What's so great about Santa Barbara ?

 By Janet Di Lauro, Soap Opera Weekly, 1990

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Santa Barbara. It's the show everybody is talking about... the show that dominated the 1989 Emmy awards... What is it about this particular soap that's got the daytime world in a frenzy ? And why are so many actors dying to jump aboard the Santa Barbara bandwagon ?

"I guess the main reason is that there's a lot of fun to be had here," surmises Roscoe Born (Robert). "We have a really good time working together. Plus, the production values are fabulous. The lighting is the best I've ever seen on daytime. The look of the show is really beautiful. But on the other end we work longer hours, by far, than any soap I've ever been on," says the veteran star of both One Life to Live and Ryan's Hope. "That's how we achieve the results we get."

Steve Bond (Mack) believes there are other reasons why seemingly everybody wants to get into the exciting Santa Barbara act. "First of all, there's the challenge of making a show like this - a show that's had so much critical acclaim... It's a challenge for me and for actors who have done other shows to see how Santa Barbara moves up in the ratings. That's something you want to take on," notes Bond. "Then, there's the atmosphere... the creative freedom that is nurtured, explored and encouraged here. It's not your everyday soap opera. There's none of the melodramatic, whiny, whispery stuff. Actors are allowed to bring life, vitality and expression into their work," says Bond.

Nancy Grahn (Julia) agrees : "Actors get to perform more on this show. We get to do more of a variety of things and play many different colors in our characters. Then, there's the incredible level of humor. They're very daring and courageous here. You turn on Santa Barbara and you never know what to expect. That's the best part of being an actor - the unpredictability... the lack of limitations."

On-screen husband and wife team Leigh McCloskey (Ethan) and Christopher Norris (Laura), believe it's "the basics" that have got everyone vying for a spot on the Santa Barbara roster. "Santa Barbara's got a reputation for (having) good actors," says Norris. "Actors want to work with good actors, good directors... It was a big step for me to agree to do this kind of work," admits the former night time star of Trapper John, M.D. "It was the attraction of so many talented people that got me." Ex-Dallas star McCloskey concurs : "Uniformly, it's a very well-acted show. The better the person you're working with, the better your work and your scenes."

To Robin Mattson (Gina), other actors' interest in Santa Barbara stems from "one thing and one thing alone - the fact that they're genuine fans of the show. Santa Barbara is kind of the cult favorite within the industry," says Mattson. "A lot of actors catch it on the monitors at their studio during the day or watch the show at home. They enjoy the show, they're fans of it. So, of course, they'd like to be part of it."

Does Santa Barbara - the show with the million-dollar reputation - appear all that different from the rest of daytime upon visiting the set ? Surprisingly, no. Backstage it is very much your average, run-of-the mill soap opera. The ground floor of the show's two-story studio houses the "executive" dressing rooms. (They're twice the size of the other rooms and contain private bathrooms.) The show's longest running cast members - namely, Marcy Walker (Eden), A Martinez (Cruz), Judith McConnell (Sophia), Jed Allan (C.C.), Grahn and Mattson - have earned these roomy prizes.

Walker, whose room boasts a wall of photos devoted to her son, Taylor, and an autographed headshot of Henry Winkler (Walker was a big Fonzie fan when she was a kid), appreciates the posh surroundings. "When l was on All My Children (as Liza Colby), my dressing room was about a third the size of this one, and l had to share it," she laughs. "There's just a lot more space in California than there is in New York."

Some actors personalize their dressing room doors, like Mattson. Atop hers rests a sign that reads : "The secret of success is sincerity... Learn to fake that and you've got it made !" Even those with the tiniest of cubicles enjoy adding private touches to them, too. "I've got some family pictures up in my room," says Carrington Garland (Kelly). "And a few other things here and there. Peter (Love, who portrays Ric) gave me this little pig that walks and "oinks." He brought it back for me from New York. I guess that's what he thinks of me, huh ?"

