a.k.a. Rachel on Another World
It's no secret that Victoria Wyndham is celebrating her 25th anniversary as Another World's Rachel. Nor is it a secret to Wyndham that I have not been complimentary -- in TV Guide and on TV Guide Online -- about some of her more recent storylines, most particularly Justine's ghoulish reign of terror and Rachel's late-in-life pregnancy. Taking my life in my hands, I visited Wyndham in her dressing room, where she proceeded to read me the riot act.
Victoria Wyndham: I must say, you're a very brave man to come in here. Just tell me one thing: Why do you dislike our show so much?
Michael Logan: What are you talking about? I think [head writer] Michael Malone has been doing a remarkable job, and I have repeatedly said so.
Well, then, why do you keep slagging me? I can't help how old I am! And I can't help the fact that I have been here 25 years! Does that have something to do with it?
Not at all. I think 25 years is remarkable -- it's why I'm here to talk with you.
And I thought you used to like me.
And I still do! But I do not think this show has done you the greatest service with some of its storylines.
I wouldn't mind you saying that, but don't blame me for the storylines -- or the lack of them! Don't blame me for how I look!
Now let's be fair. I've never attacked your looks. I do, however, feel that turning you into a hook-wielding madwoman or having you do a pregnancy storyline -- while medically possible -- is stretching your credibility in a way I do not want to see it stretched. I believe this business can and should do better for you and for all actresses of your age group. But I must ask you this: I have been told that the baby storyline was your idea. Is this true?
Whoever told you that was misinformed, and all you have to do is pick up the phone and call me -- that's what a journalist would do.
Now, wait a minute...
Of course it wasn't my idea. Why would I, who have raised two children to adulthood, ever think this is a plot that would interest the women in our audience? No, this was not my story idea. Absolutely not. Why do people in the press always accept rumors? Why don't you just pick up the phone and ask me?
I heard this only two days ago, for cryin' out loud. It's not like I printed it or anything. I am checking it out with you -- in person!
No, absolutely not. Not my idea at all. I mean, I do think it's a sweet story, but the danger of any pregnancy plot is that your character can become static. And why on earth would I want that?
Much has been said about NBC wanting to make this show more like Days of Our Lives in outrageousness. The baby story and the Justine story are both examples -- despite all the denials by the network to the contrary -- that make us believe this is what NBC is trying to do. I liked Rachel and Carl when you started out together -- when you did all that romantic stuff on location in New York City. It was mature; it was thrilling. The stuff they gave you subsequently -- when you had any story at all -- has been pretty damn silly.
I also do not care for the baroque stories, either, but why do some people in the press -- I'll make it general...
Hey, please make it specific. I'm a big boy; I can take it.
No need to because you're not the only one who does it. Why do you people in the press make it sound as though the actors have some control over this? We're just hired hands. We're given a script and we're told to do it. We don't have any clout. When did you guys start thinking that actors had any clout? Look at who they've been firing off our show! Why do you think we have clout? We don't have any say in scripts. Period. End of story. Do you think I like doing bad work? Do you think I like being marginalized? Do you think I like doing a story, like Justine, that didn't work?
Of course I don't! Am I smarter than that? Would I like better writing? Absolutely! Do I think we might get it with Mr. Malone? I certainly hope so! Do I think there's going to be major story for my character? Honestly, I doubt it. I don't know why we get slagged for stories that don't work.
I tried my hardest to make a bad situation with Justine work. I think I did some pretty interesting work there. I certainly worked my tail off for that. The fact that they took it more and more extreme isn't my fault. I don't write this stuff! I'm not allowed to even put in two cents. I try! Nobody listens. You think it's fun going on national TV doing something you know isn't working? Believe me, it's a nightmare.
Here I am on TV in front of America and I'm dying. Gee, thanks.
Well, I'm not sure what specifically you're objecting to in terms of anything I've said or written. I certainly have never written anything indicating that you actors were driving the story.
It's the potshots you take.
OK, so I thought the Justine story reeked -- and it specifically reeked of Days of Our Lives. It's one opinion.
I don't think that was NBC's intention, I really don't. I've had my own discussions with NBC and I don't get that impression. I don't think they want it to be Days. Of course, anybody can say anything to anybody.
Well, I've been on the receiving end of those denials, too -- "AW is absolutely not turning into Days." And then along came Justine back from the dead with one eye, a hook and a nun's habit. I mean, what's anybody with half a brain to think?
Well, I don't think that's their intention, that's all I'm saying. But if you want to know what I think has changed over 25 years, I think they've lost sight of what made AW unique way back when. That happens when so many executives have changed and nobody who's here now was there then.
But isn't part of that just the natural order of things? As time goes on, your pioneers die or move on. Nothing is the same as it was. What do you think could have stopped this erosion of quality and viewership?
You can't change [writing and producing] teams with such impunity and take whoever's out there and available. Listen, this is a train that's going through the station at 80 miles an hour. Any new writing team taking over the show -- and we've had many over the years -- has had to catch up to an ongoing situation. The fact that this show has gotten mislaid in that process is not surprising. When you go through that many writing/producing teams, you're going to lose the essence no matter how hard you try to hang onto it.
If you were doing prime-time television for 25 years -- or if you were a big-deal film star -- you'd by now be in a position to call your shots. You could help create story. You could kill stories you didn't like.
Yeah, wouldn't that be nice?
Why isn't that the case with you? Despite this extraordinary quarter-century contribution, it's like you've paid your dues but not really. There are some in daytime who wield power... Lucci, Slezak.
I'm sure there are. On this show that has never been the case. But in point of fact, I haven't really been allowed to be of their ilk since I've been on this show, have I? This show has never treated me the way Lucci and Slezak are treated.
They've rarely been off the front burner. You've had huge gaps of time without story.
I've had many, many gaps over the years -- many marginalized, back-burner years. I think that's just the way Procter & Gamble operates. They're sort of anti-star system, and I don't object to that as long as the work is good. When the work isn't so interesting, then you sort of wish that you did have a little clout. I'm not a Hollywood actor, I'm a New York actor, a theater actor. Clout is part of the star process, not part of the acting process.
It is so very simple...
This show's always been run like a company. Now we're in an era where that doesn't seem to be an effective way to work. But if I was going to start throwing my weight around as a star, I should have done that many years ago. And I didn't have to back then because there wasn't any reason to. I liked the way everything was being done. I had fabulous story and wonderful writers and those things changed. Look, everybody who's come onto AW in all of these years that I've been here has come on trying to make it better. Nobody has come on trying to make it bad. But I think there's some really basic things that people have lost sight of. It's a basic change in focus. The emphasis is no longer on character-driven plot.
I'm very optimistic about Mr. Malone working on this show. But he's too new in the chair for me to tell just how far he's gonna take it and how effective he's going to be -- so I can only talk about what's been happening in the industry. Soaps used to be driven by character. Now it's all about plot for plot's sake and production values that try to compete with prime time. We used to put the emphasis on acting and writing. That's all our budgets allowed -- and the shows were better for it. Malone is a wonderful writer -- I've read all of his novels -- and he doesn't work that way, so I think our show will see significant changes. But trying to compete with nighttime has hurt this industry. I'm so amazed -- because this isn't brain surgery -- that there has been such a huge attrition rate for so many years that the press is now writing about all the time. I was seeing this 12 years ago and wondering why nobody else was noticing. And it was so easy to see why it was happening. I'm really in touch with my fans. I'm on the Internet all the time with them. I'm listening to what you guys in the press write, which is very cogent, very clear. You're saying what the fans are saying. Just give us good storytelling that has to do with characters and we'll watch!
And yet that simplicity is very hard to do well. But it was simple. I've been doing these shows since they were 15 minutes live. They were simple morality tales about people and why they behaved the way they behaved. That's what soaps are about and that's what you can do really well in this format.
So how did it get off track?
I don't know. That's where you pundits are better at analyzing. But I do know from what I read and from what I watch that we're chasing an audience we don't have and may never have. Why don't the networks cherish the viewers they've got? I think that's what this team we have is trying to do -- I've read that Michael believes that.
Are you seeing a difference in the material?
