Another World's Official Historian: Julie Poll

By Mara Levinsky

Another World: A 35th Anniversary Celebration (HarperCollins) hits stores on April 27, the week before the show turns the big 3-5. The book, coming soon to The Official Soap Opera Digest Online Store, contains the complete on-screen saga of Bay City and takes readers behind the scenes to the show's Brooklyn studio. Author JULIE POLL spoke with Digest Online about Another World's grand history -- from conception to cancellation.

DIGEST ONLINE: You must be reeling from the news of Another World's cancellation.
JULIE POLL: Oh, yes. I mean, what a shame. The show was such a treasure, in so many ways. It's different from the other soap operas: it has its own very special personality. And 35 years is not…

DIGEST ONLINE: …It's no small drop in the bucket!
POLL: Right. Not at all.

DIGEST ONLINE: Knowing the show as intimately as you do, how would you describe its personality?
POLL: When I first started to learn the show, I had just done [books for] As the World Turns and Guiding Light. At first I had a little trouble learning the show, and some of the writers have said that [they have] also, because it doesn't have the straight family through-line that the other shows have. I mean, it has the Corys [left, in 1991], and they're a core family, but they haven't been there since the show's inception. What it has [instead] is wonderful, wonderful characters, and the characters form relationships that, in friendships, become family. Like when Wallingford and Cass and Felicia and all their wonderful escapades were going on, they were really like a rogue family. None of them were [biologically] related, but they would have killed for each other. I think that friendships define the show in many ways. And I think really endemic of the title Another World, the way the show dips into other worlds [is unique]. You've got the special episodes, "Murder on the Honeymoon Express" and "Case of the Stolen Heart" and the Valentine's Day episodes for singles. Those are episodes that I will hold onto. They're just so clever, and they do so much more of that than the other shows; they do go into that other world of imagination, which makes it different. The characters are in many ways larger-than-life, but yet the show has a lot of reality.

DIGEST ONLINE: They're not caricatures.
POLL: Exactly.

DIGEST ONLINE: How has the show's personality evolved over the past 35 years?
POLL: To quote [TV Guide's] Michael Logan, who I think really expressed the show so well, he called AW the Madonna of daytime because it kept reinventing itself; it kept getting adopted by different parents, meaning head writers. When [the show's creator] Irna [Phillips] started it, she wanted something very different. She wanted mystery and high intrigue, but it really wasn't her specialty or her particular talent to write a show like that; that's why she left after a year-and-a-half. And then Agnes [Nixon, who later created All My Children and One Life to Live] came in and did the wonderful Rachel/Alice/Steve triangle, which really was the signature of the show for about 20 years. Unfortunately, AW seems almost always to have been under the threat of cancellation at one point or another, but it kind of rose from the ashes with the wonderful Pete LeMay years.

Another thing that I think is really a signature of the show, speaking of the Pete LeMay/Paul Rauch years, was the way they used New York talent, New York theater people. Doug Watson [right], they saw him in a play about the Andrews sisters. There had been another actor playing Mac who was kind of like a Burl Ives type, and they wanted an older leading man, which was a very risky thing for a soap opera to do. And that clicked. And then they had that unusual triangle of Iris and Rachel and Mac, where instead of two women fighting for a man, you had the daughter and the [wife]. And using a lot of New York talent also in the directing area and the writing area made it a very rich show, not in the classic soap opera storyline sense but certainly in the characterizations, which was very, very important to Pete LeMay.

