In the latest installment of our series highlighting the many special performances preserved in the Soap Classics DVD collections, We Love Soaps visits with Kristen Vigard, still fondly remembered for her run as Morgan Richards on GUIDING LIGHT more than 30 years ago.
Kristen Vigard joined the cast of GUIDING LIGHT in 1980 as the young virgin, Morgan Richards. Morgan's angst-filled romance with Kelly Nelson (John Wesley Shipp), their interaction with Tim (Kevin Bacon) and Hillary (Marsha Clarke), and the manipulations of Nola (Lisa Brown) were front and center for over a year. In August 1981, Kelly and Morgan were wed in a lovely outdoor ceremony at Laurel Falls. The wedding appears on the latest Soap Classics DVD, a 20-episode, 4-disc collection of GUIDING LIGHT episodes. But where, exactly, was "Laurel Falls"?
"I remember we were in Kent, Connecticut," Vigard recalls. "It was remote, so we went up to Kent for a whole day; we might have spent the night. I know that we shot scenes for a long period of time and then spread it out--all the different scenes with John Shipp (Kelly) and Kevin Bacon (Tim) and the back and forth between the two of them."
In fact, Vigard had visited this "Laurel Falls" before.
"A friend of mine had gone to school up there and I was well-versed in the area," she revealed. "And it was beautiful because we shot everything, including the wedding, up there. We had a lot of different scenes in that little place where Morgan went with her boyfriend, which was Laurel Falls, but we recorded all the scenes at the same time."
While she clearly enjoyed the change of pace, and the fresh air, Vigard reminds me that shooting on location isn't all fun and games. "It was cold," she laughs. "We were kind of blue-lipped and shivering. It wasn't that hot, but we had to make it look summer-y."
The Laurel Falls wedding was a long way from Morgan's arrival in Springfield, which fans will recall was part of a story line involving a car crash with Mike Bauer.
"We were in a terrible car accident and just sort of appeared in the hospital," recounts Vigard. "I was in a coma and my father had been killed. I didn't know my father was dead and I didn't like my mother; then she ended up in prison, so I was stranded in Springfield. Some main characters befriended me so I ended up with a lot of screentime."
Her introduction in the early 1980s was at a time when GUIDING LIGHT featured an influx of younger characters to complement the writing of Douglas Marland.
"That whole youth story came as a reaction to the Luke and Laura story on GENERAL HOSPITAL, which was bringing college students to the soaps," Vigard remembers. "Before, most of the families were sort of these wealthy families. There weren't many poor people. It was a throwback to the radio days even, with Charita Bauer still being on the show [as Bert Bauer]. They brought on some middle class and working class characters, but then it turned out we were involved in their story through my mother's past."
Vigard feels lucky never to have been far from the center of the canvas during her run. "They had me working a lot," she recalls. "I had a lot of story and there were a lot of things that lead up to Morgan and Kelly getting together. The whole story was built around how we fought it for the whole year and a half.
"He was a doctor and it was inappropriate because I was a child. And Nola was always trying to drive a wedge, or pretend she was pregnant, or some crazy thing to make it complicated. It was the classic story where it would end up pushing them together."
Of course Tim was interested in Morgan, but she was reluctant at first.
"I was afraid to because he was an alcoholic, and I was falling in love with Kelly as a child bride," she laughs. "But it was sort of forgiven because my father was dead and my mother was in prison. Everybody felt sad and they were happy Morgan was in love so it was less sleazy."
Did Vigard see Kevin Bacon as a breakout star at that point?
"He had a six month contract when we first started," she confides. "He had already done a couple of feature films that were coming out. He was already doing mainstream movies. He had done Animal House. He hadn't done Footloose yet. I remember because I was up for that.
"But he was well on his way. He was really a wonderful actor to work with. He was professional and a joy and took it very seriously."
It's easy to forget that many of the younger actors on GUIDING LIGHT in the early '80s were working long, hard hours every week while many of their non-soap star peers were setting their own schedules, and perhaps goofing off a bit, in college. In fact, Vigard herself was high-school-age.
