|Please, Spell the Name Right|
By Jed Allan, with Rusty Fischer, 2004
(...) The year was 1984, and I had just heard about a new show being cast called Santa Barbara. Feeling unappreciated and under worked at Days of Our Lives, I put a call in to the head of daytime about it. The call went to a young man named Brian Fronz who, at the time, happened to be all of thirty-six years old.
Try being a few years away from fifty, and telling a thirty-six-year-old what's "right for you." It was clear from his tone that he didn't want me, even before he said, "No you're wrong for it, you're too young..." Of course, this last was a surprise. It was the first I'd heard about being "too young" for a part in some time now But Brian explained that the part was for the role of a patriarch of the Capwell dynasty, head of the richest family in Santa Barbara, a medium-sized city with a population of 90,000 an hour and a half north of Los Angeles.
Naturally, being told I wasn't right for the part made me want it all the more. Now I was frothing at the mouth I wanted it so badly. But they didn't want me to leave Days of Our Lives, and they didn't want to give me a shot on the new show, so there I was, as the song says, "stuck in the midd1e..." It cost them plenty of time and money and ratings not to give me a shot at NBC's newest soap opera, and they lived to regret it in the long run, as I'll tell you later on. "P1ease, Mr. Postman..."
Somehow I wound through 1984 in limbo, toiling away on the Days of Our Lives set and struggling with fewer lines - and even less confidence. I freelanced as often as possible, if only to test my chops and, more importantly, prepare for the inevitable, and finally 1985 dawned with not only a new year, but a new "option."
I'd missed my shot at Santa Barbara, as the role of C.C. Capwell was filled by an older, more veteran performer and apparently to much acclaim : the soap was doing quite well, according to network scuttlebutt. I didn't much care anymore, of course. Why watch the ass end of a ship that's sailing into the sunset ? The frustration with Days of Our Lives and the missed opportunity with Santa Barbara left me with a foul taste for soaps in my mouth, which wasn't sweetened any when my contract came up for renewal later that year.
I returned to our family home in California during the middle of October, 1985 and only days later received a phone call from my manager. "You're never gonna believe who wants you !" he said, answering on my behalf before I could even reply : "Santa Barbara ! They want you to read for the patriarch of the show." "Why, what happened ?" "I dunno," he mused, "I guess they're working out the kinks over there. They've been through four guys there already, pros, too. The first one, Lloyd Bochner, had a heart attack and who still might be doing it if he hadn't. And the last one was Charlie Bateman. I guess they want you to replace Charlie..."
"I can't believe this," I said. "They can't find what they want in those guys ?" "The ratings aren't good," was all my manager would offer. "I dunno, I don't know the whole story, and maybe you don't want to know..." "Ain't that the truth," I thought, hanging up.
Like myself, the latest industry veteran to play Santa Barbara patriarch C.C. Capwell was an old hand at soap operas. In fact, Charlie Bateman had played Maxwell Jarvis on Days of Our Lives in the early 1980s. Apparently he, too, had been the latest to suffer from ageism on the set. Only to be burned twice after landing on Santa Barbara. I felt bad about Charlie, but took the audition anyway. What else could I do ? It felt strange, at first, being back on the NBC lot in Burbank, but this was the part I'd been chomping at the bit to play nearly two years earlier and it just seemed right that I go. Besides all that, I needed a job !
It soon became quite clear, however, that the read through wasn't a command performance to honor ]ed Allan. The producers were behind the eight-ball and I was informed that I'd have to test on camera with six other guys that day. This on top of the fact that they'd already seen a bunch of guys before me and could be considering any one of them at the same time.
Having been through this once or twice already, however, I knew what to expect. When auditioning for a lead on a soap, you don't just walk in with your pages and shake hands with the execs. What you do is you sign a "test contract," which basically lets you know what you're going to be earning beforehand, just in case you nail the audition and actually get the part.
Though on the surface it sounds to the uninitiated like it would be in the actor's favor, it's really only in a starving actor's favor. In reality, it's designed so that the producers can pay as little as they can get away with before you audition just in case they love you to death. Then they've covered their asses beforehand. At least for the first contract, which could be three years. Usually, this is done before an actor even gets the script, but in this case I'd been sent the script-and no contract. I assumed this might mean that the offer wasn't all that serious or that, perhaps, they'd already given the part to someone and forgot to tell me about. Trust me, stranger things had happened. For this reason I only looked at the script peripherally, not memorizing my lines per se as I might for a "real" audition. So much about the read through seemed strange, why should memorizing the script be any different ?
Come the day of the audition I still had no signed contract, and an only partially memorized script. As I suspected, they didn't want to test me until I'd signed a contract. Ten minutes before my test, a contract appeared. I signed and within half an hour I was reading across from Judith McConnell, who would eventually become my wife, Sophia, on the show. After the test, dear Judy whispered in my ear how well I'd done, and she thought I had it, even after testing with as many men as she had that day. It was shades of my love scene with Deidre Hall all over again, only this time I was on the opposite side of the kissing booth.
So while Judith may have liked me, the producers had seen me glancing at my script on camera and were worried that I "wouldn't be able to learn my lines." This from a guy who'd just spent thirteen years showing up day in, day out on Days of Our Lives, "almost" never flubbing a line... well, maybe once in a while.
I understood their hesitance, though. I really did. After all, they'd just been through four veteran actors who hadn't had the chemistry they were looking for. To them, I was just another odd number who may or may not deliver the goods come game time.
I could tell they were impressed up to a point, but I got the feeling something was bothering them. They just couldn't trust the audition. I left without closure, and got a phone call the following day saying that they would "let me know" in "a week or so." The old industry standard for, "Don't call us, we'll call you..."
One week, then two, then three went by and through the grapevine I heard they were still looking at other people. I called my manager and told her, "I'm through. Call‘em and tell‘em the deal's off. Tell‘em I don't want the job..."
Why I made this call I had no idea. I didn't have another job and, in fact, hadn't worked in a month and a half. The last show I'd done was Come Blow Your Horn, which ended back in October. I just felt like I was really being pushed into a corner. "If it didn't work with these four other guys in a year and a half on the air," I thought, "they're scared to death to have to make a decision. I felt I had to make it for them..." Stupid, maybe. But maybe not...
She made the call and told them how I felt. They said "He's still in there," but as I thought, they were concerned about getting it wrong again. I told her to call back, tell them I'm going to Europe for Thanksgiving, and that "the ball was in their court." Where I got the guts to do this, I'll never know.
Toby, myself, and another couple decided at the last minute to leave town and have fun instead of sitting around and waiting for the phone like I have for most of my professional life. "If they want to get a hold of me," I told my manager, "here's the number at the hotel where I'll be staying..."
England was beautiful, the weather on Thanksgiving was gorgeous, we had an incredible time with our friends, and we were even going to stay an extra couple of days, when guess what ? The phone rings in the room. It was one of the producers asking, "Will you test again ?" I thought, "I can't believe this. Again ? I don't understand it. Why ? What would I possibly do in a second reading that I hadn't done in the first ?" But still, the business side of me thought : They're just trying to be safe. "Yes," I answered, but there was more. "You can't do it with a script," he said. Of course not, were they totally wacky ? I didn't have a contract and had only gotten the script two hours before the first test. Now I had two days. I had taken the script with me, just in case. Luckily, I had a long flight home. On the way I asked my friend to cue me, as he read Judith's lines and I read my own. After day of resting up from my jet lag, I came in and tested. Again...
Two days later, I got the part, and for the next seven and a half years I was C.C. Capwell on one of NBC's highest-ranked soap operas ever. More than that, I essentially had carte blanche as to how to play C.C.. It was the greatest joy up to that point in my career. It was the greatest part you could have on a soap. I could add layer upon layer upon layer to make C.C. Capwell what I wanted him to be. Freedom. Freedom. Never having this much in my career I fully intended to squeeze as much life into, and out of, this wonderful role. And, I guess it's safe to say, it worked...
Like most actors on soaps know (but Charlie Bateman might have suspected but didn't want to believe), by the time your character slips into a coma on a soap it means your pink slip could be waiting in your dressing room. He, however, had no idea he was being replaced and, apparently, the cast of silver-haired devils strolling in and out of the producer's office to read with Judith hadn't tipped him off, either. They never told him. I was amazed that the show's executive producer, Mary-Ellis Bunim, who would later go on to single-handedly "invent" reality television on MTV with her wildly popular reality series The Real World and Road Rules, and who I eventually became good friends with she and her husband Bob, had never said a word to Charlie about his ensuing departure from the show.
I suppose she was too busy planning her upcoming Christmas party to which I, as Santa Barbara's newest cast member, had been invited. Wanna know who else was invited ? That's right : The "other" C.C., Charlie Bateman. I couldn't believe it when my old Days of Our Lives pal walked through the door and noticed me standing there at the bar, cocktail in hand, big as you please.
"Hey Jed," he said casually, not having seen me since our Days of Our Lives days. "What are you doing here?" You could have heard a pin drop as word spread through the formerly festive party like fireworks. Everyone else in that room, including myself, knew Charlie was out. The only one who didn't know, it seemed, was old Charlie. I wanted to tell him. I didn't want to tell him. I had to tell him.
"Charlie," I said after he'd gotten his drink (I figured he'd need it), "can I talk to you for a minute ?" As we walked to a quiet corner of the room I asked him, "Are you okay ?"
He chuckled nervously and responded, "I was a little concerned about being in a coma, but they said it was okay and invited me to the party. So I guess that mean's everything is all right, right ?"
I sighed, bit the bullet, and said, "Charlie, I gotta tell you - I'm here because I'm replacing you." "You gotta be kidding," he said when he could finally speak. "You mean to tell me that rotten b...h invited me to her party knowing I was out on my ass and invited you, too ?" Then he suddenly saw Mary-Ellis, who had been markedly absent unto this point, and immediately tried to go and confront her. I grabbed him and said, "Don't Charlie, don't. Don't embarrass yourself, don't make it worse. I know it's a bitch, but don't do it. Nothing's going to change." So he walked out the door, and I never saw him again.
Fortunately, he was going to be a wealthy man by inheritance and has since retired, quite happily I'm sure. But to be let go in such an uncaring, heartless way was truly a travesty and, to this day, me having to tell him remains one of the most odious tasks I've ever had to perform.
P.S. Ms. Bunim, sadly, recently passed away...
Santa Barbara was poised to break new ground in the genre of soap operas, which themselves had been breaking new ground ever since the 80s began. "Out of the closet," so to speak, and loving every minute of it, soaps became a country's least guilty "guilty pleasure."
As video recorders became more accessible - and less expensive - and the rise of "work at home" jobs rose with a sudden groundswell, so did the ravenous appetite of daytime viewers. In fact, by the 1980s, some fifty million American viewers "followed" one or more soap operas, including two-thirds of all women living in homes with TVs.
As ratings increased, so did budgets, and now the sets of soap operas rivaled that of feature films. In fact, such was the confidence of NBC at the time that the network had built the largest studio ever used by a daytime soap up to that point. Studio 11, where I was to spend the next seven and a half years, had cost close to twelve million dollars. No wonder they were nervous about hiring another C.C. !
Charlie Bateman had made his "final exit" by December of 1985 and soon it was me lying on that hospital bed in a coma. There were a few bumps in the road during the transition, including the whitening of my hair to match Charlie's, but that lasted only a couple of weeks because it was so ridiculous looking. I looked less like a millionaire patriarch of a seaside California town and more like George Washington.
Slowly, as I woke from the coma, not to mention getting rid of that presidential hair, I could step into C.C.'s shoes and create my version of the patriarch character who would rule Santa Barbara with an iron fist. I can honestly say it was some of the most fun I've ever had. In those days, before they changed the system, we were up quite early in the morning. On the set by six a.m., we were often dog tired by the time taping wrapped for the day, and as more and more actors complained, the producers were forced to take notice.
By staggering the schedule, by trying new ideas, by adopting new routines, eventually we had the best of both worlds : a great job and an even better schedule. Some days we'd finish by noon, and I'd by home by two in the afternoon. Other times we'd go in late, and still be out by four. Four days a week max ? Who can complain with a schedule like that.
But one of the best perks was the amount of time we got off. My first year I got three weeks off, and from there it only got better. My second year it was four weeks, my third year it was five, and when I topped out at six weeks off a year in my fourth season, who was I to complain ? The trips I took, the places I went, the times Toby and I had together, the hours I was able to spend with my kids, free and clear, you couldn't write your own life story better than I had it at that time. It was just like being on a soap opera...
My first year on Santa Barbara was as tumultuous as my winning of the part, softened only by the increase in ratings that, by the way, I take only minor credit for. I was surrounded by probably one of the greatest casts ever assembled in soaps at that time, and I was honored that I seemed to fit seamlessly. It meant a great deal to me that I could be a part of that whirlwind rise to the top of the ratings, not to mention awards : We won thirteen of the sixteen Emmys we were nominated for my second year on the show. The names will be familiar to loyal fans and those who've never heard of the show before : A Martinez, who played Cruz to perfection and later went on to even greater success in nighttime roles such as his star turn on the hit show, Profiler.
There was my daughter on the show; the young, talented, and gorgeous Robin Wright, who would eventually win hearts and minds with her dazzling performance in the feature film The Princess Bride. One heart, in particular, she won over in a big way : that of her husband, Sean Penn.
On Santa Barbara, I was married seven times, off and on, but the same woman I always came back to was Sophia, played by the charming and beautiful Judith McConnell, whom I still speak to often.
Another charming beauty, an extremely talented Louise Sorel, my dear friend played Augusta. She was married to Lionel, played by Nick Coster, and I wasn't alone in my obvious reverence for the show's real star : Dame Judith Anderson, who played Minx Lockridge, God rest her soul. Though the old gal used cue cards later in her life, she could make a line sing like Pavarotti. Fans weren't the only ones to mourn her loss when she died of pneumonia on January 3, 1992.
God, it can't be the 90s. I just got to California a couple of years ago, didn't I ? I was the father of three little boys, the husband of the greatest lady in the world, all this is still the same, but I just looked in the mirror as I'm writing this and no longer am I a man who is simply playing a patriarch. I am a patriarch ! "Where have all the flowers gone ?"
By now the boys were men, Toby was still gorgeous, and suddenly I looked like I robbed the cradle. I'm not saying I looked bad, exactly, but she looked great. Only someone who smiles all the time, is happy all the time, stays young forever. Me ? I better start smelling some more roses.
Anyway, Santa Barbara was still going strong. There were lots of cast changes, not as many Emmys, but we still had one hell of a show-and it was still a joy to go to work. Lane Davies, who played my elder son, left the show and was replaced by two different people, Terry Lester and Gordon Thomson, respectively. Beverly Garland's daughter, Carrington, took over for Robin Wright, and other new characters also came and went.
Some changes worked out great, others didn't, but harmony was still a key word on our show and in the artistic department especially, it was a constant. The problems we were starting to have were coming from upstairs. We changed executive producers at least four times, maybe five, I can't really remember. A couple of them I loved, one I liked, one I tolerated, and one was really an ass. And in on a pass... Isn't that great poetry ?
As the years go by the likes, dislikes, and tolerations change, but you take some of the good things from everybody. In daytime drama, unless you're a novice, you're pretty much on your own.
There is no time for directors to give direction, no real time to smooth out problems. Instead, you have to come prepared in all ways, being equipped emotionally being the hardest, learning your lines being the easiest. The latter, for me, was true; for others not so true. But in those days we had cue cards, just in case, except the last two years of the show when executive producer Paul Rauch took them away. Panic set in but, to tell you the truth, we were better actors without them. As time would tell Paul was an interesting character. Tough to love or like, but he knew his job and took control. We got along well and I considered him a friend, until he got more rude than usual. I have difficulty with rudeness. I'm really sorry about that. A couple of other producers disappointed the hell out of me several years later, especially when I called one for help after Toby passed away. I'll get into that a little later...
With all the uproar upstairs, the wonderful cast of Santa Barbara was plying its trade to the utmost. The show was still doing well in the ratings, but not as well as the first four years. Why we were not sure, but there was certainly nothing to worry about at this point. Or was there ? I was now into my four weeks a year vacation situation and looked forward to taking two weeks at a time so as not to disrupt the writers too much. More than two weeks off for any one character at a time would be hellacious for the writing team.
Life on the set of Santa Barbara was busy, and most of the time I loved being there. There was an exception: Rauch was producer then and hired a young lady to replace a cast member. And this lady was to be a May-December romance for yours truly. However, for the three months she was there, this person made my life a living hell. As an actor, of course, you have to put your feelings aside and persevere, no matter what. But this girl was about the angriest young person I'd ever met. From the minute she'd walk on stage in the morning she was pure torture to us all. Crew and cast alike, there was almost never a kind word or smile for anyone. She was a beautiful girl, but had such deep-seated anger in her that it showed on her face in every line she read. Even if it was a light, loose scene. "Why'd you take the role ?" I once asked her. Her response ? "I'm killing time until something better comes along." She almost killed me. What a drag she was, and how hard she made it for herself and everyone around her. She was living with one of the nicest guys, and one of the most well-known actors of the time, and no one could figure out why.
Mentioning names would only hurt him, and that I don't want to do. She finally left after three months of torturing everybody, and there was no going away party. Only two times in my career did I have this occur. I mean, we all have things we personally deal with every day of our lives, but as actors you can't bring your baggage with you. It catches up to you some day. Even if you're too young to have packed much...
Back to the show; or should I say, "No show ?" In late 1992, the writing was on the wall for the demise of Santa Barbara. The infighting, the lawsuits, the personality clashes, and the changes upstairs did not bode well and feedback was coming down that we had about six months left. No one panicked, exactly, but we were certainly concerned. We loved the show and wanted it to run forever.
The thought of closing down Santa Barbara was anathema to us. Every week for the next six months, we'd hear new rumors about "maybe yes," "maybe no," "maybe maybe." Then, in January of 1993 it finally happened, we were given notice that we were "gone in four weeks !"
I was C.C. Capwell, patriarch to the world. Everybody would want me. Oh really ? One, two, three months went by - and nothing. The panic was starting to set in, and there was lots and lots of flop sweat like in the early days of coming to L.A.. I never thought it would happen again. And suddenly I'm right back where I started from...
Even though Santa Barbara was off the air in the States, it was still playing all over the world in early 1994, when the Santa Barbara press department called and asked if Toby, Louise Sorel, my dear friend and co-star, and I would like to do a month of publicity in Europe. Of course I said "no." I was much too busy reading, watching TV, and playing golf. But I decided to give that all up for this four week, paid, first class vacation to meet-and greet-the fans in Europe. It was a difficult decision to make, but I forced myself to go...
Wow, what a trip ! I felt like a king again. We were treated like royalty everywhere we went. Berlin, Tallin, Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Moscow. A dream trip if there ever was one. In Europe, Santa Barbara was the number one show on television, and we were the next coming, messiah, whatever. What fun we had. Louise is even crazier than Toby, and between the two of them there was never a quiet moment and a lot of laughs. There wasn't a city that "Lulu," or Louise, didn't leave something behind in the hotel room. Usually her passport...
Every place we went, security went with us to keep the crowds under control. It was absolutely so far removed from the States that I can't do justice in describing it. We were loved and idolized almost to the point of embarrassment. Well, I never got to that point. I loved it... Four weeks later we were home and I was a bum again. Out of work and living on a mountaintop. But not for much longer. (...)