When Irna Phillips died in 1973, the final pages of her unfinished memoir, All My Worlds described the 1964 creation of Another World. After her death, the book contract with the publisher was cancelled, and according to Irna’s daughter, Katherine, “all known copies of the manuscript were returned from the agent and Dutton” and the estate repaid the advance. Because Kathy Phillips chose to keep the manuscript private after her mother’s death, the only information about Irna’s personal life came from Christopher Schemering’s 1986 Guiding Light: a 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Twenty-five years after the book’s publication, how Schemering gained access to the manuscript remains a mystery. Two of the principals are dead: Schemering and Hal Scharlatt, Dutton’s editor-in-chief, who acquired the project. Scharlatt died in 1974, presumably long before Schemering began the book. Nor do Irna’s agent, Robert Rosen, or Schemering’s, Audrey Wolf, have any idea who provided him the manuscript. And while Ann LaFarge, who edited both the GL book and Schemering’s Soap Opera Encyclopedia for Ballentine Books, had previously worked in contracts at Dutton, and had actually typed Irna’s contract, she says she has no knowledge of Schemering’s use of Irna's manuscript.
After Kathy died in 2009, her brother, Tom, sent the manuscript of his mother’s memoir, along with his sister’s papers, to the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, where Irna had donated her papers in 1969. Even a cursory look at the manuscript reveals some striking inconsistencies with GL 50th; in two places, Schemering presented the material in ways that simply do not square with what’s in the manuscript.
On page 77-78 of the manuscript, Irna discussed how she based Guiding Light on a personal experience: when she was 18 she joined The People’s Church in Chicago, headed by Dr. Preston Bradley, the model for GL’s Reverend Ruthledge. On page 11 of GL 50th the paragraph appears almost verbatim. (Schemering left out “After attending a few services, I joined the People’s Church.” There is no ellipse to mark the omission, which may have been a careless transcription error.) On page 14, Schemering then states, “Why the eighteen-year-old Irna was drawn to a nonjudgmental, understanding minister at this point in her life soon becomes clear in her autobiography.” He then relays the story of Irna, the doctor and the stillborn child, stating “Although this was 1919, Irna was bound and determined to have the baby…” However, Irna begins talking about this part of her life on p 21 of the manuscript – more than 50 pages before she mentions The People’s Church.
And while Irna sometimes omitted specifics in All My Worlds – in particular, names and dates are often in short supply – there is simply no way "this was1919.” According to the manuscript, Irna received a fellowship to do graduate work in speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The summer before the fellowship is to begin, her brother, Manny, invited her to visit him on Dayton, OH. This is where she meets the doctor. I spoke with the son of Ralph Skilken, the lawyer Irna says helped her pursue legal action against the doctor, who told me his father graduated from law school in 1927. So Irna had to be at least twenty-six when she became pregnant. Neither Audrey Wolf nor Ann LaFarge had any idea why Schemering conflated these events.
Nor does either have any insight as to why Schemering flat-out fabricated the following on pages 12-13:
Although she appeared a lonely figure to the press of the day, Irna had a full social life. According to her unfinished memoir, Irna had many romances – almost exclusively with doctors and lawyers! (Which, of course, explains her long obsession with doctors and lawyers in her serials.)
Perhaps Christopher Schemering thought he was being kind, but it was simply not true, and, frankly, could lead one to see Irna as defensive, or self-aggrandizing; as the photographs show, she was not a pretty woman, not to mention the comments by her colleagues that describe an extremely difficult woman.
The truth is, after the ill-fated affair with the physician in Dayton, the only relationship Irna mentions is with married, alcoholic, Roman Catholic director whose wife would not give him a divorce. Again, no names, but Irna described a shared love of books and the theatre, and said she wanted to believe that she had found an intellectual companion. Since Irna had vowed to avoid “the pain and embarrassment of telling a man I couldn’t have children,” and “made up (her) mind never to become involved with an unmarried man,” finding out the man was married came “as a relief.” But as the emotional relationship grew deeper, she told him she “was not interested in any sexual involvement as long as he was living with his wife.” The relationship began in the late 1930s, and continued into the early 1940s, after Irna adopted her children, who, she says, the man resented. Irna never says whether the relationship ever became sexual.
As for the oft-quoted quote that ends the paragraph on page 13,
When asked why she never considered marriage, Irna replied, ‘Why would I want to get married? If I want to pick a fight, I can always call up one of the buffoons in Cincinnati.
Well…it may sound like Irna, but it appears no where in the manuscript, and there’s no other attribution. Truth be told, there are many references in All My Worlds about how much Irna wanted to be married, no where more poignantly then on pages 94-95, when she said:
But in those moments when I was most honest with myself, I knew that my career as a writer was a masquerade -- a substitute for what I really wanted most. I did, and always had wanted to have a home, a husband and a family.
And it was a husband she still wanted on page 146:
I wanted to be cared for. I wanted someone to look after me, someone to turn to. I wanted a husband for me and a father for my children…
I don’t suppose we’ll ever know why Christopher Schemering misrepresented the facts of Irna’s life. If anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.
© 2011 Lynn Liccardo
Limited Licensing: I, Lynn Liccardo, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only.
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