January 6, 1981
By Linda Hersch
       As days pass, you tend to forget the faces of college acquaintances, the people from your last job,  and those neighbors from your past. But there are certain faces that always remain etched in  your mind. Faces that you had grown to love, hate, pity and rejoice with - the faces of those soap stars from the past. How you used to sit  and listen as they uttered those dire threats and watched as they passionately held the one they loved. Remember? Those characters may be gone forever (or replaced by another face), but the actors and  actresses live on. Where are they now? What are they doing? What are their thoughts?

       Soap Opera Digest approached several of soap operas most notable stars who have left the scene and, by tracking them down, we are now able to bring you up-to-date on their lives. So sit  back and enjoy reading about the faces you cannot help but remember!

       We begin our series with Kate Mulgrew, who played Mary Ryan Fenelli on "Ryan's Hope" for the first two years of the show.

     On a beautiful sunny Fall day, at the Coachlight Dinner Theatre in Nanuet, New York (a country town with mountains and greenery only 45 minutes from New York City). Kate Mulgrew was starring in Neil Simon's "Chapter Two." After a stunning performance as the play's heroine, Jennie Malone, Kate, comfortably dressed in a white robe, took the time to talk about the different facets of her fabulous career. Flashing that famous Irish smile, Kate was warm, friendly, and vibrant. As we sat on a gold slip covered sofa in her dressing room, Kate, full of electricity, radiated that same lightning quality she projected on camera when she played Mary Ryan on "Ryan's Hope." Before I could ask Kate a question, she turned to me and asked if I liked the play. After assuring her that I loved it and all its stars (including her leading man, Michael Zaslow - who played Roger Thorpe on "The Guiding Light"), Kate responded: "It's very hard to play comedy in front of a small audience (referring to the size of the dinner theatre) because you're playing for laughs, and when the laughs do not come, you think maybe you should compensate here or there. This is a musical-comedy house and this is the first drama they have presented. It's hard to play theatre-in-the-round. You have to keep moving, You have to keep spinning around."

      At this point in our conversation, there was a tap at the door and one of the Coachlight staff walked in carrying several paperbacks. Kate clapped her hands wildly. These would provide her with entertainment after our interview. After being handed a biography, Kate shouted, "Yeah! Laurence Olivier." She was also given Blood and Guts Patton, and sneered at the cover. The third book, The Women's Room, she had already read.

      Resuming our talk, I asked Kate if she felt playing Mary Ryan was the springboard to her prime-time success. The actress replied, "I suppose it had a great deal to do with it. Actors go into this profession wanting to be great and the first thing they say to themselves is, `I will never do soaps and I will never do prime-time. I am going to do stage and movies.' And you see;' she said with a large grin, "within a very  short period of time that's not how it really works. I am very grateful to `Ryan's Hope I received great technical training there and met two of my best friends, Claire Labine (who created "RH" and is one of its writers), and Nancy Addison (who plays Jill Coleridge), through my work. But a two-and-a-half-year run is too long for a person like me. Just as a two-and-a-half-year run in a play would be too long."

      I told Kate that she is the inspiration of many soap stars who long for the day their daytime faces will be seen on nighttime television. Kate was flattered and said seriously, "You can't make it to prime-time unless you leave daytime. You've got to move on. And the thinking is wrong if they say to themselves they can do both. Prime-time isn't interested in daytime and vice versa. You belong to one or the other."

      It was Kate's decision to leave Ryan's Hope. "Certainly the money, the comforts, the flattery are not as good when you leave a soap," she related. "but the challenge is worth it. Being on a soap was so seductive and my ratings were so good and I was coddled. But I finally said to Claire, who had become my very deep personal friend, that I had to get out. She told me she would do everything she could to release me from the show. Claire knew I had to leave."

