July 11, 2011 - 12 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
July 30,
2011 - 27 years of Santa Barbara

Shell Danielson : «I will always be grateful to Laken.»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, July 2011

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On last July 25, Shell Danielson agreed to take on her time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actress talks about her beginnings, the Santa Barbara years as the third interpreter of Laken Lockridge, and her new activities today.

The beginnings before Santa Barbara

At first, can you tell us a little about you : how old are you today ? Where do you live ? Do you live in couple or have children ?

Harry and I have been married for twelve years now, although sometimes it feels like many different life times as we have gone through so many fiery hoops and adventures... Death, taxes, a child...and hurricanes ! Three from our short stint in Florida after we left California... That's why we hightailed it up to the mountains of North Carolina... Well that and also my Mom and Pop moved up here too and we wanted our daughter to have grandparents. As for age... Twenty years older and wiser than I was... Everyone around me has such a fit at the thought of divulging my age... But in a way, I'm so very proud of those years and would not change places with the girl of yesterday (I might like to go back in time and give her a good slap, tell her what you think is so important now won't seem so in twenty years !)... I'm 48... and still feeling a childish frustration when trying to figure out a technical issue... or do math... and then feeling absolutely like an ancient fossil when my daughter whips around on the computer and very patiently explains that technical issue to me... all the while solving an algebra problem !... Good thing Harry has the math gene !

To know you better, what did you brought from yourself in the character of Laken Lockridge in Santa Barbara ?

Laken was a very important turning point in my life. It was the role that brought me back home to California from New York after a long absence. Laken was also returning home, and reconnecting with friends and family. I was older than the scripted part... When modeling I could be shooting a junior catalog in the morning and then posing for a passionate Romance book cover in the afternoon (yes, I actually even shot with Fabio once !... Really nice guy by the way.)... I've always looked younger than my age (genetics... thanks Mom and Dad) so in many ways I'd had a lot more experiences than Laken did... But in other ways we were similar in our desire to try new things and somehow prove that we were our own person, strong yet kind... And let's face it... I think everyone comes from a family that has a bit of kooky dysfunction... That's what makes us interesting... and the Lockridges were certainly all of those things !

How did you start your acting career ?

Acting was something I had always pursued in various ways... That and writing. Whether it was acting out whole scenarios I had self scripted while I played on my own... And no I wasn't really a lonely child, I was just an only child for a long time... And I loved being alone... I'm someone who enjoys my own company and can find a million things to do if left to my own devices... I can tuck in and become a bit of a happy hermit... Anyway, I did some theater during high school. Small things though, never going out for the musicals or bigger productions as I was desperately shy and I came from a large high school... My graduating class was over eight hundred. I always had the ability to get in front of a camera and become someone else. That's why I did well in modeling even though I was only five six. My agencies, Elite then later Wilhelmina, sent me out for commercials and I began booking them steadily. Soon I was auditioning for soaps and screen testing also. I tested for All my Children and got down to the final two... It was for the role of Julie and the role went to Lauren Holly. I remember how gracious she was and every time we ran into each other in a store or restaurant she always had a lovely smile and kind word. I also screen tested for One Life to Live...I think it was for the role of Cassie... I did not get that one either. But that is the business and if you want to pursue it, you have to realize that there are many things you go out for, come close to but do not get. You cannot take it personally or else it will really wound you.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ?

That is a funny story. I had actually auditioned for the role of Carly on Days of our Life. Both NBC shows were shot on the same lot, so apparently the producers of Santa Barbara viewed my tape and liked something they saw. I had just gotten divorced, moved into a new apartment on the Upper West Side and was starting over again when I got a call from my agent and was told that I would be traveling to Burbank and testing for both shows ! It was a whirlwind !... I flew out on a Sunday, studying lines for both screen tests all the way across the country, was picked up and taken to The Beverly Garland (yes, Carrington's mom's hotel) and was deposited with baggage and a bundle of nerves.
Monday morning I was driven to the studio lot and directed to the Santa Barbara set. I think there were four or five of us testing. Our wardrobe was chosen, our makeup done and then one by one we went up to set and shot the same scene.... I think the test was done with John O'Hurley... quite a debonair and kind gentleman. The head makeup artist, Carlos Yeaggy, became my first friend in Los Angeles and has sadly since passed. After the test he bet me a dollar that I had gotten the role.
Tuesday I was taken back to the studio but this time to the Days of our Life set. We went through the same drill, did our tests and then I was driven back to the hotel. I remember the early summer scent of the evening, a balmy feel in the air that is unique to Southern California and an ingrained memory of childhood. Deep in my heart there was a bitter sweet longing to return.
My cousin Denise picked me up the next morning as I had been able to change my return ticket to a later date. We drove out to my father and stepmother's home chattering like magpies all the way. She was planning a move to New York that summer to live with me and for the first time in eight years my father, stepmother and brother were coming for a visit.
I had not even been home a few hours when I received a call from one of the producers of Santa Barbara that I had gotten the part of Laken. I screamed so loud I'm sure his ears are still ringing ! The role of Carly went to Crystal Chappel... another gracious and talented woman.
Everything changed in that moment. My stepfather arrived about an hour later because he had traveled to California and was interviewing for jobs on the West Coast, my mom was staying in my apartment in New York taking care of my dog... It all fell into place. The next day, Thursday, I was in wardrobe and on the Santa Barbara set filming that Friday !
My whole life was back in New York !... I could not get home for two weeks and luckily my stepfather and mom packed me up before they began their migration cross country to California also. I moved into a furnished apartment close to the studio because I didn't drive anymore and had to be able to walk to work until I could get a license and a car and... Terror of all terrors... Learn to navigate the freeways without feeling like all the other cars (and big rig trucks especially) were trying to take me out !
Five days, that is definitely not the normal way these things happen in the Soap world !... My first day of work I paid Carlos that dollar... Never happier to lose a bet !

