Thursday, November 15, 2012

Barbara Esensten Dead at 75

James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten
Former news reporter and soap opera writer Barbara Esensten passed away on Wednesday, November 14.  She was 75.

In 1987 DYNASTY producers Esther and Richard Shapiro hired two ex-news reporters to write several scripts for the new season. Esensten, who worked for an all-news radio station in Los Angeles, and James Harmon Brown, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, signed on to make the show more vital and realistic.

Along with writing partner, Brown, Esensten went on to write for LOVING, THE CITY (a show she co-created), GUIDING LIGHT, PORT CHARLES, ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN.  They were nominated for two Writer Guild of America Awards and five Daytime Emmy Awards for their soap opera work, winning for GUIDING LIGHT in 1993.  They were part of the ALL MY CHILDREN team nominated earlier this year.

They also wrote the TV movies Rich Men, Single Women and The Love Boat: A Valentine Voyage, and an episode of FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES.

Born in Southeast Los Angeles on March 7, 1937, Barbara Jean Sills was a fighter against injustice from an early age, attributing her conscience to her father's stubbornness. "Mother was pressured into giving up her career because my father didn't think it proper for a woman to work and rear a family," she said in a 1979 interview.

"I couldn't stand inequities then I still can't. All during school at George Washington High I marched for everything--just give me a sign and I was out there.  And I wrote a lot of letters to the editor.  I drove people crazy."

After graduation, she won a scholarship to UCLA where she wrote a column for the Daily Bruin.  She left school and married attorney Jack Esensten.  They had three daughters (Teri, Randi and Deena) and she worked as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society.  But Esensten felt her identity had started to become only Mrs. Jack Esensten.  The couple divorced after she began to actively pursue her professional career again. She did some freelance writing, went for counselling, enrolled again at UCLA and volunteered at radio station KPFK, where she wrote and broadcast the news.  She then moved to KFWB, and later KABC, and radio news became her full-time career.

Esensten was featured in the 1974 breast cancer documentary, Why Me? Producer Joe Saltzman said of Esensten, "Historians now say she was the first woman to do a breast self-examination in the nude in the history of television. And doing so saved thousands of lives. R.I.P. Barbara. I will never forget you."  Watch a special screening of the documentary below:

In 1976 Esensten was honored by the Womanpowerful Awards for helping to establish a breast self-examination program for the American Cancer Society.

In 1999 Esensten and Brown appeared in an episode of BBC's NEVER ENDING STORY which took a look at the history of soap operas:

Esensten continued speaking out for causes she believed in, such as marriage equality in 2011:  "I support the freedom to marry whomever you choose. To be denied that right not only seems foolish... but cruel."

Esensten is survived by her husband, Michael Chambers, three daughters, and her grandchildren.  A funeral will be held Sunday.

"The wonderful GL headwriter Barbara Esensten died last night," former GUIDING LGIHT head writer Jill Lorie Hurst tweeted. "Great boss, great girlfriend. Miss her already."


  1. One of the best writers of Loving, AMC and GL. The shows were great. The City was innovative (But the style was way beyond its year).

  2. May she rest in peace. Great soap writer. GL was awesome in '93.

  3. RIP. I never knew her backstory before daytime soaps.

  4. I loved her writing on LOVING and the whole Cornith killer storyline! And what the did for the last season of Dynasty!!