This interview originally appeared in the December 30, 1988 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
Melissa Brennan on why SANTA BARBARA was a bummer, sex on DAYS OF OUR LIVES and the agony of growing old.
Next time you’re tossing, turning and counting sheep to the drone of your TV test pattern, take comfort in the fact that Melissa Brennan probably is, too. Despite a live-in boyfriend, a miniature Doberman pinscher and a runty baby beagle to keep her company, the DAYS OF OUR LIVES teen queen just can’t seem to get to sleep without the TV on. Melissa (to be known hereafter as Missy, the name everyone calls her) became addicted to nocturnal televiewing long before she signed on as DAYS’s sometimes naughty, sometimes nice Jennifer Rose Horton. Her downfall came shortly after hitting Hollywood over two and a half years ago. The then 17-year-old babe in the woods was fresh out of Eatontown, New Jersey where she’d been plucked, without any acting credits, to play SANTA BARBARA’s bubble-headed Jade Perkins.
The whole experience, which ended with Brennan’s termination nine months later, was a certifiable downer. Not only was the high school student separated from friends and family while trying to cope with premature adulthood in crazy California, she was also thrust unknowingly into the kill or be killed grind of getting a new soap off the ground.
Missy recalls that, at first, things seemed sweet on the SANTA BARBARA set but that they turned real sour real fast, particularly once critical batterings and limp Nielsen ratings indicated the serial was starting life with a limp battery. “All of a sudden, they started killing everybody,” says Brennan, “and you never knew if you’d be next. They never made you feel secure unless you were a favorite — and there were lots of favorites,” Missy stresses. “There was so much pressure and so much tension, I hated going to work.” In the end, Missy didn’t even have the luxury of seeing Jade killed off. One night, Jade Perkins went out on a date and never came back. “I was never told the reason why I was let go on SANTA BARBARA,” she mumbles. The actress did have her suspicions. “I thought it was because I was too heavy.”
Indeed, Missy had put on a few pounds. By the time the producers gave her the heave-ho, the tinier than petite Brennan — who normally tips the scales at an even 100 — was weighing in at 125 pounds. To be fair, the SB execs decided to terminate the entire blue-collar Perkins clan when it was apparent that they couldn’t hold a candle to the bauble, bangles and beautiful people on the flailing serial — but, nevertheless, Brennan’s excess baggage was undeniable.
“I looked like a balloon,” she groans. Though she can laugh now she wasn’t even grinning then. “I was so depressed that after work I’d stop at the McDonald’s by my apartment and order the same thing every night.”
Holding up a handful of fingers to illustrate, one by one, her caloric catastrophes, she says, “I’d get a six piece Chicken McNugget. I’d get a large fries. I’d get a caramel sundae. I’d get an apple pie…” She’s got one finger left but she can’t, for a moment, remember the final indulgence. “Oh, yes,” Missy recovers, “and a diet coke.” Add to this several daily runs to the SANTA BARBARA candy machine for those dry, throat-clogging cheese-and-peanut butter crackers, a Snickers and one or two Mounds bars and you get the picture.
On the unemployment line and swearing bullets about future job prospects, Missy gave a controversial herbal diet plan a try. When the stuff decided to cement itself into an immovable block somewhere in the vicinity of her kidneys, she did a short-term gig at a nearby hospital. Missy did, however, lose 11 pounds during the ordeal which, at the very least, gave her an encouraging start on her weight loss plan.
As she orders up a lunch of fish and chips (she hates salads which in Hollywood is a punishable offense), Brennan has no qualms about sharing her diet secrets. “I just don’t eat very much,” she says. When pressed, she’ll admit to a tad more. She only eats fruit for breakfast, and won’t touch a crumb after 5:00 p.m., but she’s still hopelessly addicted to French fries.
Slimmed and trimmed, TV parts as an alcoholic’s girlfriend on HOTEL and a cancer patient’s girlfriend on HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN landed in her lap.
One thrill that hasn’t worn off yet is her delight at joining the DAYS OF OUR LIVES cast. After the SANTA BARBARA fiasco, Missy notes, “Now I love going to work. I have it in me.” And she’s not in the least bugged by the show’s endless array of scintillatingly stunning women. Says the actress, “If they were beautiful and they knew it, it would be very intimidating. It would be hard to go to work. But they all think they’re the ugliest things in the world!” You could have knocked Missy over with a feather when, during her first day on the set, actress Kristian Alfonso (Hope) walked up to her in the makeup room, extended a hand and introduced herself. Missy — who’d been keeping up with Alfonso’s queen bee status via all the fan magazines — was absolutely aghast. Dropping another French fry, Brennan exclaims, “She was sooooo REAL!!!”
The blonde and beautiful Brennan does confess to being scared stiff about her TV love scenes with actor Rob Estes (Glenn). “It’s very nerve-wracking,” she says although the huggy-kissy sequences are a big hit around the set. Claims Missy, “It seems that there’s never a crew member around until we’re all doing the sexy stuff. Then they’re all watching!”
She’s delighted with the way the DAYS writers have handled the teen affair but points a castigating finger at less responsible soaps. “On other soaps when there’s a teenage love story, they just rush right into it and hop into bed. It’s just like an adult relationship. I’m not going to be naïve — I know this does happen. But they don’t know the other side. They don’t talk about being careful, about pregnancy and birth control. If a girl gets pregnant, she has a baby and there’s another character. It’s no big deal.”
Missy was recently shocked to see just how closely her TV turmoils mirror teen life in the real world. When Jennifer Rose swiped some test answers from the teacher and passed them out to her buddies, the actress got a letter from a girl who, after watching the show, went out and tried the same stunt. The teen was in big trouble and frantic for advice. Horrified, Brennan not only contacted the girl and convinced her to confess to the crime (which, had the fan stayed tuned a few days longer, she would have seen Jennifer Rose do), she also grabbed DAYS producer Al Rabin in the hall and begged him to use discretion because, at least in Iowa, life was imitating art.
While it’s nice to know she’s a convincing actress, Missy is the last to get hoity-toity about her talents. Armed with but a handful of TV commercial credits, Brenna went from oblivion to playing underage tartlets in no time. It couldn’t be easier, she insists. “It’s all teenage things I’ve done and said, so what’s so hard about it? I’ve fought with my boyfriends. I’ve fought with my mother. I don’t know one teenage girl who doesn’t have yelling, screaming fights with her mother once in a while. It’s not hard to play what you’ve already played in your life. If you’ve done it before, all you have to do is think back and you can do it again.”
But doesn’t she realize that Hollywood is chock-full of starlets trying to achieve the very same results by paying megabucks to Stanislavski-spouting gurus? She glances longingly at her final four French fries but, remember her diet, decides to let the waitress cart them away. “Well,” she offers, “I don’t take classes. I don’t do all that hard stuff so I can be an incredible, amazing actress. I guess I’m not as determined and dedicated as other people.”
There’s no guilt, whatsoever, except about those spuds. Since the waitress is nowhere in sight, she quickly gobbles three of them in quick succession. The last, lonesome potato sits there, slowly sinking to the bottom of its tomato sauce pool. Missy stares it down as if — symbolically anyway, its very existence proves that she hasn’t blown her diet totally.
Missy does have one overwhelmingly excruciating, unendurable, heartbreaking concern in life — her age. She just plain can’t cope with the concept of turning twenty.
“It’s just too gross to even think about,” announces Brennan who, plummeting to the depths of depression, uncorks the ketchup bottle and drowns her sorrow in that solitary fry. After all, at her doddering old age, what’s one for the road?