In the latest installment of our series highlighting the many special performances preserved in the various Soap Classics DVD collections, We Love Soaps visits with Denise Pence, still fondly remembered for her eight year run as Nurse Katie Parker on GUIDING LIGHT, which started 35 years ago.
(continued from Part 1)
When the Dobsons left GUIDING LIGHT to write AS THE WORLD TURNS, Pence almost switched soaps as well.
"When the Dobsons were leaving and Doug Marland was coming in," Pence explains, "there was talk of this character that was a 'Denise Pence type' on AS THE WORLD TURNS and they asked if I would be interested in going over. My comment was, 'I'd love to see how a new writer would write for me.' I had such a great track record on GUIDING LIGHT and I'd had so much fun up until that point. I thought, 'A new writer, let's see where I go with this.' "
She laughs and continues, "Well, I should have gone to AS THE WORLD TURNS."
"I loved the Dobsons" she says. "They were great. I didn't know Doug Marland. I didn't know what the rules were in daytime. I didn't know the soul for Katie was really with the Dobsons. That's really where it was at."
Marland focused much of the story on a younger group of actors that included Lisa Brown, John Wesley Shipp, Kristen Vigard and Kevin Bacon.
"I remember the transition very well," Pence says. "The Dobsons created sketchy overviews. Doug Marland was enormously specific. His writers wrote practically what he said to write. He was the total puppet master pulling the strings."
Pence worked with a number of veteran actors on GUIDING LIGHT including Charita Bauer, who played matriarch Bert.
"I look at Charita Bauer's career and I am floored she managed to be a central figure for so long," Pence says.
"I had a scene on GUIDING LIGHT where Katie got the mail, and they unloaded this huge barrel of mail on my desk, and when I looked at the envelopes they were all addressed to Charita Bauer. She made such an impact. She was like a mother figure to all of us, and always had good advice for us if we needed it."
Charita's death left a big hole in the show but producers made a number of decisions over the years which chipped away at the Bauer family position on GUIDING LIGHT.
"The first crack in all of that was breaking up the Bauer brothers," Pence shares. "I think the image of a cuddly Mart Hulswit against a very debonair Don Stewart made GUIDING LIGHT have a different look than most of the soaps. Mart Hulswit's contract expired. I think that's where it started. Then Don Stewart left."
Near the end of Pence's run on GUIDING LIGHT, the soap had transitioned again. Pam Long was writing the show, and Reva Shayne and the Lewis family were center stage. Pence had seen actress Kim Zimmer before.
"When I was on a Blue Ribbon [Emmy] panel watching scenes from ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I was amazed at the body of work by the actors. In fact, I remember seeing Kim Zimmer on a tape I was voting on, and I thought, 'Who is this really powerful actress on ONE LIFE TO LIVE? She's fabulous.' It wasn't much later until she was fired and came over and got the lead role on GUIDING LIGHT."
Pence wrapped her role at GUIDING LIGHT in 1985 in a less than spectacular way.
"Katie left and married a dayplayer," she says. "They made the fans happy because Katie was happy. Denise was destroyed, but Katie was happy. I was an external character. I was easily let go of when they decided I was making too much money and they didn't need me anymore."
"I was very open to doing another soap," she remembers. "I did one audition for ONE LIFE TO LIVE, a funny scene opposite one of their villains."
A role at ANOTHER WORLD almost kept Pence in the daytime spotlight.
"When I came off GUIDING LIGHT, I got two very strong auditions for ANOTHER WORLD," Pence recalls. "One that I actually thought might go to the mats on. It looked like they were literally writing it [for me]. I think it would have worked perfectly. It was a triangle with my sister, and the actress and I worked well together. They were setting up a triangle story. But the actress gave notice, left the show, they scrapped the storyline and I never got another audition."
More than a quarter of a century later, Pence is still fondly remembered by fans from her soap days even though she had never even planned on acting in one.
"I had never really watched soaps prior to me getting on a soap," she says, "and probably wouldn't even have been looking to do it, but an agent saw some potential in me. I was auditioning for a commercial agent and he took a chance on me."
SoapClassics has released episodes that include the character of Katie on DVD. And there are many scenes on YouTube and around the web from her years on GUIDING LIGHT.
"I didn't expect to see any of this stuff [again]," Pence says. "There is a scene posted online I watched and thought, 'I don't remember doing this scene, and I'm not very good in this scene.' You work so hard for so long on the same kind of thing that sometimes you zone out, and you're not giving that actor edge. That must have happened to me in the scenes I can't even remember."
What is the biggest lesson she learned from her soap career?
"Take the opportunity when it's presented," she says. "I didn't take the opportunity to go to AS THE WORLD TURNS. I think it would have changed my life. But hindsight is 20/20. My open door at GUIDING LIGHT didn't take me where I thought it would. I ended up working at a law firm to survive. But I learned a hell of a lot more, and become a stronger person than I ever would have been if I stayed on GUIDING LIGHT or in soap opera. My life would have so different and I wouldn't have been as strong. My family is strong, and we're still together. And that's good."
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, worked as a producer on the first two seasons of THE BAY, and is executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals.