GH’s Michael E. Knight Gets Candid About Life After ALL MY CHILDREN.
For the better part of 30 years, Michael E. Knight was better known as Tad “The Cad” Martin, the ALL MY CHILDREN heartthrob who memorably bedded mother and daughter (Marian and Liza, respectively) in the mid-1980s before maturing into supercouple status opposite Cady McClain’s Dixie. The role made him a fan fave, earned him three Daytime Emmys, and won him the adulation of his peers, many of whom speak about him to Digest with a glowing affection that doesn’t dim in the slightest once the tape recorder is turned off. And then, in 2011, it suddenly went away, when ABC canceled the show after a 41-year run.
Outside of a 2015 episode of NCIS, and a few months of work on Y&R from 2015-16, playing the not-entirely-aboveboard Dr. Simon Neville, Knight has been absent from the TV screen on which he was such a fixture in his decades as Tad — that is, until last week, when he began what is slated to be a short-term run on GH as Martin Gray, the new lawyer of Nelle and Franco.
Knight has deep ties to the show, professional ones that have become personal. James Patrick Stuart (Valentin) is “one of my oldest and dearest,” as he puts it. They worked together on AMC, where Stuart played Tad’s brother-in-law, Will; Knight is the godfather of one of his sons and says, “If I ever have a dark night of the soul, he’s one of the people I turn to.” He goes back 30-plus years with Maurice Benard (Sonny), who used to play AMC’s Nico, and can remember counseling him on whether or not to accept GH’s job offer back in 1993 since, at the time, Benard was reluctant to get sucked back into soaps. Chuckles Knight, “Maurice and I had a long talk and I said, ‘Be careful, because I know’ — and I should have put money down on this — ‘the minute you do this, they are just gonna eat you up.’ And they did!” Then there’s Rebecca Budig (Hayden), another former AMC co-star (ex-Greenlee). “She means a lot to me,” he says. “Rebecca and I, aside from being colleagues and friends, are members of an acting laboratory here in Los Angeles. You think Rebecca’s good on the show, you should see her do character work. She’s just absolutely amazing.”
It was while on Y&R that he strengthened yet another bond, with Steve Burton (Jason; ex-Dylan, Y&R). “I’ve known Steve for 20 years; we go back,” Knight begins. “But when I crossed over and did that few months on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, I’ve never had someone extend themselves like that. He really went out of his way to make me feel at home. He is just one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet.” Still, when Burton invited him to be a guest on That’s Awesome!, the podcast he co-hosts with Bradford Anderson (Spinelli), Knight balked. “I was like, ‘Ah, Steve, nobody cares. [Tad] was years ago, man. Nobody remembers.’ ”
Burton talked him into it, and Knight had a blast. “It was fantastic. It was just me and Steve sort of dragging Bradford down memory lane. One of the ironies of life is that you don’t really realize how lucky you are until everything’s changed. Back in the day, when you do a big role on a soap and you go to the right city, it’s like being Elvis for the day. It’s a big deal. Steve was there for some of that and he and I were comparing notes and it was really, really fun.”
Recording the podcast put Knight in a reflective state of mind. “You know, I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve been the cock of the walk, I’ve been nobody, but it was a really amazing life,” he says. “But there’s never been an audience like the soap audience. What drives the business, what keeps it alive, is the fact that this audience is truly second to none. They saved my job! When there was a guy running the network that wanted to get rid of me, it was the fans at Super Soap [Weekend] that literally saved my job.”
It was this line of thinking that inspired him to reach out to GH’s executive producer, Frank Valentini, who he’s known since Valentini got his start years ago behind the scenes at ONE LIFE TO LIVE, about the possibility of doing some work on the show. “I didn’t want to insult the guy,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a jerk by sort of saying, ‘Is there any room for me anywhere, in some small corner of the canvas?’ ” He describes himself as “totally humbled and totally grateful” that Valentini wasn’t just open to the idea, but came through with a job offer.
While Knight sees it as a favor, one old friend throwing some work to another, his many fans would certainly see Valentini’s willingness to hire him more as a casting coup than an act of charity — but the actor deftly deflects any attempt by Digest to encourage him to see it that way, too. Mention his sterling rep both in front of and behind the camera in the daytime community, he just giggles and insists, “I’ve got ’em completely fooled!” Bring up how fondly he’s spoken of by people like Stuart and Budig, and he shrugs, “If they have a lot of love for me, it’s because I really have a lot of love and respect for them.”
This impenetrable self-deprecation comes as no surprise to his pal Stuart, who says, “The first thing that happens when you’re with Michael is you go, ‘Oh, my God! This guy is a genius!’ And then you compliment him and you realize he has a hard time with that. He just doesn’t know what to do with it. And actually, your approval kind of distracts him. Now he’s questioning, ‘How am I supposed to respond to that?’ So you just stand back and you try not to trip him up by giving him compliments!”
While praise may make Knight squirm a bit, he doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable questions. Case in point: When Digest asks him what AMC’s cancellation was like for him to live through, he pauses to ask, “Honestly? You mean, like, really honestly?” Told yes, he doesn’t hesitate again. “It was a mixed bag, and a lot of it was my fault, I would say,” he offers. “I was not at a strong point in my life. There was a divorce, separating from Catherine [Hickland, ex-Lindsay, OLTL, et al, his wife from 1992-2006, who remains a close friend]. So, on the personal side, there was some of my own darkness that I was dealing with back in the day.”
On the professional side, there was tumult at AMC leading up to its actual demise, a major source of which was the show’s relocation, late in 2009, from New York to L.A., in a cost-cutting measure by ABC. “There are people who I knew since I was literally wet behind the ears, a baby — people on the crew, the camera guys, the prop guys, the production [people] that are now losing their jobs,” Knight recalls. “So there is sort of mourning the fact that you have one half of your family that is going to go away. And they pick you up and move you across the country to Glendale, and you’re aware very early on that you’re just … You’re a couple weeks away from falling through the ice.”
On April 14, 2011, the network officially pulled the plug. “There is a lot of frustration, sadness, dissatisfaction,” the actor admits. “I remember when the announcement was made and I ran into Jill [Larson, ex-Opal]. She was coming back from one side of the stage and I was going to the other and we just sort of held each other and she was just crying and crying and crying, because this is what you know! This has been my family for so long. I spent more time with those people than I did with my wife when I was married. And it’s like, ‘Okay, this is going away. Did we really give it the best shot? Were the people that were in charge at the time the people who could actually give it the best shot of surviving?’ And that’s just always sort of been an open question. But on the other hand, the people that ran [the show], they were really good to me. Like I say, I wasn’t firing on all six, that’s for sure.”
On the final day of taping, “I was really, really proud,” Knight recalls. “I remember Aggie [Agnes Nixon, AMC’s late creator] on set, God bless her. She was sort of holding court and there was family and friends there, we had the cake and stuff and I looked at this woman and the sense of accomplishment…. To be a part of what was her baby, what was her dream, I will just always be really, really proud of. But at the same time, it was like, ‘Damn!’ It was your home, and then it goes away. And now you’re in a different city and you wake up every day and you go, ‘Okay, what’s next?’ You do the best you can. So that’s a long way of saying that it’s still kind of a mixed bag. I still feel differing ways about it. It’s still kind of really, really sad.”
The niche stardom offered by a daytime career meant that when AMC wrapped, Knight was largely unknown in other pockets of the industry. “Life puts you in a certain place and you do the best with what you have,” he says. “I had a home, I had a life in New York and stuff, but that’s where you’re known, and if there’s a downside to that, it’s trying to step out of that. People are always really, really generous — they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, yeah, Tad! I used to watch you!’ There is this recognizable thing; people’s eyes light up. But it’s not like [casting] people are going to go, ‘Yeah, let’s pick up the phone and call Michael Knight!’ That’s one of the reasons that I called Frank. It’s real lean in between, you know what I mean?”
