FLASHBACK: A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas - 1947 to 1977 (Part 2)

Brook Byron starred as Althea Dennis in The Brighter Day.
A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas

The Soap Box
Vol. III No. 10 September 1978
by John Genovese

(continued from Part 1)

An unprecedented year for serial premieres, the first was another radio hit which ran almost nine years on television: The Brighter Day, which was televised from January 4, 1954 to September 28, 1962. An Irna Phillips creation which went through several writers, including Doris Frankel (now of All My Children), Sam Hall (now of One Life to Live) and Eileen and Robert Mason Pollock (later of Love of Life, The Doctors and General Hospital), it revolved around kindly minister Rev. Richard Dennis and his five children who moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania, after their home in Three Rivers (from the radio soap) was washed away by a flood. Bill Smith was soon replaced by Blair Davies as the Reverend, Mona Bruns joined shortly after its debut as Aunt Emily Potter, and the supporting cast over the years included such top draws as Hal Holbrook, Anne Meacham, James Noble, Mary K. Wells, June Dayton, Paul Langton, Murial Williams, Herb Nelson, Forrest Compton, Lois Nettleton and Patty Duke. A Procter & Gamble Production, it eventually succumbed to too many writing upheavals.

A scene from Secret Storm, with Nic Coster, Jada
Rowland, Terry O'Sullivan, Lori March and
Audrey Johnson.
One show which died the same death, however, became the longest running TV soap ever to face cancellation. That was The Secret Storm, another product of the great Roy Winsor, who created it for American Home Products--the same people who sponsored Love of Life. Storm ran from February 1, 1954 to February 8, 1974, and centered on the inner and out conflicts of the Ames family in Woodbridge, New York.

Premiering on CBS the same day was Woman With a Past, which should have been called Woman Without a Future. Burning out the following July 2, its supporting players included Jean Stapleton, Mary Sinclair and Gene Lyons. The star: Constance Ford in the role of Lynn Sherwood. Her role today: Ada McGowan on Another World.

One Man's Family starred James Lee as Cliff Barbour,
Eva Marie Saint as Claudia Barbour Roberts, Bert Lytell
as Henry Barbour, and Marjorie Gateson as Fanny Barbour.
NBC, not to be outdone, tried televising old radio episodes of One Man's Family by Carlton E. Morse. Helping to recreate the old magic were Theodore von Eltz as Henry Barbour, Mary Adams as Fanny Barbour, and Russell Thorson as Paul Barbour. It bombed as a TV series and ended April 1, 1955.

Another radio transplant was CBS's Portia Faces Life, which was later renamed The Inner Flame but still could not hack it. Sponsored by General Foods and featuring Tony Mottola as its guitar-playing musical accompanist, it starred current Days of our Lives lead Frances Reid as housewife and attorney Portia Blake Manning, with screen actor Donald Woods as Walter Manning. The roles were later assumed by Fran Carlon and Karl Swenson. Supporting cast included Mary Fickett (Ruth Martin, All My Children) and Sally Gracie (Ina Hopkins, One Life to Live). It lasted April 5, 1954 to July 1, 1955.

Another big disappointment for CBS was The Seeking Heart, with Scott Forbes as crime doctor John Adam and Dorothy Lovett as his powerful wife, Grace. Audrey Christie, Flora Campbell and Judith Braun were also in the cast. It started on July 5 and just made it to December 10.

On that July 5, NBC began four new serials! Needless to report, none of them are kicking around today.

There was A Time to Live created by Adrian Samish, centering on newspaper reporter Julie Byron, played by Pat Sully. Larry Kerr, Viola Berwick, Len Wyland, Dort Clark and Dana Elcar played other roles in the Chicago soaper. It died the following December 31.

Patricia Barry and Val Dufour starred in First Love as
Lauri and Zack James.
Samish also had claim to First Love sponsored by Jergens and credited for giving three soap superstars their daytime debuts: Patricia Barry (now Viola Brewster on For Richer, For Poorer) starred as Lauri Kennedy James; Val Dufour (John Wyatt on Search) co-starred as her husband, Zack James; and Rosemary Prinz (Penny on As the World Turns for ten years) played Amy. Other supporters included Frederic Downs, Henrietta Moore, Melville Ruick, Dean Harens and Peggy Allenby. It played its last on December 30, 1955.

There was also Procter & Gamble's Golden Windows, with Leila Martin as young, aspiring singer Juliet Goodwin, backed up by such powerhouses as Ethel Remey, Eric Dressler, Harriet McGibbon, Barbara Cook, Ralph Camargo and Walter Kinsella. The "windows" were shattered on April 1, 1955.

Then there was Concerning Miss Marlowe, a unique offering which starred Louise Albritton as aging actress Maggie Marlowe who longed to marry and find a stable home life. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (in his pre-FBI days) played Jim Gavin, and a good many of the other cast members--Helen Shields, John Gibson, Lauren Gilbert, Sarah Burton and Byron Sanders--went on to The Edge of Night. Marlowe closed on July 1, 1955.

From August 30, 1954 to July 1, 1955, another Adrian Samish creation known as The Greatest Gift struggled on NBC. Anne Burr (later Claire Lowell on As the World Turns) played Dr. Eve Allen, the not-so-proud new owner of an underprivileged neighborhood clinic which she inherited. Jack Klugman, Anne Meara, Martin Balsam and Frank Maxwell were among the cast.

The Road of Life starred Don MacLaughlin, Virginia
Dwyer and Barbara Becker.
On October 4, NBC began Modern Romances, an anthology serial enacting stories from the famous magazine. Martha Scott and Mel Brandt narrated, scripters included Harry Junkin and Bob Corcoran, producers included Jerry Layton and Wilbur Stark, and among the directors was H. Wesley Kenney (now of Days of our Lives). It ended in 1958.

The last desperate soap act of 1954 was still another radio transplant: Irna Phillips' famous Road of Life with Don MacLaughlin in his radio role of Dr. Jim Brent, Virginia Dwyer as his wife Jocelyn, and John Larkin as Brent's best friend, newsman Frank Dana. Jack Lemmon also had a part in the proceedings, which lasted from December 13, 1954 to July 1, 1955. The writer was Charles Gussman and the director was Walter Gorman, the late husband of Virginia Dwyer, who went on to star in As the World Turns and The Guiding Light. Sponsor was Procter & Gamble.

Continue reading Part 3 of A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas - 1947 to 1977...

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