Saturday, August 3, 2013

FLASHBACK: Gail Kobe at Home in Soap Operas (1970)

Gail Kobe at Home in Soap Operas

By Cecil Smith
Los Angeles Times
May 25, 1970

The one note that has been struck with unmistakable consistency in the various network conventions and affiliate conferences this spring is that if you're in the television business you had better make hay while the sun shines, or, more delicately, daytime programs, particularly soap operas, are the Ft. Knox of TV.

What has not been stressed, though I assume it would naturally follow, is that some of the best actors in the country are currently emoting in the daytime depressants. Any medium that can command the services of Gale Sondergaard on one coast and Gale Kobe on the other should never apologize for its quality.

Miss Kobe is a quicksilver lass out of Michigan via UCLA who has lighted West Coast stages with such delicately aware performances that she is one of the major reasons for a theatrical renaissance here. She was a member of the New Theater for Now company that the State Department had scheduled to tour Europe and Asia last winter, a tour that was abruptly canceled two days before it was to leave here. There has never been an official explanation as to why, though the dramas involved were in the modern vein and hardly an advertisement for contemporary America.

So instead of stages abroad, Gail plunged into suds at home - specifically, one of the new and better sudsers, BRIGHT PROMISE - as the dean of women on a college campus and the costar of Dana Andrews. What is rather unusual is that twice a week Gail leaves the make-believe campus of BRIGHT PROMISE for the real campus of San Fernando Valley State College, where she teaches two courses in drama.

"I'd never done a soap before," Gail says, "but I actually enjoy it. I don't think the scripts are inferior to the scripts I usually get to play on IRONSIDE or NAME OF THE GAME or one of the westerns.

Human Element in Play

"And because you're anchored to that stage, and the little sets built there, you have to play the human element in the play and that's what acting is all about. They can't fool the audience like they do in nighttime dramas by putting in a lot of razzle dazzle like a cattle stampede or a runaway train to hide the fact that the script is no good or dishonest. These scripts are all you have to play.

"Also, teach is a luxury. Doing plays is a luxury. Working for two years at Theater West with Phil Abbott on his beautiful play about Robert Frost was a luxury. You say to yourself, girl, if you want to indulge yourself in such pleasures, you have to pay for them in some way, you have to earn your keep.

"This is my way of doing it. I thought I'd try commercials and I was hired for a campaign for a bank and I began to read the copy and I suddenly realized I hated that damned bank and I got up and told all the vice presidents and account executives so and walked out. Here I'm working at my trade, not prostituting it.

"And do you know that the soap opera campus and the real campus are not so far apart? I find myself dealing with a student problem in the show and realize that I dealt with a student problem just like that at Valley State the week before.

"Oh, I love that teaching. My kids. My beautiful kids. I tell them they don't have to believe me or agree with me - just hear me. Then I do most of the listening. We talk. We all talk.

"They don't want things explained to them. They want to find out for themselves, choose their own solution. Like the theater has thrown out the well-made play, beginning, middle and end, that explained everything by rote; these kids don't want lectures with answers, they want to find their own answers. And the kids in the series are not that different."

It's All Hard Work

BRIGHT PROMISE, like all soap opera, is hard work. Five days a week, Gail reports onstage at NBC's Burbank plant at 11:30 a.m. She's never out before 9 p.m. except on teaching nights when she leaves an hour early.

"Hair, make-up, costumes are all done while you rehearse," she said. "We finally do the show from 5:45 to 6:15 p.m. Then at 6:30, we begin rehearsing the next day's show."

She smiled ruefully: "But I have it both ways. The campus on the stage and the campus for real. Those kids of mind. They do so much for me. They expand my mind." She paused, then added: "When I came here to study drama at UCLA, my family insisted I also get a teaching credential. They're French and Polish. They love education. But I didn't get it. I stopped short. I was never going to play safe. But maybe they knew me better than I did - that teaching was for me."

- Gail Kobe Dead at 82

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