I’ll admit it. I’ve been procrastinating on writing a blog about Michael Zaslow. I think I remember telling people I was going to write in when, June? However life happened with work here at Red Room, another writing project I’ve got going on, two new cats who appeared in my life, and on and on and on. However, the real reason is I’m still upset about what happened to Michael Zaslow, because I know that was when I knew the show I loved turned a corner and it never recovered.
Michael Zaslow, if you don’t know, played one of the best villains in soap opera history as Roger Thorpe. He didn’t start off as evil in the beginning; just a guy who sometimes sang folk songs at the local coffee house but he had his eye on Holly Norris. She was a pretty redhead who liked bad boys, and he liked that she was like the lyrics of Gershwin’s “Summertime”: her daddy was rich and her mama was good looking. They embarked on a stormy affair, but it didn’t last long. Soon she moved on to Ed Bauer whom she tricked into marrying her.
However, she couldn’t stay away from Roger, and they resumed their affair. Of course in true soap opera fashion, Holly got pregnant with Christina. Now Roger was caught, because he’d found true love with the lovely Peggy Fletcher. Of course, Peggy found out. Of course, Roger was resentful. However, he was now obsessed with Holly and little Christina. So obsessed that he proposed to Holly and she accepted, for Christina’s sake.
He still was angry for he knew that Holly still loved Ed (who now was involved with Nurse Rita Stapleton). Oh, did I mention that Rita and Roger had an affair? This was GL in the seventies, ladies and gentlemen.
Roger’s obsession took a dark turn in 1979. Holly has had enough; she’s checking out of the heartbreak hotel and tells Roger that one day when he comes home. What happens next is soap opera history, perhaps even television history.
ROGER: (picks up her paper) What ya doin? What's this?
HOLLY: It's just, uhm . . . (She watches him reading the note, turns away, and then turns back, her arms folded.)
ROGER: It's beautiful, Holly. (ROGER laughs). I was supposed to come home and find this? (He sees the suitcase.) All packed? Very nice, very nice.
HOLLY: I think you can understand why I have to do this.
ROGER: (eerily calm) You're not going anywhere, Holly. You are going to stay right here.
HOLLY: I won't.
ROGER: Where's Chrissy?
HOLLY: At a friend's.
ROGER: Ahh! So, what were you gonna do? Just pick her up and take off?
HOLLY: Yes. And I'm leaving now. (HOLLY picks up her suitcase and tries to walk to the door.)
ROGER: Nope, nope, nope. (ROGER takes the suitcase from her, and, with his hands on its sides, begins to spin it slowly. HOLLY puts both of her hands to her mouth. She is frightened; and, in fact, ROGER'S most "playful" gestures are sinister at this point, since they suggest his bodily strength. He pauses.)
ROGER: You know, Chrissy's not here, your dear mother's in California. We could have really a kinda swell time of it if you would just kinda loosen up and forget your little petty resentments, you know. (ROGER'S hand slips up to the side of her face, and behind her hair; and he grabs her fiercely by the hair as she says . . .)
HOLLY: Don't touch me!!!
ROGER: DON’T TOUCH ME!! (ROGER shakes HOLLY.) I'm your HUSBAND. What is it with this "Don't touch me" stuff?
HOLLY: (begging) Let go of me, please!!
ROGER: (ROGER looks HOLLY closely in the face, still holding her by her hair, his other hand holding her cheek--again, we see his wedding band as he does this . . .) I wonder, if Ed Bauer would be having any better luck than I've been having with you. (ROGER lets go of her, roughly).
(HOLLY looks dazed. She suddenly grabs the suitcase and makes a run for the door, but ROGER gets there first and puts his hand against it. She screams as he takes the suitcase and throws it across the room.)
HOLLY: Please, I don't wanna talk! Please just leave me alone! Please just leave me alone!
