Katherine Phillips Hughes died two weeks ago. I know the name doesn’t sound familiar, but she was a part of a dynasty, a soap opera dynasty. She helped start a career of an actress, who would later win an Oscar. While she wasn’t directly involved with Guiding Light, her death adds to the end of an era of soap operas.
Katherine Phillips Hughes was adopted by Irna Phillips. Back in the forties, a single woman adopting a baby was pretty rare, but Irna Phillips did it, along with adopting a baby boy. I wonder how they felt when their mom worked, disappearing into other people’s worlds. I’m guessing Katherine was definitely inspired by her mother’s work. In 1970, at age twenty-six, she created a soap opera of her own
Back in 1970, soaps were trying to get “with it.” This, according to Robert LaGuardia’s Soap World, was the Age of Relevancy. They knew in order to get new viewers they had to bring soap operas in the 1970’s. Soon Mary Stuart on Search for Tomorrow started singing folk songs, One Life to Live had patients of a rehab house talk about the dangers of drug addiction, and women were—shock—working outside of the home!
On March 30, 1970 three soap operas made their debuts on the same day. One, a spinoff of Another World entitled Somerset, made its debut on NBC. On ABC, two new shows debuted. By then, there were twenty soap operas on the air. Twenty! Now there are only eight—so hard to believe.
The shows that debuted on ABC were The Best of Everything, based on Rona Jaffe’s book, and A World Apart, created by Katherine Phillips. I can imagine the pressure was on her. Twenty-four and to be writing a soap opera is a big deal. To be the creator and head writer, that’s amazing. Even more amazing is that Irna Phillips left As the World Turns to help her daughter get the show off the ground by being its executive producer and story editor. Let’s review: Katherine was twenty-four, a head writer for a soap opera, and working with her mother who also happened to create the genre of soap opera. Yes, no pressure there.
According to Soap World, A World Apart centered on the character Patrice Kahlman, whose mother was Betty Kahlman—and both wrote soap operas. It’s not farfetched to believe that Katherine took the advice of many writers who say write what you know. Patrice was played by a young actress who was the same age as Katherine. Her name was Susan Sarandon, and this was one of her first roles. In this transcript of an ABC promo, Sarandon shows the viewers a glimpse of Patrice.
Patrice walks into a bar, addressing the bartender: Are you the regular bartender here? Um, I’ve never been here before but I’m going to start making the scene.(Music starts to swell)I’m Patrice Kahlman. I was just kicked out of school. It happened just two months before graduation… well anyhow it doesn’t matter now, I’m eighteen now, and a woman… do you know my brother Chris Kahlman? We don’t look alike, ‘because we’re not really brother and sister. Everybody likes him. He doesn’t have any problems… Boy, my mother would never approve of this place. She’s a career woman, with a capital C. Hey, can I have a glass of whatever Chris drinks? A woman of eighteen should know how to drink, right? Watching the clip, the viewer is aware of a couple of things. The first thing is that Patrice has some mother issues. The second thing is Susan Sarandon shines here as Patrice, a girl who is trying to be very grown-up but still sounds immature. The third thing is that Katherine Phillips did have an ear for dialogue, and the dramatic. No doubt she got this from her mother and used it to her advantage.
I couldn’t find any episodes of A World Apart, but according to Wikipedia the show’s title reflected the generation gap between Betty and her children Patrice and Chris. The show had Sarandon, and several actors also getting their start: Dorothy Lyman, Clifton Davis, and Susan Sullivan.
However Katherine Phillips was replaced by Tom and Suzanne Holland. Looking at it now it must’ve been so hard for her. Being fired is awful, no doubt about that. However to be fired from something you created, plus something that your mother excelled at, must’ve really stung.
The Hollands couldn’t save A World Apart; it was canceled in June 1971. I looked to see if Katherine Phillips had written anything else; so far, I haven’t found anything. No shows, no books, not even a tell-all “Irna Dearest” book. When I started the Guiding Light Project I was hoping to find Irna Phillips’ children to let them know about the project, to show them the legacy their mother shaped. Now one of them is gone.
It’s a bittersweet time for Guiding Light fans; it’s becoming more and more real that after September the show won’t be on. Crystal Chappell, who plays Olivia just signed on Days of our Lives to reprise her popular character Carly Manning. The chances of GL appearing on Lifetime are slim.
Now Katherine Phillips is gone, the same year her mother’s show will take its bow and leave the airwaves. While it’s true that everything must end sometime, the irony of Katherine Phillips’ death and Guiding Light’s end within months of each other is one not even Irna could’ve thought of with one of her stories.
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