#TBT - Beth Maitland

This interview originally appeared in the November 8, 1983 issue of Soap Opera Digest.

Hot town — mid-summer in New York City. On one of those sticky Sundays where a sidewalk resembles the LaBrea tar pits, Beth Maitland is making her first-ever visit to the Baked Apple. Having left California on Friday, arrived in Washington, D.C. that night, spent a 12-hour day attending various U.S.O.-sponsored functions, then catching a 10 a.m. plane to LaGuardia Airport, Beth could be excused for acting ill-tempered. She is far from it.

Catching sight of my husband and I as we arrive at the terminal and direct her to our un-airconditioned basic model van for a day of sightseeing, Beth is unbelievably cheerful. We’d spoken several times on the phone but had never met before, and yet she greets me as if I were an old friend. Dressed for the occasion in a pink knit top and grey jeans, Maitland remarks that she flew back with Marcia McCabe (Sunny, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and sat next to Larkin Malloy (Sky, EDGE OF NIGHT). Relatively new to soaps after a year on YOUNG AND RESTLESS, Maitland remains enthusiastic about getting to know others in her profession. Piling into the van with my husband graciously playing chauffeur and tour guide, we whiz around as many Manhattan landmarks as a six-hour layover will allow.

Maitland’s responses to the scene we drive by are amusing. Every street or building evokes an immediate reference to Hollywood. The Brooklyn Bridge — “Saturday Night Fever,” Lincoln Center — “The Turning Point,” and on and on at breakneck pace. This girl knows her movies! For the 25-year-old actress, New York is yet another Disneyland, a place where fantasies might be fulfilled. And Maitland, who relocated to Los Angeles at the age of 20 after a South Dakota and Arizona upbringing, has turned her own dreams into solid reality.

With the temperature and humidity both pointing to the stratosphere, we park in Greenwich Village and wander around, before settling into a plant-filled (and cool!) restaurant for brunch. Unapologetically enjoying her pasta primavera and iced tea, Maitland makes it quite clear that she’s unwilling to subsist on lettuce leaves and carrot sticks, simply for the sake of reflecting an image that dominates “glamour” fields. To put it openly, which is the way Beth approaches every topic, she is not ashamed of who she is.

“I was looking for a commercial agent and was told by four different agents in one office that they were very interested in me because I’m on a soap and have a sort-of high profile but… The first thing out of their mouths was, ‘You’re overweight, you realize you’re completely un-commercial and we can’t sell you at all. Until you lose weight we’ll have a terrible problem with you.’ Well, how can you say this to a person who’s making a sizeable living doing what she’s always wanted to do? What do you mean, I can’t get work? I’m working!” Ironically, Maitland received her Screen Actors Guild card as a result of commercial work — for a weight-loss ad. But unlike her on-screen counterpart — insecure, emotionally-tormented Traci Abbott — Beth Maitland has never believed in hiding behind crutches.

Leading to the successful first year Beth’s just completed on Y&R is a history of performing that’s almost as old as she is. As anyone who’s watched the series will agree, Beth’s interludes of singing are among her most striking moments on the show. In fact, that is what she was originally trained to do. Stemming from a musically oriented family, Beth began to sing in church choirs and school programs. Quickly moving into the professional arena, Maitland sang with the Scottsdale, Arizona lyric opera company and simultaneously performed in musicals and clubs.

Bolstered by her independent nature and the emotional support of her family, Maitland moved to Los Angles and eventually got a job working at a film school. By the time she auditioned for YOUNG AND RESTLESS, Maitland had become accomplished in technical work, and strangely enough, casting. But Beth staunchly declares that she imposed strict limitations on the usefulness of that position for her own career. “I wanted to be recognized for my own merits and talent as opposed to whether I was friendly or not. So I met a lot of people and I made a lot of friends, none of which have given me jobs, none of which I run into very often, all of whom I consider my friends and at some time or another I probably will work with.”

