At the end of Monday’s episode of “As the World Turns,” the great actor Don Hastings had to do the unthinkable: announce the death of his on-screen mother, Nancy Hughes, played Helen Wagner since the first episode in 1956. Hastings has played her son, Dr. Bob, since 1960, the same year Eileen Fulton began playing her daughter-in-law Lisa. The three actors weathered just about 50 years together. Wagner died a few weeks ago at age 91.
Well, I’ve said before that CBS and Procter & Gamble have made a huge mistake bringing “World Turns” to an end. The last episode airs on Friday, September 17th. Tuesday’s show was full of nice touches remembering Wagner and her character’s relationships. Even when “As the World Turns” was outlandishly soapy, it never forgot its core families–the Hugheses, and the Lowells, who became the Stewarts, in little Oakdale, Illinois.
(No one’s ever known the population of Oakdale, or its size, even though it has an international airport, docks, a lake, a pond, a luxury hotel, a world class hospital, global thieves and fugitives, a billion dollar management consultancy business, and a working farm.)
Nancy Hughes was never as conservative as you might have thought, and her attitudes did change over the years. In the 1990s she taught a young woman played by Lauryn Hill–not yet a Fugee or a star–how to read by sounding out rap lyrics. Nancy had come a long way from trading recipes and gossip with her retired father in the law in the Hughes kitchen.
I watched Hastings and Fulton today as they said goodbye to Wagner. (The show can be seen at CBS.com.) Imagine that they had worked together for five decades in this intimate setting. They’re actors, of course; they are playing these people. But it’s an extraordinary testament to their skill and professionalism. It won’t ever be repeated. And they’ll be replaced by CBS’s drab and likely unsuccessful attempt to copy “The View.” The march toward September 17th gets a little sadder each day.
Today also marked the return of another great actor, Larry Bryggman, who left the show a few years ago as Dr. Dixon. The company wanted to demote him after 30 years. He said no, and went on to many Broadway successes. It was terrific to see him again, even though Dr. Dixon was really evil, as I recall.
PS Don’t believe a word about the death of soaps. CBS and P&G did nothing to promote their shows. They strangled them financially, and routinely wrote off popular characters to alienate the audience. P&G wanted out, and on September 17th they end 54 years in television production. Congrats!