Monday, October 5, 2015

FLASHBACK: Mother Daughter Relationships - An "Imitation of Life" on Daytime TV (Part 1)

All My Children's spoiled and selfish Erica Cudahy (Susan Lucci) wipes
up the floor with her mother (Fran Helflin), and then runs to her for help
whenever she gets into trouble.
Mother Daughter Relationships: An "Imitation of Life" on Daytime TV

The Soap Box
Vol. IV No. 1 January 1979

Several years ago, a young actress named Christina Crawford played the jealous, insecure character of Joan Kane on The Secret Storm. When Ms. Crawford had to undergo emergency surgery, Joan Crawford, Christina's mother, stepped into the part as her understudy. At the time, it seemed like a touching gesture: the consummate actress--remembered for her spectacular, Oscar-winning performance of a devoted mother in Mildred Pierce--playing a small part on a daytime television serial on short notice. Only recently, in her best seller "Mommie Dearest"--written after her mother's death--did Christina Crawford reveal her mother's real reason for understudying the part: Jealousy. She wanted to "upstage" her own daughter!

Behind the scenes, theirs was a mother-daughter relationship filled with enormous real-life conflict not unlike the fictional relationships probed in such well-known film classics such as Stella Dallas and Imitation of Life; and in current flicks like Woody Allen's Interiors; and Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata; and on virtually every afternoon television soap opera.

Perhaps the reason why mothers and daughters make sure good "box office" is best explained in Nancy Friday's book, "My Mother/My Self." Friday calls the mother/daughter bond the most delicate and complex relationship in every woman's life; "the first, most enduring tie, from which our futures take shape and our sexual selves are born..."

A similar viewpoint--though perhaps somewhat darker--comes from Edith G. Neisser in "Mothers and Daughters," where the author tells mothers that "they themselves practically write the script and coach the players--their daughters--for tragedy." She criticizes daughters, too, holding parent and child equally responsible for the pain this lifelong, complex relationship. More optimistically, "many strands are woven into the fabric of a woman's life," Neisser says, "But two stand out. One is the thread, sometimes smooth, but often rough and tangled, that represents her feelings toward her mother. The other thread, appearing later, but interwoven with the first, is her attitude toward her daughters. These two strands give sheen and texture to the entire fabric..."

Perhaps this ambivalence is the result of what Signe Hammer points out in "Mothers and Daughters, Daughters and Mothers." "Mothers and daughters are daughters of mothers and have remained so, in circles joined to circles since time began...Daughters have been expected to simply assume the identity of their mothers..."

And so, the relationship is rarely all black or all white. Neil Simon's inimitable turn of phrase describes it like this in "California Suite," when a successful editor tells her ex-husband what their teenage daughter thinks of her: "She thinks I'm a SOB. She also thinks I'm a funny SOB. She loves me but she doesn't like me. She's afraid of me. She's intimidated by me. She respects me, but she wouldn't want to be like me. We have a normal mother and daughter relationship."

Although soaps through the years have spawned mothers and daughters who feel love, hate, guilt, jealousy, anger, fear, respect and admiration for each other, there seem to be more storylines now that are drawing on this complex, dramatic relationship.

Young and Restless Jill Foster (Brenda Dickson)
believes that all's fair in love--even when the opponent
is your own very-much-in-love mother (Julianna
Jill Foster, the unlucky-in-love gold digger on The Young and the Restless, was always devoted to her hardworking, loving mother, Liz, a poor widow who seemed forever resigned to a poor and lonely life. When her long-time friend, widower Stuart Brooks, began to take a romantic interest in her, Liz was flustered and shy. Gradually, she allowed herself to believe that Stuart did indeed think of her as a desirable female companion, and she started daydreaming about how lovely life could be as Mrs. Stuart Brooks. Even her sons, who were skeptical at first, were delighted with the change in Liz and were anxious for her happiness. But Jill, fresh from a broken engagement, decided that well-to-do publisher Stuart Brooks would be the perfect husband and father for Jill's son.

Jill used the job her mother helped her obtain at Brooks' newspaper to get close to him. She cajoled herself into his bed, tempting him at every opportunity with the warm, inviting touch of a voluptuous young body. Jill does suffer from an occasional bout with a guilty conscience, but her continued scheming at her unsuspecting mother's expense marks her as a girl who feels that all's fair in love, even when the "opponent" is your own very-much-in-love mother.

Another soap daughter with little regard for her mother is All My Children's spoiled, self-centered Erica Cudahy, whose long-suffering mom, Mona Kane, would turn heaven and earth for her. Erica's forever wiping up the floor with Mona, then running to her for help whenever she gets herself in trouble. Mona's hang-up is guilt, since Erica blames her because her father, Eric Kane, walked out on them to take up with a Hollywood starlet. Mona has tried to make it up to Erica, and the girl takes unfair advantage of her mother's good nature. Erica, meanwhile, is more anxious for the approval of society snob Phoebe Tyler, conspiring with her to break up Mona's romance with Phoebe's estranged husband, Dr. Charles Tyler.

Continue to Part 2 of Mother Daughter Relationships: An "Imitation of Life" on Daytime TV.

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