Y&R’s Marla Adams Revels In Being A Mom On- And Off-Screen
“I’ve always played bitches since Belle on THE SECRET STORM, 50 years ago, and it’s wonderful,” proudly proclaims daytime veteran Marla Adams, who has logged some serious TV time as both wicked ingenues and snooty dowagers. But she considers her current role as the self-centered Dina Abbott Mergeron the pinnacle of her career. “I’m just thrilled to be able to play this character again,” the actress enthuses. “It’s the most challenging, daunting role I’ve ever had the privilege to portray. When you play someone who’s mean, there has to be a vulnerability and the reasons why that person is the way she is because that’s what keeps her balanced.”
Adams admits she had reservations about playing Dina’s current Alzheimer’s tale. “Oh, that was scary because I had never even been exposed to anything like that before,” she explains. “When I first came on as Dina [in 1983], she had returned to her family after years of all her cavorting around Paris and her kids hated her. It was a disaster for her. I remember when Bill Bell [co-creator/then-head writer] told me, ‘This is one of the most important storylines we’ve ever done.’ Now, doing this Alzheimer’s thing just blows me away. It’s a great comfort that the writing is showing what is truthful. Thanks to the Alzheimer’s Association that Mal Young [executive producer/head writer] is working with closely, it’s very authentic and honest writing.”
Dina’s health has given Adams the opportunity to bring out a sensitivity in her alter that had been lacking during previous Genoa City visits. “I just adore it,” she enthuses. “You realize this person is not just a one-dimensional slut around town! It’s just so wonderful to play this softer side. But it’s absolutely more difficult to play her when she gets mean. I don’t like it when she lashes out, because some of the things I thought were a bit extreme, like when she burned down a building. I remember asking Mal, ‘Why do you want to do this? Do you know anyone who has had Alzheimer’s?’ and he said, ‘My mom,’ and he took care of her for five years. He said she got very violent and I asked, ‘Did she ever burn down buildings?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, no,’ so, I guess we only do that in soap opera!”
One of the biggest joys for Adams has been working with her soap kids. “God, I produced gorgeous children, didn’t I?” she chuckles. “They’re so special. I don’t know what else to say about them, except I adore them and we just play so well together. I love Peter [Bergman, Jack]! He’s unique in his own special way, and Eileen [Davidson, Ashley] is wonderful. And then when Beth Maitland [Traci] comes in, she’s just the cat’s meow. They are marvelous actors and they inspire me every day.”
Top Notch: “They’re so special,” raves Adams of her soap kids, Beth Maitland (Traci, l.), Peter Bergman (Jack) and Eileen Davidson (Ashley).
She’s equally wowed by the performers playing Dina’s grandchildren. “Melissa [Ordway, Abby] is so pro-
fessional and letter-perfect,” Adams marvels. “She’s gorgeous and so tall, with those legs for days! This new kid, Michael [Mealor, Kyle], just came on and is so marvelous and savvy. He said to me, ‘Marla, I love doing scenes with you,’ because that’s when Kyle softens a bit and seems to care for the old broad.”
While Dina’s experience with motherhood has been drama-filled, Adams happily reports her own personal experience has been less turbulent. “My kids put up with me,” she laughs. “They’re my best friends and I feel so blessed. Thank God they chose me as a mom. My son, Trip, lives in Wisconsin with his wife, Renee, my gorgeous granddaughter, Gefjon, who’ll be 22, and my wonderful 16-year-old grandson, Stone. My daughter, Pam, lives in Washington. She became a waitress up there and then a bartender and now she owns the most part of two restaurants and works her tail off. She’s amazing and she is as calm and centered as I am. There’s no such thing as a perfect family or perfect marriage and anybody who tells you that, there’s something not quite right. My kids and I went through all of our traumas together.”
Senior Moments: “My grandchildren keep me young,” smiles Adams of Gefjon and Stone, who are now grown.
Which included divorce. “My real life is a soap opera,” Adams shares. “I married young because that’s what you did back then. My first husband, George, was the love of my life and I worshipped him. I met him at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and he would play the piano and sing French songs and I fell madly in love with him. After seven years, he left me for my best friend and I was devastated. I did marry again and that was another mistake in my life! They’re both dead.”
