Part One of our rare interview with the phenomenally talented (and underrated) Kathryn Hays, the actress discussed her drive to entertain others growing up, and the spiritual lessons she learned in order to survive as an artist. In Part Two below, she discusses her primetime work prior to AS THE WORLD TURNS, including a historical appearance on the original STAR TREK, how she angered Irna Phillips, and Kim's classic rivalry with Susan.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I want to ask you about your pre-WORLD TURNS career. You had at least 50 primetime appearances prior to joining the show.
Kathryn Hays: A lot of guest starring appearances. It was a great time to begin a career. It was when the guest stars on the primetime shows were almost always women. The running star would be a man. The main storyline would be a very rich part to play. I love that I got to do all those shows. They were a lot of fun.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: One of your most memorable guest star episodes, for which you received an Emmy nomination, was for STAR TREK ("The Empath" 1968).
Kathryn Hays: [Laughs] Yes. That was an amazing experience.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You played a mute alien (Gem) who could heal people.
Kathryn Hays: I’ve often thought that was an interesting role for me to play. I loved playing that. It was technically very interesting. That show was fascinating to work on from a technical point of view. It was so different from a regular show.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: They recognized something in you which soap fans have always connected to. That is, an ethereal healing energy that you emanate.
Kathryn Hays: That’s great to hear. I love that you said that.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And that certainly makes sense now given what you’ve shared about your spiritual development. You were focusing on developing your center, and then you get this role on STAR TREK playing a character who can literally heal by touch.
Kathryn Hays: That’s what I thought was so interesting. Because that was when I really began to pull it all together. I had a crisis in my life. It was a physical crisis, and had emotional turmoil. I either had to pull it together or I don’t know what. And that role came to me just at that time. It was down to the wire for me to get a grip and pull it together, and it did happen.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Before you joined AS THE WORLD TURNS you had a brief role on GUIDING LIGHT.
Kathryn Hays: I did. That was...strange. I came in and took over a character [Leslie Bauer]. You never see this when you’re living it, but in retrospect it all led into being chosen to do Kim Hughes. I think Irna [Phillips] saw me on that show. It jogged her thought about me in some way. I did not play the role for any length of time. Barbara Rodell took over the role and I went back to California. In the next year I was asked to come back and do Kim.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You said at the Paley Museum that Irna Philips modeled Kim after herself.
Kathryn Hays: I don't know if she modeled Kim after herself. Don [Hastings] once said to me that Irna Philips saw something in me, or something that spoke to her in some ways. I don’t really know...I was really terrified of her to tell you the truth.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How come?
Kathryn Hays: Everybody was terrified of her! She was a very powerful woman. If she said jump, everyone said, “How high?” Including P&G people. Everybody quaked. When I came on the show it was live. When the show went off the air for the day there would be a phone call from Chicago. The producer that day would get the what-for about anything she didn’t like. Her word was absolute.
I saw her twice, I think, between the time I came on the show and when she passed on [in December 1973]. The first time I saw her I was very uneasy. I had been given permission to do a production of “Dames At Sea” with Bernadette Peters. Irna was holding court at a fancy hotel in New York. Several of us were invited to come up and meet her. By that time I had heard all these stories about her. Anyway, I had been given permission to do the play. I met her, and said something to her about having to go do a show that night. She turned around to Fred [Bartholomew], our executive producer at the time, and said, “What’s This?!” She had a fit that I was doing something other than our show. I think he got his you-know-what chewed up royally. And that was my introduction to Irna.
Nevertheless, there was an absolute something. She understood something. She felt something. There was that first script that came in relatively soon after I joined the show that totally grabbed me. So I knew who that character was. I had her in my heart for so long. There was something about Irna’s dreams and my dreams coming together. I often wish I had saved that script because there was a scene where I talked about Kim’s childhood. That was absolutely something that I had lived. There’s no way Irna could have known about it. I had never talked about it. She just sensed something in me.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: She really seemed to be able to tap into collective unconscious of her audience and her actors.
Kathryn Hays: They would have an idea for a character, hire an actor, and then see what inside that actor shows up on screen, and how the audience reacts. In my case, Kim was written as a troublemaker. She was going to come in and cause trouble for Dr. Bob and Jennifer, Kim’s sister. Irna turned that into someone who had depth and evolved into Kim. For me as an actor, it started one way and then turned into someone else. She turned into a deeper character, and that was wonderful. I was playing a character who had had a rough patch in her life but she made the choice to be a better person and to not be selfish. She made the choice to be thoughtful of others. You saw her grow through those years.
The thing that was great for me was knowing that if Kim got pushed too far, or too hard, she could turn around and deck you. Verbally, not physically. The audience loved it when that would happen. There were things that just happened, that just came out of my own process, when Kim would get to the point where she just had had it! When that would happen, no matter how the scene was written, that was what came out of me. The writers began to pick up on that. There were certain phrases that came out of me without my having thought about it. It just happened. That’s how the character developed. It was wonderful to not have to play one certain type of character. She was just a fabulous character to play, I loved her.
Kathryn Hays: I appreciated it too. Nobody is all one way or the other. Nobody has endless patience. That would be maddening.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I especially liked how that side of Kim came out of Susan. She was Kim's Achilles heal for patience. No matter how cool and calm Kim tried to be, Susan could always push her buttons.
Kathryn Hays: [Laughs] Oh yes. One of my favorite shows we did was when Chris married Alison. Marie and I had a scene where I went to her house, we were talking about our kids Chris and Ally. Kim was trying to make peace, trying to be reasonable, and Susan was having none of it. We got down to the floor and were getting ready to tape. In rehearsal, Marie had added a line at the end, “Be sure to say hello to Bob for me.” It was a real dig at Kim. At the end of rehearsal it made me so mad, as Kim. I knew what I felt like doing, and I didn’t do it at rehearsal. But I knew that if she said that during the taping that I would was going to let it fly. So we’re taping this thing, it had gone well. Kim was going to the door, and Susan said, “Be sure to hello to Bob for me.” I yelled, “Oh go to hell!” and slammed the door. Apparently in the control room they were hysterical [laughs]. But they left it in the show. I was so glad they did. After they called yelled cut we just laughed so hard.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I remember that scene! It was such a gift, especially given how rare it was to have either one of you on screen by that time.
Kathryn Hays: The thing that I didn’t like was that you can’t do that kind of stuff all the time. There were a group of writers who kept trying to write that stuff for no good reason. It was endless. They had us do stupid things, they had us try to lose who we were, just for the supposed value of seeing us deal with each other as animals. That I did not like. That was a bad way, and I resisted it. I was not about to let them pull Kim around like that, that was not who she was.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: There was a time in the mid 90s when P&G was mandating more cat fights on all their shows. But that was not what made soaps interesting. It was really about the history of these characters, and how Kim and Susan could push each other’s emotional buttons with a single word or vocal inflection.
Kathryn Hays: I always thought it was interesting if they would give us a scene or two where we had to support one another, or where we had to express an understanding. Or where we somehow had to help one another. That is what made it a thousand times more interesting. To have those times balance the times when they were in the fight. It was much more interesting to see them at times have compassion for each other. That is more interesting than having fights for the sake of fights.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Three to learn how Kathryn Hays developed and maintained Kim's vocabulary with so many different writers, how she fought for her character, as well as the impact of the classic marital rape story with John and Kim.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist now accepting 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." To learn more about how to have a much easier life without "shoulds," visit Damon at Shouldless.com