Monday, August 10, 2015

FLASHBACK: A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas - 1947 to 1977 (Part 1)

Search for Tomorrow's John Sylvester White (Keith) talks with Cliff
Hall (Victor), as Sara Anderson, Lynn Loring (Patti), Bess
Johnson (Irene), and Mary Stuart (Joanne) look on.
A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas

The Soap Box
Vol. III No. 10 September 1978
by John Genovese

The history of daytime television series is too long and varied to be fully detailed in an article of this size. However, in this issue we are proud to present a survey of every network serial that appeared on television. This is one of the most comprehensive studies of broadcasting flops (as well as successes) available.

Remember the old DuMont network from the early days of television? Although it's long gone, it gave us the first considerable effort in the visual medium on a network basis. It was A Woman to Remember, which bumped along for about two years and starred Patricia Wheel as--oddly enough--a soap opera star. Supporting cast members included Joan Castle, John Raby, Frank Thomas Jr., and Ruth McDevitt. The writer was John Haggart and the producer was Bob Steele.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The exact dates A Woman to Remember aired are not clear, with inconsistency among the various research sources. Most list the show as airing for two months in 1949.  Faraway Hill had premiered on the DuMont network in 1946.

Established soap spinner Irna Phillips will certainly not be best remembered for her NBC creation called These Are My Children, which premiered January 31, 1949, and ran a few short months. Alma Platt played the mother of five children, played respectively by Jane Brooksmith, George Kluge, Martha McCain, Joan Alt and Eloise Kummer.

Procter & Gamble Productions tried and failed with The First Hundred Years, a schmaltzy tale of married life against the backdrop of New York City. James Lydon and Olive Stacey (the latter soon replaced by Anne Sargent) starred as newlyweds Chris and Connie Thayer. The well-meaning in-laws were played by Don Tobin, Valerie Cossart, Robert Armstrong and Nana Bryant. Other roles were filled by such eventual soap biggies as Larry Haines (Stu Bergman, Search for Tomorrow), Nat Polen (Dr. Jim Craig, One Life to Live), Charles Baxter, and Nancy Malone. A CBS offering which lasted from December 4, 1950 to June 27, 1952, it was written by Jean Holloway and directed by veteran Gloria Monty; the latter currently produces General Hospital.

Ros Twohey starred as Millie Flagel on Hawkins Falls.
This was the year in which television soaps were finally put on the map. NBC premiered Miss Susan (later entitled Martinsville, U.S.A.), which starred crippled actress Susan Peters as attorney Susan Martin, with support from Katherine Grill, Natalie Priest, Robert McQueeny and John Lorimer. After protests that the story was capitalizing on the star's disability, the show was yanked in 1952.

NBC had far more success with the charming Hawkins Falls, created by Roy Winsor and Doug Johnson, and presented in Chicago with a phenomenal budget. Its large cast of "townspeople" included Frank Dane, Bernadine Flynn, Ros Twohey, Hope Summers and Barbara Berjer (currently Barbara Thorpe of Guiding Light). Produced and directed by Ben Park, it ran four years.

Then on September 3 of that year, CBS jumped on the bandwagon again with two new offerings. The first, The Egg and I, featured Pat Kirkland and Frank Craven in a serial adaptation of Betty's McDonald's book. Egg went rotten on August 1, 1952.

The other serial to make its appearance that day was a Procter & Gamble Production called Search for Tomorrow, created by Roy Winsor and headlining a B-movie starlet named Mary Stuart in the central role of beleaguered housewife Joanne Barron. Need we say that this became the longest-running serial on television, and that the B-movie starlet we mentioned is now Mary, Queen of Soaps?

Love of Life starred Peggy McCay and Jean McBridge
as sisters Vanessa and Meg.
Three weeks later, on September 24, the prolific and gifted Roy Winsor gave us still another gem: Love of Life, which was then boasting Peggy McCay as guardian of goodness Vanessa Dale, Jean McBride as her devilish sister Meg, and Jane Rose as their harried mother, Sarah. Although the stars have changed, the key director remains Larry Auerbach since the very first episode.

CBS, by now on top, bolstered its lead when it brought that fifteen-year-old radio warhorse, The Guiding Light, to television. Created and written by Irna Phillips for Procter & Gamble, those classic episodes in the life of the Bauer family were graced by Jone Allison as Meta Bauer Roberts, Herb Nelson as newspaperman Joe Roberts, Lyle Sudrow as Bill Bauer, Theo Goetz as Papa Bauer, and, of course, Charita Bauer, who remains as Bertha Bauer. The radio version wasn't dropped until 1956, but the TV serial began June 30, 1952.

NBC floundered further with a fly-by-night venture called The House in the Garden (later, Fairmeadows, U.S.A.), which had a family nucleus. Howard St. John and Ruth Matteson played the parents.

NBC, ready to try anything, took a continuing routine on Kate Smith's variety program and turned it into a serial which ran two years. The World of Mr. Sweeney starred Charles Ruggles as general store owner Cicero P. Sweeney, with Glenn Walker (later Michael Bauer on Guiding Light) as his little grandson, Kippie. Kippie's mother was played by an actress who, three years later, would go on to become the mother of the soap opera airwaves: Helen Wagner, the beloved Nancy Hughes of As the World Turns.

On July 6 of that year, NBC tried another marital weeper known as The Bennetts, with Don Gibson and Nancy Bennett. Chicago-based, it ended January 8, 1954.

On August 3, NBC pressed on with two more forgotten failures. One was Follow Your Heart, created by radio writer Elaine Sterne Carrington, who attempted to duplicate her audio hit, When A Girl Marries, using different character names. The lucky actors in this boffo attraction included Sallie Brophy as Julie Fielding, Nancy Sheridan, Anne Seymour (currently Beatrice Hewitt on General Hospital), and John Seymour. In January of 1954, it was put out of its misery.

Faring a bit better was Three Steps to Heaven, which went to hell on December 31, 1954, after a stay of execution involving such names as Phyllis Hill (ex-Mrs. Dawson, General Hospital), Kathleen Maguire (Anna Craig, One Life to Live), Walter Brooke (Dr. Edward Copeland, General Hospital), and Lori March (ex-Valerie Ames Northcote, Secret Storm). It was created by Irving Vendig, who was still writing Search for Tomorrow at the time, and directed by Gordon Rigsby, who currently plays Dean Blackford on Guiding Light and who has directed several other serials.

CBS had an almost-hit with Valiant Lady, which aired at noon and was sponsored by Toni and General Mills. Nancy Coleman (later Flora Campbell) starred as Helen Emerson, widow of an inventor and mother of three children, who found a source of income in the lock washer her husband had devised. The prestigious cast included James Kirkwood Jr., Sue Randall, Earl Hammond, Dolores Sutton, Helen Wagner, Jerome Cowan, Martin Balsam, Margaret Hamilton, Abby Lewis, and Lawrence Weber (Barney Dancy, The Doctors). It was created by Allan Chase, produced by Leonard Blair, and directed by Ted Corday, Herb Kenwith and Ira Cirker--all of them were among the bigger names in serial production. This "valiant" effort began on October 12, 1953 and ended August 16, 1957.

Continue reading Part 2 of A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas - 1947 to 1977...


  1. Perhaps one of the reasons for the confusion over "A Woman to Remember" is that, after two months in daytime, it reportedly moved to weeknights.

  2. I love these retrospectives into the soaps of yesteryear. As I often say, they are much more entertaining than anything happening in today's soap.......but then again that can just be the nostalgic effect.