Created in Chicago by the legendary Irna Phillips, "Guiding Light" was first broadcast in 1937.
Born into a Jewish immigrant family, Phillips grew up in Chicago, studied drama and, while working as a writer at WGN in the 1930s, created "Painted Dreams"—believed to be the first daytime serial and the forerunner of the modern soap.
After "Painted Dreams" became a hit, Phillips began dashing off other serials. One of those was "Guiding Light," which debuted on NBC radio as a 15-minute "sins-and-sermons" show. Originally, the program focused on the fictional Chicago suburb of Five Points, a bustling community of immigrants where a kindly minister named Rev. John Ruthledge kept an old lantern—a "guiding light"—in his window, giving the story its name.
The show pioneered what would soon become standard soap opera fare: cliffhanger endings, hospital scenes, organ music, ambiguous paternity, murder trials and bouts of amnesia. Phillips launched more shows ("Another World," "As the World Turns" and "Days of Our Lives") and ran her empire from her apartment on North Astor Street, where a small marker remains today and cites her as "the mother of the soap opera." Though she died in 1973, Phillips' legacy lives on in the potboilers of daytime drama.
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