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2014 - 30 years of Santa Barbara

Frank Salisbury : «Santa Barbara was a joy from the get-go.»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, July 2014

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On July 26 2014, Frank Salisbury agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The writer talks about his debuts, his time on Santa Barbara from 1984 to 1991, and his work behind the cameras.

How did you start your career as a writer ? Was it a choice to write especially for daytime or nighttime soap-operas ?

I began writing when I was quite young, the usual schoolboy drivel, and finished my first full length (3 act) play when I was 27. The Theatre Guild was very interested, but since they were unable to find a star, they let it languish. The interest, however, was enough to inspire me to keep on writing.
When the opportunity arose for me to try out on a soap, I said yes without much thought. That was my debut on Edge of Night. I began by writing one show a week for $250 and thought I'd achieved Nirvana. Three months later I was writing three per week. Head Writer Henry Slesar was busy at that time working on Somerset as well, and he invited me to do two shows per week on that. That continued until the Writers Strike shut us down. Subsequently, when the strike ended, we continued on Edge of Night alone, until I left to work on General Hospital in 1976.
From then on it was a succession of soaps, sometimes two at once, which kept me busy until I decided to retire in 1992.
I also wrote a number of plays during this period. Two of them are currently in production in the Netherlands, and one is being considered for Broadway.

How did you start as a writer on Santa Barbara ? I know you were there from the beginning. How was it to start such a new adventure like this ? Were you afraid of the low ratings at first ?

I began work on Santa Barbara in 1984, close to the beginning of the show. I had worked for the Dobsons once, on As the World Turns, and they contacted my agent to have me come in and talk to them. I started two days later and worked for the show for six years.
The ratings were never a concern because it was customary for new soaps to start off low and then work their way up and we assumed the pattern would repeat itself.

Santa Barbara was known for having a lot of comedy, adventure, and above all storylines which go on very much faster than in the other daytime soap-operas. Was it something specifically asked by the producers or the network ?

Santa Barbara was a joy from the get-go. The freedom to be humorous was such a welcome opportunity and we availed ourselves of it with joy. I think we did, in fact, burn up material at an accelerated rate, but a long as we had it to burn, why not ?

At the beginning, there were four core families in Santa Barbara : the Capwells, the Lockridges, the Andrades and the Perkins. The Perkins disappeared in 1985, after Joe's death, and the Andrades followed them a few weeks later. How do you explain that ? Was is a deliberate choice or not ?

At the beginning... Well, so much starts out well and ends badly. Of our "core" families, the sad truth is they didn't make the grade, viewer-wise. To make it succinct there just wasn't much interest in the Perkins family and even less in the Andrades. It's no reflection on the actors, who did well with the material they were given, but ultimately not well enough.

On which storylines did you intervene on Santa Barbara ?

I did not intervene in any story lines, with the exception of a brief period when I was writing breakdowns, which lasted about three months, if memory serves. Then five or six of us would meet once a week at the Dobson's house in Bel Air and go over story lines and the direction of the show, in general.

In 1988, Eden was raped and brutally hurted by Zack Kelton, her gynaecologist. I read that this storyline shocked many female viewers at the time. What was your opinion on this storyline ? Weren't you afraid to go too far in drama (especially when Eden thought she could be pregnant with her rapist's baby instead of Cruz's) ?

In 1988 during the rape story I was mercifully away in Paris and environs. I have absolutely no memory of events which may have happened then.

Santa Barbara knew many recasts, especially for its main characters. I know that some actors left the show by choice (Robin Wright, Lane Davies, Justin Deas...), but do you know the reason of some other recasts ? I think of Dane Witherspoon as Joe Perkins in 1984 (whereas he was the main character then !), Rosemary Forsyth as Sophia in 1984, and Linda Gibboney as Gina in 1984-1985. What did you personaly think of these recasts ?

Santa Barbara, like so many other shows, wasn't immune to recasting. In our case, I approved of the replacement actors who took over for Joe, Gina and Sophia. And we were extremely lucky in the case of Gina and Sophia to find two such splendid replacements. C.C. Capwell was another difficult case, but then Jed Allan came along and our luck held.

You worked on Santa Barbara under at least many executive producers : Bridget and Jerome Dobson, Jill Farren Phelps, John Conboy... How did these changes influence your work as a writer ? What were the differences between all of them ?

It's true, we did have a number of executive producers. This was during the period of litigation that followed Bridget and Jerry's expulsion from the show. Of them all, aside from the Dobsons, Jill Phelps and I got along best. They all had their idiosyncrasies, of course, but we learned to forebear.

What is the storyline (or character) you are the most proud of ? And perhaps the less proud of ?

I can honestly say, I don't have any favourite story lines that come to mind. Characterwise, I loved, and/or was partial to, Mason, Augusta and Lionel, Gina and whomever, Sophia and C.C., Eden and Cruz, just about the whole spectrum of characters. Each was loveable or funny in his/her own way. And each was integral to the plot. Talking about them makes me miss them all the more.

You left Santa Barbara in 1990. What were the reasons of your departure ?

I left Santa Barbara in early 1991, if memory serves. And I left because the love affair was no longer mutual.

What do you mean more precisely ? What did change for you, as a writer on that show, between 1984 and then ?

In 1991, John Conboy, who I must say had never liked me, fired me. I called Bridget and she prevailed and I was reinstated. This happened over the course of a weekend. But it was never the same after that. Ultimately - a month or two later - she called me and said that I had lost the flavour of Mason and that I was perhaps better suited elsewhere. I was shocked, of course. But John Conboy was gone by that time, so I took what comfort I could from that. And I had other offers waiting. So all was well that ended.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ? Did you continue to watch the show after that ? If yes, what did you think of its evolutions until its end ?

Louise Sorel and I remained close for several years after that. Lane and I still keep in touch periodically. I have to say that I did not watch Santa Barbara after my departure.

What did you do after Santa Barbara ? Did you continue to write ?

Following Santa Barbara, I worked on Days of our Lives and General Hospital for a time. In 2006 I moved to Vancouver, where I live now.

Is there something you'd like to say to the Santa Barbara fans all over the world who didn't forget the show ?

To the Santa Barbara fans I'd like to express my thanks... for your loyalty these many years, and for allowing me to relive all of this even if only in a questionnaire.


Once again all my thanks to Frank Salisbury for his time and his precious memories.