DIGEST ONLINE: A lot of people consider those years -- the years in which Pete LeMay [left] was head writer and Paul Rauch was executive producer -- to be the show's golden era. Do you agree with that characterization?
POLL: Absolutely. I talk about that in the book, that it was really the golden age of Another World. They worked so well as a team and they were able to tell stories they really, really wanted to tell and they supported each other. Pete is a wonderful, wonderful writer. I spent a wonderful day with him talking about Another World and interviewing him for the book, and Paul as well. So yes, I would definitely agree that that was the golden age of AW in a lot of ways. But they've done outstanding things since then: Vicky and Jake, Felicia and Cass… I think the acting is so outstanding on the show, and always has been. It's funny; when I was interviewing people for the Happy Anniversary section [of the book], and asking them what they think is special about AW, the two main answers I got were "The acting" -- meaning that they really [view themselves as] an acting company -- and the other was location. The fact that they were [taping the show] up in Brooklyn just made them such a family. You couldn't go out and do other things; you were there with the rest of the cast, and that made it very much a coherent group. They were there together, they ate together. Rhonda Ross [Kendrick, Toni, right] was very funny; she said, "You know, when we tape late, we sleep over [at the studio], and there are people taking showers there, and you're seeing somebody shave and clean their teeth… you get closer." I wonder what they'll do with that wonderful studio now because AW has been there since the beginning. The show has always taped up at the Brooklyn studio, which is a studio that's very rich in history. I write about that in the book too, that a lot of the early television shows were done there. A lot of the Kraft theater; Mary Martin's Peter Pan; Hallmark Hall of Fame; The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show; The Perry Como Show. Esther Williams' swimming pool is under Stage 2! She did all her specials there. So it's got a very, very rich history.

DIGEST ONLINE: So tell us about the undoubtedly Herculean research process of composing this book.
POLL: (Laughs)

DIGEST ONLINE: Was that an understatement?
POLL: Uh-huh! It was very hard because at the beginning of the show, they really didn't keep good records. Like you would think, "Oh, I can just go to [Procter & Gamble, which owns Another World] or NBC and go through their archives," but no, it doesn't work like that. NBC only has entertainment archives in Burbank for the shows that they own. So I have to tell you, your magazine, Soap Opera Digest, was so generous to me in letting me go through all their materials. We literally Xeroxed all the synopses of the show from the moment the magazine was [first] published, and that was a tremendous help. Before the magazine's [1977] debut, I had to trace things back to the Irna Phillips collection in Minnesota. We finally traced the early years to the Popular Culture Library in Bowling Green, Ohio. I got an intern down there to summarize the scripts for me. And then up at the studio, [Associate Producer] Scott Collishaw took me down to a place called "the dungeon." It was such a dungeon, I felt like I had to apologize to my intern for bringing her down there! They had a lot of stuff down there, and because the studio had been in Brooklyn for the entire duration of the show, they had a lot of scripts starting in the '70s. So we Xeroxed scripts and summaries and anything else we could find, [like] character sketches. But that takes so much time that when you finally have it all together, you have to write so fast! Which I'm used to, because I've been on staff on soap operas, and you learn that you just have to write very fast and trust your instincts. But I would say the research process takes about half the time. Besides gathering the historical materials, there's all the interviews. The actors are really the guardians of their roles; they know them so well, and they gave me so many insights. And also there's a behind-the-scenes section, so we interviewed the whole crew and the producers and directors and went behind the scenes when they did the Lumina ball [left]. Then we have backstage tales, where the actors tell about their audition scenes and favorite love scenes.

DIGEST ONLINE: During the interview process, did you uncover anything juicy or surprising?
POLL: Oh yeah! There could be a book from behind the scenes, but I don't know if it would be show-approved! (Laughs) But really, there are some very fun things in the book. Judi Evans Luciano [Paulina, below right] has some wonderful stories, and when we did her interview, we really had an audience [gathered to listen]. I asked her what her favorite love scene was and she said, "It was Grant and it was so hot I told my father not to watch! I told him not to watch that porno!" And then one of the stage managers was discussing how, when they do love scenes, he has to arrange the clothing just so, to hide the half-naked actors in case the crew wants to get a peek! We had fun with what went on behind the scenes.

