This interview was originally published in the September 18, 1990 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
After a six-year absence, Susan Seaforth Hayes makes a solo return to DAYS OF OUR LIVES.
They were the king and queen of the soap — shining from the cover of Time magazine, staging soap workshops, making guest appearances across the country, even writing a column for Soap Opera Digest. It was the kind of relationship the press and fans devoured: two stars on a hot soap getting together on-screen and off.
When Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes departed DAYS OF OUR LIVES in 1984 after being relegated to the back burner, it was a momentous good-bye for them and their characters, Julie and Doug Williams. Since her debut in 1968 — she was cast after initially being passed over because her eyelashes were too long — Susan enjoyed a successful run, picked up four Emmy nominations, and of course, met Bill. “Just about everything in my life came out of that show,” she notes.
Bill came back to DAYS for a while, as Susan put in five years as JoAnna Manning on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. Whenever the opportunity arose, they toured the country together with their variety act and performed in telethons, plays and musicals.
This past January, after several months off for the actress to do a play, a few films (including The Dream Machine with Corey Haim) and enjoy life, Julie sashayed back into Salem. This time, however, there was a marked difference. In Susan’s words, Julie was “The Long Ranger” — no Doug in sight. No, it’s not because the Hayes marriage has hit the Hollywood trash heap. The couple has invested a good sixteen years into their union and, according to Susan, it’s stronger than ever.
At Burbank’s The Smoke House, a steak-and-chops restaurant with dim lighting and large leather booths — a place Susan has selected because it was the place to go back in “her day” — the actress discusses Julie, Bill, and DAYS over a shrimp Caesar salad and iced tea. Wearing a crisp, light-blue blouse and waist-hugging full skirt, the pretty brunette looks more like a nice lady you would enjoy talking to at a party rather than a leading vixen. Though the woman behind those lightly tinted specs has been acting since childhood, she is refreshingly open, articulate, funny and thoughtful.
“Since the eighties, DAYS has been considered a show about couples,” comments Susan. “My character has come on as a single… which is something new for me since I’ve ben in daytime. I’ve worked several shows since the sixties, and in that time the single woman with power was always evil — if she was there at all. She was always a heavy, always a bitch. And now, my character is not a bad person. She’s a good person, but still a person who affects storylines and effects change. I can’t tell you how much fun that is to play. What a difference!’
That Julie is a single act is “perhaps more reflective of your times,” Susan continues. “Single women run households, single women run businesses, they buy better cars and really do exist and have an effect on those around them. They’re not licked in the home, and often are single by choice. It’s something new for me and something new for DAYS.”
Julie may be a party of one, but viewers haven’t forgotten her handsome companion. Letters have poured in wondering when Doug is going to walk through the door. “Bill certainly had a wonderful fun on the show and made a tremendous impact; obviously it’s not forgotten,” she observes. “I would like to make an impact on the show, too. I’d like to do something positive for DAYS. If this is the way they want to use me, then it’s going to be fine. If they decide to use us as a couple, that will be really fine, but I can’t very well dictate policy.”
Susan does not seem to have a “Queen Bee” attitude about her impressive DAYS tenure. “The people who have heard about it couldn’t care less about my history. Most people’s interest in soap operas begin when they are hired as actors,” she believes. “Their enthusiasm is generally connected to those actors with whom they work in their storylines. There’s nothing wrong with that. I Can’t expect people who have never watched DAYS before to care about my character because of the past. I have to make them care about it because of now, and I have to make my fellow actors care about what we do together because of the way I treat them now. This is the only day I can fix.”
Her current co-workers, insists Susan, are “very nice, talented people who truly work so hard at what they’re doing themselves that they don’t have a lot of extra energy to spend schmoozing with the new strangers. I’ve been made to feel very welcome, very much a part of the group.”
That company has gone from large to larger, part of the soap’s metamorphosis over the years. “The series has always been rich in popular characters,” Susan observes as she discusses the old and the new DAYS. “The problem has been giving all these popular characters something worthwhile to do. Also, economics means we have a very tight rehearsal and preparation time. That’s a difference you feel. When I started in the sixties, you rehearsed the day before for a half-hour show. I know we had less complicated shots, but you still had more dialogue and more rehearsal time in which everybody would sit down and listen to everybody else’s scenes, and the producer and director were there making the decisions about cuts.”
Not one to dwell on the past, Susan finds shooting DAYS more exciting now. “You have the sense that this is it — you can’t put it off till tomorrow morning. You must be prepared and come in having made a few decisions and knowing your lines and paying attention. You cannot sleepwalk through the production schedule.”
Not only have soaps been a big part of Susan’s life, they’re literally in her roots. Her mother, Elizabeth Harrower, was an actress who worked on radio soaps until her mid-fifties, when she became head writer for DAYS. Elizabeth went on to write for Y&R while Susan was there, and most recently has been writing for GENERATIONS. “I could always tell when Mother had written one of my scenes,” Susan chuckles. “She always writes juicy dialogue. She’s very good at that, and my scenes were no exception. She was, after all, working for Bill Bell, who was directing the storyline.”
With family and close friends all working on DAYS, things because very stressful for Susan back in the seventies and early eighties. “There was no place I could go where DAYS didn’t exist in that time frame,” she recalls. “I thought I was crazy for a minute and I went to talk to [Supervising Executive Producer] Al Rabin about it. He explained where all the pressure was coming from and was very understanding about it. He suggested I get some professional counseling, which helped. That’s just one of the ways he’s been terrific to me through the years.”
The dessert tray comes around, and Susan selects a tempting piece of berry cheesecake. Bill, or “Billy” as she affectionately calls her husband, inevitably slips into the conversation. Their romance sparked back in the early seventies, when the pair were alone in a DAYS rehearsal hall, sitting side by side on a piano bench picking out a tune.
Since then, Susan enthuses, “There have been twenty years of shining moments, knowing our whole life has been really blessed with colorful, positive things happening to us, being in the exciting stimulating situations together. But I think that was the moment when I realized he is a wonderful guy. He is not only extremely attractive and sexy. He is talented, sensitive and good. I saw that this was not only someone I could love, but someone I wanted to be like. I wanted to be more like him and less like the person I was at the time. And that’s one of my continuing goals.”
The two work together every chance they get, although with her three-year contract on DAYS and his stage work that will be a little tricky. Last summer, they toured West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania while filming a documentary on Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Disciples of Christ. It is the touring and discovering out-of-the-way places that Susan relishes.
“I love the United States of America,” she declares in all sincerity. “I love the small towns. I appreciate the mail I get from small towns. I try to put myself in the place of the viewer who lives in a smaller community… with perhaps more limited horizons and fewer educational opportunities. I’d leave Los Angeles in a minute if there was some way to produce DAYS in Utah. What amazes me is that there are viewers everywhere. One time Bill and I were in Stockton [California]. Our car had broken down and we were at a small mall seeing a movie. We had four hours before the car was drivable again. I was eating an ice cream cone and a lady ambles up, sits down across from me and says, ‘Excuse me, aren’t you Susan Seaforth Hayes?’ She had the whole name. ‘Yes,’ I said, discreetly trying to wipe the ice cream off my face. And she said, ‘Well, I’m very relieved. I just got out of the hospital and I’ve been on a lot of drugs and I thought you weren’t.’ And she got up and ambled on.”
No, neither Bill and Susan, nor Doug and Julie, have been washed from people’s memories.