Wednesday, March 19, 2014

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Shelly Burch (ex-Delilah, ONE LIFE TO LIVE)

Nelson & Shelly
I met Shelly Burch back in my early soap days, my first day working on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. My buddy Louan Gideon (who would go on to play Liza Sentell on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW a few years later) and I were playing shoppers in a mall scene where Shelly's character, Delilah, was being arrested for shoplifting. As a WONDER WOMAN fan, I thought Shelly was the closest thing I'd seen to the iconic Amazonian Princess super heroine. Tall, glamorous, vivacious and with a wild mane of hair teased into a glorious frenzy of 1980s-volume.

I later learned that, in addition to being one of Llanview's most popular vixens for several years, she was also a Broadway baby...garnering rave reviews for her work in shows like "ANNIE," "STOP THE WORLD-I WANT TO GET OFF" and "NINE." NY Times critic Frank Rich even gushed in his praise of her: "a Modigliani goddess with a strong voice and almost unearthly presence."

One of the wonderful things about living in NYC, and particularly being part of the showbiz scene, is that sooner or later you reconnect with friends & colleagues from your past; No Facebook or Twitter needed! That's just what happened recently when I attended a benefit evening featuring Tony Award winner Martin Charnin, lyricist, writer, and theatre director best known as director and lyricist of the musical "ANNIE" (Brace yourself for the upcoming Will Smith all-star movie remake and subsequent theatrical revivals/sequels).

Shelly, Kara Unterberg, Martin Charnin & Nelson
The musical entertainment for this swanky soiree was provided by Charnin's beautiful wife, whom he married in 2006. Shelly! It was a happy reunion and a great way to reestablish contact. I seized on the opportunity to pin her down for some questions about her time on OLTL and her career pursuits since then. I'm happy to say she is not only as strikingly beautiful as ever, her voice is still as lovely and powerful.

NELSON ASPEN: You were Delilah Ralston Buchanan Garretson for eight years on OLTL. How did you land that, having been a fixture on the Broadway stage?
SHELLY BURCH: Actually what happened was, I had been on Broadway for years. But during that time I was also auditioning for everything else! I actually had screen tested for SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and AS THE WORLD TURNS. OLTL was my third actual audition and screen test. "Third time's a charm," I I was really familiar with the process and confident, too, cause I was starring in "NINE" at the time. Honestly, I thought I was going to get on ATWT but didn't! So OLTL happened and and I was so happy as an actor to be working in both a Broadway show and a daytime soap opera that it was really quite a coup--and pretty special. After doing both for about six months...all day working on the soap and then going to do the musical at night, I was really tired! I finally had to tell Tommy (Tune, the Director) that as much as I just loved being a part of NINE--and I had really done it for six years from the workshop creation onwards--I wanted to work full-time on OLTL.

NELSON: A "Sophie's Choice!" What are you fondest memories of Delilah?
SHELLY: Well, I have many after being on the show for so many years. Probably one of my favorite ones was when Delilah was was "the Queen of the Rodeo." She and the Ralstons came from Louisiana and she really was a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara. I had an accent and it was just fun and wonderful. I made my entrance onto the show wearing gold lame cowboy pants and had a fabulous little feathery halter top...all while riding a palomino stallion! I rode my horse right into the studio! (laughs) My actual first appearance on the show, though, was a remote shot in Columbus Circle. I was riding my horse around the Circle "looking for my cousin." Of course, Llanview was supposed to be in Pennsylvania but we shot everyone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

NELSON: I miss those days when NYC was Soap Central!
SHELLY: That was probably one of my greatest hours...just making my appearance and going to the studio on the stallion. Also, I got to sing on the show when I first arrived and then again later when Delilah had a nightclub. There were so many really great memories. Bob Woods, Clint Ritchie and I had a great time. The Buchanans were a lot like a family for us. Ken Meeker ("Rafe Garretson") was my third husband, as I recall!

Rafe & Delilah's wedding, 1986

NELSON: In true soap siren style, Delilah worked her way through several husbands.
SHELLY: The great thing about being on a soap opera was that it was a steady gig. A regular job. We'd work 7 in the morning until 7 at night...or later if there was a wedding or a murder! After leaving Broadway, I just worked like a "regular person" and was lucky to have main storylines for years. Back then, we shot six days a week to get ahead of the 1984 Olympics. Million of people were watching us every day. After I was airing just two weeks, I was stopped in the street. I was very proud of that. Daytime was paying for Nighttime! We were all working very hard.

NELSON: Those were the days!

