Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ellen Wheeler Turns 50: A Look Back at Her Career at ANOTHER WORLD, ALL MY CHILDREN, AS THE WORLD TURNS, GUIDING LIGHT & more

Emmy Award winning actress and producer Ellen Wheeler celebrates her 50th birthday today. We thought we'd take a look back at her accomplished body of work in television by presenting a number of insightful features and revealing interviews that span four decades.

Presented chronologically, our compilation follows Ellen's career, with links to over a dozen primary-source articles, transcripts and videos accompanying a selection of choice excerpts. We know she tends to evoke passionate, and even polarizing, emotions within the soap opera world, but whatever your opinion of her work, we challenge you to take a little time to explore Ellen Wheeler's legacy (so far). You're bound to learn something new about this complex industry personality, and you may even change your mind about her.

What are your thoughts on Ellen Wheeler, her career, and her impact? Please share with us in the Comments section, below.

ANOTHER WORLD (Actress, 1984-1986)
Won 1986 Emmy for Outstanding Ingenue in a Drama Series for her brilliant portrayal of Marley and Victoria.

FLASHBACK: ANOTHER WORLD Newbie Ellen Wheeler (August 1984)
At the tender age of 3, Ellen Wheeler (Marley Love on ANOTHER WORLD) got her first taste of performing professionally when she appeared as Trouble in "Madame Butterfly." The production was presented in a theater owned by her parents, who are both actors.

"After graduation, my parents said, 'So, are you going to go to Hollywood now?' But I was only 17 and too scared to do it. At the age of 29, however, I packed up and went to Tinsel Town; just like a thousand other kids," recalls Miss Wheeler, who was one of the lucky ones, since she soon landed an agent, some commercials and guest-starring roles on television.

Miss Wheeler, who is also a singer, was working on an album, "for a real small label," she says, before she moved to New York and "AW."

A practicing Mormon, Miss Wheeler admits that "there are certain things I won't do on-screen, such as a nude scene. Also, since I dont smoke or drink, I won't do either on-screen if I can't fake it," she says. "I do, however, realize that as actors we have to portray what goes on in real life and I also feel that acting should mirror what's going on in society so that people can see what is good and what isn't."

Anna Stuart Interview (March 2010)
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was it like to work with Ellen Wheeler when she started?
Anna Stuart: Ellen was brand spankin’ new. She was more the Marley character. She was very soft and vulnerable, sort of afraid. And then she had to do Vicky. And something happened to her when she had to do Victoria . She popped out. She put those clothes on, she put those high heels on, and all of a sudden, she was Victoria. And then that freed her up to be Marley. She grew so much in both of those parts. She was just wonderful.

ALL MY CHILDREN (Actress, 1987-1989; 2000; 2001)
Won 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for sympathetic portrayal of AIDS victim, Cindy. She would later play Cindy's twin, Karen.

CLASSIC CLIPS: AIDS Comes To Daytime (Late 1980s)
From ALL MY CHILDREN: In 1987, Adam wanted Stuart to break things off with Cindy, who had contracted HIV from her drug using ex-husband. Later, Cindy and Stuart fell in love and got married before she died. Ellen Wheeler won a 1988 Outstanding Supporting Actress Daytime Emmy Award for the role of Cindy Parker.

Wisner Washam Intervivew (February 2010)
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: ALL MY CHILDREN told one of the first AIDS storylines on soaps, and in my opinion the best one, featuring Cindy, played by Ellen Wheeler. Were you a part of that?
Wisner Washam: That was just during the time I was leaving the show. That character is credited to Lorraine Broderick. It was her idea.

USA TODAY article (March 2010)
Hospitalized with a high fever, Cindy will inform Stuart this week that her condition - from the disease she contracted from her former husband, a drug user who died of the malady - is "going downhill."

This story line - the most daring undertaken by a daytime serial - is paying off for actors Ellen Wheeler (Cindy) and David Canary (Stuart), who each won an Emmy two weeks ago for their supporting roles. The show's writers also were honored.

DARK SHADOWS (Actress, 1991)
Wheeler played the character of Phyllis Wicked on the short-lived NBC primetime reboot of the old daytime cult classic soap.

Wheeler made a brief but memorable appearance working with B&B's Kimberlin Brown. Brown repaid the favor a few years later by appearing with Wheeler again, this time on ANOTHER WORLD.

ANOTHER WORLD (Actress, 1998-1999)
Despite inconsistent writing at the time, Wheeler played Marley for all she was worth, and then some.

