When you enter the world of soap stars and their fans, you are entering a universe unto itself.
My friend Liza Persky didn't grow up crazy, she was born that way. She was also born a soap fan. Her passion was DAYS. She and her twin sister Jamie started at a young age by unlocking the key to access to soap stars. They methodically befriended fan club presidents because they were the gatekeepers to stars. The girls learned that the key to fan club president's hearts was through stamps (they needed stamps to send out mailers!) so they stole them from their mother and soon were cleaning up Thao ("Tony DiMara") Penglis' bathroom!
The twins also became activists. They picketed NBC in Burbank after the Salem Strangler had killed Marlena. (It turned out to have been her twin - Marlena's not Liza - so the girls were able to sleep.) They were interviewed by "Entertainment Tonight" at a candlelight vigil at UCLA protesting the "fact" that Liz Chandler (Gloria Loring) had gone to jail. Loring showed up herself at the event, wearing all white. (She always wore all white.) They baked Loring's banana bread (from her cookbook) and brought it to Deidre Hall's annual Lunch Break (a fan club gathering). The bread was so bad that Deidre's fan club president forbid the twins from serving it to the other fans.
I have my own deep connection with soaps, specifically "All my Children" and Susan Lucci, but today is about Liza because Monday night Liza attended ABC Daytime Salute to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street.
According to Liza: Susan Lucci changed clothes four times, Erica Slezak (the Meryl Streep of Daytime) got a standing ovation (just for being Erica Slezak!); the young turk soap stars all wear duster jackets and some played guitars and others banged on drums but all of them screwed up at least once in their performance and had to start over again; "One Life to Live" superstar Robin Strasser (who has an unbelievable website and records a personal phone message to her fans once a week) wore a Bob Mackie dress and boa and sprawled on top of a piano and appropriately sang "A Piano and a Diva"; the joke that never got old in a 3-hour evening was the soap stars reciting all their character's last names (i.e. Erica Kane Brent Cudahy Chandler Montgomery blah blah blah!); and Jackie Zeman (GH's eternally young "Bobbie Brock") wasn't there at all but Liza insists and encourages us all to take a look at her face... T
he fans loved it. In any theater in New York City, taking flash fotos is not only prohibited but it's considered vulgar - not so in soapland. It was a tsunami of flashbulbs for the entire performance - cameras, phones, and videos - all rules out the window, according to Persky. And they screamed - the character names - all night!
I should take this moment to point out that Adrienne Barbeau ("Maude") is currently appearing onstage in the village as Judy Garland. Just a side note.
At intermission the soap stars mingled with the fans - they are so approachable. They need their fans and they know it, Liza says. As she admired the blue jean jacket of a Susan Lucci Superfan, a very very large denim affair washed with a montage of scenes from AMC on the back and some light bedazzling, she got caught staring and the woman gave her the card of the artist who'd done the magic jacket. All the ladies in the bathroom were talking about how tiny the actresses are, Liza reports.
As Susan Lucci opened act 2 with "'Ol Black Magic" accompanied by four chorus boys, the woman behind Liza occasionally wistfully sighed, "Oh Erica..." The show was followed by an anything-but-silent auction. Anything with Lucci went for a lot. Walt Willey (AMC's "Jackson") knelt on one knee to La Looch and simulated a proposal onstage, presenting her (probably well lubricated at this point) finger with a diamond ring. Flashbulbs went wild - and even wilder when Lucci announced that the ring was for auction. Everything came with an autographed poster, Persky reports. The ring went for thousands - it was fake, but Lucci had touched it.
Cassie de Paiva from "One Life to Live" was auctioning off a real diamond soon after that she'd been wearing all night. Nobody was bidding. The room was cold, as it goes. Enter La Looch who came forward to give her blessing to the diamond, touching it and thereby making it more valuable. It worked like a charm. The room went wild - it sold for $10,000 and they auctioned another even though they didn't have one. Unfortunately nobody bid on a trip backstage with Walt Willey and even La Looch couldn't sway them.
The night ended with another standing ovation. As everyone filed out Susan Lucci's husband, Helmut Huber, was mobbed by fans in the audience.