Michael Logan, TV
They've battled supervillains and evil twins, been stalked and kidnapped by sex-crazed women and buried beneath the rubble of countless collapsed buildings. But they've also overcome two things that are way more frightening : obscurity and unemployment ! We corralled six of the hottest, hunkiest daytime stars of the '80s - Kin Shriner (Scotty Baldwin, General Hospital), Stephen Nichols ("Patch" Johnson, Days of Our Lives), A Martinez (Cruz Castillo, Santa Barbara), Doug Davidson (Paul Williams, The Young and the Restless), Don Diamont (Brad Carlton, The Young and the Restless) and Michael E. Knight (Tad "the Cad" Martin, All My Children) - and sat them down for a straight-shooting talk about stardom and survival. All are still in the game : Nichols, Shriner and Davidson continue in the roles that put them on the suds map, while Martinez is now Eduardo Hernandez on Days of Our Lives, Diamont is Dollar Bill Spencer on The Bold and the Beautiful and Knight is Dr. Simon Neville on The Young and the Restless. OK, so maybe they're not household names exactly, but these guys have stayed vital and exciting on screen and boast fan followings that are unshakably loyal. How many of the big primetime stars from 30 years ago can say the same ?
The '80s are all the rage these days. Why do you suppose that is ?
Stephen Nichols : I guess because we were there ! (Laughs) People were so much more excited about soaps during that decade. Everything was huge - the ratings, the budgets, the super-couples. All across America, whole towns would take lunch to watch Days of Our Lives.
Michael E. Knight : The soap business was never hotter. We came along at just the right time.
A Martinez : It was kind of miraculous, really. Of course, it helped that there weren't a thousand channels back then. There was no Internet. We were it.
Kin Shriner : I don't think there's an actor who was in soaps in those days who doesn't look back fondly. We had it great. But, hopefully, the wardrobe's not coming back. Or the hairdos. If I was still sporting that shag haircut, that wouldn't be good.
Doug Davidson : My old mullet still haunts me !
How crazy did the fandom get ?
Shriner : It was the Wild West. We were all young and loving it. And the girls were nonstop ! They'd shove me and Tony Geary out onstage for a fan event where 10,000 women were screaming our names, but we had no act. When the screaming died down, we were stuck out there going, "Uh, now what ?"
Don Diamont : It was mania. We actually needed security when we went places. It was a pretty heady time.
Davidson : I got a few panties in the mail. And invitations. I got lewd pictures. And this was before selfies. You had to have someone take the photos, and then you had to have them developed. (Laughs) Now, that was fan devotion !
Was there a downside to '80s fame ?
Knight : It was the age of excess. They took the "anything goes" attitude of the '70s and added money.
Davidson : It was like that Eagles song Life in the Fast Lane.
Knight : I definitely couldn't do the stuff to my body that I did then. You were going out all night, rolling into work around 6 a.m., taking a shower and hoping nobody noticed that you're wearing sunglasses in rehearsal.
Davidson : With Scotch aftershave coming out of your pores !
Were you comfortable being hunks ?
Martinez : I can't complain about it, though it took me aback sometimes when we were expected to take off our shirts for pictures and deliver that hot, steamy vibe. And then that frozen image follows you for years.
Diamont : I had no issue with the hunk label. It goes with the territory. I embraced it, even when I was playing the pool boy on The Young and the Restless and they had me wearing nothing but Daisy Dukes.
Davidson : Schwarzenegger was changing the way society looked at male bodies, so we all had to be ripped. I saw it as a way to ensure I got good storylines.
Knight : I was a wallflower in college and then, all of a sudden, I was a mac daddy on TV. I've always suffered from terrible body dysmorphia, so the heartthrob stuff was hard to handle. I was never good at pretending that I'm good-looking.
Doug and Don were the first in soaps to show their bare butts - a craze that ended as quickly as it started.
Davidson : I was stunned when I found out what The Young and the Restless wanted me to do. I called my wife and said, "I've been working out the wrong muscles at the gym !" I was the first to do it, but my rear-end scene was more normal - a shot of me getting out of bed. But Don was at a urinal standing next to Peter Bergman (Jack).
Diamont : I had to drop my towel as I walked into the shower so you got to see wet butt cheek. (Laughs) We really made history with that one.
Davidson : Our boss, Bill Bell, was big on realism, but there were complaints from America - especially from people who hadn't seen it but were offended at the very idea. I think Bill would have had us doing soft porn if they'd allowed it.
Did the plots ever get too crazy for you ?
Martinez : Cruz was drugged and raped by a woman and got her pregnant, even though he was unconscious. I was like, "Is that even possible ?"
Nichols : It wasn't the '80s unless you were trapped - in an elevator, a cave-in, an imploding building.
Diamont : Brad was held captive in a cage by his jealous ex-wife. But the wildest thing happened several years later when it was revealed that Brad, the CEO in the three-piece suits, was actually a Jewish Navy SEAL named George Kaplan. I had a scene where George wrapped his legs around the head of this bad guy and snapped his neck. It was death by thigh. Specifically, inner thigh. (Laughs) Another first !
Knight : So much happened to Tad - amnesia, evil twins, a wife who died from poisoned pancakes - that they finally ran out of ideas. Then the producer calls me to the office and says : "We have a new storyline for you : Tad's coming out with his own line of shampoo !" That's when you know you've stayed too long at the party.
How are you dealing with aging ?
Davidson : I'm OK with it because, in my mind, I'm still in my thirties. But the truth is I've been at The Young and the Restless for 38 years and I'm now the longest-running guy in the building. That includes cast, crew, network execs, everybody. People overuse the word surreal, but in this case it sure applies.
Martinez : My packaging has weathered and my future isn't as big as it once was, but I'm a much better actor now. (Laughs) You find comfort in that. You can either be depressed about getting older or look in the mirror and say, "Hey, it could be a hell of a lot worse !"
Shriner : When you no longer have a 32-inch waist, you have to be more on your game than ever. These young soap stars today are like, "It's our time. Get out of our way," so you have to show up at the studio like a soldier of fortune who's going behind enemy lines. You need to kill those scenes !
Soap stars never get the respect they deserve. Did that ever bruise your egos ?
Nichols : So many times I'd try to get an audition in primetime and was told, "We will not see soap people." There's always been that pecking order, but at some point you finally go, "I really don't care. I'm working !"
Knight : After All My Children was canceled, one of my jobs was playing a dead body on NCIS, and I was happy to have it. The casting breakdown literally said : "Must be able to lie still." That's why I was so thrilled when The Young and the Restless offered me a job. I was like, "You're actually gonna let me talk ?"
Shriner : Actors need a place to report to, a place to belong. Daytime television saved our asses.
Martinez : Lane Davies (who played Mason on Santa Barbara) used to describe it as "the simple dignity of having somewhere to go."
With the exception of Selleck and Stamos and very few others, most primetime stars of the '80s can't get arrested now. Are you soap guys having the last laugh ?
Diamont : We've seen 'em come and we've seen 'em go… and here we are ! I take a lot of pride that we've been around this long.
Nichols : Only 2 to 3 percent of all actors with a union card have a job, so we can't be anything but grateful. I've had steady work, played really interesting parts and put three kids through college. Who can complain about that ?
Shriner : Sure, we all wanted to be in the movies - not gonna lie - but, as it turned out, doing the soaps was the smartest move any of us could have made.
Knight : We're the luckiest sons o' bitches in the business. And we owe it totally to the fans, God bless 'em. The fact that they still give a s--t about us three decades later isn't just wonderful. It's un-freakin'-believable !