Oakdale is also home to some of the most vicious women in the history of the X chromosome. As The World Turns pioneered the concept of the soap opera vixen in 1960 when it introduced the indolent, predatory Lisa Miller ("daytime's first bitch, " CBS press releases proudly proclaim), who at last count has been through seven husbands and is hunting yet another. Audiences loved to hate Lisa so much that Eileen Fulton, the actress who plays her, at one point had to hire a bodyguard to keep strangers from accosting her on the streets.
"Irna Phillips was really great at sustaining a bad girl, " says Lenhart. "Practically every heroine on As The World Turns started as a bad girl or a schemer." The concept has mutated well past anything Phillips, who died in 1973, could possibly have imagined. Lisa earned her rep as a bad girl by using her pregnancy to avoid household chores and later, as a newlywed, taking credit for housework secretly done by a maid. Current bad-girl queen Emily Stewart (played by Kelley Menighan Hensley) recently disciplined a cold-footed fiancé by shooting him, rolling him over a cliff, and framing him for murder. "People looooove her, " says an admiring Lenhart.
EVIL, EVIL GAL
Probably the most palpably evil vixen of all time is the one who did in Irna Phillips herself, a character named Kim Reynolds. Played by Kathryn Hays, she joined As The World Turns in 1972, a single career woman who was the show's first real concession to the feminist movement.
But she went bad with a vengeance, getting involved in ever-more-perilous sexual hijinks that ended with her getting pregnant by her sister's husband, Bob Hughes. When the show hinted that Bob would divorce his wife to marry Kim, some fans complained - and CBS ordered Phillips to reverse courses: no divorce, and Kim would have a miscarriage as karmic payback for her adultery. When Phillips refused, the network fired her.
"At almost the same time, over on ABC, Erica Kane was having the first legal abortion in daytime history on All My Children, and nothing happened to her, " observes Lenhart. "CBS was a conservative place, and As The World Turns was, in many ways, kind of a conservative show." Agrees Poll: "There was an unspoken moral code. If a woman had an affair with a married man, not only did they never wind up together, he usually died."
Other characters die because writers hate them, or the actors who play them. One of the most infamous deaths in ATWT history occurred when an actress named Jane House ran afoul of Phillips.
"Irna wanted her actresses to stay in character all the time - she wouldn't even call them by their real names, just their character names, " says Lenhart. "And she didn't want them playing other roles while they were on As The World Turns."
House, who played a character named Liz Talbot, infuriated Phillips by taking a role on Broadway that required nudity. Phillips first gave Liz Talbot pneumonia; when that didn't get the point across, Talbot was killed by falling up the stairs and bursting her spleen.
"The Guiding Light had recently killed somebody by having them fall down the stairs, so this had to be different, " says Poll.
Even more indicative of the God Complex of As The World Turns writers is their propensity to bring characters back from the dead to spite former colleagues. "Nobody's ever dead unless you see them die in a hospital, they're pronounced dead, and then maybe their body is shot a couple of times in the coffin, " says Lenhart. ATWT characters have mysteriously returned from being shot in the heart, falling out of airplanes and even being still-born.
But the most memorable return was a young woman named Shannon, kidnapped and murdered by a vengeful romantic rival who then mailed her shrunken head back to Oakdale.
"There was a regime change on the writing staff, " recalls Pay, who was working on the show at the time, "and the new head writer told us we had to think of a way to bring Shannon back to life. And we sat there and said, 'How are we going to do that? She's a dead shrunken head.' " But they did, and the world kept turning, just as it has for 50 years.