My View of Llanview: July 30 Edition
(SoapOperaNetwork.com) — In 1968, “One Life to Live” created controversy with a storyline in which viewers outraged when they saw what they perceived to be a white woman kissing a black doctor. Forty years later, African-Americans in Llanview appear to be nonexistent.
The year 1968 was a rather turbulent time in American history. The Vietnam was well underway, nearly 200 hundred women protest the Miss America pageant calling it an exploitation of women, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law, Senator Robert Kennedy is assassinated while campaigning for President in Las Angeles, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is shot to death by James Earl Ray in Memphis, and Richard Nixon captured the White House by defeating Democrat Hubert Humphrey and American Independent Party candidate George Wallace. It had only been five years since the former Klan leader Wallace gave his infamous speech after being sworn in as the governor of Alabama: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
It was turning this tumulus time in America, during a decade stained with political, gender, ethnic, and racial strife and unrest that Agnes Nixon created what would become “One Life to Live.” Following her success as a writer on NBC’s “Another World,” ABC approached Nixon about creating a new soap for their network. What she would create would be unlike anything on television at the time. Reportedly tired of the “WASPy non-controversial daytime drama format,” Nixon created a unique that would center around four distinct core families.
There were the upper class Lords, the upper middle class Siegels, and the blue collar Woleks and Rileys. And to compound matters even further Nixon developed the Siegels as the television’s first Jewish family.
Nixon presented her concept to network executives, which she had tentatively titled “Between Heaven and Hell.” Concerned that the title of the soap combined with the storyline ideas were too controversial, Nixon and ABC compromised by changing the title to “One Life to Live.” Even so, the original opening sequence of the daytime drama (which lasted until 1975) featured a roaring a fireplace behind the words “One Life to Live.”
Not long after the then-thirty minute “One Life to Live” premiered at 3:30 pm et on July 15, 1968, controversy began to erupt. At first everything appeared normal for a 1960s soap. An African-American character named Sadie Gray was introduced. At first Sadie was portrayed simply as a close neighbor of the Wolek family, and as the Assistant Head of Housekeeping at Llanview Hospital. However, all was not as it seemed. Privately, Sadie longed to find her daughter Clara had run away from home in 1959 at the age of fifteen. Since that time, Sadie had been unable to contact her daughter. By October, another new character made her way to Llanview. Her name was Carla Benari, a struggling white actress.
Not long after arriving in Llanview, Carla was admitted to Llanview Hospital seeking treatment for appeared to be cirrhosis of the liver. Carla’s attention soon caught the attention of Dr. Jim Craig, a widower with a teenage daughter named Cathy. After studying her case, Dr. Craig concluded that an emotional problem could be the cause of her medical condition. Soon, the doctor began to fall in love with his patient, and a short time later Dr. Craig asked Carla to marry him. Although she responded favorably to his proposal, deep down Carla knew something wasn’t right. Although Dr. Craig would be able to offer her companionship, warmth, and financial security, she realized she was not in love with him.
Conflicted, Carla struggled with her emotions. Meanwhile, Dr. Craig, citing a conflict of interest, assigned Carla’s case to a young African-American intern named Dr. Price Trainor. After months of arguing and butting heads, Carla’s defenses eventually began to wear down, and she began to develop feelings for the young, black intern. Eventually, Carla confessed to Dr. Trainor “It’s a chemistry that makes us fight every time we encounter each other!”
Soon the young intern began to fall in love with his patient, while at the same time feeling guilty for being a black man in love with a white woman. Carla meanwhile, had recovered and was released from the hospital. Shortly thereafter, she took a job as Dr. Craig’s secretary. It was around this time that the romance between Carla and Price Trainor began to heat up. Their growing feelings for one another eventually resulted in a kiss. It was the kiss heard around the country as hundreds of angry viewers called into ABC to protest what they perceived to be a white woman kissing a black man. The uproar became so great that, for a time, one ABC affiliate in Texas dropped “One Life to Live” from their program schedule.
