March 25, 2010By Marc Wilkofsky Posted: Mar 25, 2010
In the enormous Mohegan Sun casino and resort, another So Long, Springfield event brought hundreds of dedicated GUIDING LIGHT fans together this month for a celebration of daytime's longest-running soap. Despite some tears, the mood was indeed celebrant and the smiles plentiful. To go with the report in Soap Opera Weekly's March 30 issue, here's another look at the event, with a bit of my personal take on it.
Before the afternoon session kicked off in the Uncasville, Conn., venue's arena, Michael O'Leary (ex-Rick) told me in the green room, "What's meaningful is that fans are really wanting to know about the Charita Bauers, Peter Simons and Larry Gateses. Jerry (verDorn, ex-Ross; Clint, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) told a wonderful story about meeting the original Reverend Rutledge, in 1977, at a train stop, and shared working with Tom O'Rourke (ex-Justin, GL) one last time on ONE LIFE TO LIVE (as Stan Lowell). The day is starting off emotional; I felt a lump in my throat already, because you can't help but feel that way when you're reminiscing about these wonderful people that were trailblazers and that made you feel like part of the family."
Grant Aleksander (ex-Phillip) spoke about how he feels seeing some former castmates return to daytime. "We're all still sad that it's over with, but I'm very happy for anybody that is going on — particularly the young people — and finding something new, because we were all lucky that this was a flourishing industry when we were young and it was there to come back to. It's not the same thing for them."
"It's fabulous," Beth Chamberlin (ex-Beth) enthused of the event. "It's really fascinating, too, because you get to talk to fans, and they're obviously telling you what the show meant to them and how much they miss it and the significance in their life. Other soaps are wondering if they'll be on the chopping block. Soaps are a mother/daughter tradition."
Elizabeth Keifer (ex-Blake) noted, "One woman came up to me and said, I was shocked that you didn't say, 'Hi, Nancy!' because I've been watching [your show] for 47 years.' And I'm like, 'Yeah! I should know your name!'" She added, "There are so many connections to parents and grandparents; I see the eyes watering. This was their life together, and they passed on and they don't have them anymore. So seeing us is bringing back their relationship with their mother or their grandmother."
Chamberlin related her own touching story: "This was not today, but I had somebody come up and tell me: An older brother and sister had not spoken in 20 years; they had a falling out in the family. [After hearing] the news that GUIDING LIGHT was being canceled, the brother called the sister up — and they're in their 70s — and said, 'Do you want to come over and watch GUIDING LIGHT?' So they reconnected, and they stayed connected."
During the afternoon's Q&A session, run by Chamberlin and O'Leary, Kim Zimmer (ex-Reva) spoke about learning her character would be cloned back in 1998: "Three weeks before [executive producer] Paul Rauch called me into his office, I already knew. They had Reva freezing her eggs. I said, 'What are you going to do, clone me?' I totally took the air out of his sails. He said, 'How could you possibly know that?!' He was so mad that I knew it. As an actor, that was one of the most wonderful and challenging storylines I ever played. Being able to play those two people was wild and crazy, but it was a new challenge for me, and I played that storyline to the hilt. I was so pissed when they finally killed Dolly; she was becoming her own person. I loved that story."
|Reist and the GL cast|
Later in the session, Eleanor Gates, 85, from Plainville, Conn., announced that she has been watching (and listening to) GL since its beginning 73 years ago. "I love this show very much. I watched it for a long time, and I will miss you." Her next statement brought some laughs: "And Reva? You're Reva to me; I guess your name is Kim, right?" The chuckles continued when Gates noted that she liked the character of Beth, but didn't know who played her, and was informed that Beth played Beth. Gates added, "I am so glad that I could come." Zimmer stated, "We are so happy to have you here!" Later, standing with her daughter, fellow fan Jill, Gates said, "We watched it right up to the end."
The actors' answers turned into a natural conversation, as one onstage comment led to another. Thanks to a spectator's question, Zimmer and Robert Newman (ex-Josh) shared memories of Larry Gates (ex-H.B.), who passed away in 1996. "Any moment that you had with Larry Gates was gold," beamed Zimmer. "He was the kindest, gentlest man. He had a long and wonderful life, but for me, I lost that man in my life way too soon. I learned how to laugh from Larry, seriously." Newman added, "Larry was truly a father figure to me, and was my greatest teacher, by far, for life and for acting." He recalled taping scenes after H.B.'s death with Zimmer and Jordan Clarke (ex-Billy) in 1997. "It was an amazing day of life and art coming together completely, because we would shoot the scenes and talk about H.B., and we would laugh and cry and tell stories, and then they'd cut, and then we'd laugh and cry and tell stories about Larry. He was just an extraordinary individual and a huge presence in my life." Aleksander added, "He just made you really glad to be an actor by the way he went about being an actor. He took such joy in it."
As they posed in group shots during the day with director Adam Reist, it was charming to watch the 11 actors — which included Justin Deas, Marcy Rylan and Jessica Leccia (ex-Buzz, ex-Lizzie and ex-Natalia) — shuffle together across the stage like the characters in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW's classic finale.
Between the afternoon and evening sessions, the efficiently run event's organizers made sure there were GL videos on the arena's main screen, which made for some extra entertainment. What was truly surreal was spotting full GL scenes (including a Roger/Holly confrontation) on the monitors at the concession stands. They didn't have Buzz Burgers or Monte (San) Cristobel sandwiches, though.
Many fans traveled from within Connecticut and the rest of the nation to be a part of the memorable event. "This worked out really well," said Nancy, a Connecticut resident, of the event being close enough to home. "I've been watching since I [was] 17, and I'm 58. What got me into the soap was that I came from a little bit of a dysfunctional family, and Mama and Papa Bauer, and Mike and Ed, could do no wrong. They could do wrong things, but they were always loved and supported through them. I thought, 'Hmmm, I don't see that in my life, and that must be the norm, because it's on TV!' The love in the families; that's what drew me into GUIDING LIGHT. You could grow with [the characters]. GUIDING LIGHT is and was something very special, and it wasn't just a soap opera. It has values; it has substance."
Liz from Plymouth, Mass., watched GL for approximately 10 years. "The storyline that got me hooked was when Ben Warren was killed. From then on, I just kept watching. The whole storyline just grabbed me, and then Michelle got framed for the murder, and I was sitting there watching, saying, 'When is everybody going to figure this out?'" As for the event itself, she said, "I've never done anything like this. I had to come; I mean, 70-something years, it's television history. You'll never get this chance again, so why not?"
The evening session's audience got the chance to witness O'Leary's latest impressionfest, which was hilariously on target, as usual, and included a full "scene" of several Springfielders, including Abby, Billy, Josh and Reva. His "Family Feud" game show brought non-stop wackiness and allowed five fans to play against the actors, answering GL trivia questions. VerDorn presented Keifer with a photo of her time as OLTL's Connie, which he discovered during OLTL's recent studio move.
Newman and Zimmer performed a decidedly different version of GL's final scenes, while generally staying true to Josh and Reva's romantic reunion. Joking before their performance, they turned on a dime to the drama of the series-ending scenes, then threw in several moments of mirth amid the magic, such as Zimmer ad-libbing, "I found myself...and several other men in the neighborhood."
As Bradley Cole (ex-Jeffrey/Richard; Warren, GENERAL HOSPITAL) performed his catchy tune "Celebration," dozens of shots of GL through the years were shown behind him, with a shot of Tom Pelphrey (ex-Jonathan) receiving one of the loudest rounds of applause.
Cole raved before taking the stage, "[The fans] are the greatest in the world. I'm sure all the actors are going to be doing other stuff, so they can see us and follow us in other things. They'll always have that show. And thank God for YouTube, because they can go back and watch all those episodes!"
Newman, who has lately been focusing on theater work, said of the fans, "So many of them talked about how long they've been watching, and [there were] several generations of people. I think we had about four generations that we took a picture with today; it's amazing." He added, "I'm thankful for the people who I see here or the people who stop me on the street; they're really lovely...and really sad." But an extra burst of GL happiness pervaded the So Long, Springfield attendees' lives for at least one more day.