Urged by an agent she knew how to read for the part of Traci Abbott, described as “a shy, insecure 18-year-old, very much a loner who has a problem with her weight and is totally intimidated by anything that has to do with beauty,” Maitland was hired three days after her initial testing. Within weeks, Beth’s summer-long storyline turned into a contract role, and she began to realize exactly how uniquely the audience viewed the part.

“Well, I didn’t anticipate this much attention, I can tell you immediately. They brought me in for a costume fitting and I sat there for three hours trying on frilly clothes and very expensive things and it was wonderful. Then they took them all away — took away my makeup, my hair curlers and put me in jeans and sweatshirts for almost a year.” Which is one reason why Beth enjoys any twist in her storyline — such as the concert scenes with Michael Damien (Danny Romalotti) — where she can wear fancy dressed. She is rapturous as we hunt accessories for a stage outfit in the avant-garde neighborhood of Soho.

“It was intensely frustrating and I understand it — but that doesn’t make it easier to swallow. Then they began the bulimia story and I started getting depended upon by fans everywhere. The bulk of my mail is from teenage girls, many with weight or insecurity problems, most feeling that I’m the only person on television who’s real. So all of a sudden, I had this huge responsibility. I can’t be a stereotype, a caricature. I have to keep Traci as realistic as possible.”

But for all of Maitland’s pride in being a source of identification as Traci, the immersion in such a demanding part does take its toll. She has gone through several incidents of being told that Traci’s storyline will allow her to diet and psyched herself up for it, only to have the plot abruptly changed. Living in an insecure personality for many hours each week also exerts an effect, especially when Beth’s own social life might be under stress.

“When I’m going out with people a lot, and when I have a boyfriend, my self-confidence level is usually good. I have tremendous faith in myself and I really give myself credit for being talented in many areas. But there are some times when I get emotional dealing with the pressure I have everyday — going to work and being the only woman on the show who wears a size that has two digits. A lot of times I get snubbed on the show in the storyline by Lauren (Tracey Bregman). She’s playing all those tricks on me to get my boyfriend. I’m under a lot of pressure from that. A lot of times I go home at night, having spent twelve hours at work being Traci Abbott, being depressed, crying. And because I’m an actress I have to feel those things for that period of time. There are times when I go home completely spent from all of it, and it’s almost unavoidable to feel bad, and so I do.”

Describing herself as “far more upbeat” than Traci, less easily “gotten to” and subsequently more resilient when she is depressed, Beth tries to shake off the bad days as soon as she’s through with work. She is very reliant upon her friends, many of whom are former Arizona school chums. However, among Beth’s circle of pals are several Y&R cast mates, especially her on-air sister Eileen Davidson (Ashley). The two always seem to be hanging out at cast parties, and while Eileen steadily dates Nicholas Walker (Trey Clegg, CAPITOL), Beth has become good friends with some of the other CAPITOL guys, such as Chris Durham (Matt) and Todd Curtis (Jordy).

Surprisingly, Tracey Bregman is another of Maitland’s close friends, to the shock of viewers who’ve come across them on a girls’ night out. “They sit in the restaurant staring and whispering to each other,” Beth laughs, “saying, ‘What are they doing together? Is she gonna dump a banana split?” (A standout altercation between Traci and Lauren on the show.) And when the two young actresses are joined at the dinner table by Michael Damien — forget it! Nobody can believe the sight of that threesome sitting together harmoniously.

Calling her relationship with Michael “interesting,” Beth explains that her Y&R crush was one of the hardest people to know, because of his real-life stature as a teenage idol. Wherever he went, Damien was surrounded by throngs of teenage girls and has had to develop certain self-guarding mechanisms for his own peace of mind. Following their early awkward moments, Beth has come to enjoy her friendship with Michael, “spending time with him in the dressing room, just talking. He’s got problems and I’ve got problems and we talk about them and work better together because of that.” Too, Beth appreciates the way young viewers feel about Traci and Danny’s troubled courtship. “I’ve had relationships like this,” she says with flat-out honesty.

At the moment, Beth is between romances of her own, discovering that quite a lot of men find it difficult to relate to a successful actress. Admitting, “Someday, I’d like to get married,” Beth adds, “but I’m not in a rush. I have too many things I want to do.”