A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the possible end of Guiding Light. I wanted so much to be wrong. I wanted to write a blog that said surprise! It’s not going to be canceled, even though it is last in the ratings! I also thought Walter Mondale was going to win the election in 1984. This proves that there are times I can be wrong. The show is going to end. As Lynn Liccardo has been documenting the past couple of weeks, the show was canceled on, of all days, April Fool’s Day. Irony abounds.
When I heard the news, it was like a sucker punch. People left notes on my Facebook page, stunned. We knew it was coming, yet it was still a shock. After many years, the show had finally found its footing again. The acting has been fantastic, the recent return of Grant Aleksander has proved to be fantastic, so the cancellation was like a death. My friend Christian said it was like a grandparent dying.
I tried to figure out why it hit me so hard. Was it because the show was getting good again? Or was it because no matter how much I complained about it, I always thought the show was going to be on at two o’clock, no matter what? Maybe.
What I do know is no show that was on both radio and television for so many years (Starting on radio in 1937, then television on 1952) can be considered a failure. A show that launched the careers of Calista Flockhart, Allison Janney, John Wesley Shipp, Red Room Author Harley Jane Kozak, and we can’t forget Kevin Bacon. Yep, Kevin Bacon started on Guiding Light, where the six degrees of separation started.
It was also the first soap opera to bring in African American characters, the Fraizers. James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Cicely Tyson, and Ruby Dee all got their start on the show. In 1962, Bert Bauer (Charita Bauer) went for a physical and it turned out she had uterine cancer. This was the first show -daytime or nighttime - that ever dealt with uterine cancer, making many women go and visit their doctors long before Oprah or anyone else on television suggested it might be a good idea. In 1979, inspired by the Rideout case, Holly Thorpe (Maureen Garrett) filed rape charges against her husband Roger (Michael Zaslow), the first time on a television show that a wife pressed rape charges against a husband. It’s easy to dismiss Guiding Light as just another soap opera. What’s not so easy is to dismiss the fact the effect it had on television and on the way real people lived their lives.
That is why I am announcing the Guiding Light Project here on Red Room! I will blog once a week about the show - be it an interview with one of the stars, a background history on one of the actors, or a particular storyline that broke ground in some way. This is an ongoing project and it will end on September 18th, the last day Guiding Light will air on CBS.
Now I know what many people are thinking: “Jennifer, this is a website for authors. Why devote five months on a soap opera?” Well, here’s my take on it: When a form of storytelling ends, even when it’s a soap opera, it should be celebrated. It also inspired a poem. Red Room Author Hal Shows wrote this poem about Guiding Light’s popular characters, Vanessa Chamberlain from his book Parasol. He graciously gave me permission to use this poem in my blog.
Enter Vanessa Chamberlain
(Vanessa Chamberlain was a central character in the long-running soap opera The Guiding Light in the 70’s and 80’s. At least that’s how I remember her. I watched the show often during extended periods of unemployment)
Burying the phone in black hair,
strokes her bountiful bottom lip
with the red tip of her bare ringfinger.
She is on the line to the college.
When her victim answers she says “Hello there.
This is Vanessa Chamberlain speaking.
That’s right, I said I’d call.”
Note well the white
crinoline petticoat bursting like bush
out of the black blazer she wears:
vaguest hit of a nun.
Bask in the beautiful pallor of her face!
Vanessa Chamberlain! Joan of Arc!
John of the Cross… Dear God,
for Christmas I would like to see
enter my room one day,
in spiked heels and nothing else,
her body the color of amber and immolations,
the sunlight sizzling around her,
a bottle of very bad bourbon
in her delicate hand.
She will kiss me once and pull away.
Perhaps she will say “I have to run.”
Perhaps she will want to meet me later.
Oh, cyclopean Father of twisted sex,
of all dreams dear to me this is dearest:
to hang around in a velvet bar
far past the appointed hour,
checking my watch,
as the bartender grows circumspect.
Woefully I will wonder what went wrong,
one of millions waiting today,
for her hushed silken entrance.
Now Shows could’ve easily just felt sorry for himself. He didn’t. He took a crush on Vanessa Chamberlain (Maeve Kinkhead) and made it into a poem. As a person who has watched Vanessa through the years, I can tell you he got it right. He made it into art, made it to something people could access, long after the show ends in September.
I know I can’t do this alone. If you have any memories or were connected to Guiding Light in anyway, blog about it here on Red Room or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any information you have. If you do blog about it, start you blog title off with “Guiding Light Project” That way in September I can compile them to see how far we have come.
In the meantime, don’t forget the words of Charita Bauer as Bert, trying to inspire a paralyzed Josh (Robert Newman) “Life itself is a miracle, and don’t you ever forget it!” We won’t, Bert. We won’t.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries