THIS GUIDING LIGHT KEEPS BURNING

GuidingLight2008logo

This week, the CBS soap opera Guiding Light will fade to black after an unprecedented 72-year run that began as a radio serial in 1937 (it was first broadcast five days after FDR’s inauguration), and then moved to TV in 1952.  The show still gets around 1-2 million viewers per episode, but that’s not enough for CBS executives, and the residents of the fictitious town of Springfield are being asked to pack up and move on. The show’s last episode is this Friday.

Who do I think of most as this television institution is drawing to a close?

My mom, of course.

Lynn Houk was a Yale-trained actress who had quite a resume of leading performances in local and regional theater during her acting run, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of movie history. And because of this acting base, one of her great joys was spending thousands of weekday afternoons, cigarette in one hand and often an iced coffee or tea in the other, watching the CBS soaps, with Guiding Light as the 3pm anchor leg to the 3 1/2 hour slate of programs.

For those of you who think soaps are vapid, overdramatic and ridiculous, well, given the outrageous plot lines, they often are. But especially on the CBS soaps, the acting is strikingly good, and that is often backed up by the many Daytime Emmys that CBS soap actors take home every year. It’s a fact that many well-known actors and actresses got their start on soaps, including the likes of Alec Baldwin, Meg Ryan, Kevin Bacon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mark Hamill, and many more; hey, even Leonard Nimoy was on a soap before he donned the pointed ears and played that guy on the Enterprise. Jonathan Frid, the vampire-like character on the ABC gothic soap Dark Shadows was one of Mom’s Yale classmates, and she had many other theatrical acquaintances that were soap actors.

guiding pic

And that’s why my Mom appreciated the soaps so much. Sure, she laughed and even cringed at some of the more outlandish plot lines, and the way characters could die a violent death only to return six months later to wreak havoc amongst the still-mourning survivors. Or maybe they were so disfigured from their “accident” that they would have plastic surgery and return as another actor.  Or how soap kids seem to grow three times as fast as real kids.

But it was really because of the acting that Mom watched Guiding Light every weekday that it was on from probably 1970 or earlier right up until around the time of her death in 2004. She developed her stable of favorite actors and characters, and was never shy about conveying her feelings about the characters, or the acting. Comments like “Oh no!” or “That’s not fair!” or “Come on!” would echo from the living room during the afternoon soapfest. Heck, she had a right to criticize, she could have played any one of a hundred of the soap divas she would cheer for or against. I remember thinking she could have assumed the role of Alexandra Spaulding or Vanessa Lewis, two of Guiding Light’s main characters, very easily.

Now it may sound kinda depressing that she spent so much of her time watching TV, inside, watching these soaps, and maybe, well, it kinda was. There were so many other things she could have been doing. But hey, it was a true joy for Mom to dissapear into the towns of Oakdale, Genoa City, and yes, Springfield, every day, analyzing the performances, becoming in tune with the nuances, watching the actors go through their paces. I’m sure she secretly wished she was down in NY or out in LA on the sound stage running through scene after scene as one of the cast.  In fact, I’m sure part of the allure of watching these shows was dreaming she was doing just that. And ya know, she woulda been great at it.

But part of it was also the comfortable routine of it all, her knowing that not long after the soaps ended for the day, and she did a little housework and made sure the cats were all fine, that my Dad, the love of her life, would come bounding through the door, mix the martinis and the next part of the day, the night, her favorite time of day, would begin. There’s something to be said for that kind of routine and comfort. Not for everyone, but it worked for my Mom.

So, as the hugs and tears intermingle between the members of the Guiding Light family this Friday, setting the sun on a 72 year tradition, I’ll think of my beautiful Mom, watching the closing credits, putting out her cigarette, taking a last sip of that iced coffee, shooing the cats into the kitchen with her, and waiting for her husband to come home, so they could be each other’s…..Guiding Light.

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16 Responses to “THIS GUIDING LIGHT KEEPS BURNING”

  1. Steve, this is beautifully written. I actually saw your mom enjoying her ‘stories’ as I read this. Wish I’d met her – she sounds like my kind of lady. Thank you for this lovely reflection.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Thanks Donna, you made my day. I just watched part of today’s second to last episode and thougth of her. Best to you. Hope to see you 11/5 at the Hard Rock!

  2. Mike Harvey Says:

    Hey Steve,
    Just got done reading this for the second time. Like Donna says above, I can totally see your mother when I’m reading this piece. I forwarded it to Laura Wright who used to star on Guiding Light buy is now on General Hospital. I’m guessing she will enjoy it too.

