FLASHBACK: Mother Daughter Relationships - An "Imitation of Life" on Daytime TV (Part 4 of 4)

Ellen Holly starred as Carla Hall on One Life to Live.
Mother Daughter Relationships: An "Imitation of Life" on Daytime TV

The Soap Box
Vol. IV No. 1 January 1979

(continued from Part 3)

The relationship Maeve Ryan (Ryan's Hope) has with her daughters Mary and Siobhan is a study in contrasts: Mary is everything Maeve wants in a daughter. She's bright, warm, competent, completely family-oriented and fairly conventional. Siobhan, on the other hand, is a rebel; a non-conformist who never allowed herself to be squeezed into the classic Ryan mold. While Johnny Ryan can accept Siobhan—and even enjoy the offbeat nature she most likely inherited from him—Maeve and her daughters are on a constant collision course. No one can deny that Mary is the favorite—not even Maeve—and that's something Siobhan will always have to live with. But what's harder for her to cope with is her mother's inability to have faith in her, to give her a chance. For her part, Siobhan reacts like a young child, testing her mother to see just how far she can go. Taking a job in a family planning center was just that kind of move, since Siobhan knew all-too-well her mother's strong feelings on abortion.

On All My Children, college girl Devon Shepherd and her mother, Ellen, have a warm, open relationship...so important to Devon when she recently learned she was pregnant (and unwed). After discussing various alternatives, Ellen and her fiance offered to adopt the baby and raise it as their own. On the surface that seemed the perfect solution; social workers, however, pointed out that the child would eventually become a source of conflict for Devon and Ellen. Each would seek authority in raising the child, even though the original plan called for Devon to play the "big sister."

Several years ago, Carla (Clara) Hall and her mother, Sadie Gray (One Life to Live) played out a dramatic plotline reminiscent of the film classic, Imitation of Life. Carla was a very pale-skinned black girl who sought to cast off her heritage and seek a better life. In masquerading as white for quite a long time, Carla deeply hurt her proud mother who had worked as a scrubwoman to give the girl whatever advantages she could. Even now—married to a black policeman and seeming to have come to terms with her identity—Carla doesn't use her given name, Clara, although that's the only name her "mama" calls her.

Kathleen Cullen played Amanda Wexler on
Guiding Light.
Perhaps the heaviest psychological plot now going on in the soaps between mother and daughter is taking place on Guiding Light, where a tormented Amanda Wexler is reliving nightmarish childhood experiences that have virtually crippled her as a young woman.

To a casual observer, Amanda would seem to have led a charmed life: her wealthy mother dressed her in the most magnificent clothes, bought her exquisite dolls and playthings, and furnished a storybook bedroom fit for a princess. But when the sensitive child witnessed her mother being beaten by a lover, it became a lifelong burden for her to carry.

Her mother constantly admonished her to keep their "secret"; be ladylike; and keep her skirts down. Amanda became a frightened, withdrawn, friendless child who mimicked the mother-daughter scenes with a look-alike doll. Now, Amanda is frigid, unable to find happiness in a marriage disapproved of by her mother, who prefers that Amanda remain a virtual hermit in her childhood home. Her horrible memories and fears are surfacing again as Amanda sees herself in a portrait her mother commissioned from neighbor-artist Ben McFarren. Only in his presence does the girl feel "alive" and possessed of a sense of her own sexuality.

Through the years, mother-daughter relationships have undergone many changes. No medium is better equipped to dramatize them than the ongoing serial, whose strength lies in the development and growth of such characters.

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