Poor Norris doesn't even have a permanent dressing room to call her own. "I switch back and forth between two rooms," she says. "l must admit, that was kind of shocking to me, when I joined the show. When I was on Trapper John, we all had private trailers. Everybody used to tease me when I started here about making my way to the set from my Winnebago," she laughs.

There's always a good deal of free time to pass, in between camera blocking, dress rehearsal and the actual taping process. And every actor has his own way of enjoying - or just plain coping - with it. Norris keeps herself busy with "mindless work. Anything I can boil myself away from rather quickly, like giving myself manicures, reading and making phone calls," she notes.

Since joining the show, Joe Marinelli (Bunny) has divided his free time between a couple of things. "When I first started, I'd run over and over my lines until I was burnt out," he admits. "Then I went through an exercise phase. I spent all my free time working out in my dressing room. I'd do sit-ups and push-ups, while I listened to music. Now, I try to get away from the studio when I can. I bring my 18-speed mountain bike to work with me and ride it around the park."

Born retreats to the same nearby park for occasional walks around the river that runs through it, while McCloskey often disappears to a local bookstore to pick up some reading material. Newcomer Stella Stevens dedicates every free moment to "doing her homework" on Phyllis Blake. "I spend most of my time hanging out with "Gina," "Ethan," "Laura" and "Mack" trying to find out more about their characters in relation to mine. I've only been on this show a couple of months. I'm trying to find out who I am, so it will all begin to make sense (to me)," laughs Stevens.

The intense work load carried by the Santa Barbara cast, is certainly not reflected in the moods of the actors. Everyone is incredibly relaxed, loose and always ready for a good time. "If a fan came down to the set and watched dress (rehearsal), they'd probably think, "This is going to be a show that I'm going to watch on TV ?" laughs Garland, referring to the time of day when everyone acts their silliest.

Fans might also be surprised by the antics of McCloskey and Born, who portray two of Santa Barbara's most serious citizens. Offscreen each displays a wicked sense of humor rarely seen on the air. "I'm the punster of the show," confesses McCloskey. "I pun much to people's chagrin. I love to contort and reconstruct the English language. For some reason, words delight me. I've always been quick to quip."

Born often entertains co-stars with his impersonations. His imitation of Saturday Night Live's Ed Grimley has left Walker in stitches on quite a few occasions. "One time l did it during a scene in (Eden's) living room," recalls Born. "I had to talk about the sea and say all this romantic drivel. I try to say it like it's not romantic. It's the only way to do it. I remember doing Ed Grimley that time. l also impersonate some of the people around here," admits Born. "But l won't tell you who," he says with a smile.

Aside from the antics of McCloskey and Born, what else might a visitor to the Santa Barbara set be surprised to learn ? "The one thing I've noticed about people who are here for the day is that they're always so surprised at how horrible we all look when we come in in the morning," laughs Walker. "That we're really basically ugly human beings. Then, there's the massive raucous backstage," she continues. "And the fact that Robin Mattson really is the way that she appears on television. She screams through the halls."

Marinelli thinks that Santa Barbara fans might be delighted to learn that "A Martinez is as nice as he is. He's a tremendous person. You know how people look up to athlete's as role models ? Well, that's A."

"I think fans might be disappointed by how unglamorous it all is... how unglamorous we all are," confides Grahn. "It's work, it's not Hollywood." "People might be shocked by the long hours we put in," says Louise Sorel (Augusta). "They probably think it's all glitter."

"My language might surprise a few people," laughs Mattson. Then, she ponders the question for a few moments and adds : "l think the fact that people laugh and scream and joke one minute and then the next are taping these heavy scenes might be surprising for fans to see. How we go from levity one minute to drama the next."

And what about the wild and crazy Blake family ? Are they just as zany off camera as they are on ? "We're all (the entire cast) a pretty jovial group around here," notes Mattson. "I don't know that the actors who play the Blake family are any crazier than the rest of the cast. We're all crazy !"

And who would want it any other way ? Certainly not a visitor to this zany and incredibly fun-loving set !