FLASHBACK: Ellen Wheeler Returns to ANOTHER WORLD 1998 (November 1998)
Wheeler says, "I was really worried about that. I do not get on the Internet, but so far, the fan reaction I have had is that no one seems to care. It is funny, the one thing that seems to bother people is that my hair is longer. And really that is so minor compared to the other difference. All I can figure out is that the audience is used to recasts so they accept everything except the long hair. Go figure."

Wheeler has kept up with the show in the 11 years that she has been gone. She calls Marley/Vicky "the girls" and says, "When I let go of them, it was very hard for me, but luckily they were turned over to people more capable than myself. I watched them grow and progress.

AS THE WORLD TURNS (Actress, 1999-2002; Director, 1999-2002; 2009-2010)
The characters of Marley and Donna were played like shrews, especially regarding Molly and the twins, who went to live in Bay City where the Loves/Hudsons felt they belonged. It was bitter sweet for AW fans to see their former faves, including Cass, reduced to glorified dayplayer status on a new show, and to have both Jake and Vicky murdered on ATWT. Wheeler's directing style seemed to pay homage to Chris Goutman's approach. She earned three Emmy nominations as part of the ATWT directing team.

Trent Dawson interview (September 2010)
Trent Dawson: Ellen Wheeler, the producer from GUIDING LIGHT who had been a director on our show, explained to me--I was so caught up in what we were doing, trying to think straight, working hard. She said, “You need to understand how special and unique working in daytime is. It’s like nothing else.” And she was right. It’s taken time to reflect on that.

GUIDING LIGHT (Producer 2002-2003; Executive Producer, 2004-2009)
This is where the debate starts for many GL fans. Could GUIDING LIGHT have been save by any executive producer that this point? So much damage had been done to the show already over the previous 15 years. During her tenure, GL received three Outstanding Daytime Drama Emmy nominations, and it won in 2007. The soap opera also tried numerous methods to improve the show and its place in the market--launching soap podcasts, presenting a new production model, and bringing back so much heart to the final year of the show. Not everything worked, and that is expected, but you can't fault her tireless effort. I imagine some of her efforts will look like the work of a pioneer, in retrospect.

Crystal Chappell interview (July 2010)
Crystal Chappell: Jill Lorie Hurst is just a wonderful character writer. She and Ellen [Wheeler] took great care of this story line. But it was all on the page. When you have words that are all there and you don’t have to think about it, that makes an actor’s job very easy.

Ellen Wheeler interview - Part 1 (December 2008)
From the moment she sat down, I was spellbound by Wheeler. Yes, I have been a fan of hers for almost a quarter of a century since her Emmy winning stints on ANOTHER WORLD and ALL MY CHILDREN. But unless I was sitting directly across from her for those 45 minutes, I never would have known how passionate she is about GUIDING LIGHT and the entire daytime soap genre.

On how she is liking the production model now (almost a year into it) Wheeler said, "From the inside, it's marvelous, because we're so happy. The old way of shooting soaps was very separated. The producers were in the control room, and the camera people were on the floor, the actors were on the set with the camera people separate. And now, we're just one big group all the time. There's no way for us to not be together. There's no way not to create every second of the show as a group."

Ellen Wheeler interview - Part 2 (December 2008)
"If you go look at the pictures of shooting television from 1952 when we started on television, and then look at the pictures of us shooting television three years ago, they're almost identical," Wheeler pointed out. "It's the same crew, it's the same cameras, it's the same basic set up. By the time people were walking around with their television on their iPods, we were still shooting it the same way. That's not a good idea."

"It is all about story. Somebody ask me the other day in a meeting, 'then why don't you just always write good stories,' and I was like, 'well, don't think we sit around the table like - what will we have our three bad stories be.' It's not like we're ever trying to write sucky stories. The nature of writing anywhere from 20 to 50 stories a year means that some of them are going to be sucky. I'm not trying to apologize, I'm just saying that is our reality. We wish they would all be brilliant, and we wish that every time we put a couple together, it just lit up. It doesn't."

"We will have moments of perfection, then we'll have moments that are really bad. And then we'll have a lot of moments in the middle. And we just try to make ourselves lean on a lot more moments on the upside than the downside."

On whether she feels the soap press has a responsibility to advocate for or pay attention to all the shows equally, Wheeler felt the entire soap community needs to be more supportive. Hating each other doesn't help anyone.

