We started talking about how many actors played the role of Tom Hughes, Lisa's son. In the 1979 episode on the disc, Tom was played by Tom Tammi.
"I had more boys...," Eileen laughed.
Our conversation turned to the 2010 episode in which Bob and Kim celebrated their 25th anniversary episode. It seemed more like a series finale than the actual final show.
"You are so right," Eileen said. "I loved that. I think that was one of Helen's last shows."
Eileen loved both anniversary episodes that aired on Friday and Monday.
"That was a wonderful script," she said, "because Lisa almost got back to Bob. She tried. It was on the same day--or we filmed it the same day, and it was broken up into pieces. In the opening, Kim gets so mad at Bob."
"But then they spoiled it," Eileen continued, "by having Lisa and Susan saying, 'Well, we proved that he really belongs to Kim.' We did that the following Monday, and when I read that, I thought, 'No, that's not how I played it! I played it like Lisa really wanted this!'"
Some actors leave soaps and have big success in their careers and try to ignore their soap opera history. But not Julianne Moore (Frannie).
"She came back, and everyone was happy to see her," Eileen recalled, "and she seemed very happy to see everyone, and I thought that was really a lovely touch. It was fun."
We were so upset with the way the character of Lisa was handled on the finale that it almost made our 25 Biggest Blunders in Daytime Soap Opera History list.
"Leaving Lisa standing alone in the hotel was disgusting," Eileen agreed. "That was their 'Up yours!' to Lisa."
The show not only had lost understanding of the historical value Lisa provided, but the entire sense of community was gone in the final years.
"It certainly was," Eileen said, "and I had such a fit when Bob had his stroke (or whatever he had) and Lisa just stood there, in the hospital room. I expected to have something to say, or to do. They had me in the background: 'Eileen, get out of the way of the camera. Eileen, move over to the left, you're in the camera shot.' That's what I hated. It was disgusting! Lisa, as his first love, should have come up, and he should have asked for her."
There seemed to be no accountability at ATWT at the end for some of the decisions made. It's as if those in charge did not "get" the show.
"It's not only that they didn't get it," Eileen agreed, "but also that they didn't like it, I can tell you that."
We thought at least a phone call from Grant Colman would have been a nice ending for Lisa. But how would Eileen want it to end?
"Here's how I would have had it at the very end (I do this in my club act)," she revealed. "I always said, Lisa would be standing alone, in the hotel lobby, and John and what's-her-name go running out the door, happily ever after, and you see a hand come in, and hands Lisa a glass of champagne. Then, you would pan up, and it would be Ellen DeGeneres! [laughter] Lisa was a lesbian all the time, that's why she could never keep her husbands straight!"
Eileen agrees with us that soap operas could have merchandised more over the years.
"They missed the boat, didn't they?"
But she's excited about the new ATWT DVD collection.
"I'm glad you're doing it, I think it's a splendid idea, people will love it."
Eileen still hears from fans with their stories of missing AS THE WORLD TURNS.
"At my farewell to AS THE WORLD TURNS show, a young man came up and cried and cried afterward, and said, 'What am I going to do? I work, and I want to come home after and turn on my television, and have dinner with my family. And you won't be there anymore.' I will never forget that. He cried, and cried, and cried. He lost his family when we went off the air."
What does Eileen think lead to the demise of ATWT?
"[P&G] wanted to be rid of it," she said. "CBS was of no help. Their idea in casting (actually starting back in the eighties) was to get a good looking hunk, and a pretty girl, who couldn't act. They were models, and they couldn't act. And they started to show up in the opening, in the prologue. People would turn it off. I was there... the kids were beautiful, but it's not beauty that grabs the audience, it's the person."
The WIPING process was our No. 2 Blunder of all-time. So much soap opera is lost forever. But Eileen does have an episode master tape from 1961. It's possible others exist we may not be aware of yet. But was more than the WIPING process involved?
"I heard, at the studio, from people I think would know--that the library that kept our shows up through the '70s--that they torched it!" she revealed. "They just said, 'Aw, get rid of it,' and they just burned it down. That's what I heard. And I heard that from people who were not the actors (who would naturally say that) but, I think, from some of the people who worked in the office."
At least AS THE WORLD TURNS episodes from September 1979 forward are completely preserved and someday hopefully every available episode will be digitized and sold online.
"Oh, that is fabulous!" Eileen said.
We will be able to pick an episode or group of episodes and watch stories from the past, even the banging shudder episode!
"It reminds me, for some reason, about how I once played my own corpse, you know?" Eileen laughed. "I have newspaper clippings of that. I've just gone through, because I'm trying to get stuff all together from that time, and at the time my daddy laughed and laughed, he said, 'Oh, girl, your picture was in the obituary section of [my hometown newspaper]!"
We cover a lot of soap opera history at We Love Soaps so fans send us old soap magazines from the '70s and '80s. We laughed about some old articles that feature Eileen with her second husband, Danny Fortunato.
"That is so funny," she said. "You know, I have just been working on that period of my life? I had (at a friend's house, who was keeping them for me) four huge Xerox boxes full of those magazines, and he's gone through it and cut out stuff for me, so I'll have it for a lecture series."
Eileen then revealed the role she played in trying to get press coverage for daytime soap operas.
"Something you might be interested in: when I first got on ATWT, I went up to CBS's publicity department, and I said, 'You need to have some fan magazines about soaps.' And they laughed hysterically, and said, 'Nobody cares.' I said, 'You'd be surprised who cares. You should do this.' So I went to a woman at CBS who only handled movie magazines there. I said, 'You need to put a section in.' I was a real champion for this. And then they started."
So we have Eileen to partially thank for the wonderful print press coverage of daytime during the 1970s and beyond.
"There was absolutely nothing," she recalled of her early years on ATWT. "They said, 'Oh, we can't do that.' Then it started, and it caught on. I really believed in that; I've always believed in PR."
She also agrees that spoilers have taken away a lot of the incentive for watching the soaps these days.
"'Carly dumped Mike.' Or whatever. 'So-and-so dumped so-and-so.' Then you think, 'Oh, okay. I already know.' It spoils it."
The broadcast networks seem to have moved on from traditional soap operas.
"They all want to go to reality shows and doctor shows," Eileen said. "Doctor so-and-so tells you how to..."
One thing we can all agree on. These shows will never make the same type of impact on millions of viewers as Lisa and the characters from AS THE WORLD TURNS did for 54 years.
You can watch clips featuring Eileen from the ATWT DVD collection, and purchase your copy, at SoapClassics.com.
Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps and is currently a producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals.
- AS THE WORLD TURNS ON DVD: Eileen Fulton Reminisces About Meeting Doug Marland, Gardenias, Tight Dresses & More (Part 1 of 3)
- AS THE WORLD TURNS ON DVD: Eileen Fulton Reminisces About The Anniversary Episodes and Lily & Holden's Wedding (Part 2 of 3)
- BREAKING NEWS: 20 Classic Episodes of AS THE WORLD TURNS to be Released on DVDs
- EXCLUSIVE: We Reveal the 20 Episodes Chosen for the First AS THE WORLD TURNS DVD Collection
- EXCLUSIVE: SoapClassics.com President Mark Yates Reveals New Details of ATWT DVD Release, What's Next, And Online Streaming!
- SoapClassics.Com: AS THE WORLD TURNS DVD Is Region Free, Will Play Anywhere In The World
- SURVEY RESULTS: Fans Weigh In On The AS THE WORLD TURNS DVD Episodes
- AS THE WORLD TURNS ON DVD: Sara Ramirez Reminisces About Playing Hannah