When Robin Strasser was hired to play Rachel Davis on Another World in 1967, her hiring was considered vaguely controversial. Daytime up to that point had been primarily the domain of wholesome Middle Americans, and Strasser was considered an "ethnic type." (This is ironic in its own way since, as a child, Strasser's grandmother sued her mother for custody of four year old Robin because she didn't want her White granddaughter growing up with a Black stepfather.)
Despite not looking like every other vixen on daytime, Strasser soon created one of the most popular villains of all time, as the Rachel/Steve/Alice triangle propelled Another World to the top of the ratings (in 1972, the show was at 9.7 in Households -- and it was only the 3rd rated soap on the air!).
Strasser left AW in 1971 and was replaced by Margaret Impert, but the recast didn't "take," and Strasser was lured back for another year. However, as she was itching to leave, Executive Producer Paul Rauch and Headwriter Harding Lemay were faced with, once again, trying to recreate one of their show's signature characters.
During a 1997 interview for Soap Opera Digest, Lemay recalled the process:
LEMAY: There are always a group of fans who never accept it or it can take a year or two. Our biggest one was the recasting of Rachel. Robin Strasser had been so successful, but when her husband moved to Hollywood for career purposes, she went with him. We recast a young actress who looked somewhat like her but wasn't right. Then Paul discovered that Vicky Wyndham, who had been on GUIDING LIGHT, was free. She didn't look like Robin at all and in many ways she was more interesting to write for. Robin is a very good actress but can be one-dimensional while Vicky could play everything, the bitchy and the sweet.
MLH: I think Robin finds the note for the character, like in music.
LEMAY: And the writer tends to write into that note. It is not always her fault. What happened with Vicky is that when we cast her, a lot of people didn't like her. A lot of the fans wrote in. Of course, you only hear from the fans when they are unhappy. She made the part her own within a year and then she did something I always wanted to do. We changed her during Ada's pregnancy story. It was a very successful story. I hounded P&G to let me do it until finally Bob Short said let him do it. Dolph Sweet and Connie Ford were like a couple of teenagers when they discovered Ada was pregnant. Vicky as Rachel became the mother to her mother. There was a switch in sympathies because Ada was frightened due to her age at the time of the pregnancy. I had moved into place the woman I wanted to be the bitch of the show and that was Iris Carrington [Bev McKinsey]. I had already set her up so that we could shift the whole focus. For four years we had a triangle -- Rachel, her husband Mac [Doug Watson], and Mac's daughter Iris.
Victoria Wyndham went on to play the role for twenty-seven years, making it impossible for some to imagine that anyone else might have ever dared lay claim to being Rachel. (Watch her on Another World circa 1991 on Hulu.com, here.)
A similar successful recast was that of Victoria Lord on OLTL. Though originated by Gillian Spencer, she has been played definitively by Erika Slezak (save a few emergency fill-ins) since 1971.
Other examples include Peter Bergman taking over for Terry Lester on Y&R, Elizabeth Keifer for Sherry Stringfield on GL and Genie Francis for Stacey Baldwin as GH's iconic Laura.
Do you have a favorite recast that went on to completely own and redefine the role? Let us know in the Comments below!