Gabrielle & Delilah, 1987

SHELLY: Yes, I didn't get to do any theater for a couple years cause I had such a main storyline. I did manage to do a few nighttime shows like SPENSER FOR HIRE and MIAMI VICE. I was going to do "MAN OF LA MANCHA" at the Kansas City Opera House, but the soap wouldn't let me out for the three or four weeks it required. Nor could I leave to do the National Tour. (Note: Shelly would go on to play Aldonza in a 2003 production of "LA MANCHA" at the Mark Two Theater) I DID do my cabaret show, though, as one-nighters. I've always had a one woman show that I've done...gosh...since I was 21 and I've never stopped performing that. I did finally get to do "SHOWBOAT" at the Papermill Playhouse in that was my first extended run in a long time.

Shelly in "SHOWBOAT"
NELSON: A singer must sing, right!?
SHELLY: I did a lot of benefits because the soap would send us out for those, so I was always singing somewhere at least a few times a month. Of course, I kept up with my dance and voice classes, too.

NELSON: Was it scary to leave the security of OLTL after all those years?
SHELLY: I really was ready for a total change. In 1990, I moved to Orlando, Florida. I got very involved in the Church down there and was very happy singing and doing a music ministry. I had my kids and I didn't really stay in touch with anybody from the soap world.

NELSON: But that didn't stop you from reuniting with a few other former "Mrs. Buchanans" at Asa's funeral in 2001! What was that experience like?
SHELLY: It was a hoot! Asa had been married 11 times to 9 different women. I was just #3. It was really fun to go back in and see everybody.

Asa's Ex-Wives attend his funeral

NELSON: Web soaps are on trend nowadays. Would you be interested in doing one?
SHELLY: No one's asked me! Right now I'm just so involved in doing theater and cabaret and concerts with with my husband (Martin Charnin). We're so happy trying to get new works and Broadway projects on. That's really my primary focus. It's a great partnership and something that I I couldn't have ever expected or asked for! I do miss working on Broadway because of the discipline that it takes and I can't wait to do it again. I've stayed in shape and kept singing all along...since I first got my Actors Equity Card in 1977! As an actor, I think that everything you do is a preparation for the next piece. For instance, we loved living in Seattle for seven years. It was so beautiful and there's a lot of theater there...but there's no place like New York City! We had to get back.

NELSON: Selfishly, I'm so glad you did.
SHELLY: Martin had to get back to where he was really appreciated and able to work on seven projects at the same time and not one or two from a distance. He and I met when I was first doing "ANNIE" on Broadway but then we didn't see each other for 25 years! So it's been amazing being back together these last 10 years. And working together, too.

Shelly & Martin
NELSON: Tell me about your latest cabaret show.
SHELLY: Martin put it's something I really enjoy. It's jazz...Broadway...a little bit of Opera. A little bit of everything! I do a funny monologue about being on the soap and all the crazy things I did. Including dancing in this club during the FLASHDANCE craze....being in disguise to find out what my husband was up to...being a fashion designer...getting lost in a snowstorm and being kidnapped in somebody's basement. Of course, I also do my song from NINE: "Unusual Way."

NELSON: That, of course, has become signature of yours. You and Maury Yeston (the writer) made it a classic.
SHELLY: I'm very proud of that. It was a blessing when Tommy Tune cast me as "Claudia" so I could originate the role in the workshop and beyond.

NELSON: With all that musical diversity, do you have a particular genre that is your favorite?
SHELLY: You know, I can't even say what is my favorite. I love to sing everything!

NELSON: I still have a hard time believing you're the mom of three.
SHELLY: My oldest son is 22, my daughter is 19 and my youngest son is 17. I'm so proud of them. I don't know what I would've done without my kids; they keep me focused, stable and just Right On!

NELSON: What was the greatest thing the Soap World ever gave to you?
SHELLY: When I was singing in big churches in the South, it surprised me that people would recognize me from OLTL. I would do prison ministry twice a month and the fact some people recognized me from the soap was such a blessing; they thought that it was so amazing that Delilah would come and sing for them. I said, "Oh my gosh, by the grace of God, we are all the same!" I would be walking down the street years later and someone would stop me and say, "You prayed for me in jail when I was there." So I think that being able to touch peoples lives and show them that were all the same although some are blessed by different circumstances than others, our purpose...MY to be here to love my family, to love my husband and my children and to reach out and help others around me and make a difference.

You can catch up with Shelly at

Nelson Aspen is a regular contributor to WE LOVE SOAPS and popular broadcast journalist around the world. His new book, "My Prime Time" will be released in June. You may visit him at or follow him on Twitter @nelsonaspen.

No comments:

Post a Comment