As the months went by, the storyline would soon take yet another shocking twist. One day after work, Carla decided to pay a surprise visit to Anna Wolek, whom she had become acquitted with at Llanview Hospital. But after knocking on her door a few times, she received no answer. As she was about to leave, Sadie Gray, the Wolek’s neighbor from across the hall, opened her door to announce that: “I’m sorry miss. The Woleks aren’t home. Can I take a message for you?” As she turned around to thank Sadie, Carla was frozen stiff. After several minutes of looking intently at one another, Sadie finally whispered “Clara!” Carla responded by calling her “Mama!” At last the truth was revealed, Carla Benari was really Sadie’s long missing daughter Clara Gray. This forced the audience into the realization that the character they had become invested in over the preceding months was not a white woman, but instead a light skinned black woman.
The revelation also changed those involved in the much-publicized recent controversial kiss, making it Carla and Dr. Craig who were part of the scandalous relationship, and not Carla and the black intern Dr. Price Trainor. Even so, the point was proven that America wasn’t quite ready for the racial lines between black and white to become colorblind in the name of love. In this regard, Agnes Nixon had created a storyline that was socially relevant at the time, and one that caught people’s attention and had them turning in each day to see what would happen next.
But what did happen in the weeks and months following that sensational kiss and the revelation that Carla was Sadie Gray’s long-lost African American daughter? Well, for starters, viewers were treated to rather emotional scenes between Carla and Sadie as daughter confessed to mother why she ran away from her life. Sadie blamed Carla for turning her back on her family, friends, and her heritage, especially in regards to being in love with a black doctor while being engaged to a white one. Carla responded by declaring that she didn’t ask to be born with lighter skin than most other black people, and that throughout her life she had suffered for “not being black enough.” As her emotions continued to poor out, Carla would also blast her mother for her lonely childhood. She reminded Sadie how she had always cared for other children as a maid and nanny, while Carla would be left home alone after school. And when she did come home she was too exhausted to pain much attention to Carla. And to rub salt into the wound, Carla declared “You had used up everything that you had to give on strangers that I didn’t even know.”
Fortunately, as the weeks went by, Carla and Sadie eventually reached an understanding. Carla faced the reality that she was who she was, and she couldn’t pretend to be someone that she wasn’t. She terminated her engagement to Dr. Craig (who would eventually find love in the arms of Anna Wolek), and confessed her secret to an angry Price Trainor. Carla’s newfound happiness was shortlived as Price denounced Carla for rejecting her race, something he himself was quite proud of. Even so, eventually they toyed with the idea of marriage, much to the dismay of Price’s disapproving, snotty mother Grace. Thinking that a housekeeper’s daughter was no where near good enough for her precious, wonderful son, Grace Trainor reminded her son that “There’s so much more to being ‘right’ for each other than love.” Although she cared for Price deeply, Carla was unable to accept the fact that he allowed his mother to make his decisions for him.
When that failed to result in the desired response, Grace pulled some strings to get Price a fellowship at Edinburgh University in Scotland in the United Kingdom. Now Price was forced to choose between his career and the woman he loved.
Although he trusted her advice, Carla reminded Price that she could not make the decision for him. She wrote him a note in which she stated “I just won’t decide for you. Since it’s your life… it has to be up to you.” Afterward, Carla who had left Llanview for a week, returned to discover that Price had left for Scotland. He did so with great remorse, however, after mistakenly believing that Carla’s passive attitude in her letter was a hint for him to leave). Price’s departure left Carla brokenhearted. However, she would soon find comfort in the arms of the prominent Bert Skelly, Llanview’s new black district attorney.
Bert Skelly was a shrewd politician who promised Carla that he could her everything her heart desired. Despite this, Carla began to have eyes for Police Lt. Ed Hall. Ed was everything that Bert was not, a blue collar working man who considered Carla to be stuck up and snobby. Eventually, however, Ed and Carla fell in love and were joined in matrimony in 1973. Also, around this time they finalized the adoption of a troubled young black boy named Joshua West (who took the name Hall following the adoption). At last, Carla appeared to have the life she had dreamed of. Also in the mix was Ed’s brother Gus, who became a recurring character in Llanview, and served as Ed’s best man in his wedding to Carla.
