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Beverlee McKinsey: The Grand Lady of Daytime

Last month, one of the best actresses I ever saw on television died.  Her name was Beverlee McKinsey. If you're not familiar to soap operas, you're probably scratching your head, wondering who she is. Beverlee McKinsey created two popular characters in soap operas: the Daddy loving, stepmother hating Iris Cory Carrington on Another World and Texas, and Baroness Alexandra Spaulding Von Halkein Thorpe on Guiding Light. Her characters were elegant and ruthless. They could be bitchy yet vulnerable. If you saw Beverlee McKinsley in action, you wouldn't forget it.

            She started off in theater, originating the role of Corie in Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford on Broadway, then went on and originated the role of Honey on the London stage in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She was in They Shoot Horses Don't They?  Yet her greatest success was in soaps. After appearing on Love is a Many Splendored Thing, she went on to do the show Another World. At first she portrayed Emma Ordway, but then the powers that be decided she needed a more glamorous role, something more exciting. They created for her Iris Cory Carrington.

            I never got to see McKinsey as Iris, but from what I heard, she was amazing. She was not pleased that her father Mac Cory decided to get married again to Rachel Frame. No sir, not a bit happy. She wanted her daddy all to herself, thank you very much. It didn't help matters that Rachel had a reputation as The Bitch of Bay City. Iris wanted that title all to herself. She then proceeded to make Rachel and Mac miserable with her scheming and lies. For her performance as Iris McKinsey was nominated four times for an Emmy, but never won.

            NBC decided to spin off McKinsey in her own soap, never done before on daytime television. The show was called Texas! The first year it said "Starring Beverlee McKinsey" They moved Iris to Texas and she fell in love again with her long lost sweetheart, Alex Wheeler. Then they did the unthinkable: they made Iris nice. Iris wasn't supposed to be nice. She was supposed to be bitchy. However, it was a year before Dynasty so they had to make her nice. It didn't work, and McKinsley left after a year.

            However, she made another return in soaps. In 1984, Guiding Light was now neck in neck with General Hospital in the ratings. After years of being beaten by GH, GL was shining. It had a new head writer Pamela K. Long, who wrote some of the best female characters in soaps, be it feisty Mindy Lewis, artistic Beth Raines, and nobody's fool Reva Shayne Lewis. These women were spunky; they were at times funny, and likable. You wanted them to win. And Pamela Long created for McKinsey Baroness Alexandra Spaulding Von Halkein, who had all these qualities and more.

            She made her debut in February 1984 during a masquerade ball. I was eleven when I watched this, at home from winter break. I had no idea what a big deal bringing McKinsey was, all I knew was she walked up and down the ballroom like a panther, surveying her prey. She then made her entrance, being polite to everyone, not letting on she had been watching them the whole night. It was such a great way to introduce a character.

            Alexandra had been away married to a baron, but she also had a secret: Years before, she fell in love with a pianist named Eric Luvonczek. They had a son she named Brandon for her father. However, her dad was not happy that she had a   baby with some nobody, so Mr. Spaulding paid Luvonzek to go away with the baby and left her heartbroken. So in the early months McKinsey was searching for her son. It turned out to be Lujack, the hood with the heart of gold. Of course it was a surprise, but she grew to love him, and he grew to love her. Character development was shown here. It's not done much in soaps these days.

 When Vincent Irizarry (who played Lujack) decided to leave the show, they killed him on camera. This meant he wasn't coming back. Ever. Yes, I'm still bitter about this. Anyway, moments after he died and his fiancée Beth was trying to revive him, Alexandra ran in the room. There's a moment of shock in her face and she yelled "No!"  In that single word, there was so much pain, so much anger, and so much sadness. In minutes she regained her composure, but in an instant McKinsey showed raw grief and how it can transform someone.

            McKinsey went on to give powerhouse performances year after year. In 1992 she had her best year yet. Apparently Eric her long lost lover forgot to tell her that oops! She had twins all those years ago! And he sold one of them! (This was to explain Vincent Irizarry's return to GL) She confronted him in a sad Paris apartment, throwing things at him, yelling, screaming. Private Detective Frank Cooper had to drag her out of the room, with her yelling "He took my baby!" Yet again McKinsley showed powerful and amazing she could be in the face of grief and sadness.

            However, in 1992 she made a decision. She wasn't happy anymore at GL. She didn't like it her character was being written as a nagging shrew upset about her son being engaged to whom she thought was the wrong woman for him (it might have to do with the fact the woman in question slept with one of Alexandra's husbands) The hours were long, and she was tired. So she told the executive producer   Jill Faren Phelps she was leaving. Phelps told her no way, she had a contract.  Aha, McKinsey said, in her contract it said if she wasn't happy for any reason, she could give two months notice, which she did. And without a backward glance, McKinsey left Guiding Light and the soap world.

            She retired to California. Did a brief role on General Hospital where her son Scott was director. But mostly she just relaxed. Michael Logan who wrote for TV Guide once wrote she made Greta Garbo look like a chatterbox. I believe she was doing what John Lennon sang about. She was watching the wheels go round and round. She didn't have to be on the merry-go-round anymore of waking up early, be a character, slapping people, then plotting to steal a company. She had enough.

            McKinsey died of kidney failure (she just had a kidney transplant) When news of her death came out, it spread over the internet like mad. Most were sad that younger generations were never going to see her at work. A lot of us were sad that she would never make a comeback.

            Last week at the Daytime Emmys many were disappointed that McKinsey was not mentioned at all during the broadcast. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. They had to make sure they had time to promote the new show MVP (a new soap involving hockey) As blogger Snark pointed out, they have their priorities.

            I try to picture McKinsey again when she came on Guiding Light, looking at everyone, taking it all in. She was so sure of herself, she knew what she was doing. She made it so effortless. She made it so easy. She was one of a kind.

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Jennifer, I'm sorry you

Jennifer, I'm sorry you never got to see McKinsey as Iris in action. She was a force of nature. My mother was a rabid AW fan and Rachel, Mac and Iris always seemed like family to me (albeit very rich, self-involved family)! 

I loved her on GL. There were things Beverlee could do with JUST her voice or JUST a raised eyebrow that other actors could try for hours and hours to get at and never even come close. 

We WILL never see the likes of her again, mostly because soaps stopped hiring people who could act years ago. I think McKinsey's closest compatriot in terms of ability and memorable performances is Lisa Brown (formerly GL's Nola). They both had unique voices and an ability to get to the ugliness in their characters AND still have the audience eating from their hands. Not many actors can do that. 

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thanks Patrick!

Here's the amazing thing: After I posted the blog, people started to send me clips of Beverlee as Iris. I've posted them in my media section and am planning on seeing them soon (I'm having sound issues with my computer) But it reminds me there's nobody like soap fans!

And you are so right about her and Lisa Brown. I wish they could've had more scenes together. At the ball Lola asks Alexandra: "Wow! Did you ever meet Princess Diana?" Classic Nola!