Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Soap's Hope: The Claire Labine Interview, Part Two

In Part One of our interview with legendary soap writer Claire Labine, Ms. Labine shared her writing process, reflections on her early career, and how mothering contributed to her understanding of soaps

In Part Two, Ms. Labine discusses her battles with ABC, struggles with recasts, and the psychological underpinnings of the Ryan family.

We Love Soaps: You mentioned how strong the cast [of RYAN'S HOPE] was, yet three years into the show [1978] there were many people who left around the same time [Kate Mulgrew, Justin Deas, Ilene Kristen, Malcolm Groome, Catherine Hicks].
Claire Labine: When the first row of contracts were up, they did [leave]. Part of it was the network. Michael Brockman was no longer the vice president of daytime. There was no longer the hands-off policy. It was hard to protect the actors with the kind of pressure we were under, but we did the best we could, not always successfully. If they wanted someone replaced... the Frank situation was just ridiculous. He had to be recast so many times. I loved Andy Robinson as Frank [1976-1978]. He’s a marvelous actor, he can play anything!

We Love Soaps: Did the network want you to replace him?
Claire Labine: Oh yeah, that was a real knockdown, drag-out fight. They really put on as much pressure as they could. I think they were smarting a bit because of our “hands-off” policy. We weren’t very subtle about that. We weren’t good at network management.

We Love Soaps: Why do you say that?
Claire Labine: There are people in the business whom I really respect who know how to do it without being confrontational. Paul [Avila Mayer] was pretty feisty. I tried to be diplomatic but I would get mad. “Why do you want to mess with this? If you want to write it, you write it. If you want us to write, let us write it.”

We Love Soaps: Who else did they want to replace?
Claire Labine: To this day, they had a fit about Ilene Kristen gaining weight, which she hadn’t. But she was on some meds, some steroids that was occasionally reflected in her face being fuller, but she hadn’t really gained weight. That was an ongoing battle, trying to protect Ilene from it, which we really couldn’t do. She had a telephone, and they could call her. There was Andy, who we really fought for, and lost. Siobhan, Sarah Felder, that was generated by the network.

We Love Soaps: That is a surprise to me. She really was one of the best performers that I’ve ever seen on soaps.
Claire Labine: She was absolutely wonderful. They started talking about her appearance. She wasn’t glamorous. I mean Marg Helgenberger managed to be both glamorous and Siobhan but that’s because she’s Marg. The original Faith, Faith Catlan, was our first struggle. She really embodied Faith the way we had envisioned her. Not incredibly glamorous, not traditionally beautiful. She was an intellectual living in her head until she had to admit to the fact that she had fallen in love with Pat [Ryan]. That was a hideous battle, but we ended up with Cathy Hicks who turned out to be such a charmer. And then Karen Morris Gowdy, who was a Christopher Reeves situation, except she learned so quickly and grew into the part. The first four weeks were very difficult. And then the penny dropped for her. I think working with Helen [Gallagher] helped. She gave up nerves, she gave up self-consciousness and became Faith. Then she left for personal reasons.

We were lucky, but it was a lot of recasting. The audience had to put up with a great deal. But they seemed to withstand the different Marys and the different Franks. And I think that was because the emotional structure of the family was at the core of it. The cast sort of became the Ryans. They all identified with their characters, quite fiercely. I don’t want to be specific, but a lot of the dramas that were on screen were being played out in the dressing rooms too. But that happens frequently on a soap. When two characters are antagonistic, the actors kind of ease toward that in their personal relationships.

We Love Soaps: In all of shows I have seen you do from RYAN'S HOPE onward, there is a consistent thread of Freudian themes in your work. Did you study Psychology?
Claire Labine: I was in analysis. I still am, actually. But Freud and the Greeks really had it right. I didn’t start with Freud. I started with the Greeks. And I’m still dazzled by the psychological insights of all of them. Talk about psychological insights into the worst in family relationships!

We Love Soaps: Did you ever actually have a class in Psychology?
Claire Labine: I think I had a basic class at the University of Kentucky. But Paul was a real Freudian. He had had a Freudian analysis. After RYAN'S HOPE was canceled, he just got fed up with whole business and went back to school at [age] 56, got his M.A. in Psychology, became a Social Worker, then trained some more in modern analysis, and finally became a psychiatrist. He was 56 when he started this, and was still working with patients when he died [on 7/10/09]. He loved it. And I learned tons from him. Freud had it so right about early childhood. My mother, who was about as Un-Freudian in training as you could possibly be, said, “They are who they are by the time they’re four years old.”

