differently, and this was network or P&G dictated, was that we never saw Hank’s lover, who was dying of AIDS.  A lot of people felt that was cop-out.  I felt at the time it was the only way they could have gone. 

We Love Soaps: During the '80s Barbara had so much high drama, highs and lows, and was so much in the mix. 
Colleen Zenk: Barbara was in the middle of everything - stirring the pot, making things happen, causing grief for everyone around her, making the same mistakes over and over.  She found Hal, fell in love with him, and couldn’t figure out how to put that marriage first.  The one thing I always loved about the character, that they never forgot, is that Barbara never learned from her mistakes.

We Love Soaps: She was always so insecure, she let fear get the better of her most of the time.
Colleen Zenk: Exactly. It’s the thing that resonated with me when Barbara was in the warehouse at the end.  Having to recount everything she had done in her life wrong.

We Love Soaps: Douglas died in 1993.
Colleen Zenk: Douglas died the day after my daughter Georgia was born.  One of the last things he knew was that I had gone into labor, my daughter was born.  He sent flowers to me.  I received those flowers, and then he died.  I still have the giant vase.  He such a generous man who, by the way, wrapped every single package at Christmas himself.  He created these massive and extraordinary bows. 

We Love Soaps: Sadly enough, soon after that, the screen time for Barbara died as well.
Colleen Zenk: That was the end.  Barbara’s story was wrapped up.  My famous little quote is that, “Barbara went so far off the back burner that she went off the stove.”  It was as if she never existed.  It was bad.

We Love Soaps: How did you deal with that?
Colleen Zenk: I didn’t really see it in the beginning.  It wasn’t until it had been going on for awhile that I said, “Wait a second, where is Barbara?” I didn’t quite see what was happening.  I thought they were just giving me a break while someone was else was getting story.  When the writers came on who we referred to as “Frick and Frack,” Henry Stern and Stephen Black [1996]. They didn't get Barbara at all.  All they saw was that she was married to Hal and she was a little wife.  They didn’t go into the Stenbeck back story. They didn’t look at anything.  Barbara just disappeared.

But then Jessica Klein came on [in 1997] and she wrote John and Barbara’s story, which I loved.  That was also the time of Martin Chedwyn (Simon Prebble), which was the story Eileen hated more than any other.  It was when Felicia [Minei Behr] came over from ABC.  When we lost Douglas, and when we lost Larry Caso, it changed our whole world. We lost the two people who manned the helm and kept us on the right path.  When she came on board from ABC she had a different vision.  And she brought on board writers who had a different vision.  The one thing she did for us that was fabulous was bringing Chris Goutman on as a director.  Chris whipped us into shape.  We became a company of people who were more efficient because of Chris Goutman.  As a director he did incredible things. He was extraordinary.  And then he left us for awhile to go to ANOTHER WORLD. The John and Barbara story, coming on the heels or working with Benjamin so long, helped me to believe I could act. 

We Love Soaps: You doubted that?
Colleen Zenk: Of course! I was a musical theater performer, not an actor.  That’s how I saw myself.  But after working with Benjamin for a number of years and then Larry Bryggman, I started to think, “Maybe I could do this.” It’s really Larry who filled me full of confidence.  I learned a lot from him and I also learned to know what I was capable of.  Or at least I was beginning to learn what I was capable of.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Three in which Zenk recalls playing the scenes of Barbara losing her baby after the church fire in 1997. She also shares her personal and professional memories of Benjamin Hendrickson.

CBS's "World" stops turning this week, but yours doesn't have to! Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist specializing in Grief/Loss work and is now taking new clients in New York City.  He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

1 comment:

  1. Bitchy Barbara scared the living daylights out of me while watching the soap during the middle-to-late 1980s. When I finally met Colleen & her ex-hubby Mark Pinter in the late 1990s at a meet-&-greet, I was afraid to walk up to her & introduce myself. However, she instantly put me at ease with her charm & humor! :-)

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