OLTL began in 1968, the brainchild of the amazing Agnes Nixon, who I was so lucky to meet one day on the set of All My Children in the summer of 1994 when, as a professional writer, I had begun to interact with cast members and other creative forces associated with the ABC television family. My mother and grandmother had followed OLTL intently over the years, especially during the riveting 1979 arc that revealed that average everyday housewife Karen Wolek (played by Judith Light) was, secretly, a prostitute -- fairly bold subject matter for two o'clock in the afternoon in a programming landscape as-yet untainted by hair pulling and the use of the bleep button every few syllables. My first introduction came in November of 1983, a few weeks after a tragic accident claimed the life of a high school friend. Such intense grief is difficult to digest at any age, but then it seemed insurmountable. There was only escaping it for brief interludes and, having been seduced into watching the return of Genie Francis to General Hospital, I found myself seated earlier and earlier in front of the tube. I was, after all, a young writer eager to understand plot, dialogue, and cliffhanger-based storytelling, and I could have done far worse than to embrace the art from an Agnes Nixon creation. I was also in desperate need of forgetting my own troubles, and the citizens of Llanview helped me get through them. I distinctly remember the inimitable Robin Strasser, chewing up scenery as the elegant and fiery Dorian Lord-Callison, dressed in black gown with bronze sequins, all bitch and zero apology as she enjoyed a torrid affair with hunky spy David Renaldi (the late, great Michael Zaslow). For some reason, I also remember a vase of vibrant anemone flowers on a table. I can't tell you why that image stays with me, only that in several of my published stories and novels, anemones appear. Until Strasser's final exit from OLTL over the summer of 2011, Dorian Kramer/Lord/Callison/Vickers was one of many reasons to tune in at two in the afternoon.
In 1985, Andrea Evans, "Tina Clayton" (only by then, she was revealed to be Tina Lord, the love child of villainous Victor Lord, half-sister to long-suffering heroine Victoria) visited my very cloistered corner of the world to sign autographs. It was as though I'd been given a glimpse that said world wasn't so flat as I'd been led to believe. By 1989, after six years of split personalities, returns from the dead, time travel, and global adventures (one of the most memorable resulting in Tina going over the Iguazu Falls in South America), then-executive producer Paul Rauch took viewers on one of the wildest daytime rides ever: beneath Llantano Mountain, to the lost city of Eterna, built by Victor Lord. For days, I was riveted, couldn't wait to tune in, and devoured that hour like an addict. Several of the series regulars found themselves trapped in Eterna -- Tina, Vicki, Gabrielle (the gorgeous Fiona Hutchison), and handsome cad Michael Grande, played by the charismatic Dennis Parlato. Four years later, when my writing was starting to be published in national magazines, through odd circumstances I found myself standing in the dark cavern of sister soap Loving's ABC studios at West 66th Street in New York City, talking with Parlato about the character of Michael Grande, who made it out of the city and off the mountain only to be murdered a year later. Not surprising, Loving brought the actor in to play dastardly Clay Alden on the little soap that could (and did until its cancellation in 1995). Grande, he told me, had been a delight to portray. He'd also loved that storyline, which wasn't a huge hit overall with viewers. It was to us. That afternoon at ABC, I saw how big the world truly was, and I set forth to explore it.
In 1992, unemployed and suffering for my art -- in other words, living off savings and small paychecks from my writing -- OLTL's dynamic head writer, the novelist Michael Malone, unveiled a storyline that dealt with homophobia and culminated with characters from the show visiting the A.I.D.S. memorial quilt. During that time, eagerly awaiting each new episode and aching for the weekends to pass, so completely inspired, I wrote a series of modern gothic paranormal gay love stories, Ghost Kisses -- it would become my first published book and an effort I'm proud of, these many years later. I may not have written the collection during any other time, with such intense passion, if not for the atmosphere OLTL helped to create that summer.
I have quite a bit left to say about One Life to Live -- and I will, on Friday morning, before the final episode airs and TV officially stops being fun to me. But I feel compelled to mention actress Catherine Hickland especially, who was a regular part of the show's canvas for so many wonderful years. I first had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Hickland in 1993 when she starred on Loving. We hit it off instantly, bonded by our mutual love of and the need to advocate welfare for companion animals. Flash forward to the summer of 2001, when I was writing semi-regularly for the ASPCA's official national publication, Animal Watch. I was assigned to provide a celebrity story on a notable animal rights advocate, and pursued Olivia Newton-John, even came very close to delivering the story. Because of Newton-John's touring conflicts and my looming deadline, I contacted Ms. Hickland, who made herself instantly available, and who had not only founded a cruelty-free cosmetics brand, Cat Cosmetics (used by the show's makeup department), but had also been instrumental in securing a mobile veterinary van for one of the city's shelters, completely outfitted, even with veterinarian. To me, she was the perfect choice for such a story, a celebrity who was more about actions than words, and a humanitarian who delivered the goods.
One Life to Live was more than just a TV show. It was the finest, written by talented writers whose lines were performed by the best actors. It was also a lifelong friend, and one I'll miss terribly once the final fade out takes place some forty-eight hours from now.