Indie Soaps are exploding all the world, and head writer Jill Lorie Hurst has been involved with the upcoming season of Emmy Winner VENICE. Much of the crew has moved on to new jobs. So has the cast. Somes are focusing on theater, some have written memoirs, while others are creating their own indie web series. There's never a dull moment for an out-of-work actor, always auditioning and looking for the next big thing.

Michael O'Leary Intervivew (March 2010)
We Love Soaps: Let’s talk about Kim Zimmer’s role as the Executive Producer on STEAMBOAT. Fans can’t help but speculate who this is based on. Is there anything you want to say about that?
Michael O' Leary: Of course I think of all the Executive Producers I’ve worked for. Originally I wanted the Exec to be a man. But Kim lives three blocks from me, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll make him a her.” Kim does not at all resemble Ellen Wheeler in any shape or form. There was Gail Kobe, who was my first Exec. There was Jill Farren-Phelps, Paul Rauch, and Michael Laibson. I can’t say of all these Execs that she resembles anyone in particular.


So what is Ellen Wheeler doing these days, now that she's had two years following GUIDING LIGHT to decompress and reflect on the past? She promised at the time the show ended to focus on her husband and kids, the things most important to her. She's looking at colleges for her daughter. After the grind she went though at GL, it sounds like the perfect way to spend time, to me.

Head writer Jill Lorie Hurst told us, "End of the day, I'm proud of her, the fights we had, the work we did...I'd work with her again in a heartbeat!!!"

Alex Johnson Gamsey, one of wonderful members of GUIDING LIGHT's production team, may have said it best telling WE LOVE SOAPS TV, "Regardless of the potential backlash, Ellen was always daring, ready to take chances and try something new. She also gave the producing team a lot of creative control and trusted us, which was great."


  1. I agree that Ellen Wheeler is a phenomenal actress, and her Marley/Victoria and Cindy characters were some of the best acted ever. However, her tenure at Guiding Light really was, unfortunately, a huge disappointment, and she ruined the the show. I understand also that she may have been forced to into making some decisions (like that terrible camera work at the end) but that does not excuse the complete destruction of Guiding Light.

  2. As an actress, Ellen rocks it. The better the story & script, even better. I don't think anybody can take that away from her.

    As a director? She's actually quite good, if you compare her with some of the other newbies (from the 90's), she's near the top.

    As an Exec. Producer of GL? I think the vast majority of GL fans agree on this...she sucked.

  3. I remember Ellen when she first appeared on AMC as Cindy. Loved that storyline with Stuart. I wasn't a huge fan of AW, but I did remember tuning in to see for a while the stories of Vicky and Marley.

    My first introduction as it were to her GL days of EP. As a fan of UK programming, I was familiar with the style and close up filmography that is prevalent in many of their daytime/drama programming, so that didn't jar me when it came to watching GL. I had first started watching GL in Dec 2008, so at that point they'd solved many of the issues relating to the shakiness and the new production model. I have watched earlier GL clips on YT, and I can understand the changes and why it was necessary.

    But the thing for me, is that if it hadn't been for the courage of Ellen and Jill to pen the Otalia storyline, I wouldn't have had a lovely well-told (occasionlly off beats) but genuine love story in Otalia and thusly, would not have met the many people I've come to call good friends and acquaintances that I got out of a love for a soap and a storyline that we would not have had if GL finished a year or two before. So for that, Ellen and Jill, I salute you!

  4. Ceridwyn2, I totally agree with you about the Otalia storyline. But I will also say that you should read Kim Zimmer's memoir. I think she gives some great insights (albeit perhaps a bit biased) into Guiding Light's last days. The show was completely destroyed during it's last two years.

  5. Wheeler did NOT destroy "Guiding Light" folks. Every good thing must come to an end and whoever is in charge of that good thing, when it does come to an end, is going to have to take the blame.

    Someday "Young and the Restless" will come to an end and whomever is at the helms during it's last year or so, will get the blame.

    Even international phenom "Bold and the Beautiful" will expire someday and taking the blame will be whomever was in charge during it's last couple of years.

    Don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out, fellow soap fans.

  6. Agreed. Ellen did not kill GL (not even a little). GL's cause of death was the merciless firing of Michael Zaslow (which destroyed it's carefully veiled reputation as a family show and with good reason). Also fired was Jerry Ver Dorn for (same) reasons of illness and Fiona Hutchinson for being a staunch and proud supporter of Michael Zaslow. Without a doubt-without question, Wheeler is a master of the soap opera genre.