ROGER: (completely enraged) I wanna talk about Ed!!! I WANNA TALK ABOUT ED -- beloved of all, especially my wife!! Lemme ask you something, Holly. You're the perfect person to ask this. How do I compare to Ed? Huh? Why the silence, why so shy? You're the one who always said we should talk more! C'mon! I wanna hear it from your own sweet lips! (He brusquely runs his thumb against them, simultaneously pinching her cheek.)
HOLLY: (terrified and angry) I just wanna leave here!!
ROGER: You wouldn't wanna leave if I was Ed, would you? You wouldn't be in such a hurry to cut out from me, like you're cutting out from my miserable life. You'd probably be in the sack with him right now!
(HOLLY slaps ROGER. He slaps her much harder. She gives a startled cry, and pushes against him, but he shoves her down on her back onto the couch. The action is as rough as if he threw her on the couch, but he doesn't pick her up. ROGER bends down into HOLLY'S face . . .)
ROGER: You wanna try that again?
HOLLY: (softly, raising herself up off the couch) Now, you just calm down.
ROGER: Now you just understand. Let's get something straight! I'm your husband. I have certain rights here!
HOLLY runs for the door, but ROGER blocks her again. He is breathing very deeply, and she cowers from him.
ROGER: You know, if I were Ed you wouldn't be in such a hurry to leave. You love him, don't you? (ROGER takes off his coat has he says this.) I've seen the way you look at him, every time he comes over here to visit Christina! WHY DON'T YOU EVER LOOK AT ME THAT WAY??!! (The camera is right on Roger as he corners her. We feel like Holly, cornered and scared)
HOLLY: I wanted to love you. You wouldn’t let me. I cared about you.
ROGER: (hatefully, mimicking her) CARED ABOUT ME!!?? "I care about you, Roger . . . Love will come." Isn't that what you used to say before we were married?!
HOLLY: (murmuring) I wanted it . . . I tried. I did care about you. I wouldn't have married you if I didn't.
ROGER: I'm not gonna put up with any more of this, Holly. (He pulls her to him.)
HOLLY: Roger, please don't. Please, no.
ROGER flings her away from him. HOLLY stands slightly crouched, staring at him intensely and fearfully, knowing that he is about to pounce. Suddenly, she tries to run, and he knocks over the lamp as he grabs her by the arms and waist and pulls her towards the bed.
HOLLY (begging, physically fighting him): Roger, stop!!!! PLEASE STOP! PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!
ROGER: NO!! I'M NOT GONNA LEAVE YOU ALONE!!!
(HOLLY gives a frightened cry as ROGER flings her on the bed. She raises herself up slightly, but ROGER stands over the bed, looming over her. As he rapes her . . )
HOLLY: (crying) NO, PLEASE DON'T, NO ROGER, PLEASE STOP! LEAVE ME ALONE!
(thanks to michaelzaslow.com for the transcript)
Oh, boy. Just reading it is hard.
Afterwards, Holly goes to Cedars to get help. The camera stays right on her as she enters the lobby, her face numb. A bruise is forming on her cheek. She goes to the nurse’s desk and asks for Dr. Sara McIntyre. Calls Bert Bauer and asks her to pick up Christina from a friend’s house. Finally, she is examined, and Ed comes into the room.
HOLLY: Ed, he raped me!
ED: He raped you?
HOLLY: He was crazy! Oh God, why did I ever marry that guy!
ED: Roger, that…. Honey, it’s going to be okay…
He gives her a hug.
Holly then made the decision: She was going to press charges against Roger. On television, a wife never pressed charges against a husband before. This was unchartered territory, and it was done well.
It was also the first story I remember watching with my grandmother. I didn’t know about the rape; my grandmother made sure I didn’t see the episode when it happened. However, when I did ask why Holly was so angry with Roger, she told me: “He hurt her, and she’s going to make sure that it never happens again.”