In the end, my father never got to see New York, my cousin never moved there... Over the next twelve years I would bury two grandfathers, my grandmother and my father. I will always be grateful to Laken and the producers of Santa Barbara for the giving me the gift of time with them and for bringing me home.

Before you performed her, Laken had already been played by two another actresses. Is it difficult for an actress to play a character that was already played by another actress ?

I had not followed Santa Barbara so I never saw Julie Ronnie or Susan Marie Snyder's portrayals... I think that was a good thing as it might have been hard comparing myself to what they brought to the character. I was very new, and green and I had so much admiration for others dedication and talent. I could not believe I had been chosen and I know I struggled in the beginning as I tried to latch onto the history and relationships that were Laken.

Laken came back in that year 1990 to reunite with her parents and grandmother, just back in the series too. She soon found love with young Amado Gonzalez, who was a "latino" boy with a different social position than her. Do you remember if the public react to this state of thing at that time ?

I honestly don't remember there being a public outcry over the relationship with Amado... It was a very old storyline that still rings true in so many cultures and classes today. Unfortunately, due to my many moves I do not have as many articles and pictures from my time on Santa Barbara... My father had kept a scrap book, but I don't know if anyone knows where it is right now... There might be a few more boxes lurking in my basement that I have not uncovered !

When you performed her, Laken had conflicts with her mother Augusta, worked with movie director Stephen Slade, had her big love story with Amado... until his sudden death. What was your favourite storyline as Laken ?

I would have to say my favorite story line was the relationships Laken balanced with Augusta, Lionel and Amado... I was so lucky to have worked with these wonderful actors and human beings.

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Laken ?

Nicolas Coster and Louise Sorel without a doubt... and also Rawley Valverde... They showed me the ropes, propped me up, gave me treasured advice and opened their hearts to me. Besides being incredibly talented, they were so very generous and dear.

You left the show after more than a year. What were the reasons of your departure ? What did you think of the end that was reserved for Laken at that time ?

My reasons for leaving are an age old saga of the business... Nothing personal but facts and demographics. There had been a major shakeup over the weekend... I came into work and found the head producer who had brought me on board was no longer in charge and a new producer had taken his place. People were walking around very hushed and nervous. It is always disconcerting when these things happen. I asked one of the assistants if I should introduce myself and they encouraged me to do so. So I knocked on the door, popped my head in and said hello. He looked up and motioned me in, asked me to sit. I smiled tremulously as he leaned back in his chair and leveled me with a matter of fact look, "You're being terminated." The first words out of his mouth. It was not unkind, just direct.
Of course I felt like I had been sucker punched in the stomach but I managed to nod and whisper "When ?" "A few weeks", he answered and then went on to explain that they were cleaning house and had to make some drastic changes.
I thanked him for giving me a heads up and made my way down stairs where I promptly dissolved into tears in someone's arms... I think it was Louise. Logically I understood, Laken had never quite taken off like they had intended and her storyline sometimes floundered. I felt responsible as I was so new perhaps I had not given them what they needed. It was a huge blow, but I had gone through the same thing when Elite cleaned house. Luckily Wilhelmina welcomed me with open arms as another soap, General Hospital would do a few months later. It was never personal, just necessary measures.

What are your best remembrances from the show, on a relational and on a professional level ?

There are so many good memories. Going to Louise's house for dinner one night, just the two of us... Well, Jigs, her precious Wheaten Terrier, was there too. I loved her stories, the history of her career; the bohemian lushness of her small jewel box home. It was the same with Nick Coster, listening to his recollections and also of what the future held. Rawley and I hanging out, more like brother and sister... Talking to A Martinez... The younger cast members did not usually have dressing rooms of their own so when we worked we were put in the more established cast members rooms. Sometimes I would have A's room... I noticed there was a trail of ants one day, marching across the table. I told him about it later that week. He smiled softly and told me his belief that every living thing had a right to life. That has never left me and it is a story I tell often and try to live my own life by. I will carry a spider out of my house when I can, shoo a bee from my screen and welcome all manner of life into my yard.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ? Did you continue to watch the show ?

Just as I found when modeling and living in foreign countries, you bond fast and hard with those around you, creating a family that gives you solace for the time spent but then your ties are cut and gradually you all drift into the next phase of your life. Some remain, but most go. Good intentions all around, but as a friend of mine says, the commonality you shared is no longer the same. I think Rawley and I kept in touch a bit... Carlos and I used to see movies together... But in the end everyone moved on.

If you hadn't play Laken, what character would you have liked to play ?

I just went through the cast list trying to answer that question... There were other roles I admired... Julia, Augusta, Eden, Gina and Kelly... But I can't say there was anyone else I would want to play... These women were so strong in what they did... They were unique... I loved the dual roles Roscoe Born played... That might have been fun... But I'm glad I played Laken.

 

These 20 last years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, you played Dominique Stanton in General Hospital, again a recast. How would you compare these two soap-operas ?

I have to say that Dominique was a bigger role and by then I'd had a little more experience. Over the summer I'd done a few pilots and by the time I was on General Hospital I was a bit more in tune with the soap world structure. I was very lucky to have had Gloria Monty take me under her wing, I learned so much from her and all the other actors. Kin Shriner and I still stay in touch and my family and I would get together with him while we were living in Florida. I adore Kin, we all do... always will.

After that, it seems you completely left the acting job when you started to work as a writer for television, for different TV shows and TV movies. And now, you're involved in a new fantasy world, still linked to children dreams and magic. Can you tell us more about your new activities ? You seem not to have completely left the artistic world...

I was incredibly blessed to have fulfilled another of my lifetime dreams when I was given the opportunity to become a professional writer. During the next few years I wrote for Power Rangers, other children's shows, co-shared writing for the second Power Ranger Movie, and a few other movies that were more geared toward adults (no, not the X rated kind !). I also wrote lyrics for a few songs that were recorded for stock usage... Over the last ten years I have been working with Brandon Jameson of Link Technologies writing documentaries and in house training films on everything from Sesame Street, Gillette to Autism to CCI (Canine Companions for Independence). I have ventured in front of the camera a few times but am quite happy to have a place behind it also.
My newest endeavor was inspired by the people in my life, especially my daughter who is a most intriguing and talented individual... Whimsical, magical and rock and roll !... (She gets that from her father, Harry Lewis "drummer extraordinaire"... He plays in two bands right now, but like me has toured the world and had quite a life before marriage, parenthood and reality came calling !)... I have a small little shop I just launched on Etsy called faeriewickets and also a website
http://www.faeriewickets.com that has a blog tracking what happened after I left the acting world. I make antennas, faerie headbands, wands and bouquets... Painted face ornaments at Christmas that sell in a gallery and have just created a line of realistic wall masks that I have yet to publicize... I'm really excited about these !... I am still writing and have completed two short books and am 156 pages into another.

I am very involved with a nonprofit foundation called Give to the Music. My husband is a drum instructor at Rock Academy North Carolina and the founders of the program, Anne Coombs and Toni Pisani, wanted to find a way to bring music into as many children's lives as possible. http://www.givetothemusic.org was born. The kids of Rock Academy perform benefit concerts all over town and even kicked off the huge Make A Wish Holiday Jam last year. The foundation raises money for scholarships for private music and performance classes, tutoring and instruments for children in need of financial assistance. So I am a very passionate "Roadie Mama" also.

So, I am now trying to learn all the ins and outs and quirks of Facebook !... I went from having no accounts to having three... We have started a Shell Danielson page that I will be posting pictures and recollections on... Santa Barbara, General Hospital... Even some modeling... And boy were there some funny pictures and anecdotes to go along with them !
My mission statement on
Shell Danielson's Faerie Wickets Facebook page reads "Imagine the possibility that within each of us there lies eternal a small flicker of hope, wonder and magic..." I think everyone has their own unique gifts and magic... We just have to be able to find them sometimes !

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

I would like to say thank you... For so many things... For loving Santa Barbara and keeping it alive, for the kindness they showed me during my time on the air and off and for the opportunities and roads I have been lucky enough to travel... All because of a girl called Laken.

 

Two photos taken in August 2011 by Shell Danielson for Santa Barbara : le site Francais

Once again all my thanks to Shell Danielson for her kindness, her availability and big simplicity.