INTERVIEW

Peter Bergman Looks Back On The Glory Days of Soaps

Peter Bergman (Jack, Y&R; ex-Cliff, ALL MY CHILDREN, 1979-89)

You experienced the mega-popularity of soaps while on AMC. When did you get your first inkling that you were part of something big? “I never really watched soaps before, so I didn’t realize how popular they were. The way life is on New York City streets is that everyone is in their own little world. No one is looking at anyone, everybody is looking down and moving. After I got on ALL MY CHILDREN, hundreds of strangers would pass by me and give me a smile like they knew me. I had lived in New York City for years before ALL MY CHILDREN and nothing like this happened. Then all of a sudden, my whole existence changed. Policemen would pull over their cars and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing, Cliff?’ People would grab my arm and go, ‘Honey, look who this is!’ I got to live in this kind of New York City for 10 years!”

Cliff and Nina became a supercouple before the term was even coined. “In 10 years, our characters married four times. The audience wanted us together. One of the first things you learn from working on soaps is that no one stands alone. You’re only as strong as the people you’re connected to. I learned that early and valued it right away. I had a very special relationship with Taylor [Miller, Nina] and I did my very best to always protect it.”

Did you have any idea what you and Taylor would create on the small screen? “No, we had no idea. We were as surprised as anyone else by it. We were just dumbstruck by it and we held each other’s hand to get through this. She had her own relationship, I had my own life, but we were on the road so much together that we looked out for each other, which was important when things got out of hand. We did public appearances where, and I’m not exaggerating, the last couple of steps to the stage, I didn’t feel my feet touch the ground because the crowd would lift us up and carry us for those last few steps. It felt a little scary.”

Were you amazed by the turnout for those appearances? “I remember our first personal appearance, we went into the mall manager’s office and waited until four police officers showed up to escort us to the stage. I was like, ‘What?!’ The appearances were crazy. They put up a small sign in the Schaumburg Mall outside of Chicago that Cliff and Nina were coming to visit and 4,000 people showed up. It was nuts and legends like Carol Burnett and Elizabeth Taylor are trying to get on soap operas.”

What was your fan mail like? “You would go upstairs once a month and pick up all the fan mail for you. It would be two large shopping bags of mail that we’d bring home to deal with. At first, I did it on my own but it soon became clear that it was too overwhelming, so I hired somebody to handle it. ”

Opulent weddings were big back then, which you got to experience when Cliff and Nina married in 1980. “ABC had just done the 1980 Olympics and they had this trailer with all of the state-of-the-art equipment in it. We took that and went up to the beautiful Waveny Mansion in New Canaan, Connecticut, which was used as the exterior of Palmer Cortlandt’s home. Nina came out looking like a million dollars in a carriage drawn by four white stallions. It was unbelievable. Almost the entire cast was there and we worked through the night. It was exhausting but exciting.”

AMC Cliff Nina wedding

ABC

Your travels to appearances must’ve been first-class all the way. “Oh, yes. We were always well cared for. We’d fly first class and a big car would be waiting for you. There were times when my family and I were waiting to get on the plane for our own vacation and a flight attendant would almost always come up to us and ask, ‘Can I see your tickets please?’ They would take our regular steerage tickets and turn them into first-class tickets.”

How did your family react to all the attention that you were getting? “Everywhere we went, my poor kids had to be so patient while I talked to people who came up to me. In New Orleans, it got nuts. We’d be walking around and shop owners would leave their cash registers to come out and talk to me. We went to Brennan’s for breakfast and we left with shopping bags full of cookbooks, clothes and aprons. We took a boat ride through the bayou and when we came back to the little dock, word had gotten out and there were 250 people waiting for us.”

How did you deal with such adulation? “There were actors who took it all a little too seriously, but I never did. I was on the cover of People magazine, and a frequent guest on talk shows like PHIL DONAHUE, MIKE DOUGLAS, MERV GRIFFIN and OPRAH. Regis Philbin’s show was kitty-corner from ALL MY CHILDREN and sometimes they would call at the last minute and ask, ‘Can you fill in for somebody?’ so we’d just walk across the street. However, the audience loved Cliff; it wasn’t Peter Bergman they loved. I lived this remarkable life where strangers wanted to wish me well. Whenever someone asked, ‘Doesn’t that recognition thing get to you?’ I’d always said, ‘Yeah, it’s awful when people come up and say they love my work.’ It’s thrilling and humbling.”

Do you miss those times? “I miss being bumped up to first class [chuckles]. It was a magical time and I liked it very much. I got to do some really fun things but don’t need to experience it again. I never wanted to be famous, I was just looking to be a working actor, but I became the luckiest of lucky men.”

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