DIGEST ONLINE: How is the book organized?
POLL: The first section is the whole story from day one. And what we did was take the summaries from the dungeon, and Bowling Green, and Soap Opera Digest, and we wrote the story. I like to write it like you would be reading, say, a Danielle Steel novel: really telling the story. So that's the first half of the book, with pictures from archives and stuff from way back that I was able to get my hands on. [Locating the photos] took almost as much time as the print research. And then we get into family albums, with all the main families. And of course, the Corys are the centerpiece, but [we also include] the Matthewses, the Ewings, the Hudsons and the Loves, the Frames.

The whole Frame family actually came from Pete LeMay; he really fashioned them after his own family. It's such an interesting story because originally, Steve Frame didn't have a family; as Agnes Nixon conceived him, he didn't. And Pete LeMay came in and said, "Hmmm, he's kind of an enigma. Let's give him a family, poor farmers from Oklahoma who one by one come and ask him for money." And that was really how the Frame family was introduced into Bay City. The McKinnons are in there, the Carlinos, the Burrells [left].

There's a chapter on awards, on the Emmys and Soap Opera Digest Awards. There's a chapter, which was one of my favorite chapters to write, on Felicia and Cass. Linda [Dano] and Stephen [Schnetzer] were just so much fun to interview, and I had so much fun writing the chapter! We go through her men, his women, their friendship -- which is really quite a beautiful thing. And then we go into the love stories: Rachel/Alice/Steve, of course; Rachel and Mac, Rachel and Carl -- which was a very interesting love story -- Sally and Caitlin, which was very popular -- Thomasina and Carter, Sharlene and John, and then her daughter Josie and Gary, and Michael and Donna, who I just love. They really defined each other. And then Paulina and Jake, who were just tons of fun, and then Vicky and Ryan and ending really with Vicky and Jake [Jensen Buchanan and Tom Eplin, right], which is one of my very, very favorite love stories because it's really like love come full circle.

I do a whole section on Generation X looking for love: Tomas, Nick, Sofia, Maggie and that whole group. And then of course you can't have a book like this without the villains! So we've got the dastardly deeds of Carl Hutchins -- he was just wonderful, and we have wonderful comments by him and about him -- and then Grant, who I think was such an interesting villain, being a politician and all! Chris Goutman, who is just fabulous. You know, when I went out there and interviewed him, it was like "Wow!" His energy was very exciting. And I have a bit about Irna and Agnes and their contributions to the show. But then we basically went on-set and I went through and interviewed the various producers, the present writers, the crew. I think doing a soap opera is like running a small city, and I think it's really interesting for the fans to see what goes into it. What goes into bringing on a new character? How do you get wardrobe for them? How do you get those scripts out? What are the various pieces of the puzzle? The casting process? I interviewed [Casting Director] Jimmy Bohr on how you go through the whole casting process. And then I spent a day on the set, and we took it through the dry reading on through to taping on the set. And then I had to do a section on the special episodes, because I think that really is such a signature piece. And then we've got the backstage tales and all those fun things that the actors said-or I should say, that the actors let me put in the book! (Laughs) We had some fun stories there that I think people will enjoy. And then of course, the stars born in Bay City: Ray Liotta [ex-Joey Perrini], Howard Rollins [ex-Ed Harding], Kelsey Grammer [ex-Dr. Canard], Brad Pitt. There's a wonderful story where David Forsyth [ex-John] came on as a Vietnam vet, and he was playing basketball, and this kid comes on the court to shoot hoops with him, and it was Brad Pitt! And David apparently went to the producer and said, "This kid has talent." He was one that got away! And Anne Heche [ex-Vicky/Marley, right], of course, who was fabulous. Gosh! I have tapes of her that are just incredible. She was such a real talent. You could see it then, and she was only 17. Faith Ford and Kyra Sedgwick both played Julia Shearer. And little Lindsay Lohan [ex-Alli], who did The Parent Trap. And then the visiting stars [like] Joan Rivers. Jose Ferrer played a lawyer; Theodore Bikel played a crooked millionaire. So they were able to get really wonderful stage [actors].

