For any longtime fan of daytime television, the lack of minority characters onscreen has been obvious. As the minority population of the United States has grown in the past 20 years, the volume of minority characters on soaps has actually decreased. Why is this?
Stars like Rowell have spoken out in interviews (and on Twitter) about the lack of diversity not only in front of the camera but behind the scenes as well. What has been missing was tangible evidence, numbers, that paint a clearer picture that can not be dismissed as sour grapes.
Hall paints a vivid picture of how she was hired, what her salary was compared to the other "stars" of ONE LIFE, what really happened when she was fired from the soap, and the timeline of when she found out damning information which lead to her writing this new open letter.
Below are a few of the more interesting quotes:
In the book I would later write…ONE LIFE: The Autobiography of an African American Actress… I expressed my ultimate belief that I’d been selected for use as a temporary “gimmick” that, in a unique political time, could rocketboost a payload of white stars into orbit… an exotic “freak” that, stationed outside the circus tent, could attract the folks on the fairway and lure them inside to see the show.We would love to know what Ms. Nixon said when asked about this disparity.
Once they were there and both Nixon soaps were in easy orbit I was taken out of The Showbox as Exhibit A …probably because I’d already aced 90% of what I’d been hired to do.
The rest of the years turned into a holding action. I was yanked back and put on a leash by a management that behaved like an adversary. I was treated as if I were an 800 pound gorilla that would attract too much attention unless forcibly restrained. Now boxed in and fenced out of the main action, I was probably kept on the margins for the sole purpose of keeping the black audience in place that was so critical to the ratings.
Although she never dealt with me personally, with her historic legacy ever on her mind, Nixon continued to discuss me to the press as one of her most valued stars. Although I was poorly paid, poorly treated, and, behind the scenes, denied the game… to press and public she bent over backwards to continue extolling the name. As a result, the press continued to treat me as a legitimate Superstar.
Although Nixon paid her white stars lavish salaries she had pinched every penny she paid me. Her company, Creative Horizons, had refused to deal with agents and had presented me with contract renewals that were always labeled as strictly non-negotiable. After she sold the show to ABC in 1973, to retain control, she had created a permanent role for herself as show consultant. From that perch, she had continued the protocol.The disparity with Susan Lucci's salary speaks volumes:
What the museum audience could not know was that my 17 years of work, all added up, came to $727,557, a sum paid out to Susan in six months. They also could not know that I’d been terminated three years earlier. By contrast, Susan would be kept on the payroll for the next quarter century.
Precisely because these records are public they are also unassailable and demonstrate how profoundly Agnes Nixon was prepared to renege on the implicit contract she had made back in 1968, not just with me, but with the press, the public and the history books.
As for the black presence in front of the camera, in all these years, the only black actress to ever duplicate the fabulous Star Trip of my early years on One Life is Victoria Rowell, the Drucilla Winters of The Young and the Restless.This is a fascinating account of a story that I personally perceived much differently before reading it.
Fortunately for Victoria, her mentor, William Bell, was The Real McCoy. He ruled his roost with an iron hand and made certain she was treated and paid as he saw her…i.e. as the dazzling talent that graced his show.
Meanwhile, I exist as The Poster Child for the importance of America’s social safety nets. Although Nixon’s white stars, as mega-millionaires, will eventually retire with lavish pensions, because she paid me in five figures and terminated me early, my AFTRA pension, the largest segment of my retirement income, only nets me $1424 a month. In spite of a lifetime of honorable work, without Social Security and Medicare, I would be indigent.
While no one in charge will admit it, racism has definitely always played a role in daytime television, and entertainment in general. Why else would soap opera magazines put ALL MY CHILDREN's Greg and Jenny on their covers so much more than Angie and Jesse in the early 1980s? Why would the number of black daytime network chiefs, executive producers and head writers be so small that we could recall them all off the top of our head?
I will say, not as a counterpoint to the open letter but just as something we have witnessed over the years, a number of longtime white stars of soaps have been unceremoniously dumped after many years of service, or were diminished for years and then fired by a new hotshot producer. Anna Lee was supposedly given a lifetime contract by GENERAL HOSPITAL and then fired from the show in her 90s. She died months later with her son saying the firing snapped her will to live. Despicable.
Ms. Holly gives us the additional insight of contract negotiations and actual salary figures which sheds a whole new light on the situation never seen before. You can read the enitre fascinating and detailed open letter here.
We Love Soaps recently interview two other black actresses who offered their opinions on the state of diversity on daytime. DAYS OF OUR LIVES star Renee Jones agrees the trend is negative:
Honestly, I see it going backwards. When I first got into the business, I saw more blacks on TV. THE COSBY SHOW, DIFFERENT STROKES, THE JEFFERSONS, and all those shows. There were lots that showcased black actors, and not just being in a stereotypical role. I don't see that anymore.
It just seems to have dried up? I'm hopeful that we'll see more, but I don't know what to say other than, hire more! The talent is there, it's not like the talent isn't there. It's not in the world of the people creating these shows. They're not around enough black people to even think of them when they're casting the shows?
Petronia Paley was brought to THE DOCTORS 30 years ago for an interracial romance that didn't pan out:
I played Jessie Rollins, she was a black doctor and I (originally) was brought on to be the love interest of a white character. But they had another black/white romance on another soap that had not gone well. The woman playing the part, the black actor, had been fired, because people didn't like the story line, so that didn't work out.So what do you think of this new information? Weigh in below in our Comments section.
- FLASHBACK: Ellen Holly's "Living a White Life -- for a While" 1969
- FLASHBACK: White Market For Black Actors 1979
- Black History Month: Blacks on White TV 1982
- FLASHBACK: SOUNDS OF THE CITY 1974