Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Lynn Liccardo, author of the book, As the World Stopped Turning, writes a profile on the woman who birthed the soap opera genre, Irna Phillips, for Harvard Magazine:

If ever a writer embodied Thornton Wilder’s observation that “art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time,” it was Irna Phillips.

In 1930, Phillips—a 29-year-old, unemployed Chicago schoolteacher and part-time radio actress—was asked to write and act in radio’s first serial drama, Painted Dreams. She jumped at the chance. In the next 43 years, she would create or co-create 18 radio and television serials; four were still on the air when she died, including Guiding Light and As the World Turns, the two longest-running daytime dramas on television....

Her need for Oakdale began in the mid 1920s when Phillips, who never had a date in high school or college, met an English doctor, “not handsome,” but “with charm and intelligence,” and decided he was the man she would marry. Things didn’t work out as she hoped. She became pregnant but the doctor abandoned her, and she then lost not only the baby but any chance for another. The resulting sterility led her to decide “to never become involved with an unmarried man,” thus sparing herself “the pain and embarrassment of telling a man I couldn’t have children.” That vow played out through characters like ATWT’s jilted Edith Hughes, who later fell in love with her brother’s unhappily married law partner. Phillips presented the story through characters neither all black nor all white, forcing viewers, writes La Guardia, “to grieve over the heartbreak of the human condition rather than hang on to a fixed value judgment.”

In 1964, Phillips created Another World, and the character through whom she would both tell and hide her own story: Pat Matthews, who would murder the man who impregnated her and then coerced her into an illegal, botched abortion that left her sterile. In her memoir, Phillips wrote that her own pregnancy ended with a stillbirth, followed by an infection. What really happened will likely remain a mystery, but her efforts to exorcise her demons through Pat’s story took its toll on Pat’s portrayer; after 18 exhausting months, the actress asked to be released from her contract.

Read the entire piece at:

For more on Irna's life and how it pertained to the characters she created, especially on ATWT, click here.

And to watch Irna's induction into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame, go here.

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