DIGEST ONLINE: They got them down to Brooklyn somehow!
POLL: Exactly! And then the whole thing with Linda Dano and Liberace. He was such a fan of hers, and she was such a fan of his. And always when Felicia got married -- and we know she was much married -- her mom and her husband attended the weddings.

DIGEST ONLINE: Do you have favorite actors and characters from the show?
POLL: I loved Iris, I have to say. She was just such an interesting villainess. She had a vulnerable side so you could always see not only what she was doing but why she was doing it, what her motivation was. And Rachel, of course, the fact that she really lived out the fantasy of "the love of a good man has reformed me." She and Mac together are really a favorite of mine, but there are so many. Felicia and Cass [Linda Dano and Stephen Schnetzer, left] are just wonderful because another thing that AW has more of than other shows is humor. That is such a special thing on a soap opera, and I think Felicia and Cass really embody that in many ways. And I love the [Hudson] twins. I happen to have identical twins myself, and I watch that story with such fascination. And especially when Ellen Wheeler came back to play Marley, the different faces… they did that so well, because I was thinking how my girls would feel under those circumstances. Just recently, when they helped each other after Grant was murdered, you felt this relationship deeply coming full circle and healing. It's just such a fascinating thing to watch.

DIGEST ONLINE: And what a trio of actors [Ellen Wheeler, Anne Heche, and Jensen Buchanan; Buchanan and Wheeler are at right] to carry the sisters' relationship through!
POLL: Amazing. Amazing recasts. When I interviewed [Soap Opera Digest Editor-in-Chief] Lynn Leahey for the book, she said, "Look at these recasts. Every one of them is Emmy-caliber, Soap Opera Digest Award-caliber." That has been fascinating to me. And I have to say I love Paulina, and a lot of that is because Judi Evans Luciano is such a wonderful actress. You can just feel her emotions so deeply. It's a tough group to choose from! The combination of the actors and the characters are…

DIGEST ONLINE: Intoxicating?
POLL: Yes, very much so. That's exactly it. And Lila, more recently, has been a lot of fun.

DIGEST ONLINE: She's cut from the classic Rachel mold.
POLL: Yes, I love that. I thought that was a fantastic idea. I really do have a lot of favorites. I was thinking about that just recently when Sharlene came back, and what a wonderful actress Anna Holbrook is. I interviewed her for the book, too. And David Forsyth [ex-John]. I was really able to reach a number of actors who used to be on the show: Charles Keating [ex-Carl, left], Susan Sullivan [ex-Lenore], which was such a treat. She was so much a part of the earlier years. And Beverlee McKinsey [ex-Iris], which I was very excited about. She's quoted as saying, "This show was the highlight of my daytime career. There was nothing remotely like it afterwards." I was able to reach Kale Browne [ex-Michael, below right], who gave me so many insights into the romance with Donna and his relationship with Vicky and Marley. I also had a wonderful interview with Michael Laibson, who was executive producer for about eight years, and he gave me so many insights into [the late] Connie Ford [ex-Ada] and Douglass Watson. He was the executive producer when Douglass Watson died, and what they had to do to… You know, they were ready to tape the 25th anniversary [episodes], and just having to deal with the furor, and letting people know, and their shock, and having to completely redo [the scripts to account for Mac's absence]. Vicky Wyndham [below left, with Douglass Watson] was wonderful. She gave me so many insights into Rachel. You know, she is Rachel, even though she didn't originate the role. And that was an interesting story, too. Apparently, there was a little scene when Douglass Watson first came on -- he wasn't necessarily planned for Rachel, he was planned as a love interest for Liz -- and there was a scene where Rachel comes to pick up Jamie, and Mac is there, and Susan Sullivan says she thinks it was her idea [to pair them] because she was watching the taping and she said to Paul Rauch, who was then the executive producer, "You know, I think they'd make a great couple." And the chemistry was really there, and it was such a wonderful, wonderful romance.

