September 3, 1951 marked the debut of PGP Classic Soap Search for Tomorrow. It was a fifteen minute, black and white segment that cost $8,073 dollars a week to produce.
Mary Stuart played Joanne "Jo" Barron, a young wife and mother who was widowed six weeks into the show's run and left to raise her five years old daughter, Patti, on her own.
SFT's creator, Roy Winsor, saw Jo as a modern-day Stella Dallas. She was meant to be an exemplary woman with whom millions of Americans could identify with. He described her as "the sort of woman who cared about her neighbor's problems, who would offer help to others, and who could face her own problems with personal dignity."
Casting Mary Stuart in the role came about as a result of a fortuitous meeting. The actress had just returned to New York after a stint in Hollywood, under contract to MGM. Despite appearing in twenty movies, she decides the Los Angeles life-style was not for her.
One afternoon, she found herself in the awkward position of making small talk with Winsor as both waited for a mutual friend to join them for lunch. Knowing that he was involved in television production, Mary challenged him with the observation that "Women are too perfect on radio and television. Other women can't see themselves in these characters. Their needs aren't satisfied. Why can't television do something for them?"
Several months later, when he created the role of Jo, Winson sent a production assistant to track Mary down and offer her the role. Her starting salary would be $500 a week. The exact same amount that young Mary Stuart from Tulsa, OK once read was the salary for a serial actress. It was the exact amount that prompted her to become an actress in the first place.
Though she would go through numerous husbands over the years (including future soap Soap star Robert Mandan and future Jennifer dad John Aniston), Jo's most steadfast relationship was with best friend, Stu (Larry Haines).
When Mary was pregnant with her son, Jeffrey, in 1956, the pregnancy was written into the storyline for Jo and when she gave birth to son Duncan Erik, it was Jeffrey who played the part on-screen. A few years later, the show decided to have the boy run into the street, get hit by a car and die. Mary was violently against the development, telling Afternoon TV Magazine, "It was my own child. It had been a complicated pregnancy for me, and playing the death of the child was just too horrible to even consider. The show's ratings had been dropping, and I knew they were killing the child just to have something dramatic to boost the ratings. I played those scenes all right, but I made them so horrifying that nobody could watch. Not even the make-up girl. She wouldn't even look at the monitor to see whether my make-up was right, it was too awful to watch. And nobody out in television-land watched either. It didn't help the ratings. In my own mind, I was remembering the morning my own father died. My mother just could never accept it. She'd walk around with a hopeful smile, in a daze, saying, "He's going to get better..." That's the way I played it. I destroyed them."
In 1976, as SFT celebrated their 25th anniversary, making it, at the time, the longest-running show in television industry history, Mary was in a more positive mood about the program.
At a gala held in New York's Plaza Hotel, she reminisced, "Twenty-five years ago, I turned a corner and came upon an empty space... Three wise men, Charles Irving, Roy Winsor, and Bill Craig, coming from three separate directions, turned corners in their own lives at almost the same moment and came upon that same space. They had an idea. Where there had been nothing, we built a town. People came to live there; they married and had children. They built businesses; kids went to school and grew up. People moved there from other towns and it grew into a city... Oh, you can't find it on a map, and at night the houses and the shops come apart and are stored in scenery docks, but it is real. If you don't believe me, ask millions of people all over the country, and they will tell you its real. Maybe a special kind of real that is a little gentler. It is a place to share a fantasy, an idea, a friend or emotion. The emotions are not play-pretend; we all know that and so do they. If that is not reality, I don't know what is."
To read more about Search for Tomorrow, click here, here, and here.
And to watch it on the AOL/PGP Classic Soaps Channel, go here!