But all good things must come to an end. As the 1970s began to wind down, Ed, Carla, Josh, and Sadie gradually found their way to the back burner. By 1979, Carla had divorced Ed to wed Dr. Jack Scott, the surgeon who had operated on Ed’s recent heart condition. The following year, in 1981, Dr. Scott was killed off and Carla decided to leave Llanview. She would return over two years later and explained that she had attended law school during her hiatus from Llanview. After becoming the Assistant District Attorney, she was forced to prosecute Ed following a police sting gone bad. In 1985, Carla left Llanview for good after accepting a job as a judge in Arizona, never to return or be mentioned again. Shortly thereafter, the characters of Sadie, Josh, and Gus also faded from view.
Ed, meanwhile, would continue to call Llanview home for a few more years to come. He would become a Captain in the Llanview Police Department, however his scenes increasing more infrequent. Following Carla’s (Ellen Holly) departure from Llanview, Ed Hall (Al Freeman Jr.) was downgraded to a recurring character in Llanview before fading into oblivion in 1988.
Not much was heard from the Ed during the next dozen years until the year 2000, when his and Carla’s grandson Jared (supposedly from Josh) arrived in Llanview. Jared, following in the footsteps of his grandmother, became Llanview’s Assistant District Attorney. Jared (Herve Clermont) was introduced as having attended law school with established character Sam
Rappaport, had a checkered past. As he faced review from the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Sam defended his friend in court. During the trial, Ed Hall was called to the stand to testify in his grandson’s defense. Following the conclusion of the trial, Ed Hall quickly and quietly disappeared once more. Grandson Jared would soon follow suit in 2001, following a brief relationship with Rachel Gannon, the bi-racial daughter of Nora Buchanan and Hank Gannon. Since that time the Hall’s have become an afterthought to the citizens of Llanview.
In 1998, Ellen Holly wrote a tell all memoir about the back stage prejudice she faced while working on “One Life to Live.” The book, entitled One Life: An Autobiography of an African American Actress, centers around how the African-American cast members of “OLTL” were pushed out in favor of their white counterparts. She specifically mentions then “OLTL” Executive Producer Paul Rauch (1984-1991), who systematically eradicated Llanview of diversity in 1986. Holly tells of how actress Lillian Hayman, who portrayed Carla’s mother Sadie Gray, was unceremoniously fired from “OLTL.” According to Holly, Hayman was unaware of her dismissal until an assistant to Rauch caught up with her in the parking garage one day at the studio, and informed her that “Mr. Rauch wants you to know that you just worked your last day.”
It would be several more years until African-Americans would be prominently featured again in Llanview. Following the departure of the show’s core African-American cast members; black people in Llanview were mainly reduced to background shots and bit parts. Meanwhile, the soap’s white cast members were given major storylines. Despite this disappointing reality, other minorities began to command airtime on “OLTL.” During the late 1980s as “OLTL” became a camp fest and larger than life thanks to Rauch, several actors of Mexican, Spanish, and South American decent began to appear on “OLTL.” Among them were Gabrielle Medina (Fiona Hutchison), Maria Vasquez Roberts (Barbara Luna), and Cord Roberts (John Loprieno). While these characters, and others like them, became intricate parts of the “OLTL” storylines of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it would be several more years until African-Americans would again take center stage in Llanview and on “OLTL.”
That year would turn out to be 1992, when Llanview’s next prominent African-American family would arrive. This go around it would be the Gannon family, which included football player turned District Attorney Hank, his white attorney ex-wife Nora, their bi-racial drug addicted daughter Rachel, and Hank’s seedy brother R.J. Time and space constraints prevent me from delving too deep into their stay in Llanview, but here are a few highlights. While married to Hank, Nora had an affair with his brother RJ. Daughter Rachel briefly dated Victoria Lord’s son Kevin Buchanan. RJ discovered a daughter he never knew he had in Keri Reynolds.
And Antonio Vega and Keri married only to break-up, but not before having a daughter named Jamie. The divorce would drive Keri to kill herself and RJ to fight Antonio for custody (with the aide of Lindsay Rappaport). I realize that I’m not doing this storyline justice, but that is the jest of it.
While the Gannons were heavily featured in storylines throughout the 1990s, by the year 2000, they were placed on the back burner. Hank was written off “OLTL” in 2003, while R.J., who was bumped to recurring in 2007, is rarely seen in Llanview these days. Rachel moved back to Chicago, and only Nora has remained. Following her divorce from Bo Buchanan, she has been involved with several men, the most recent of which is Bo’s brother Clint. Nora is also the Llanview District Attorney. One of the few Jewish characters on television, Nora’s religion is rarely mentioned in recent years.
Adding to the diversity in Llanview in the mid-1990s, the Latino Vega family was introduced. Headed by matriarch Carlotta Vega, the clan was portrayed as a blue collar working family. Although Carlotta ran the diner she and her late husband had successfully built and managed, her sons Antonio and Cristian constantly gave their mother trouble. Antonio was a gang leader in the Angel Square section of Llanview. He was released from prison after proving that he killed a man in self-defense, and soon became a lawyer and then a cop. It was there we married his white partner, Andy Harrison and the husband and wife settled in California. After returning to town, he married R.J. Gannon’s daughter, discovered his real father was Manuel Santi, head of a crime syndicate and that Carlotta was really his aunt and Cristian his cousin. He married Jessica Buchanan, only to divorce her when she had an affair with Nash Brennan. Most recently, he has the hots for Syrian Talia Sahid. Much to Antonio’s dismay, Talia broke the news to Antonio that his longtime adversary Carlo Hesser is her biological father. Carlotta’s other son Cristian, a talented artist, was once involved with Jessica Buchanan when were teenagers, and nearly married her after learning she was pregnant with Will Rappaport’s baby. His love for Jessica caused him to think he could raise the baby as his own. A few years later, he marries Jessica’s sister Natalie and shortly thereafter disappears. He returns and is programmed to kill Antonio by Carlo Hesser. Fortunately, Cristian ends up killing Antonio’s other brother Tico Santi and is sent to prison, where his memories come flooding back. Eventually he is released from prison by Llanview’s newest attorney, African-American Evangeline Williamson in late 2005. Eventually, they fall in love and he helps her after she is blinded for a time. Evangeline also helps clear Cristian of charges of fixing boxing matches when shady African-American businessman confesses to the crime. Cristian is angry when Todd Manning pays a high priced doctor to help Evangeline regain her sight. But they get back together just as she is injured during a hate crime attack with leaves her in a coma. After sleeping with Blair Cramer, he falls in love with Sarah Roberts (daughter of Tina Lord and Cord Roberts), and ends up attempting to save her when Carlo sends her sailing down a river and over a waterfall in Mendorra. In his earlier days Cristian sculpted the Angel statue in Angel Square. As for Carlotta, she moved from being Dorian’s maid to diner owner to the occasional shoulder for Antonio and Cristian to lean on when they are in need of advice. But beyond that, Carlotta has been reduced to nothing more than a background character at the present time. Before I move on, I don’t want to forget to mention Adriana Cramer. Introduced as Adriana Colon, a family friend of the Vegas, it is soon revealed that she is the result of an affair between Dorian Cramer Lord and the late Manauel Santi. As a result, this makes her a niece to Carlotta, cousin to Cristian, and half-sister to Antonio. Recently, Adriana paid off Brody Lovett, ex-boyfriend to her husband’s former girlfriend Gigi Morasco to keep her away from Rex, with the help of her good friend, Evangeline’s sister Layla Williamson. Rex found out and Adriana left Llanview for Europe. Once again, it’s hard to fit all the storylines of the Vega family into one paragraph, so my apologizes for omitting so many details.
Other minority characters worth mentioning over the past two decades include homosexual teen Billy Douglas (whose outing revealed just how homophobic Llanview was in the early 1990s), Tea Delgado (whom Todd Manning paid to marry him to help him keep custody of his daughter, was pushed out a window by Blair Cramer, and who Todd eventually fell in love with), the original Blair Cramer Manning (who was portrayed by Japanese-American actress Mia Korf from 1991-1993), and Irish poet and Marty Saybrooke’s love interest Patrick Thornhart (portrayed by German-American actor Thorsten Kaye). In addition in the early years of this decade, “OLTL” attempted diversity again by introducing the “Love Center Crew,” featuring Marcie Walsh, Jen Rappaport, and several new minority characters forced to live and work together in order to graduate from Llanview University. The group, which had Viki Davidson as their den mother, featured African-American, Asian, and homosexual characters. However, nearly all them would soon be killed off by the Killing Club Murderer. And who could forget how “OLTL” treated a storyline involving bi-sexual District Attorney Daniel Colson. In case you forgotten, in 2005, after the reveal that Daniel Colson had killed Paul Cramer, he then framed his son Riley’s girlfriend Jen Rappaport for the murder in an attempt to find his sexual orientation. When Jen finally learned the truth, Daniel suffocated her in a parking garage on Mother’s Day, as her mother Lindsay waited for Jen to take her out to dinner. The shock and media frenzy, which resulted when the truth was finally revealed, caused his wife Nora Hannen to suffer a stroke and slip into a coma.
Which brings us to 2007, and then “OLTL” Head Writer Dena Higley’s poison penned attempt to craft a hate crimes storyline for the soap. In theory, the idea may have sounded plausible, but in reality it was a severly-misguided attempt to return “OLTL” to its former glory. The storyline involved the arrival of baseball player turned underwear model Tate Harmon to Llanview. On the surface, Tate seemed nice, but he harbored a deep secret; one which Rex Balsom was desperate to uncover. While Rex thought Tate was gay, in reality he was white supremacist and head of the group “One Pure People.” His targets were many: Nora Hannen and her son Matthew (who were Jewish), Cristian and Antonio Vega and Andriana Cramer (Latino), Talia Sahid (Syrian), Evangeline and Layla Williamson and Vincent Jones (African-American), as well as others. His daring plan went so far as to bomb Llanview Hospital, place poison gas in Cristian Vega’s loft, set fire to Capricorn, and torch Nora’s house with her and Matthew still inside. Fortunately, Talia Sahid shot him while holding Adirana Cramer, Layla Williamson, Rex Balsom, and Vincent Jones hostage on a rooftop. Also, no one was seriously harmed except Evangeline Williamson, who was knocked into a coma. When Tate’s father Kirk discovered what his son was involved with, he took the rap and went to prison to protect him. However, he later had a change of heart, but was killed before he could confess his son’s activities to police. Eventually, Tate was found guilty and sent to prison, where he was given a black cellmate.
Had the arsonist in this storyline been an established character, or a returning character to Llanview, viewers might have invested their time in the storyline. But, by having the arsonist be a new character that no one really cared about, the storyline quickly fell flat. However, you have to at least give “OLTL” credit for attempting to recapture their original vision of telling socially relevant storylines, however mismanaged this attempt may have been.
Before I forget, I feel the need to comment on the soap’s recent list of special musical talents that have stopped by Llanview. It is important to note that while African-Americans have largely disappeared from the “OLTL” canvas, the show has been successful in landing several prominent African-American musicians over the years. The list ranges from Little Richard and Sammy David Jr. to Nelly Furtado, Mary J. Blige, Timabland, and Snoop Dogg.