DIGEST ONLINE: That's a great example of a phenomenon that's very particular to daytime, which is these accidents of chemistry helping to define the creative process.
POLL: Very much so. And you learn that, I mean, I had the privilege of writing on [late ATWT Head Writer's] Doug Marland's staff, but you know, Doug started his career with Pete LeMay on Another World, and he was one of the only ones that was writing breakdowns with Pete, because Pete was amazing: He just did everything! But one of the things that I learned from Doug is, you watch every single tape and you take from the actors and their chemistry. And that is one of the wonderful things about daytime, because you've got the luxury of the ongoing story and you can do that, put people together that you might not necessarily have planned on. But Rachel/Mac really was a beautiful, beautiful love story. And I think that Rachel and Carl [Victoria Wyndham and Charles Keating, right] were very, very interesting. And as Vicky said to me, "To find love again in your 50s, this is good!" You know, another thing, we were talking earlier about family structure and about how AW is different [from other shows]. On AW, you have three strong women as heads of households, when you think about it: Rachel, Donna, and Felicia. Well, Felicia doesn't exactly have a household.

DIGEST ONLINE: Felicia kind of functions as the den mother of the rest of them.
POLL: Exactly, and that's another interesting, non-traditional aspect of the show that speaks to today.

DIGEST ONLINE: What does it feel like when you finish this kind of project?
POLL: Well, it's mixed, because you've given so much to it. Like when you're doing the writing part, I had days where I didn't leave my apartment for 10 days. I just wrote. Friends would call, and I wouldn't return their calls for a month! And I would tell them, "I've been in another world -- literally and figuratively!" So you miss it a lot. There's a feeling of accomplishment, but also a feeling of emptiness. I will miss Another World very, very much, and the people that were connected with it are just a very unique group. It was a pleasure to work with them. Everyone was very forthcoming down at the studio, and I really felt like a part of the show. I spent a considerable amount of time in Brooklyn, but everybody couldn't have been more helpful. It was fun!

DIGEST ONLINE: Was there anything about this particular show that made writing this book a different challenge -- or a different treat -- from the books on ATWT and GL?
POLL: The difference in the show made it really a treat, the way that it was such an imaginative show, for example. And also, being out in Brooklyn. I have to agree with the people that I interviewed that it defines the show. You go out there, you don't come out until night, and you really feel like you're home. You're working with a very special group of people that were very generous with their time and really made me feel part of their circle. I loved it; I couldn't wait to go out to Brooklyn! It was a very special experience for me.

DIGEST ONLINE: You began your daytime career as a script writer at As the World Turns. How does that background inform the process of writing this type of book?
POLL: Well, most people start being script writers, but I started as a breakdown writer. To this day, that is my favorite part of being on a soap writing staff: doing the breakdowns, and writing the narrative story, because it's really like the guts of the script. And when you're writing breakdowns, you really try to convey the emotional truth of a scene, and that's really what you want to do in the book, too. When you are writing about a love story, you ask, "What is this love story about? What is the essence of this love story?" Obviously when you're writing the story, the whole chronology, you have to give lots of details, but you don't want it to be just "he did this, she did this." And also the tracking of it. You can always tell when a new head writer came on. (Laughs) I mean, some characters will just disappear! Like, John [David Forsyth, right, with Anna Kathryn Holbrook as Sharlene] just went up to the cabin!

DIGEST ONLINE: Yes, and I guess Sharlene went up there with rations, because he had been there for quite some time! I was going to ask you about this: it fell on your shoulders to make the stories seem seamless when often, due to head writing changes and other factors, they might not have appeared that way on-screen.
POLL: Yes, definitely. When a new head writer comes on, they want to bring on some of their own new characters. Agnes Nixon killed off a whole family when she started writing for Another World, and she brought back families that she wanted there.

