Tuesday, February 9, 2010

FLASHBACK: Susan Flannery 1994

Daytime Double Duty - Bold and Beautiful actress also works as a director

By Connie Passalacqua
June 6, 1994

If soap operas are the embodiment of female romantic fantasies, it follows that daytime drama is a woman's medium. But in reality, it took a long time for women to be hired in production roles - and for soaps to display even a slightly feminist slant. Actress Susan Flannery points out that it wasn't until 1966, when she created the role of psychiatrist Laura Horton on NBC's DAYS OF OUR LIVES, that a soap heroine was also a serious professional woman.

And, remembers Flannery, who now plays formidable matriarch and fashion-house mogul Stephanie Forrester on CBS' BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL, "In those days, the office of vice president of daytime at the networks was viewed as the stepping stone to the head of programing. That's how Michael Eisner {now CEO of Disney} and Fred Silverman {later programing chief at all three networks} were groomed. The only daytime V.P. who was never promoted was Lin Bolen - no doubt because she was a woman." (In 1978, Bolen produced a prime-time series, "W. E. B.," that centered on a downtrodden female network programer.)

Flannery has continued to be a female trailblazer. Two years ago, in the face of a looming directors' strike, she was asked by one of B&B's producers to become a director at the healthily rated soap. She's now the first daytime performer - and woman - to simultaneously work in front of and behind the camera. Besides playing Stephanie three to four days a week, Flannery directs one episode per month. "The rate you have to work at as a director is sheer insanity {soaps tape an entire episode each day}. But directing soaps is fun because you have to think it out. It's not like movies - you're out there doing the whole job yourself. You don't have a fabulous director of cinematography saying, `If you put the camera this way, we can get a certain effect for the moment.' "

When asked what she looks for when she directs other actors, Flannery mentions some strengths she has consistently shown during her many years as a daytime performer - intelligence and a sense of honesty that strongly emanates from the interior. "The most effective soap scenes to me are what I call `coffee cup' scenes: two people just talking. What the soap audience wants is a sense of intimate reality. A lot of {soap} directors are afraid of the emotional content, so they move their actors all over the set. The answer to good storytelling is not physical movement; it's plot action." Pointing toward her eyes, Flannery says, "And that is played right here." Flannery is the rare daytime actress who can actually project that her character is thinking, even when she is delivering the most mundane soap dialogue.

Flannery, a native New Yorker, won a Daytime Emmy in 1975 for her work on DAYS. Earlier, she had won a Golden Globe Award for her performance in The Towering Inferno (1974), in which her character, Robert Wagner's secretary, tumbles from the burning skyscraper. During the 1981 season on DALLAS, her tough character, Leslie Stewart, successfully went head-to-head with J. R. Ewing. In 1987, she created the role of the even tougher Stephanie on the debuting B&B. Intensely private, she has since granted few interviews. Flannery says she is exacting when she acts with and directs her B&B co-stars. She says she feels it's her role to imbue younger soap actors with the kind of professional standards she learned from an earlier generation of soap actors. "I've always been very serious with other actors. If they don't work hard, then I just (refuse) to work with them."

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