  3. Laura Wright Says:

    Wow– So great!!! Thanks- I feel so blessed to have been apart of this great show

  4. Shawn-Marie Says:

    I really enjoyed this as well and put a smile on my face on an otherwise dreary day. GL doesn’t come on til 2pm cst so I haven’t seen it, but I am already depressed thinking about it. I could totally picture your Mom as you wrote this. She would have been very proud to read it. I have been a GL fan for 27 years and am sad to see my Springfield family go. I owe alot to VCR’s and DVR’s or I would have missed so much thru the years. As I watch GL this afternoon I know your Mom will pop into my mind! 🙂

  5. I WILL SURELY MISS GL,THEY WERE LIKE A FAMILY TO ME AND MY HUSBAND,WE ARE MOURNING TODAY, SEPT l8 AND WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE WHOLE CAST FOR BEING PART OF OUR FAMILY, I GUESS WHEN YOU GET OLD YOU JUST GET THROWN OUT WITH THE TRASH, NOTHING WILL EVER REPLACE THIS SHOW, WHOEVER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS DECISION HURT A LOT OF PEOPLE, INCLUDING MY FREIND BUBBA LITTLE WHO WAS AFFECTED EMOTIONALLY, ITS NOT ALL ABOUT MONEY,

  6. As if I haven’t cried enough this week, unlike the others here I did not picture your mom, but my own. We could have had the same mother!! LOL
    GL has been a constant in my home since I can remember, it was passed on to me then to my daughter who is 18, she started watching it with her grandmother. I will miss it terribly, today when I watch the last episode I will be losing dear friends that I have laughed with, cried with, got mad at, so yes they were “family” Losing GL and all its memories it is like losing my mother all over again. It was easy to sit and watch when I would miss her and “feel” her watching with me, it was the one thing we did together all the time, GL was our “bonding” time. Now TPTB have taken away the connection I had left with my mother I will take away me the person who watches their network and buys their products, I’m sure one person will not be an impact to them, but there are more people out there who are willing to do the same.

  7. Lisa Thomas Says:

    Oh, how I can relate! I just lost my mom three months ago, and she was also such a GL fan that I grew up with the show (though I think Mama would have played characters like Maureen Bauer or Lillian Raines, I think). She loved all the characters — well, probably hated some, too, more than people in her real life! — and they became a part of my own life more than I could ever admit, until now. Thanks for that very well done piece.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Lisa: I knew people could relate to this, so many people can. I couldn’t help thinking of my Mom today, her tears rolling down as GL faded away. Poignant stuff. Thanks for reading. There are some other blogs back on this site about my parents, I’d love you to read them. Just keep clicking back to a few. Best, Steve.

  8. Nice blog, and a lovely tribute to your mom. I’m sure she was very proud of you when she was alive. We’ll certainly miss GL in the days ahead and possibly even for the rest of our lives. Thank you to all the GL actors for becoming an integral part of our lives.

  9. I wrote a short-short story about the biggest GL fan ever. Click my website link to read it. It was great fun to write!

  10. Had not watched the show as much in recent years (life got in the way, I guess), but was a an avid, HUGE fan back in the day. First tuned in back in 1979 with the Holly/Roger story and was hooked from the get-go, and hung on through Nola/Quint, Ross/Carrie split personality storyline, the 4 musketteers: Phillip, Rick, Mindy, Beth [I liked the original Beth (Judi Evans) better, even though the 2nd Beth (Beth Chamberlin) was a fine actress], Tony/Annabelle, learning their were a black family of Spauldings, the return of Holly/Roger, the Nancy Curlee writing years, and then I got busy with life and stopped watching. Much has been said of the Reva character and writer Pam Long years. Ms. Long was a great writer, but the show descended into the REVA SHOW, and that got tiring for me after awhile. Kim Zimmer is a great actress, but I actuallly thought the years between 1989 and 1994 were the BEST years for the show when the show became more of an “ensemble” piece. This is when GL was REALLY, REALLY, EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD, as written by Nancy Curlee, Stephen Demorest and James Reilly. The Holly/Ross/Blake story, Gilly/Hamp/David/Kat, Nick/Eve/Mindy, Roger/Mindy/Alex, the big blackout in Springfield, Ed/Maureen/Lillian…..my God, it was GREAT television!!! The show proved it did NOT need Reva after all. Soo many of my friends stopped watching “General Hospital” at that time, and switched over to GL!!! LOL!!!!!

    Anyway, RIP GL….you’ll be missed.

    Here’s a nice tribute to the show on YouTube:

  11. Steve,
    Thanks so much for suggesting that I read your blog. You were right, it did put a smile on my face through the tears. It was such a beautiful story, that again, I cried. I have become quite the cry baby today. I could see your mom in the way you described her watching her soaps. Again, thanks for the blog. I truly need cheering up.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Wow. Thanks for your reply, Deborah. Sorry it made you cry! But hopefully in a good way. My Mom was a wonderful beautiful classy woman, who would have been at home in the Spaulding mansion. I miss her every day. Thanks for sharing my story.

  12. Steve,
    My mom grew up watching GL , I grew up watching GL and my kids grew up watching GL.My daughter remembers coming home from school and not being able to watch her shows until GL was over. She resented my tv time! Eventually she started watching it with me! In my area GL came on at 9:00 in the morning. By 9:55 this morning, it was all over. I fully expect to turn the tv on Monday morning, and have it be on. I would much rather have seen BandB go then GL. GL has been an icon for years. It should have remained an icon on tv, not just in the memories of millions.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.

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