DIGEST ONLINE: Who were some of her creations?
POLL: She created Rachel, and as the story goes, the bible for All My Children was written at that time, so Rachel was sort of the prototype for Erica [Susan Lucci]. She created the Steve/Rachel/Alice triangle, but then she also created a lot for the Matthews family; they were a real favorite of hers. You know, the show, which is so unusual for a show, started with a funeral [for William Matthews, Liz's husband]. And then she went into -- which is very, very unusual for a soap opera -- an abortion. And that was a big thing. And then there was a murder mystery. And it was like hitting the audience with one major thing after another. Agnes brought it more back to some family structure. But there was somebody in between, [Inside the Actors Studio host] James Lipton, and he had created characters that Agnes just got rid of, dismissed. He wrote for two years before Agnes, and I think she sent his characters off onto a plane that crashed! And then she had the story, the Missy Palmer ophan story, which was a big one that led into a murder mystery that brought the ratings back up, and then [the show's strong ratings] were solidified with the Alice/Rachel/Steve triangle. Very interesting triangles on this show. You've got that, you've got the Iris/Rachel/Mac, and then the Jake/Marley/Vicky [left]. And the families are also interesting. They're dysfunctional, but interesting! And speaking of villains, Reginald Love was the leader of them all! I have some interesting quotes from [John Considine] because apparently he was just the nicest guy, and he was very good friends with Paul Newman. They used to race cars together or something, and some fan came up to him and spit at him! And apparently Paul Newman was very amused. But the fans do take it very seriously! And he was bad; he did a lot of bad things.

DIGEST ONLINE: If you were writing the final months of the show, which characters would you like to see back before June 25?
POLL: Definitely Michael Hudson, to tie up Vicky/Marley/Donna. I guess he died, but God, that would be good! It would be really nice to see John and Sharlene back. I'm mixed about Carl because Rachel and Mac were just so outstanding, but it would be good to see some of the people like them back. I think to tie the show together will be difficult because you've got the Lumina story. I'd like to see Amanda happy, with somebody, because she's had such a troubled history with men. Definitely you want to see Jake and Vicky where they are, which I think you've started to see with their reconciliation with Marley. That should really be an important part of final episodes; you want to see that particular family heal. And Donna [Anna Stuart, right], because she was such a big part of the deceptions [that caused the Hudson family's rift]. But I would like to see some coming together there. And I would like to see the strength that really defines the Corys, with Rachel as the strong head of the household. It's hard with Matt, because Cass and Lila are so popular and yet you want to see him with Jasmine [as a symbol of] the continuation of the Cory family, so I would like in some way to see the strength [of the Corys] restored. Maybe that could be part of it, with Amanda being settled, and Alli too. That should be a really important piece of the final months of the show. And oh gosh, Felicia! I would probably have Lila and Cass marry with Felicia's blessing and have that coming together there, because she so hated Lila at the beginning! And I think Sharlene coming back for Josie [would be nice] because Gary is going to be gone, and I think if he wasn't going to be gone, I would like to have seen that relationship come together somehow. [Editor's note: Another World has announced that John Littlefield (Gary) will remain on the show until its finale.] It may be nice to bring John and Sharlene back for her. You need some closure there with Josie. I would definitely like to see the Tito thing revealed, that he's not Paulina's child. I definitely want to see that story because Paulina and Joe [Judi Evans Luciano and Joseph Barbara, left] are such a wonderful couple. Very different from the Paulina and Jake couple, but I think that needs to be resolved for Paulina and Remy and Joe, too. They should force the DNA issue and have that reveal so there can be some closure with that family.

DIGEST ONLINE: So really your fondest wish is for all these families to resolve their various conflicts.
POLL: Right. Well, not that all their problems will be solved, but that somehow they have the strength to go into the future. It's like leaving the audience with the feeling of, "They're going to be OK. They're going to have problems but they're going to be OK."

DIGEST ONLINE: How long did it take to complete the book?
POLL: Basically it's a nine-month process. It's like having a baby!

DIGEST ONLINE: I bet it's actually not that dissimilar! They're both labors of love.
POLL: Very much so. Very much so.

DIGEST ONLINE: Any final thoughts about the project?
POLL: Just that AW's a very special show, and I hope that the book does it justice and becomes something for the fans to have to hold onto.