Regular readers will remember a little dust-up re my post, connecting the dots - the emmy episode... When I mentioned that All My Children's James Mitchell was gay, then chose not to engage John Trusi's disgraceful, not to mention, hypocritical, naming of names, but rather simply cite my sources, I should have realized that the issue would not end there. And it didn't. If you haven't already, you can read all the gory details here.
MarkH and I have had a couple of back channel discussions on the issue; in the first, he wrote: "My deeper feeling is that I wish this were not an issue. I wish we didn't care who people loved and what the gender of the lover was." Me, too! And I will leave it to Mark to parse the distinctions relating to "outing" as "not an absolute term, but a relative one."
But, I do want to discuss why I mentioned the subject of James Mitchell's sexual orientation in the first place, and, in a piece seemingly having nothing to do with the issue. As I wrote to Mark: "I just remember that scene so vividly, a gay actor, playing a straight man, getting to rip a homophobe a new one, even if it was just acting. I'd like to think it was as satisfying for him to play as it was for me to watch. It was just one of those rare moments where real life intersects with, and underscores what's on the screen." In this case, because I believed Mitchell to be gay, I experienced those scenes in a different way than I would have otherwise. (I realize the episode in question is from 1997, three years before the Laurents memoir I cited in my response to Trusi was published; hard to say just how many times I've watched The Turning Point.)
I've had a similar, even more intense, experience watching Ryan's Hope over the past few months.
Elana Levine: this is where you need to stop reading
Not too long after Mary Ryan married Jack Fenelli,(a few months ago on SOAPnet; in real life, June 1976) I noticed that Kate Mulgrew looked as though she might be pregnant (some women start looking pregnant a nanosecond after they conceive). I knew nothing about Mulgrew's private life; I was far more curious about whether or not the pregnancy would be written into the story. RH didn't lend itself to the potted palms and big purses other soaps depended on to "hide" an actress's pregnancy when it wasn't written into the story. So I wasn't surprised when the newlywed Fenellis found themselves expecting a baby.
When I found out the circumstances of her pregnancy, the story Mulgrew was playing took on an even deeper meaning. Before I continue, the information I'm about to discuss has been chewed over on more than one soap board; I believe I first read about it on SOAPnet's RH board. It turns out that Kate Mulgrew had become pregnant out-of-wedlock, played out the pregnancy on-screen, then gave her baby up for adoption.
In yearning for the world as it was, I described the early days of the couple: "Jack, who's been so traumatized by growing up in an orphanage that he never misses an chance to sabotage his relationship with Mary and her family - a tension the writers continued to play years down the road..." I wrote those words earlier in this year, before the present story began unfolding. I also had written, "Since I'd already been watching RH for a while before the switch, there was little about the actual opening story that surprised me since I already knew how much of it had turned out." That may have been true in the broadest sense of the "story." But the sheer audacity, and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word, of the story Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer wrote to accommodate Mulgrew's pregnancy continues to overwhelm me. And I mean that in the best possible sense of that word, as well.
When Mary revealed her pregnancy to Jack, he accused her of getting pregnant on purpose because she knew he didn't want children. She said that was grounds for a Church annulment (the Ryans, of course, are devout Catholics). From that moment on, Jack began distancing himself from Mary, the marriage and the child, pursuing both a civil divorce and Church annulment.
I'm giving the Cliff Notes' version here, but viewers got to see every angry word, every hurtful exchange, not just between Jack and Mary, but her parents and siblings, as well as the handful of friends who make up Jack's "family." As I said in "yearning," "I've always believed that the most powerful and compelling drama is created when all of the characters involved in a storyline are trying to do the right thing - the right thing for the situation, not necessarily the right thing for their character - and it's their efforts that come into conflict." And that's what played out here: the writers never pulled any emotional punches, and neither did the actors. It was as emotionally raw, intense, and yes, at times, even brutal, as anything John Cassavetes ever put on the big screen. And it played out for months in real time, for both the actors and viewers.
Under any circumstances, this story would have been emotionally draining for the actors. But these weren't any circumstances. And knowing what I know, I watch some of those scenes and wonder what must have been going through the actors' minds as they were playing them. Then I marvel at the sheer guts Kate Mulgrew exhibited, along with the unique capacity of soap opera that allowed me to share so fully in the experience.
© 2008 Lynn Liccardo
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