Her professional life has been more of a success story. “The day I got my part on Broadway was the day I graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts,” she relays. “After Broadway, which was The Visit and I played Alfred Lunt’s daughter, I thought, ‘Well it’s going to be downhill from here. How do you top this?’ A few years later, Elia Kazan chose me to play Natalie Woods’s girlfriend in Splendor in the Grass.”
Following those plum roles, Adams was cast in her first soap part as THE SECRET STORM’s Belle. “I loved that character!” smiles the actress. “The fans just hated her, but I was so pleased that Belle was making such an impact, even though it was negative. I had proposals from everybody. I remember when I was in Chicago with my husband and the two kids. We were walking along the street, when this lady runs up to him and said, ‘Do you know what your wife is doing behind your back?’ I thought she was going to hit me!”
After that soap went off the air, Adams headed west for work in prime-time sitcoms and dramas, where she racked up a list of guest-starring gigs (“In the first year I did 10 shows”). From time to time, she would return to soaps. “I loved them because it was challenging work,” she points out. “When people made fun of daytime in those days, I thrived on the proximity of it because I could stay close to home and also how it touched so many people.”
And Adams is still getting recognized in public — well, sort of. “I’m very big at Walmart,” she quips. “When I was younger, I was recognized all the time and now that I’m older, people are like, ‘Is that her? No, that’s not her. It couldn’t be! Just some old lady in sneakers and sweats [laughs].’ ”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: August 28
Born In: Ocean City, NJ
RESTLESS Run: 1983-86, 1991, 1996, 2008, 2017-present.
Previous Soap Roles: Claire McIntyre, DAYS (1999); Beth Logan, B&B (1990-91); Helen Mullin, GENERATIONS (1989-90); Myrna Clegg, CAPITOL (1983); Mildred Deal, GH (1963); and Belle Clemens, SECRET STORM (1968-74).
All My Children: Adams has two adult children, a son, Trip, and a daughter, Pam.
Blue Streak: “I have to be careful because I love to curse, especially with the [Y&R] crew.”
Not Forgotten: “Jeanne [Cooper, ex-Katherine] was amazing and I loved working with her. She was the matriarch of all daytime television and she is greatly missed, as is Jerry Douglas [ex-John]. They made a
big mistake when they let him go!”
Son Shine: “In the big earthquake of 1994, I lost half of everything. The next day, in the middle of all the mess and broken glass, someone rang my doorbell and it was Terry [Lester, ex-Jack, Y&R], who came to see if I was all right.”
Dog Gone It: “The last 30 years I’ve had Norfolk terriers and I lost my Piper a month ago. I would love to have another one, but at my age and working, it wouldn’t be fair to the child to be left alone.”
Crowning Glory: Adams won the title of Miss Diamond Jubilee at the 75th anniversary of her home town, Ocean City, NJ.
I REMEMBER MAMA
Adams’s son, Trip, once appeared on THE SECRET STORM, which inspired a yearly ritual. “My son, Trip, brought Belle a rose,” Adams explains. “It was an under-five role and he came to the door of her apartment and said, ‘One red rose for Miss Clemens.’ Every year after that, I have gotten one red rose from him on Mother’s Day. What’s also very special is that whenever it’s my daughter’s birthday, she will send me a gift, thanking me for being her mother. It all started when I was once admiring her sweater
and on her birthday, this package arrived for me and it was her sweater.”
It’s A SECRET: Adams’s son, Trip, appeared with her on her first soap.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Adams is close pals with Betty White (ex-Ann, B&B).
• Adams almost shared a reunion with Natalie Wood in 1981, when Adams appeared on HART TO HART with Robert Wagner, who was married to Wood. “R.J. stopped me and asked me to stay for lunch because Natalie wanted to see me, but I was doing a play with Cesar Romero and I had to go to rehearsal that day. I asked for a rain check and then two weeks later, Natalie died, so I never got to see her again.”
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