Sunday, July 12, 2015

Remembering Woodbridge: A History of the Late, Great 'Secret Storm' (Part 1)

CBS soap opera The Secret Storm starred Peter Hobbs as Peter Ames
and Haila Stoddard as Pauline Harris.
Remembering Woodbridge: A History of the Late, Great 'Secret Storm'

The Soap Box
Vol. III No. 13 December 1978
by John Genovese

It was almost five years ago--February 8, 1974, to be exact--that a twenty-year old daytime classic known as The Secret Storm breathed its last episode over the CBS airwaves. There were no long goodbyes; no touching farewell speeches on the part of its announcer, Ken Roberts. It was as if there was nothing especially noteworthy that this was the longest-running daytime television serial in history to meet the axe. The show simply wrapped up the insanity which had passed for plot, and made an unceremonious exit.

After twenty years.

I, like many disillusioned followers of The Secret Storm, had become too cynical to mourn its loss. Management had plenty of time to swing this show back to its original format of focusing on the outward events and inner yearnings of the Ames family. The opportunity was always there. But somebody, somewhere, had another answer: to cram as much controversy and innovativeness into the storyline and then pray to William S. Paley that it would be a runaway hit. And they were fine stories...before they were driven into the ground. Thus, by the time the executioner arrived in the beloved fictional locale of Woodbridge, New York, it was entirely possible for a viewer to watch this show during the entire final year of its run and not even know that the name of Ames ever existed on The Secret Storm.

It is for the benefit of those deprived souls, as well as for those who recall a "brighter day" for Secret Storm, that we will trace the history of what began as probably the finest television series ever to be labelled "soap opera."

1954-1963: The Early Winsor Years

Roy Winsor, a man equally astute in the creative and managerial aspects of daytime serials, knew exactly what he wanted in 1953 when, following a tragedy in his own life, he conceived the Ames family. This creation was to be more profound than his earlier successes, Search for Tomorrow and Love of Life. For even though all of Winsor's serials had clear-cut story themes and conflicts, as in any great novel, the Ames family exceeded all the stereotype of radio serials. They were unlike all other characters in the serial world.

The theme? The inner storms raging inside each of us; the pent-up cravings and anxieties which rise to the surface when tragedy strikes. The show's working titled evolved the theme The Storm Within, which had to be altered when Bisodol Antacid was added to the list of sponsors! Hence, the plagued Ames clan made their first appearance on CBS-TV on February 1, 1954, under a different title: The Secret Storm. The backstage life of The Secret Storm was as complex as life in Woodbridge, home of the Ames family. There was, of course, Roy Winsor, an idealist with a wry sense of humor, whose genius didn't often jive with the many writers he hired and fired over the years which was due to his intuitive grasp on mindless, hysterical melodrama. There was also Gloria Monty, one of the most precise and demanding directors in the business, who left Storm in 1969 when the Winsor regime ended. Monty was a woman feared but respected for her special genius. The organist during these fifteen years was Charles Paul, also of Love of Life and As the World Turns. The writers for the first nine years included William Kendall Clarke, Henry Selinger and Harrison Bingham, Stanley H. Silverman, Lou Scofield, Max Wylie, Orin Tovrov, and Carl Bixby.

The original cast consisted of:
Peter Hobbs (Peter Ames)
Haila Stoddard (Pauline Harris)
Marjorie Gateson (Grace Tyrell)
Russel Hicks (J.T. Tyrell)
Jean Mowry (Susan Ames)
Robert Morse (Jerry Ames)
Jada Rowland (Amy Ames)
Jay Jostyn (Dr. Spence Hadley)
Whitfield Connor (Bart Fenway)

Peter Ames had married into wealth when he wed Ellen Tyrell, daughter of Grace Tyrell and J.T. Tyrell, owners of Tyrell's Department Store in Woodbridge, New York. Peter was a man of humble origins who felt comfortable with his new-found wealth, simply because his wife was his sole link to this type of life. She was his security blanket, until one night when Peter and Ellen were happily on their way to a party celebrating Peter's promotion at Tyrell's. They were involved in a car accident, and Ellen was severely injured. The Ames physician, Dr. Spence Hadley, did all he could for Ellen at Woodbridge Hospital but there was no hope. Ellen died, leaving Peter to care for their three children, Susan, Jerry and Amy.

Peter Hobbs as Peter Ames. Photo Credit: Walter Sanders
Enter the devious, neurotic Pauline Harris, elder sister to the late Ellen Tyrell Ames. Jilted by Peter before his marriage to Ellen, she had married and divorced John Harris. John warned Peter of Pauline's bad intentions, and Peter would have done well to listen. Pauline began to move in on the Ames family, hoping eventually to take Ellen's place with Peter and the children by taking advantage of Peter's weak state of mind. Peter began to drink heavily and live in the past, constantly going up to his attic and listening to old phonograph records Ellen used to enjoy. Pauline hatched a plot to destroy these records, but she was foiled at her attempts by the youngest and brightest Ames child, eight-year-old Amy. Peter angrily ordered Pauline out of his house and out of his children's lives.

Click here for Remembering Woodbridge: A History of the Late, Great 'Secret Storm' (Part 2)...


  1. This is fantastically, lovingly researched and written. Thank you, Kevin. SS was not one of the shows my grandmother watched (it must have been her laundry time LOL!) so I don't remember anything except the dramatic opening credits/logo. Now, I wish I could have seen in its hey-day.

  2. The Secret Storm is at the top of my list of former soaps For which I'd give anything to have the chance to watch. Hopefully, more episodes are out there and will surface one day.

    It's such a fascinating story with such fond memories and high praise. These classic soaps seem so much for intriguing and captivating than the four still on the air.

    1. The original stories for many would make great premises for reboots or modernized versions today. And I agree, and would love to hear more old episodes have been discovered.

    2. I'm especially intrigued by the character of Aunt Pauline. Sadly, there's only one episode that's posted on YouTube which features her.