Every day after school, I would come home and ask her what was going on, what was happening? She would tell me, even when she became very frail because of the chemo treatments she had for lung cancer. We watched the show as Holly shot Roger and went for prison for his murder. Of course, he wasn’t really dead, but I worried about Holly and hoped that she could make friends with someone in prison.
Holly was eventually released and Roger started to stalk her and Christina, even trying to kidnap Christina at a local carnival. This was when Douglas Marland started, and Michael Zaslow told the show he was done playing Roger. In Guiding Light: A Golden Anniversary, Marland told Christopher Schemerinng that he knew he had to kill off Roger, but it had to be grand. It had to be big.
He had Holly, Christina Ed and Ed’s brother Mike travel to a foreign country to hide out from Roger. Of course Roger found them, and kidnapped Holly. For weeks he dragged Holly through the jungle. Keep in mind this was filmed in location, so it wasn’t a fake jungle with plastic grass. This was a real life jungle. By then every day I would come home and ask: “Did they find Holly yet?” to my grandmother.
“Not yet,” she would tell me.
Finally, on April 1, 1980, Ed found Roger and Holly just when Roger slipped on a cliff. He was barely hanging on when Ed tried to help him. It was too late. In slow motion, Roger’s fingers let go and he started to fall. Holly’s mouth opened but no sound came out. My grandmother and I watched this, amazed. Three and a half months later, she died of lung cancer.
Nine years passed. I was seventeen and took a break from the show; I was busy with school and I didn’t have time to watch the show every day. However, big news was on the horizon: Michael Zaslow was coming back to the show! He had done theater work and another soap stint as David Rinaldi on One Life to Live. He was coming back on Roger, on April 1, 1989. What made it even better was that Maureen Garrett just came back as Holly four months before, and Christina was back too, only she was going by the name Blake. This was enough for me to set my VCR back to recording the show.
I loved this period of the show because it was my grandmother’s version and the show I had watched for years finally meeting in an odd way. Roger and Holly of course started fighting again, especially over Blake and Phillip Spaulding, her fiancé. I loved Phillip, so seeing Roger and Holly talking about them was just plain fun.
Zaslow’s return marked a new energy to the show; the acting was fantastic, the writing wonderful. It stayed like this for years. Of course the show had its ups and downs, but Zaslow always kept it real and his acting was always pitch perfect.
Then in 1997 I was watching the show when I noticed something; he slurred his words. I remember wondering that’s odd, he never slurs his words. Maybe he has a flu or something. I went on vacation for three weeks, and then when I came back there was a different actor playing Roger. What was up?
Three months later, I found out. Zaslow had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. What made this worse was that he wasn’t returning to the show. According to TV Guide’s Michael Logan, Mary Alice Dwyer Dobbin (head of Proctor and Gamble, GL’s sponsors) said that fans didn’t want to see Roger as a “Wizened old man.” She didn’t know us. She didn’t know the fact that we knew Zaslow could still be Roger, could muster a blink or facial expression that could mean he was up to something. It was awful, awful for Zaslow, awful to the show, and awful for the fans.
After that, I watched the show and felt that something was missing. It wasn’t the same. I don’t know what it was but it just wasn’t the same. About six months after Zaslow was fired, I stopped taping it. It wasn’t just Zaslow’s firing; it was the fact they brought back my favorite character Beth and made her a neurotic airhead, it was the fact they cloned Reva, it just wasn’t my show anymore. It would be ten years before I could watch a full episode again.
Michael Zaslow ended up suing Proctor and Gamble (the suit was settled) then he went to One Life to Live where they wrote in his ALS. He was on the show until he became too ill. He died on December 6, 1998. By then his replacement was written out of the show. It would take six years until they finally wrote Roger’s death in the show. For many people, it was too little, too late.
It will be odd for Roger to not be on this week; he was the dark side of the show, and he was proof that while there is darkness, there is always light as well. When Michael Zaslow was fired in 1997, a shadow appeared on the show, and on Friday the shadow will finally be gone.
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