Deep Soap: Remembering ‘World Turns’ Legend Helen Wagner

by | May 3, 2010 at 8:39 AM | Deep Soap

Helen Wagner on As the World Turns (CBS)

Helen Wagner on As the World Turns (CBS)

‘As The World Turns’ Helen Wagner Passes Away

We have lost another daytime legend.  ‘As The World Turns’ original cast member Helen Wagner, who played matriarch Nancy Hughes from the show’s very first episode in 1956, passed away on Saturday May 1, 2010.  She was 91 years old.   Her death comes as ATWT’s writers are preparing to end the show, which will air its final episode in September.  At this time, no announcement has been made about whether the show will choose to incorporate Nancy’s death into its final storylines.  It seems wrong that ATWT’s final episode will not include Wagner.  She was the heart of Oakdale.

ATWT’s creator Irna Phillips famously divided her characters into saints and sinners.  Nancy was definitely a saint. She never divorced, committed adultery or engaged in any of the scandalous behavior that is standard for today’s soap characters. Nancy was three dimensional thanks to both Wagner’s performances and some realistic flaws that did not detract from her morality. She had firm ideas about how her children and grandchildren should be living and did not hesitate to share her opinions with them.  As one of my friends put it, if you’ve been told off by Nancy Hughes, then you’ve really been told.  Wagner’s appearances have been less frequent in recent years, but she was recently seen in the episode when Bob and Kim renewed their vows. As someone who started watching ATWT in the 1990s, I never saw any of Nancy’s long marriage to Chris Hughes (Don McLoughlin). I was moved by the story of her second marriage to Dan, (Dan Frazer), and his subsequent diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Wagner made a cameo of sorts on ‘Mad Men,’ when the show aired the famous clip of Walter Cronkite interrupting one of Nancy’s scenes to announce that John F.Kennedy had been shot. ATWT was the number one soap for most of the 1950s and1960s.  Wagner did not attempt to parlay her fame into a primetime or movie career.  She remained loyal to the show.

Wagner was every bit as upstanding as Nancy.  In the entertainment industry, it’s a miracle when a marriage lasts over a decade.  Wagner was happily married for 55 years. Wagner is in the Guinness book of World Records for playing the same role on television for the longest period of time. It’s a safe bet that her record will never be broken.

It is disheartening writing obituaries for so many of soap’s veteran cast members.  Rationally, I realize that nobody lives forever, and that all of the actors who have passed away lived long, happy lives.  But it is a shock to lose Wagner so soon after ‘Days of Our Lives’ Frances Reid passed away.   They were the last of the old school matriarchs.  (I suppose Audrey from ‘General Hospital’ technically fits this bill, but Rachel Ames is no longer under contract and started out as the bad girl flight attendant.)  These actors who were members of the Greatest Generation have seen daytime come full circle.  They were there  in the genre’s infancy, when the shows shot live, retakes were impossible, production values were low and actors were expected to do their own hair and make up.  They saw daytime flourish and become  glamorous. Now that daytime is once again a genre where it is up to actors to make it work with little rehearsal and fewer sets under intense time pressure,they are uniquely prepared to handle the fast pace and guide the rest of the cast.  Unfortunately, they are now in the twilights of their careers.  Wagner’s life ending so close to the end of ATWT is the sort of tragedy that Irna Phillips would have scripted.

Lulu and Dante Get Lucky — You Get Cupcakes

Are you a fan of ‘General Hospital’s Lulu (Julie Berman) and Dante (Dominic Zamprogna)?  Do you like cupcakes?  Do you live in the Los Angeles area? Then Wednesday, May 5 is a lucky day for both you and your favorite couple.  The couple is “taking their relationship to the next level”, or, in plain English, finally having sex.  To commemorate the occasion, the chi chi bakery Vanilla Bake Shop (warning: website Not Safe For Diets) has created a special Lante cupcake. The first 200 customers will get a free cupcake.

The Lante cupcakes are, “a delicious mix of dark chocolate and a whipped mascarpone cream center topped with mocha hazelnut butter cream and Valrhona chocolate crunchies to represent the sinfully good duo.”   I leave it up to you to decide why this combination represents Lante.  ABC was kind enough to send me a half dozen of these bad boys.  As a hardcore chocaholic, I can honestly say they are among the best I cupcakes I have ever had the pleasure of devouring.  A single cupcake is rich enough to be a full meal.  If you are wondering how and why GH cooked up such an unusual promotion, Vanilla is owned by Julie Berman’s brother and sister-in-law.  This is a unique opportunity to settle the old debate about whether chocolate is better than sex.

Vanilla is located at 512 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica (between 5th and 6th Streets). The bakery opens at 9AM.  I suggest arriving early, because those 200 free cupcakes are going to go fast.