It is now 2008, forty years since “One Life to Live” first aired on ABC. While certain aspects of the show have survived over the years, others such as the diversity of the cast, have not. In 1968, Agnes Nixon made headlines by introducing a light skinned black woman named Carla Benari tried to pass herself off as a white woman, who eventually created controversy by kissing a white doctor. In 2008, trying to find an African-American in Llanview is like trying to find Waldo in an Independence Day parade. Currently there is only one African-American cast member on contract with the soap (Tika Sumpter as Layla Williamson), however she hasn’t been seen in nearly three months. For others remain on recurring status with the show: Tobias Truvillion, who portrays Vincent Jones and is on his way out; Sean Reinggold who plays a bodyguard named Shaun, Mario D’Leon who plays another bodyguard named Keyshawn “Keys” Reddick, and Timothy D. Stickney as R.J. Gannon. However, all four of the African-American recurring cast members receive rather limited airtime, and are primarily used only to support other characters in their storylines. Otherwise, their importance in limited to mostly ‘filler’ scenes. The only other African-American characters seen in today’s Llanview are extras and dayplayer roles such as waiters, business patrons, and police officers. Other minority characters currently in Llanview include Markko Riveria (who busts tables at the diner), Langston Wilde (whose deceased parents were of Columbian decent), the aforementioned Vega family and Talia Sahid, Noelle Ortiz (waitress at the Bon Jour Cafe in Paris, Texas), and the rarely heard, but often scene background character of Carmen the diner waitress.
Even though “OLTL” can claim to have five African-American cast members as part of their cast, how many of their characters rise above common black stereotypes. Only one out of the five in my opinion, Miss Layla Williamson. The one contract African-American cast member on “OLTL” is half-owner of a lingerie company called Exposed, and appears to be making a decent living. The four recurring African-American cast members are not so lucky. Vincent Jones is a former mobster, who once tried to rig boxing matches by drugging Cristian Vega so that he would lose matches, and he would make money by betting against his own client. Eventually however, he confessed to his crime and promptly faded into the background. He will be leaving Llanview once Layla dumps him after discovering that he has been cheating on her. Saun and Keys are both portrayed as body guards who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty if it means making a few extra bucks. Shaun once earned a living doing Vincent’s dirty work. And, as mentioned earlier in this article, R.J. Gannon has a long history of run-ins with the law. Although he has somewhat managed to reform himself in recent years, he has found out that the past is hard to run away from.
So my question is this, “What has happened to all the diversity in Llanview?” In a sense, where have all the black people gone? How realistic is it to believe that in a major city such as Llanview that nearly everyone is white and rich? Seriously? Even the poor white people in Llanview seem to have an time surviving. Gigi and Brody, neither of which have a job, are living comfortably with Shane in Viki’s cottage house, Cristian Vega is able to keep his loft despite the fact that he is no longer able to paint thanks to a hand injury, Charlie Banks is able to stay at the Angel Square Hotel even though he can’t land a job, and even Rex Balsom manages to hang on to his apartment, despite the fact the so-called PI hasn’t had a case in ages. What happened to all the blue-collar characters who are forced to work for a living? What happened to the Woleks and Siegels? In essence, what happened to the diversity that “OLTL” became known for 40 years ago?
In the first edition of his 1985 book, The Soap Opera Encyclopedia , Christopher Schemering describes “OLTL” as “the most peculiarly American of soap operas: the first serial to present a vast array of ethnic types, broad comic situations, a constant emphasis on social issues, and strong male characters.”While that statement accurately depicts the early years of the soap’s history, it has become increasing more difficult to relate it today’s vision of “OLTL.”
Never was “OLTL’s” present lack of diversity more glaring than in Head Writer Ron Carlivati’s recent tribute to the daytime drama’s 40th anniversary. While the tribute was nicely done and touching, it in no way, shape, or fashion resembled the Llanview of 1968 (or 1978 for that matter). All the storylines revisited for those two special episodes were from 1987 and 1988…but nearly the first twenty years of “OLTL” were strangely omitted from the tribute. The only thing even remotely connected to the 1968-1987 time frame on “OLTL” showcased in the 40th anniversary salute was the rebroadcast of the original opening sequence (which lasted from 1968-1975), which was shown on the first day of the two-day salute, and the all to brief recreated scene we treated to in which Victor Lord told Viki how that someday all would be hers, including The Banner newspaper. Beyond the brief reminder of show’s original diversity and title “Between Heaven and Hell” from that original symbolic hellfire opening, no mention whatsoever was made concerning the dynamic African-American storyline which captured viewers attention in 1968. The tribute more resembled a 20th, rather then a 40th, anniversary.
Oh sure, characters Bo and Rex were transported back in time to 1968 after being struck by lightning. But they went back to the Buchanan Ranch in Texas, and not to Llanview. While I get the special nod to the year of the show’s creation, the Buchanan family was not a part of “OLTL” in 1968. In fact, the Buchanan’s didn’t arrive in town until 1979 and 1980. And, while it is interesting to see just what the Buchanan clan was like more than twenty years before they came to town, I would much rather see what Llanview looked like 40 years ago. Just imagine seeing younger versions of Vicki, Meredith, Larry, Vince, and Anna Wolek, and of course Carla and Sadie Gray. I get the fact that society has changed over the past 40 years, and that interracial marriage and relationships are more commonplace here in 2008, but the storyline could still have been revisited. Much the way the Bo/Rex 1968 storyline is dealing with the war in Vietnam (which both Robert S. Woods and his character Bo fought in), the Carla Gray storyline could have been revisited in historical context to show how African-Americans were treated in 1968 America, and how those attitudes have changed in the past 40 years. But instead, we saw nothing but rich white characters, with an occasional Latino character thrown into the mix. And there was not a single black person to be found in either one of “OLTL’s” 40th anniversary tribute episodes, even though they are at least partly responsible for the early success of the daytime drama. At least a picture from Carla and Ed’s wedding was among the dozen or so special promotional images from the past 40 years that ABC released to commemorate “OLTL’s” 40th anniversary.
Recently, following the airing of the 40th anniversary episodes, “OLTL” held a party for cast and crew in honor of the event. It was there that “OLTL” creator Agnes Nixon recalled how the story of Carla Gray, a black woman passing herself off as white, prompted viewer protests in 1968. She remembered one letter in particular from a viewer which read ”I want to protest her kissing that black doctor. But I’m confused. If it turns out that she’s black, I want to protest her kissing that white doctor.” Quite a change from the viewer response “OLTL” gets today, which likely includes things like wanting more airtime for a certain character or asking for an autographed picture of their favorite cast member. Gone is the controversy and viewer unrest over socially relevant storylines. Gone are the days when “OLTL” mirrored real life. Those days have been replaced with time travel, trips to heaven, and people being kidnapped and set plunging to their doom over a waterfall in a small fictitious European principality. Not that it isn’t a nice escape from reality, but it certainly isn’t groundbreaking television. But to quote the legendary Walter Cronkite “that’s the way it is.” It likely won’t change, and will probably stay just the way it is. Don’t get me wrong, I still love “OLTL,” but would give anything to see more of exactly what “OLTL” was like before my birth in December 1979. But I’m afraid that since many of the old tapes of the show were either reused or destroyed those days may be gone forever.
It was at that same party that long-time “OLTL” cast member Erika Slezak made the statement ”It’s amazing that that was only 40 years ago and the world is so different that now we have a black man running for president.” So true Erika, so very true. Forty years ago “OLTL” had a rather diverse cast, and many an African-American youth only dreamed of someday running for President. Today we have an African-American running for President for the first time on a major party ticket. However, at the same time, African-Americans on “OLTL” (as well as other soaps) have become nearly non-existent. The more things change, the more they stay the same I suppose. At least programs like “One Life to Live,” which helped pushed the envelope of what was acceptable in society during a turbulent time in American history, helped get us to where we are today. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of his nation today. And that is something that even this white boy from a small Kentucky town that is over 98% Caucasian can appreciate.
But at least I can take solace in the fact that still have “One Life to Live.” That’s all for now, please join me again on August 15th for another installment of “My View of Llanview.” Until then, take care and enjoy your “One Life.” Good day.