Two of my current round of TV shows wound up this week (or at least I watched the final episodes of the season this week): Downton Abbey and House of Cards.
I confess, I have a weakness for soap opera. I came by it honestly. When I was a tyke, my Mother still worked at Southwestern Bell. My grandmother lived with us; she and my cousin Neda came to stay when Mother was pregnant with me and never left. Neda married and moved out, but Grannie lived with us the rest of her life.
Grannie had a crew of “running buddies”; Mrs. Ledbetter, Mrs. Bidwell, and our next-door neighbor, Mollie Fowler. Mrs. Fowler was a scream. Every morning, she’d wait for her grown son, Furman (with whom she lived) to leave for his job at Ford Motor Company. Ford had a huge plant in Dallas at the time, and Furman had a pretty nice job there; he had the first Mustang any of us ever saw, a 1964 1/2 red Mustang convertible.
Anyway, Mrs. Fowler would wait till Furman left; then she’d peek out the curtains and wait for Mother to leave, first on the bus, then, when we became a “two-car family”, in her shiny black Chevrolet. As soon as Mom was good and gone, Mrs. Fowler would scoot through the hedge and over to our house, usually bringing doughnuts or bear claws or fried pies or whatever. She and Grannie would pile up on Mother’s smart sectional with coffee and doughnuts, with me on the floor with my own coffee (yes, they let me have it) and doughnuts while we watched “Love of Life”. They’d sit there and shout advice (“You’d better watch out, girl! He’s up to no good!”) at the actresses.
A quick aside about “the girls”. They played bingo at the American Legion Hall every Friday and Saturday night. Mrs. Bidwell was the only one who still drove, and the only one with a car—a red Falcon. They’d pile in the Falcon and go to the Legion Hall, play bingo and drink beer (one each per night) till the place closed, then come home late. Astonishingly, Mother let me go with them occasionally, and I remember the Hall and the Caller and the bingo cards. They had these little sliding things that slid over the numbers, very professional. When somebody got a bingo, they’d holler “BINGO”, and one of the workers would come over and read the card off to the Caller; if it checked out, they won whatever prize was offered that round. I still have 2 items Grannie won playing bingo. They’d let me have a card, but those old bats would have 4 cards going at once. They were in it to win it, play hard or go home.
Anyway, from there, my soap watching progressed to 1965 (summers only then, as I was in school). A new show came on, Days of Our Lives. It profiled the Horton family, a doctor and his wife, their children, and all the trials and tribulations of the small town of Salem. The first real bad-guy on there (there were lots of baddies, but this was the first “supervillain”) was Victor Kiriakis. (This is important for later in this blog). (The part of Victor has been portrayed for the entire run by John Aniston, father of Jennifer Aniston).
I’ve followed the goings-on in Salem on and off for almost 50 years.
A friend of mine is a fellow Days fan; we lived through the Salem Stalker and the abduction of most of the town to Melaswen Island (New Salem spelled backward); we lived through Bo and Hope; Kate and Roman; the trials and tribulations of John Black/Roman/John Black (as of this writing, he’s back to not knowing who he really is); the great Brady-DiMera feud, etc.
When I was in college, we scheduled classes so as to be at home to watch Days.
Then, my senior year, an astonishing thing happened: CBS piloted a show that was a night-time soap—and it was set in DALLAS. I was in college in Waco, and we thought Dallas was the be-all and end-all, so we were delighted—until we watched the first episode, in which—astonishingly—a hurricane strikes Dallas!!! And it’s a SURPRISE hurricane, nobody knew it was coming! “It won’t last”, we sighed sadly. Of course, we all know the rest of that story…and it spawned Knots Landing, and inspired Dynasty and Falcon Crest….
I was with that same group of friends, but in my apartment in Dallas 2 years later, when JR Ewing was shot—and we all collectively screamed. You could also hear screams from all over the complex, there were Dallas watch-parties all over in our age group. We all lived in The Village, a huge group of apartment complexes in Dallas that were singles-ville. It was like the dorms, except we were all grown up and had jobs….
Ol’ JR. Make mine a bourbon and branch, darlin’.
There have been other soaps through the years, and of course the hysterical parody “Soap”, starring the divinely hilarious Katherine Helmond. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman! And who could ever forget Carol Burnett’s hysterical send-up of the soaps as Marian in “As the Stomach Turns”, occasionally featuring Harvey Korman’s most hilarious drag sequences ever, as “Mother Marcus, Canoga Falls’s leading yenta and chicken soup pusher.” When last we left Canoga Falls…
So that brings us back to the present. I love Downton Abbey. I love House of Cards. Dallas is back with a new generation of Ewings, John Ross and Christopher, and the Barnes-Ewing feud is still going strong.
And on Days of Our Lives, the hot supercouple is a beautiful (naturally—this is soap!) young gay couple. Their names? Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis.
Long live the soaps!
Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis