Another Whole Afternoon, a Memoir

 By Nicolas Coster, 2021

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(...) In Los Angeles, I'd had lots of employment in plays, movies and TV; big, Oscar nominated, star-studded movies like All The President's Men, Stir Crazy, Electric Horseman, Reds, Betsy's Wedding and others... but then one day a life changer. Bridget Dobson and her super husband, Jerry, had created a new series for NBC daytime, called Santa Barbara. They talked, I listened and I liked what I heard.

I was in New York at the time, working on One Life to Live. My eldest daughter, Candace, was also in New York, living in an apartment with a bunch of young gals her age (eighteen). She went on to college there, secured a good job, got married and still lives in the area. A shining, optimistic gal.

Dinneen, her younger sister, by then flowering into a beauty with her own style and temperament, stayed with her mother in Beverly Hills while I was in New York. Usually, I took both girls everywhere I went, but this time, she liked the school and it would have been unsettling for her to join us for so long.

Ah, Santa Barbara... When I came aboard to play Lionel the profligate son of, OMG, Dame Judith Anderson ! Yeah, the grand Dame herself. She had played, a bit before my time, the title role in Hamlet on Broadway ! Her Medea was a legend. She sat regally and accepted my bow upon introduction. We did for the most part have a grand time. Of course, at the outset, though, we had to establish some territorial prerogatives. Most of the cast had not done a whole lot other than some television. She started in with me in a most patronizing manner, assuming, I'm sure, that I was just another aging still sort of pretty face from Daytime TV. I quietly changed the subject and slipped into a few anecdotes about my New York stage career with yes, Olivier, and she quickly understood things before I had finished elucidating on all nine (at that time) Broadway shows. She was most impressed with my having been a founding member of the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

When she retired from the show, she was replaced by Janis Paige, the famous musical theatre star (Pajama Game on Broadway among others) and films and her own TV series. Her legs, which were entwined under a table were still noticeably shapely. She was much too alluring to be my mother for God's sake... She was only 11 years older than I. Days with Janis were a joy from start to finish.

One cannot omit mention of Louise Sorel as Augusta. I can remember forever, the jewel-like brown eyes - inquiring, constantly inquiring eyes - the smoothly shapely body with curves in all the intended places. We were, I like to flatter myself with the phrase, the "William Powell and Myrna Loy of Daytime TV"; witty, unpredictable, adventurous, sometimes damaging, but ever humorous. We "danced" together effortlessly, as the saying goes. In the story we were both more than a bit risqué. I perhaps more than she when it came to dallying with the opposite sex.

My mother, then played by Dame Judith, finally denounced my profligate ways, and threatened to disinherit me if I did not get a job. So, I did. I became the host of a local TV show in Santa Barbara and could show movies, chat, whatever I wanted.

Then the Dobson came up with a wild story conceit : I, riddled with guilt at being indiscreet in an affair, became impotent and was to tell my TV audience of my plight, begging for cures. Hmm, yeah it was groundbreaking alright... also possibly career breaking. Fuck ! The "Lion" Lionel, couldn't get it up ? What would that do to one's romantic image on the small screen ? The subject of impotency had not been dealt with openly on Daytime TV (or pretty much any TV) before.

I said, "Ok, I'll do it as long I can on the TV show, within the show, say to the audience, I'm going to reveal something that has troubled me, but I must say that this condition, impotency, affects hundreds of thousands of men in this country alone. In most cases it is treatable, so if you are afflicted with this, or a loved one is, find a physician or therapist and see to it... While I joke, remember something can usually be done."

Well the Dobson's, in their infinite wisdom, allowed me to do it... I received piles of very positive mail. So, on the show within, I drank monkey gland potions, spiraled in ritual dances dressed in weird headdresses and so on... fun stuff. My television wife forgave, I regained... em, sexual clarity... and the show went on.

At the end of that siege just described, I was to give an on-air apology to Augusta, at the end of which was a quote from a poet, whose name escapes me; I thought it not quite apt and called the ne writer, Frank Salisbury, and said, "It seems a bit acerbic..." He asked what I might think of as a substitute. I said, "Maybe one of the romantics or even one of the First World War guys" "Who, Owen ?" "Nope, was thinking Rupert Brooke..." He thought and then said "Send it to me." I did, he said okay and I did it. Now, how many soaps have writers who discuss such poets as Elliot, Cummings and Brooke... One wonders.

Before those episodes, Louise as Augusta, for reasons I can't remember, went suddenly blind. She was already not talking to me because of one of my escapades. I, thwarted in my attempts to visit her, decided to be sneaky and gain entrance. At the time, the movie Terms Of Endearment was popular with Jack Nicholson as the retired astronaut and Shirley MacLaine as the female lead. I, as Lionel, decide to gain entrance to my blind wife's house pretending to be an ex-astronaut... The twist, more than suggested by Cyrano De Bergerac, was that I get the milkman, played hysterically by Ronnie Schell, to pretend he's the astronaut while I, hiding somewhere in the room, am feeding him the lines to say. All worked fantastically. However, Louise actually being able to actually see, could never get through a rehearsal without breaking out in gales of laughter at Ronnie's antics... He, in character, completely messing up my instructions, stumbling over the most simple poetry I was feeding him... It was glorious comedy.

Louise had, shall we say, a "misunderstanding" with the Dobsons at a given point, and left the show. Pity for all. (In the interests of tact, no more about that. I'm sure Louise will deal with that in her auto-bio !).

My next leading lady was the entrancing Lenore Kasdorf. She was petite with gorgeous, sensual eyes and... was it auburn hair ? What is happening to this old guy's memory ? Doesn't matter, the "mattering" thing is she was not only attractive, but also possessed a gorgeous husky voice, reminding one of Jean Arthur, the 30s movie star. She didn't play sexy, she just was... she exuded it.

Unfortunately, the powers that were, did not feel (ironically) that there was a great deal of appeal from that match... chemistry, or the lack of it. "Balderdashl" as British characters used to say ! I knew better. By that I don't mean to imply anything other than the chemistry on screen. Actually, in all those years on Santa Barbara, with the host of lovelies I had occasion to know, I never did have anything romantic to do with them off-stage (just to clarify for those most inquisitive). In Lenore's case it wouldn't have happened because she was wonderfully proper and also a friend of Beth's - my real-life wife. However, I thought, though, quite a different relationship from that with Louise, that it was most romantic and to her everlasting tribute, she was extremely generous on screen.

In explanation of that last kudo : I got in a terrible car accident. I was in a coma, hanging out the driver side door of my VW Scirocco, over the Hollywood freeway ! Yup, truth ! I had made a left turn onto a bridge going over that freeway and a guy going 90 miles an hour or something came over the top of the hill in the opposite lane and smacked my car into and through the railing on the bridge. A friend of mine who ran a towing service at the bottom of that hill had seen the wreck just after it happened and told me weeks later when he asked what ever happened to the VW, I told him of the accident and he aghast said, "I passed by that wreck. I thought the guy was dead !" Nope... Another one of my nine lives. I returned to Santa Barbara in about a week, but my memory had been severely affected.

On screen, I had a number of scenes with Lenore. I covertly explained that I was rough on the lines and would she mind if I looked at the Teleprompter when my red light went out. (The camera had a red light, signaling that indeed, your camera was on.) She assured, "Nicky, anything you need, of course." So, I looked... However, after a certain amount of times when the control room caught me glancing at the prompter despite what I thought was my speedy, sneaky, technique, Bridget Dobson called me to the office and asked if perhaps I'd been partying too much... I said, "Maybe... sorry." I studied twice or three times as long from then on. Nobody else knew of my horrible limitation. My memory did improve in the weeks following, but to this day, I have not had what was before, a very quick ability to learn lines... well, most of them anyway.

Even Harold Pinter, as we were about to open Otherwise Engaged in Boston pre-Broadway, said, "You are going to learn THESE lines are you not ?" I did. For indeed, one of the bad habits one used to get from learning so many lines on short notice, was if one had that devious talent to paraphrase. Even Olivier did it. I saw him elegantly paraphrase Jean Anouilh. I understood he could even paraphrase Shakespeare !

My next and final leading lady on Santa Barbara was Robin Mattson. Robin was and still is a delightful woman whose wit and intelligence shines through. I'm not sure she took too kindly to having this older guy picked as her next leading man, but she surely never showed it. Robin and I had fun plots and did well. Alas, by that time, though, we had gone through several writers and producers and had to suffer through crappy story lines, with many of them going on way too long, leading inevitably to falling ratings.

Still there was, in this period, a chance to play with fun plotting. One episode had Robin and me (in character) running from the police, and ending up hiding in a traveling Shakespearian troupe's costumes. When the police followed us in, we got on stage as Romeo and Juliet and had the Friar marry us ! For the vows, I delivered, at my suggestion, an entire sonnet. The first time, repeated later by others, for the delivery of an entire Shakespearean sonnet on a daytime soap. Later, when her character was pregnant, we were scrambling to get somewhere and ended up in a veterinarian's treatment room, where she had the baby on the vet's examining table. So much for serious soap opera... But that was the point in Santa Barbara. We mixed, at its best, serious, and timely topics with some of us providing the comic relief.

Eventually we got a new producer, one who'd been very successful on another show for years, and who chose to bring a kind of overly fantastic quality to the show. By that I mean he had obviously studied the show and knew it had a kind of quirky quality, but he possessed no real sense of humor and brought an artificial element into the writing and producing. Phony might be a more accurate word.

The Dobson's were long gone, Mary-Ellis Bunim, a tough but fair woman had done well, but left to spearhead the reality show genre. So here we had this affected but formerly successful producer and his magic wand which was to transform the show into... something. He presented a storyline to me which had me falsely killing myself for insurance money, and then (here is the disgusting, uncharacteristic part) I was to attend my own funeral in disguise and laugh. As a character, I got away with a lot of mischief primarily because I obviously loved my children. The spectra of my laughing as my children grieved at my funeral was grotesque. I told the producer that it was awful. He disagreed. I said, "Then, I'm outta here !" "What do you mean ? You can't just quit !" he threatened. I reminded him that it was I who wrote the contract in which it clearly stated I could leave if dissatisfied with content. I left without much further fuss...


As it was, after a year, I really wanted to spend more time in L.A. with Beth and my son, Ian, as well as my daughter, Dinneen. I had been commuting almost every weekend in snow storms and other hazards. Growing fatigue was also an element. So, I reached out to the re-instated Santa Barbara producers. The producer of my parting had departed and all seemed hopeful. I had good story lines with Robin Mattson... but the show was already flagging.

Lane Davies escaped to do what turned out to be a short-lived comedy playing an airline pilot. Our young Olivier. He was tall like Colin Firth and as mysterious as Heathcliff. He was and still is a hugely popular figure in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. I say, "still is", because he does films in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and recently performed the lead in the big musical Man of La Mancha in Prague. Above all, in my opinion, he is the consummate gentleman.

On the occasion, years earlier, of the Dobsons being locked out of NBC because of their feud with that network and we were shooting the show on stage at the time they arrived at the gate. Word quickly got to the set of their peculiar plight. Some, I suppose, fearing network reprisal, stayed on stage, ignoring the situation. Lane Davies, and I, being reared as Southern gentlemen, along with that beloved Yankee gentlewoman, Judith McConnell, strode from the stage to the gate where we waited for the adventurous rebel couple. We greeted them, assured them of our support, which was never needed... ha... a glorious empty gesture.

One muses upon just how many soap actors would have become so much more with a good break on lm or Broadway. Tommy Lee Jones, Meg Ryan, Ray Liotta and even Leonardo DiCaprio, who played briey on Santa Barbara during my absence, all began their careers on Daytime. Robin Wright, was an ingénue on Santa Barbara for a few years until leaving for a film career, bearing children and then an even better career ! Robin, my dearest pal on Santa Barbara and beyond, did tell me years later that I'd probably stayed on the show too long. I did one major film, Betsy's Wedding, during that time... was offered others, but could not accept them because of contract obligations.

On one occasion, when Mary-Ellis Bunim was producing, I had an offer for a very nice feature film, but when she told me I was written in very heavily for months, I said ok. She, surprised, said, "But we can't keep you from doing it... by contract." I said my contract had always been a handshake, adding, "That still stands." She registered some degree of surprise on her usually cryptic face... We got along... tough as she was, I have a feeling she never forgot that moment. She died early. Certainly, one of the most able producers I ever worked with on Daytime.

Have I painted myself as morally irreproachable ? Sorry, don't be fooled. I have only mentioned those times in which I stood up to the challenge... It's much more fun writing stuff that, though true, is totally specific and flattering, ignoring the horrendous failures and slips on the ice of moral challenge which did occur... this is not a Russian novel, it is a flavored memoir.

A couple of other much needed mentions from the Santa Barbara days : One of the most terrific romantic actresses I've ever known was the hugely popular, Judith McConnell. She started her out as a beauty queen from, I believe, Pennsylvania. Playing Sophia, she was my big secret affair on Santa Barbara. During our tryst, we were stuck in a gigunda earthquake. Much hugging, more fearful tears were in evidence. It really was like a 20s movie with Mary Pickford... except as remembered, Mary Pickford did not have amours with married men... on or off screen.

Harley Kozak, ah, Harley. Mary on the show; tall, fair, and infinitely bright in mind on and offscreen, she did indeed, "light it up". I adore Harley. We actually had dinner together long after the show went off the air. She had, by then, become a very good writer. I'm kinda sorry our lives took us on different paths to the exclusion of dinners, talks and idea swapping. UNTIL ! A recent celebrity cruise with Santa Barbara fans and several cast members... What a grand time !

She and Lane Davies were the biggies in the early years. They had a magic, almost palpable chemistry. Harley's character, for reasons known only to the producers and writers, was killed off, dying in Lane / Mason's arms from a huge falling metal letter "C" from the Capwell sign atop the hotel owned by Lane / Mason's father, C.C. Capwell, played most dashingly by (finally) Jed Allan. By "finally" I mean there had been three C.C.'s before Jed. Peter Mark Richman, a fine actor whom I still see often as a fellow member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foreign Language (now called "International Film") Committee.


Charles Bateman was the third C.C. A handsome and very dear man... a gentleman. I'm guessing the producers maybe wanted a guy with more of an edge... and in stepped Jed Allan. Jed was terrific. He looked very handsome in a tuxedo, or in anything really, and was a powerful, energetic force on screen. The rivalry between his C.C. and my Lionel was hearty and most times a lot of fun.

A Martinez as Cruz came a bit into the run. I don't know whether Brian Frons, the then head of Daytime on NBC, would admit it or not, but we did in fact have a conversation in his office a couple of days after I arrived about story where I floated the idea of incorporating a Latin Lover character into the Santa Barbara mix. He jumped at the idea. And so, it went.

Martinez became one of the all time great Daytime lovers (and ne actors) in TV history. An incredibly admirable man and eloquent political activist as well, he and I are pals to this day. Recently, I went to see him playing on stage in the part that had kick started my New York career as Morris in Athol Fugard's Blood Knot. Louis Gossett Jr, with whom I had played all those years before, directed and A Martinez was simply marvelous in "my" role. In his typically generous manner, he presented me to the audience on stage after the performance. What a guy ! What an actor ! On social media, his contributions to the world of political discourse are most often profound.

Another little contribution for which I might take a bit of credit, was getting us included in the Battle of the Daytime Stars. It involved performers from all soap programming, on all channels, and so of course it had loads of gorgeous guys and gals competing in scanty, sweaty clothes for track, field and water sports. I decided to relinquish my role as an athlete and instead chose John Allen Nelson, who played my son on the show and with youth on his side, to fill in for me. I then took on the job of coaching track and field. The magnificent Joseph Bottoms competed in and coached the water sports. Sneaky Nicky called in a favor from a gal pal of mine, Cary Gossweiller Payton, who was on the ill-fated Olympic team in 1980 (they were held out by President Carter from attending the games in Moscow due to Russia's invasion of Afghanistan). Cary is a wildly talented athlete as well as, it turned out, a super coach, so between all of us we went in with high hopes.

The result was we finished in a respectable 2nd place. A special tip of the hat to Robin Wright who gave her all. In her final sprint she pulled a hamstring but finished. I carried her off the field... my first and last time I ever carried her off or on anywhere ! Todd McKee and Julie Ronnie should also be mentioned. Both contributed greatly to that event and indeed the entire show.

I have no evidence for this excessive claim, but Santa Barbara's fortunes took a dramatic upturn after that. It put our show on the map and introduced our stars to a worldwide audience. It also cemented the bond of brothers and sisters in the cast. I had a lovely house at the time with a large pool and we had many a good wholesome party there after that; some parties not so wholesome but enjoyable... for most. The rest is confidential.

If I have not said much of Marcy Walker as Eden, there are reasons... I never wanted to write a bitch book about personalities. It might be noticed that I have mentioned negatively thus far only one actress in all my years in soaps. I'm not sure what it was that made our relationship sour. I had met Marcy years earlier when she was really young. She came to my house on Gardner Street to rent it with her boyfriend at the time. I was going somewhere, perhaps to England to do The Little Foxes and needed to rent the house for a few months. Marcy came with a couple of friends and looked. She was pert, cute as hell with a short, curly hair style and very bubbly personality as I remember.

The Dobsons early on created an affair between Marcy / Eden and me which was short-lived. Marcy apparently hated the idea of her Eden having an affair with an older man. I suppose she had never seen the films of Luis Bunuel... Ha ! I, ever the professional plunged in, so to speak, unaware of her displeasure. I did realize that she was cold and indifferent (why do those two always go together ?). Shortly thereafter, I heard from other sources of her feelings on the subject. After that show, she did other soaps, never achieving her fabulous success on Santa Barbara. I believe she lives a quiet, religious life elsewhere in the country. Practically all other cast members of Santa Barbara have attended various reunions... not she. To her artistic credit, she was indeed fabulous as Eden; strength when needed, glowing, sensitive, beautiful always.

Richard Eden, our Brick Wallace, must be mentioned. A muscular and handsome man, Richard was a rock on Santa Barbara, consistently good and an absolute pleasure to work with. He went on to do wonderful work on the Robocop television series. We are still very much in touch.

I cannot talk about the fine people on Santa Barbara without touching on the contribution of associate producer Mary Dobson, daughter of Bridget and Jerry. Mary was one of the smartest, kindest people I've ever worked with. It was she who put together my "reels" for Emmy consideration. I managed to get three nominations while on that show. Two as lead actor and one as supporting. I have no idea why I was suddenly relegated to "supporting" but that was after Mary was gone.

A proper mention for my well-loved TV son, Warren, played initially by John Allen Nelson. He looked like me. To his credit, he had few of my faults and more charm. He had a healthy handsomeness and never any apparent vanity. We are, to this day, good friends. The greatest compliment he paid me was inviting me, a licensed minister, to officiate at his wedding in a glorious, huge, and ancient castle in France.

Nancy Grahn played Julia on the show. She was and is a sleek, sharp brunette with a flashing wit whom they paired with Lane Davies for a while. She has made millions on Daytime, and is still appearing as a leading actress. I often wondered whether she, with any luck, could have left Santa Barbara or the soap that followed and become a movie star and or, a huge Nighttime star. She has it all; looks, intelligence, charm. As far as I know, she has worked constantly for over 35 years.

We, myself along with some of the alums from Santa Barbara, are, at this writing, working on an Internet series, The Bay. Involved are Lane Davies, A Martinez, Judith McConnell, and a handful of stars of other soaps. We tried. Our names got the show off the ground. The Executive Producer / Creator, Gregory L. Martin, and his partner Kristos Andrews (also the young leading man), have tried valiantly to make it a success, winning multiple Daytime Alternative Programming Emmys along the way. It's been a difficult nine years. We've been working under a ridiculously low minimum wage allowed by SAG AFTRA, our union for "Ultra Low Budget" projects. The purpose our union had in creating this niche was to encourage young producers to get a chance at creating new lm and TV projects which prohibitive budgets would not otherwise allow. I don't think that their intention was to allow 9 years of slogging away for minimum-allowed wage with no residuals. Always the optimist, our leader Gregory Martin has assured us that with the sale of the series to Australia there is hope on the horizon.

Am I as optimistic after all these years ? I'm not so sure. Meanwhile, I occupy myself with other pursuits including that which you now read. A visual and most positive reminder that all was not lost. The two Emmys I received now displayed (not very discreetly) on my boat, are always a good talking point when conversations sag. (...)

Another Whole Afternoon, a Memoir
By Nicolas Coster
© First Edition Design Publishing, 2021

Photos 1 and 3 are by Dinneen Coster ©Dinneen Photography, reproduced with her kind permission