Many little girls dream of becoming a star — but Kim Delaney was not one of them. Raised in an Irish-Catholic family of five (she was the only girl) in a suburb of Philadelphia, Hollywood wasn’t on her radar at all. “Our house was football, football, football,” she recalls. “On Sundays, you’d go to church, then come home and it was Sinatra and football. So, how I got into acting, I have no clue!”
Her path toward stardom began toward the end of high school. “I didn’t want to go to college,” she explains. “My father,” the head of a United Auto Workers local, “didn’t go to college, so his ideal was for all of his children to go to college, and all my brothers did. I was a good student, I just didn’t want to do it!” Through some friends, she came to the attention of a local modeling agency, who encouraged her to go to New York.
There, she was signed to the prestigious Elite agency, which represented a who’s-who of rising models of the time (Patti Hansen, Julianne Phillips, Andie MacDowell). Delaney’s modeling career took off like a shot, landing her on the covers of Seventeen and Glamour — but, as she puts it mildly, “It evolved very quickly in a year.” That’s because a talent agent Delaney was friendly with, who worked out of the Elite office to spot models with the potential to do commercials, saw just that potential in her. “She said to me, ‘I think you need to take acting lessons. I think that’s the road for you.’ ”
Delaney took an interview with the instructor her friend recommended, William Esper, at his office in Times Square, “But he actually turned me down,” she reports. “I was a baby. He goes, ‘You’re too young, you have to go out and live a little bit.’ I went downstairs with tears in my eyes and I said, ‘Okay, I’m going back up.’ I went back up, knocked on his door and said, ‘Can I tell you a little bit about myself?’ ” Clearly proving that she had a bit more grit in her than her baby face belied, Esper changed his mind on the spot.
While taking acting classes, she began going out on auditions — first for DALLAS, then for DYNASTY, and then for ALL MY CHILDREN. With a laugh, she describes bringing a friend and her then-boyfriend to the tryout, “and then I just left them and went back to my apartment,” oblivious to producers’ efforts to track her down in order to offer her the job.
So that is the in-a-nutshell version of the unlikely story of how, in August 1981, Delaney made her Pine Valley debut as her mega-popular alter ego, sweet-as-pie Jenny Gardner, daughter of pushy but well-meaning Opal and menacing Ray, little sister of Tad the Cad, future BFF of Jesse and future wife of Greg. But even as she shot to soap superstardom, the diligent Delaney kept up with her studies with Esper. “My friends from ALL MY CHILDREN were going, ‘Kim, why are you so nervous?’ Well, I had [class] Wednesday night and Saturday with Bill. I’d be going, ‘Because I’ve got to get out of here on time!’ ”
Her memories of her time on AMC are ceaselessly warm. Ask her what comes to mind when she hears the names Greg and Jenny, and she doesn’t hesitate: “Magical. And sweet. Honest. That came from Agnes’s [Nixon, then-head writer] writing, but also from the dynamics between Larry [Lau, ex-Greg] and me.” Jenny and Jesse’s interracial friendship, a pop culture rarity at the time, was another highlight. “The Darnell [Williams, ex-Jesse] scenes, the Jesse scenes in New York out on the fire escape, were so special. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now: We were portraying something that’s like a lot of kids that come to New York and you’re looking for that rainbow and there’s lots of ups and downs, and they were young, by themselves, trying to help each other. It’s very touching.”
When her contract expired in 1984, Delaney was eager to expand her professional horizons (“I was a curious girl and I wanted to go”), so dear Jenny was sent to soap opera heaven after being fatally injured in a Jet-Ski accident. (Despite the tragedy, she has fond memories of shooting the calamity on location. “We were all really close, so we had a good time — even though I was going to get blown up soon!”) The actress made her way to Los Angeles, steadily building up her prime-time resumé and dabbling in films, though she became more selective about her work (and particularly, about leaving town for work) when, in March 1990, she welcomed her son, Jack, with then-husband Joseph Cortese.
When Jack was about to turn five (she remembers the timing well, because she fielded calls about his birthday party in between readings for producers), Delaney landed the role of Diane Russell on NYPD BLUE, which became her professional home from 1995-2001. For practical reasons, the job was perfect: “It [filmed] in L.A. and kept me in L.A. raising my son, so I was beyond grateful. During all those years when he was growing up, I was 10 minutes away from my home. And everybody there — the whole crew and [Executive Producers] Steven [Bochco] and David [Milch] and everybody involved — knew Jack. It was a very family situation; everybody came to his birthday parties, to his communion.”
The gig also raised her Hollywood profile considerably, especially when she won the Emmy for Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1997, and she eventually left to headline another Bochco series, PHILLY, for one season, going on to notch 10 episodes on CSI: MIAMI and five on THE O.C. Then, for six seasons starting in 2007, she played Claudia on Lifetime’s ARMY WIVES, a job near and dear to her heart.
Despite her illustrious prime-time pedigree, she was thrilled when GH reached out to her about joining the Port Charles ranks as Jackie Templeton, the role Demi Moore played back when Delaney was on AMC. “I love working and I was very excited to get back to work,” says the actress, who had spent the previous months sheltering in place. Executive Producer Frank Valentini, who won her over in their early conversations, continues to impress her now that she’s his employee. “I always look to the producer because [the work environment] always works from the top down,” she notes. “I’ve only been at GENERAL HOSPITAL for a couple of weeks, but everybody has welcomed me, from William deVry [Julian], who I haven’t worked with, to Finola Hughes [Anna], who is so gregarious and open. I’m really happy and grateful and I’m having so much fun.”
To be celebrating this sort of de facto full-circle moment, beginning her second soap job almost 40 years after she first set foot in Pine Valley, amazes her. “Forty years — that’s unbelievable! How do we last this long?” she marvels. And it is not lost on her that there are fans watching her on GH who’ve been following her since her Jenny days. “Soap fans truly are the best fans,” she enthuses. “I have to say thank you to them. They been loyal since ’81, all through the years — and even though they loved Jenny, they’re going to love Jackie, because they’ve loved everything in between! They’re so excited with what I’m doing right now — and so am I.”
Kim Delaney’s son, Jack, recently celebrated a mile-stone birthday. “He turned 30 during Covid!” she groans. “I was going to have a huge party for him. I was planning his 30th, I had everything set up, he was flying out, he had all of his L.A. friends [coming], and I had to pull the plug on March 13th. I called him and said, ‘Jack….’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Mom, I know.’ ”
She wasn’t surprised that he took the disappointment in stride. “He’s amazing,” she beams. “He’s super-smart; he went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and now he’s back in Philly doing commercial real estate with my youngest brother. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s loyal, and probably the best thing, he’s kind. We have a good time together.”
Delaney sees similar qualities in her new GH son, Josh Swickard (Chase). “He is like my son! He’s just that good ol’ guy, a real sweetheart. And he says I’m like his mom! It’s very funny. It’s so easy to work with him.”
Did You Know?
• Delaney’s ALL MY CHILDREN character, Jenny, lingered in the hospital for weeks before dying in 1984 because the show was hoping she would change her mind about leaving. “They did try to talk me out of it, and I probably should have stayed another year,” she muses.
• She was originally hired on NYPD BLUE for a four-episode arc — but while shooting her second show, she was offered a contract.
Just The Facts
Birthday: November 29
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Moore To The Story: While she has never met her predecessor as Jackie, Demi Moore, “There was a time when we knew the same people, like Emilio [Estevez] and Rob Lowe. We were around the same circles.”
Knight Life: “Michael kept us laughing all the time,” recalls Delaney of her ALL MY CHILDREN brother, Michael E. Knight (ex-Tad), who now plays GH’s Martin. “I can’t wait until they put us in a scene!”
Victory Rap: Delaney describes her 1997 Emmy win for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her NYPD BLUE work as “so surreal! I was shaking. I had curly hair and I think my curls were shaking!”
Kitchen Confidential: “I’m not always the best cook, but I’m actually learning now. My son won’t believe me!”
Off The Clock: In her free time, “I do Pilates and my friends and I will go out and bike ride.” During quarantine, she also spent time writing. “I don’t call myself a writer — not yet! — but I’m writing some stuff.”
Self Reflection: In Delaney’s estimation, Jackie “is super-smart, maybe a little too loyal. I love that she’s a mom now because there’s a whole other dynamic that comes out of being a mom; you just learn different lessons, and I can start bringing those to the screen. And she’s strong! She doesn’t pull punches.”