      When I asked Kate to fill me in on what happened right after her departure from "RH," she said excitedly, "Well, let me tell you my history because it is sort of interesting." She went on with her “history": "I left with nothing to look forward to --nothing! I mean. I was alone! That was a risk , because I was used to that everyday thing. Two weeks later. I played in Othello, which I did in Stamford,  Connecticut. When that was over. I spent three months in Europe filming The Word with David Janssen. After that I went to Los Angeles and played in Jennifer with Elizabeth Montgomery (she played Elizabeth's husband's lover) and then I did a `Dallas’. Kate continued., "Fred Silverman saw me on `Dallas.' It was really `Dallas' that did it for me, not the soap so much. Fred called me at home and asked me to meet him for lunch and I said. `Mr. Silverman, what do you want to talk about?' He said he wanted me for a prime-time series and I told him I was not interested. I did a soap and really did not want a  steady series again, and I wanted to keep going. And he said. `Can't we just have lunch?' I told him. `I'd rather not: and hung up!"

            Kate called her agent soon after. Mugging a male voice, Kate imitated her agent's quote: "You said you wouldn't have lunch with Silverman!' Although she explained her desire to be free and on the move. Fred Silverman persisted and had his people call her, Finally, he called her himself and said he wanted to discuss a movie deal with her. But all the while,  Fred had Kate in mind for a new NBC series. They met because the movie offer excited Kate. Fred took out a contract for Mrs. Columbo, looked at Kate and said, "I will give you anything you want if you sign this contract.” Surprised, Kate echoed,  Anything?" and Fred repeated his offer.

       "So I went to my lawyer s office right after I left him and I wrote the most absurd contract you have ever heard. I asked for everything! Houses, boats, millions of dollars, and he said `Yes!"' Kate laughed. "Then I was really excited." Kate signed a one-and-a half-year contract and appeared as Mrs. Columbo, wife of that famous short man in the dirty trench coat,  the woman whose keen mind was always prowling for bargains and clues to help her husband solve crimes. Kate thought the show was fun, but her joyful experience was short-lived due to low ratings. Responding to why she thought the show did not fare well with the public, Kate said, "I guess they expected someone frumpier, older, and heavier. Starring me as Mrs. Columbo just killed me. I couldn't fight a history that didn't belong to me." Indeed, Kate did not fit the picture that Peter Falk's Columbo painted of his wife.

          Though years have passed, Kate still keeps in touch with some of her “RH" buddies. She sees her pal Nancy Addison all the time and Helen Gallagher (Maeve Ryan) occasionally. Kate went to the show's fifth anniversary and saw many of her former castmates. But she declared, "It's hard to see them all. I'm not an eight-to-fiver any more.

       On to the present life of Kate Mulgrew. She recently completed two films. Kate co-stars in Tristan and Isolde with Richard Burton, who plays her husband. The film was written for Kate and Richard by Claire Labine (‘RH's" writer)  and it was shot in Ireland. Kate smiled as she related her feelings of working with Richard Burton: "It was wonderful. He was heaven! Anything you've heard about him is absolutely true." The other film Kate starred in is Mother Seton for ABC television.

       I asked Kate if she would consider doing another series. The actress responded seriously: "That's a tough question to answer. I'd love to say `no.' I'd love to say I'm going to stick to my guns. But I want children and I do not want them to starve." Kate revealed she is about to marry, and though she is sure her husband-to-be, Roberto Meucci, could provide for his family, she wants to be able to do the same. When questioned whether her intended was in show business, Kate smirked and remarked. "No sir! Forget it. He's quite a successful shoe designer.

        Getting back to whether she would do a series, Kate continued, "I wouldn't want to fall back to that. Doing theatre is not falling back. It is acting. But a series is a different thing. You are exposed to millions of people, and if you're an idiot, everyone sees it. Do you know how many roles I have had to turn down  because I wouldn’t do nudity?!” Kate mused. "I just can't imagine doing it! I don't care even if it's one boob!" Kate strongly believes that nudity belongs in the home. "I've never seen a nude scene that I thought was totally necessary," she declared. "Everybody knows what we look like. I also have a problem with foul language. I don't like it. I would like to be in something uplifting. I want to make some kind of contribution. For me to stand up there and slob around is hardly going to do anything for anyone. I want to touch, to motivate the audience."

        With her portrayal of Mary Ryan, Kate Mulgrew has already touched her audience. The character was a strong and determined woman, much like Kate herself. Now that the actress is accomplishing her goal to "move on," there is no doubt she will continue to touch and motivate her audiences in the future.