Jo & Stu are far and away my favorite soap "buddy" team because they did it FIRST and did it best! From the time Larry Haines joined the cast of SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, approx 6 months into the show's run, the platonic chemistry between "Jo" and "Stu" was evident. No matter how busy either character was with their own personal dramas, they could count on the other for a shoulder to cry on...a pot of coffee to pour...or (with Larry's gift of comic timing) a laugh to share. Back in the 50's and 60's, it was almost unimaginable that two characters of the opposite sex could remain solely/consistently FRIENDS.
Writers eventually recognized that keeping them together as much as possible (especially as Jo's family diminished) was as close to a "core" as SFT would have, so they became business partners in ventures like the Riverboat, the Bed & Breakfast and even running an apartment complex. But, even as friendly & professional as Mary Stuart and Larry Haines were OFF camera, they were definitely NOT "Jo and Stu." Late in the show's run, in a last gasp effort for storylines, writers tried to force feed a romance between the long-time cronies. Larry was the kind of actor who would say his lines and hit his marks, so he didn't fight it as I recall...even as ludicrous as it seemed to anyone who'd even paid attention to the show. Mary, however, had a creative interest in her character...something almost non-existent in today's TV world. She not only wouldn't play it, she COULDN'T. As I recall, the whole thing fell apart in a matter of 5-10 episodes and Stu was pushed over to Anita Gilette's "Wilma" character and Jo toward Jack Betts' "David." Mary didn't want any part of that pairing either and, when the show wrapped, "Wilma & David" were together and "Jo & Stu" remained what they always were, and in our imaginations, always would be: besties. That last scene on the McCleary porch says it all, especially when Jo tearfully admits that their 35 year friendship has been her life's touchstone.
Interestingly, a year or so before SFT's end, Mary wrote a treatment for a storyline about a powerful, mysterious businessman named Darius...who would come to Henderson and start taking over everything (think Alan Spaulding). He'd find a formidable adversary in Jo, the unofficial keeper of Henderson's history...but the two would also have a strong attraction to each other, not unlike that which she and John Aniston's "Martin Tourneur" played so well. It was a smart plan to revamp the show on a longterm basis...working with established characters viewers loved. Instead, quick, ramshackle killer storylines bumped off key players and the "great flood" was an Etch-a-Sketch attempt to wipe the slate completely clean in a flashy ratings grab. Neither worked. Arguably, Mary's plan would have been better...and who knows, Darius' "Henderson" might still be on the air weekdays at 12:30pm. Unlikely...but we can imagine, eh?!
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International entertainment journalist NELSON ASPEN got his start in Daytime TV and still keeps tabs on all things soaps! The author of several books, including DINNER AT NELSON'S and HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: EXPOSED!, he broadcasts the latest showbiz news and celebrity interviews around the world daily. You may visit him at www.nelsonaspen.com