Knight sounds matter-of-fact, not bitter. “I was very happy having a home in Pine Valley for a long time,” he says. “Friends of mine have done it [diversified their
resumés]. They’ve gone, ‘Time to shake this off, go somewhere else, see what happens, if it doesn’t work, God bless it.’ I either didn’t have that option or didn’t take advantage of it. I was married in New York, had a great, great life — you know, nothing to complain about.
“I’ve been so lucky in my life,” he concludes. “I know everybody can make fun of soaps because you’re stuck with seven basic stories; and how many times can your kid be sold by gypsies and you marry the same woman twice, she dies, they bring her back, the third time they don’t even tell you why she’s alive! But the fact is, in order to make this thing live, and be successful, it’s an incredible group effort and you are always surrounded by so many great people. And there aren’t a whole lot of people that can turn around after 38 years and call a friend and go, ‘Hey man, I’d really like to work, what do you think?’ and have them go, ‘Yeah, leave it with me, I’ll see what I can do.’ So, don’t you dare feel sorry for me! I’ve been incredibly lucky now on three wonderful shows.”
Just The Facts
Birthday: May 7
Hometown: Princeton, NJ
Tad To The Bone: Knight was cast as Tad Martin on AMC in December 1982. He exited in 1986, returned in 1988, left again in 1990, and came back for good in 1992, staying through the show’s ABC finale in 2011. “My character went through some ups and downs,” he says. “You go from being the hottest thing since sliced bread and walking on water in your 20s to, by the time you’re in your 40s, they don’t really know what to do with you.”
Trophy Case: He won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor in 1986 and 1987, and the Supporting Actor prize in 2001.
Wise Guy: The actor studied
theater and philosophy at Wesleyan University.
Gray Area: “I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I have so much gray hair, I look like a walking cigarette butt,” Knight quips. “The people I hang out with look at me and go, ‘Hey, look! Colonel Sanders and Kenny Rogers had a baby!’ ”
First-Day Jitters: On his first day of work at GH, “I was scared to death!” Knight shudders. “They say it’s like riding a bicycle. My ass!”
Did You Know?
• He shared his first AMC dressing room with Peter Bergman (ex-Cliff; Jack, Y&R).
• They haven’t worked together before, but Knight’s new on-screen client, Roger Howarth (Franco), has been on his radar since the mid-1990s. “When he was doing [OLTL’s] Todd, Catherine [Hickland, ex-Lindsay, OLTL, his ex-wife] said, ‘There’s a kid on the show that you’ve got to see.’ I watched him and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, they hit the jackpot with this one.’ ”
When Michael E. Knight tied the knot with Catherine Hickland (ex-Lindsay, OLTL, et al), they booked a lavish honeymoon to the Four Seasons in Nevis. Then Hickland booked a Broadway show, and Knight had to decide between forfeiting the money or going on the trip without her. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to walk away from this thing, so I need somebody to go.’ ” He invited his buddy James Patrick Stuart (GH’s Valentin), who gladly signed on. “There are two things that we did,” Knight recalls. “He kicked the s–t out of me in chess, completely wiped the floor with me, and then we’d go to the pool. And he insisted on wearing Speedos to the pool! I will just never forget the first time he walked out and he was wearing this ridiculous little Speedo. We’d be sitting there with these drinks with umbrellas in them and he’s going, ‘Hey, put lotion on my back, would ya?’ I don’t mean not to be P.C., but I was like, ‘I don’t know how this is coming across.’ I was convinced that I was going to come back and see on Page Six, ‘Michael Knight in the Caribbean with his boy toy!’ And [Stuart] loved it! He sucked it up! He got so much mileage out of this stuff.”