"I think I personally was more youthful," she admits. "I had my friends in Central Park and was not as focused as an actor as John or Kevin. They were focused on their careers. I was being a real teenager. I did the best I could for the job, but I saw it as a job and was also very social."
"I had been working professionally since I was about 10, doing some print work. I wasn't famous but I had the perfect low maintenance career," she explains. "I had been in the business for a long time, and right after this job I took some time off."
But not before some memorable adventures on-screen, like the time when Kelly saved Morgan after she ran away from Springfield.
"I ran away to Chicago. He saved me from Duke the pimp at the bus station," she explains. "He promised me a waitress job and then delivered me to some corrupt Senator. At the last minute, Kelly played detective and burst in and saved me from being violated by the corrupt Senator!"
No discussion of the Kelly and Morgan love story could be complete without a mention of their love song, "You Needed Me." Does she remember it?
"They tortured him (Shipp) with that song," Vigard confides. "Every time they showed me, or him, they played that song, or they would make him sing it. His voice was beautiful, of course, and it was a good song. They got the bang for their buck with that one!"
Vigard is an established singer herself, having toured with Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It is her voice you hear in the 1996 movie Grace of My Heart when you see Illeana Douglas' character singing. Her "God Give Me Strength" was nominated for a Satellite Award in 1997.
"I was actually a singer and aspiring musician, but they had John doing all the music. One time they had us do a duet. I had a terrible flu and sounded horrible. I was so mad. The one time I got to sing I had the flu."
"It was a cute story," she continues. "I was 16-17 years old and looked about 12," she recalls. "I thought the wedding was lovely. Except for the fact the guy wasn't a real priest, we said all the things you do at a real wedding."
What was it like, working so closely with Shipp?
"I was really lucky. He was a darling person to work with," Vigard recalls. "Some of the people on the soaps, no one I worked with directly, were real characters. They did their own thing and tortured the powers that be. Everybody I worked with was so professional and sweet. If anything, I was the troublesome one, always coming in at the last minute unprepared, busting my butt so by the time we shot it would look okay.
"But I think it was hard on the other actors when I'd come sailing in," she admits. "I was a teenager! I found I did better if I learned the script that morning. I'd have a basic idea of what's going on because I would read it all week. But if I had already learned the script perfectly they would rewrite it and it was hard for me to relearn it. Instead of being all prepared, which would be the right thing to do, and being frustrated at the last minute, I would just learn it as we got it. Sometimes that backfires on you. I was really lucky because everyone I worked with was super professional and really nice."
Vigard actually has a daughter now, born in 1999, who is approaching the age that she was herself when she started on GUIDING LIGHT. She wonders what her daughter might say watching her mom as Morgan on the DVD.
"It's hard on her because I'm her mommy," she suggests. "She looks at it and sees me as a young person. She saw a bit on YouTube once, an episode where it looked like I didn't know my lines, and she was making fun of me!"
Vigard reflects on her time at GUIDING LIGHT fondly now.
"In retrospect I feel romantic about the whole experience," she says. "At the time I never had any time off. CBS had something they were going to shoot, so we had to get ahead, and I was working 5-6 days a week. I'd get there before 7 a.m. and was there sometimes until 8 or 9 at night. My whole life was in that basement. There was a lot of being in the studio and waiting around. For a 17-year-old it was a bit much, but looking back, it was a cool experience."
And of course, she enjoys keeping in touch with a few of her co-stars.
"With Myspace then Facebook I've gotten back in touch with John. I ran into him in L.A. actually. We had some mutual friends and got together a couple of times about 10 years ago. I ran into Kevin, who married a girl I went to high school with (Kyra Sedgwick). She was a couple of years behind me at Friends Seminary. Probably the first time she saw him he had his tongue down my throat! We were in high school together when I was working on GUIDING LIGHT."
Vigard continues to appreciate soap opera fans who remember her portrayal of Morgan fondly.
"Soap fans are really loyal," she smiles. "It's nice. My character was sympathetic and my fans are always really kind and lovely."
Vigard took a break after GUIDING LIGHT and then appeared on ONE LIFE TO LIVE as Joy O'Neill in the mid-1980s. Ever since, her passion has been music. She released her first album in 1988 and her latest project is coming out in about a month. Stay tuned!
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.