We Love Soaps: Did you ever study criteria for specific diagnoses?
Claire Labine: No.

We Love Soaps: It’s very interesting to me that your writing for the character of Delia in the 1970s was exactly the clinical criteria for what would later become classified as Borderline Personality Disorder.
Claire Labine: Oh, we knew Delia was Borderline.

We Love Soaps: And yet that diagnostic category was published until 1980, well after Ilene Kristen’s first portrayal of Delia had passed.
Claire Labine: It wasn’t in the manuals. But Paul’s mother was Borderline. The first time I ever heard the word was in reference to Paul’s mother. I can’t remember when he started using that phrase, but it struck me that was always how she had been. I’m surprised by the date of when this was considered an actual neurosis, that’s interesting.

We didn’t realize this about Delia until after we had been writing for her awhile. Even Paul didn’t realize that Delia was Borderline until after we had been writing her awhile. So many stories had been short-circuited from how we planned them originally by the fact that the network wanted Frank [Ryan] to live instead of to die [as originally written in the pilot]. So that changed a lot. But Delia’s stuff was fairly consistent. In her wanting to be a Ryan, she did terrible devious behaviors, and the next minute was all charm and light. I always felt Delia had manipulation forged into fine art. I had a phrase that we used, “manipulative candor.” Even when she spoke the truth she was speaking the truth for a reason because she knew what the effect would be. I love that character. She was so... so convenient! Because she could do almost anything. The audience was so marvelous about it because they hated her, and they loved her. It could have been, “Oh did you see poor Delia today? She had to put the baby in the oven and smothered it. Poor Delia!” We had a number of friends who thought Delia was based on them. And how they go to that I will never know because none of them were Borderline. She reflected the good and the bad in everybody!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please come back for Part Three to read Claire Labine’s lessons learned from the cancellation of RYAN'S HOPE. We also discuss Prince Albert the Gorilla, Terry the Tumor, and the controversial killing of Edmund Coleridge.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He has started blogging again at www.shouldless.com.


  1. How interesting that the gorilla storyline will be discussed... it is currently airing on SOAPnet.

  2. Thank you. Claire Labine is a favorite. If anyone could save All My Children at this point it would be her. How this woman is not working in daytime right now escapes me. Claire thank you. I have enjoyed your work on RH, OLTL, GH and GL. You have never once let me down. You have inspired me.

  3. pam long should write ..all my children.she creates interesting characters.maybe a labine & long writing team ?

  4. I agree with Jordan. I would love to see Claire Labine write AMC, but I can't imagine that they would let her write it without sticking their noses into everything. But just imagine what she could do with Greenlee, Annie and Erica!

  5. wish labine,pam long or nightshift writer would write together (some combination) or be a consultant on a show named all my children (soap).erica is becoming old.labine created great new soap.she wrote a spin off of g hospital that seemed great & port charles was picked instead.sigh..
    didn't realized that tudi wiggins came back to love of life (soap).thought she was only on show one time ? any info ? soap was about 2 sisiters- one evil villian & one goody heroine .both siblings would experienced bad things.evil sister married a guy that had a bar and crime connections.a bar was bad in those days (1950's)? show started in one town and moved to rosehill.one sister left show for yrs.beanie was played by chris reeve.did claire write tbaoo story-attempted male rape or was it rape in jail with beanie character ? loved the horsemeat/cafteria storyline.
    where the heart is (soap) was good.a father bedded his son's wife,i believe.

  6. Curious about Ms. Labine's comments that Karen Morris Gowdy left for personal reasons. Back then, every magazine said she was let go after new writers took over. Any ideas why the differing reasons?

    I also read that Faith Catlin was unhappy in the role.

  7. I also heard both of those things. I also read Faith Catlin had quit Ryan's Hope in this newspaper archive interview from 1981. She was afraid the role would eventually compromise her artistic integrity. She is quoted about having not liked playing such a victimized character.

    1981 Faith Catlin stockpiles theater credits:


  8. One of the many reports that Ms. Gowdy was let go when Pat Falken Smith took over writing duties (check the upper right hand portion of the newspaper, under Channel Chatter).