Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Soaps Go Down the Drain

The news that two of ABC’s longest-running Daytime shows would be cancelled got me thinking on all sorts of levels. First there was the level reminded by one day when I came home from Mason City High School at lunchtime to find my mother and father sitting at the table, eating lunch and listening to a daytime radio soap opera. They were so involved in the story they hardly noticed me and when I asked what was going on, they launched into a long discussion about the show’s characters as if they were old friends.

And I guess they were. My father routinely left his dental office and travelled the short distance from downtown to our home to have lunch, and share the livee of those radio families. Perhaps that was excitement in a small Iowa city.

What I remember about the show was its theme song, “There’s a Small Hotel”, a Rodgers and Hart composition from the mid-1930s that regained popularity during WWII, probably because of its saccharine romanticism. It became one of my parents shared love songs and I wish I had followed my high school inclination to play it at their funerals. The second memory I have is that the show was introduced by Cliff Arquette; not surprising, in that about that time he was appearing on ten or so radio shows in Chicago. The story is that he commuted one to the next by motorboat on the Chicago River (I don’t know how that worked in the winter).

I was still pretty young when Jack Parr asked in 1959 “What ever happened to Cliff Arquette?” But I remember his appearing on the Parr show shortly after that, there and later on Johnny Carson as Charlie Weaver, a character who introduced us all to Mount Idy and his family who resided there. He carried the character into legacy with The Hollywood Squares, which many of you probably remember.

A greater legacy was his family, and the third generation. His son, Lewis, Played J.D. Picket on the TV series, "The Waltons" and managed Chicago’s Second City for several years. Several of Lewis’ children’s careers intersected with my life. His daughter, Rosanna, starred on several television shows and films, including "Desperately Seeking Susan" but eventually moved to Europe where she starred in my personal favorite, "The Big Blue", a favorite because it also featured an American actor, Paul Shenar, who was in my wedding party and "Scarface" before his death from AIDS a year after he filmed with Rosanna.

His other daughter, Patricia starred in the television series "The Medium" and won a CableACE award for her characterization in "Wildflower". But my favorite role for her was the movie "Holes", a film I consider a cult classic. Lewis had three sons: Richmond, who has been continuously working since 1993, David, whose claims to fame include starring in the "Scream" series and a brief claim to the WCW World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, and finally Robert, who became Alexis sixteen years after playing a transvestite in "Last Exit to Brooklyn".

The Arquette story highlights some of the complexities that surround the media in Southern California. There was a trivia game a few years back that challenged one to find anyone in the trades who was more than six-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. As improbable as it may seem, it was almost impossible to find such a person.

My own “six-degrees” story came last Saturday when I broke a standing rule and travelled to a casting workshop in Sherman Oaks. The reason I normally do not do that was evidenced by the two-hour drive up, the three-hour wait while others in the class did their readings before the casting director, and the 1 ½ hour return drive. But the session was worth the trip, providing excellent direction from Lindsay Baldasare and good contact with fellow class members, one of the better reasons for the workshops.

The story however, is that Lindsay commented that she also had a long drive, from Orange County. Where in Orange County? It turns out that she lives less than a block away from my house. And in the trades, being a block away from a successful casting director may just turn out to be that break you hoped for!

A good thing too, because with Soaps going away, an entry vehicle, which has worked for stars like Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore and the above-mentioned Kevin Bacon, is no longer there. Whatever the reason, the effect is fewer entry-level opportunities for actors.

Honestly, the need for that companionship from soap operas may no longer exist. If Justin Bieber can have millions of friends tweet him in a week, what need does he have for a fictional family? And that’s probably true today for that dentist in Mason City Iowa

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