Oh, there was a big difference when he came in. There was a big difference when Charlotte Savitz came in as executive producer. But it takes a while for a new team to establish their identity, and in that process, lots can go wrong. And I'm here to tell ya, I've seen lots of nice producing/writing teams come in with great ideas where I've thought, "Hey, wow, this might work! Let's try it!" Yet somehow it all falls apart and I don't know why that happens.
So the core idea is a good one but it falls apart in the execution?
It gets so pushed and pulled out of shape that you can't even find the original idea anymore. It's that committee thing. And it happens in all businesses, not just ours. I'm hoping that won't happen with this team because I think they're really bright. But at this point I can only be cautiously optimistic because we have a long way to go.
You've had fairly solid story for three or four years now. Do you feel entrenched enough that you can rely on continuing story -- or could you end up on the back burner?
I've never felt secure in that -- never. Except back in the Paul/Pete days -- you know, the Apostles. [Note: When Wyndham joined AW in 1972, Paul Rauch was executive producer and Harding "Pete" Lemay was head writer] In this industry there is a major marginalization of anybody past a certain age. There are exceptions -- and I hope I'm one of them -- but those exceptions only prove the rule. I've had story spurts. We had the Carl/Rachel romance and then it was dropped like a hot potato as soon as the ratings started perking up. It was dropped and we were put on the back burner and that's when Charles Keating and I developed our two-person show Couplets -- because we had absolutely nothing to do for months. Then they brought us back and we did the Justine storyline, which was supposed to be a story about Carl and Rachel. We were never supposed to see Justine except once. It was supposed to be about these two people with a very real secret threat. It would have been a good story but they didn't do it that way. Instead, we didn't see Rachel through all of that story, we only saw Justine getting weirder and weirder and more and more baroque. Or Machiavellian. Or cartoonish. By the end she was cartoonish.
But in this industry where research and focus groups and demos are so all-important, why do the research findings not translate to better and constant story for you two?
I had a blast doing Justine even though every moment of it was terrifying because of the writer and producer changes. The ideas were changing all the time and I could see where she was going and that she was not going to survive. It was still a great deal of fun to stretch, to challenge myself. But basically, that story was not about Carl and Rachel. Rachel was comatose through most of it. Then we got over that and there was nothing for us to do. We didn't see Rachel or [explore] what the Justine experience did to her. Nothing. So it's been nice to see the story spurts, but what I'd like to see is the real belief that the character has more steam, that she has more to say to us. And it would be great for this show to set a new paradigm, to raise the ceiling for the over-40 set. To see real stories about real people. What Charles and I find very interesting is that they keep test-marketing our two characters and we're the most popular romantic couple on the show and are considered the sexiest couple on the show. And that is the very demographic that everybody's chasing. What does that say? So that makes me feel glad. I'm very proud of the fan loyalty.
Well, I think it is. Michael and Charlotte are interested in the couple. I've never understood all this time who it is that's not interested. I know the fans are interested. I know that when Rachel is front and center she draws audience and that the numbers perk up. There's some person out there in some position of authority that obviously doesn't agree -- or maybe there's a group of people. We don't know. But it is peculiar, it is defeating, and it's amazing to me and gratifying that they want to do the special 25th anniversary show. [Note: The July 10 episode of AW will be solely devoted to Wyndham] It's like, "Oh, wow, somebody finally noticed that I've been here for this long and that I'm certainly instrumental in keeping this show going." I think if Rachel had left it would have been an enormous loss.
What would your life have been like if you hadn't taken this role? You were already established as a daytime star with Guiding Light, so do you think you would have stayed in soaps? Moved on to prime time? Or maybe into another direction altogether?
I don't know. I don't spend much time looking backwards. I never dreamed I'd be on this show for this long, that's for sure. I don't think I'd ever have gone to Hollywood. My children were born by then and I'm very much an East Coast person, so I would have to have been on another soap because I needed the money. I couldn't have afforded to raise children in the theater. I needed some real bread. My kids were my first and most important job. So when I came onto AW, it was really as a job, not as a career. I have never worked it as a career, because my career was getting those two guys grown up. On the whole it's been a great job because it's been a great company. It becomes your family after so many years -- and that's why it's so hard to have so many producer/writer changes. It's like putting kids through a constant stream of marriage and divorce, marriage and divorce, and who would want to do that? It becomes a big dysfunctional family with the constant hirings and firings. There have been some very rough, unhappy times, and thank God for Couplets. Thank God for Justine, because it's difficult to get through all of that -- especially because this show was so good when it was good. It's very hard to go through a Camelot experience and then watch it dissipate and go downhill. I was on this show when it had a 28 share [over a quarter of TVs in use at that time were tuned into AW].
It was hot enough to result in not one but two spin-offs [Somerset and Texas].
There's a cynicism that has pervaded this industry right across the board. I've watched it grow over the years and I think it's a shame. I can remember when we felt like we were really doing good work here, work that was worth doing. It was worth making daytime a really quality experience for our viewers. We really cherished the viewers we had and we understood that we could build on that audience -- and if we were good enough, word would get out. That seems a real easy concept to me. A very win-win kind of thing. But over the years I've seen such a cynicism. I think it started with all the writers rotating from soap to soap, the same producing teams rotating and rotating, and it became so cynical, possibly because no one was allowed to stay anywhere long enough to form a company. Luckily, Michael and Charlotte don't have that cynicism. They really want this show to be the best it can be. Possibly the problem with this show is that there are too many people who own a piece of it -- P&G, the network -- but there is still a real desire to see this show succeed. Everybody in the industry knows it's not a good idea for any of these shows to be canceled. I go up and down. I'm optimistic one day, pessimistic the next, because it's hard to stay optimistic when you see some of the same problems cropping up already in a new team.
There is so much panic in the soap world now -- and that doesn't tend to foster clear thinking or trust in the writers. But without clear thinking, without trust, how can the daytime drama business be saved?
I believe it can be fixed, but the people who do it are going to be the ones who bust through and say, "You know what, I'm not operating out of fear anymore." Could it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Don't know and don't feel very optimistic. It would take quite an extraordinary team to do that, one that really, really insisted on succeeding or failing on their own merits and their own ideas, not on the ideas reached by committee. And it would take new blood. Now I would like to think that team is this team. And I know that everything will conspire to scare and panic them. I would not want to be an executive producer or a writer in this environment for anything in the world. Back in the days when this show was successful, Pete and Paul protected each other. Paul protected Pete against interference. And isn't it interesting that the people who are willing to take those kinds of chances are the ones who succeed? Certainly Rauch is one of those. He was willing to go for the best talent he could find and then he trusted them. In this day and age, everybody says, "Well, that's not the way business is done anymore." Well, we better go back to that "way" or we may as well look for other work. You, me, everybody. We've got to get back to characters, not walking archetypes. Rachel's a real woman, she's got real flaws, real emotions, real edges -- let's see some of 'em!
At this point, you obviously know Rachel better than anybody. Is it not then your responsibility to guide the writers, to fill them in on the past, on the facts as you and the viewers know them?
You can to a certain extent, but I have such compassion for the enormity of what Michael has taken on. He's been interested in incorporating some of that, but the artist in me says let him find her, let him do his own thing, let him write his own show. Now am I perfect at doing that? No.
There have been rumors of Wyndham-Malone turmoil.
I've stormed down to his office screaming and pulling my hair out and saying, "How can you let me say stuff like this?" And he's very sweet about it and says, "OK, we'll try to work on it," and I'll go back to my dressing room and think, "How could I have said that to him?" Because what he's been able to accomplish in just the short amount of time he's been here is amazing. I mean, he's made some huge, enormously correct changes trying to get this train onto the proper track.
Is it harder for a writer to get a grasp on Rachel -- a character who has spanned from the dark to the light -- than it is to grasp a sum-her-up-in-one-sentence kinda character like Erica Kane? You present so much more of a challenge.
Yes, because Rachel's been more complex and more lifelike. In playing this character, I've tried to show that people can grow and change and develop. That to me was worth doing. People will often ask: "Why have you stayed on soaps so long?" Well, because I needed the money. But I've also done it for the artistic reasons. I can reach more people through this medium. You're absolutely right -- the scope of Rachel is absolutely beyond anybody's capabilities to grasp in just a few weeks. I'm hoping the retrospective show will help. In reviewing those old clips, there is a very clear progression, and it has helped the writing team see who Rachel used to be. Because other than me and the longtime viewers, no one really knows who she was. Everybody that used to work on AW in those days is gone or dead. Rachel is a woman who needed to change in order to survive. She found that she had the ability to do it, albeit with many retrograde slips, because of the love of a man, Mac Cory. She was able to climb out of her own self-inflicted hole, and then she turned around and tried to do the same thing for Carl.
Would you have bailed out if Rachel had remained a troublemaker?
Oh, I wouldn't have played her at all. That's why I turned down the job when [Robin] Strasser left. I'd already quit a comparable role on Guiding Light. I wanted to play a real person, not another three-note caricature. Oh, no, I was not ready for those same three notes again! I have more in my bag of tricks.
Is it weird to have spent a quarter-century in one role?
I turned down AW but they kept coming back. So I met with Pete and Paul and I liked what I heard. We shared the same vision [for Rachel's redemption], which I'm sure wasn't a popular notion [with the network and P&G]. But everybody stood back and let Pete and Paul do their thing. And I wish that would happen today. It must start happening again for the medium's sake. Otherwise it deserves to die, because it's eating itself alive.
It can't become all about finding the best underwear model and bringing him on and trying to teach him to act while everybody watches! They're doing a lot of that on all the shows now, which has been detrimental to the medium. It's not about looks. If it were about looks, do you think I'd still be on the show? If it were about looks, would Charles Keating be considered the sexiest character? Look at us! We're the two least likely to be sexy characters imaginable. Throughout my career, I've never had tits. I still don't have them. It's not about that, guys! The audience are tuning in because they think they know us. We're their friends. It's not about tits and ass, it's about people. It's not about production values and quick fixes, it's about character. Mad About You, great show. Third Rock From the Sun, great show. They're not about plastic pretty people.
I'm so proud of my network at night. Why don't they listen to us, to you in the press, to the fans? What are The Powers That Be seeing that we're seeing differently? We need a white knight who's going to come in and throw his lance and destroy these ridiculous standards. I don't know who that's going to be, but I certainly hope it's Mr. Malone. And I certainly hope that it involves Rachel. I don't want Rachel to turn into the Ada [Rachel's late mother on AW] of our show. Ada shouldn't have turned into Ada. And I would like to think we've grown up enough in this country to do better by our older women.
Very weird. That's why I was so thrilled to do Justine -- even when she was at her most gargoyle-ish, at least it was different.
Are you your character in any ways? Many ways?
Rachel is so real to me. I'm so attached to her. She's grown up with me and gone through mothers and husbands who are dead now; she's gone through all the same stuff I've gone through. She is my alter ego. Some days I'd like to just come in to work, take my paycheck and go home, but Rachel won't hear of it. She's terribly feisty when things aren't right for her. People will go, "Oh, there's Wyndham on a tear again." But that's not me, that's Rachel. She's defending herself. She starts railing at me in the morning when she takes one look at a script. When she doesn't like what she sees, she says, "You're not gonna let 'em do that! C'mon! Aren't you gonna talk to somebody?" I don't want to make waves. But she won't hear of it. The Rachel that I live with hasn't lost any of her edge. She's insufferable. She gets me in trouble all the time. On some level, I'm hoping Charlotte understands that's Rachel. Sometimes I make bargains with Rachel: "You stay in the dressing room, I'm going to go talk to Charlotte, OK? Stay here! Because otherwise, you're going to get me in trouble." People don't understand that she is very real to me. When Matt [Crane, who played Matt Cory] left, it was like saying goodbye to my own son. It was very difficult.
What are you saying? That the day will someday come when you'll say, "See ya, folks, I'm outta here!"?
I'm proud of my work. Even though it was always just a job and not a career, I've taken it very seriously. The partnership with Doug Watson was a great one. I've had two great ones -- the other being with Charles. You're lucky as an actor if it happens once, but to find a great partner twice! I can still cry on a dime over Doug and Connie [Ford] being gone. This place is full of ghosts for me. That's why it's so hard when the material isn't worthy. But Miss Wyndham doesn't have to stay here anymore.
Oh, yes. Now that the children are grown up and on their own. Oh, yes. And I'm looking forward to that day.