Soap Opera Time
December 1976
Soap Opera Family Series
The Story of the Ryans
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Ryan’s Hope—the only daytime serial set in the heart of New York City—centers on the trials and tribulations of the Ryan clan, a big, strapping Irish-American family, reminiscent of the Kennedys.

Johnny Ryan, the patriarch of the clan, owns a bar on Manhattan’s upper West Side, which he runs with the help of his wife, Maeve. She’s a kind of Gaelic “Mother Courage”—strong-willed and outspoken, yet lovingly tempered around the edges with warmth and humor. Meave was born and raised in Dublin, and didn’t come to New York until the mid-1940s when she married Johnny Ryan. She has since borne him two sons—Frank and Pat— and three daughters—Cathleen, Siobhann and Mary.


Frank Ryan is currently running for city councilman on a political reform ticket. He’s an ex cop who studied law at night, and has all the makings of a young political hero. He’s tough, hand some and conscientious—a man of high principles and charismatic appeal. The only obstacle in Frank’s path is his childish wife, Delia, who’s been making his homelife a quiet hell for some time. As a candidate’s wife, she’s an albatross. (As an ordinary man’s wife, she’s not much of an asset, either!) She’s so self-centered and insecure that she’d secretly prefer it if Frank gave up his political career and lavished all his attention on her.

Frank would have left Delia long ago, had it not been for their little boy, John. His love for his son made him determined to save the marriage at all costs. In fact, Frank broke off his affair with lawyer Jill Coleridge—a family friend and campaign worker—for just that reason. Basically an honorable man, Frank felt his family obligations had to come before his own happiness. So, even though Frank loved Jill, he reluctantly gave her up and went back to Delia. (Since then, Jill has become romantically involved with Dr. Seneca Beaulac, whom she recently defended when he was charged with his wife’s mercy killing.)

For a while, things looked hopeful for Frank and his wife. After he gave up Jill, Delia vowed to be a better helpmate to him— but it was an empty promise. She secretly took a lover of her own—Jill’s brother, Dr. Roger Coleridge—and for a time seriously considered leaving Frank for Roger. Meanwhile, she spent several evenings a week at Roger’s apartment—telling Frank she was taking a Chinese cooking course with a friend named “Sheila.”

Delia thought Roger loved her (and perhaps he does!), but she has also been manipulated by him for his own sinister purposes. In the midst of their involvement, Roger began sending anonymous notes to Frank, warning him about Delia’s illicit behavior. It was almost as if Roger wanted to trap Delia in her own web. Perhaps he thought this was a way of forcing her to leave Frank; or, perhaps, because his attraction to Delia isn’t love, but really a way of settling an old vendetta with Frank.

On one occasion, for instance, Roger gave Delia a beautiful locket. He made her promise to wear it in public, assuring her that no one could possibly link it with him. Delia believed him. When people asked her where she’d gotten the locket, she concocted a story that she’d found it in the street. Frank and the rest of the Ryans believed her. But when Jill saw Delia wearing it, she was furious. The locket had once belonged to her mother. She felt it was an outrage for Roger to have handed it over to his mistress!— especially since Delia happened to be the wife of the man that Jill had once loved.

Eventually, Frank found out about Delia’s trysts with Roger— and he left her. In a childish bid to win him back, she attempted suicide. Luckily, Delia recovered; but Frank still refused to soften his heart to her. When she left the hospital, she moved in with her in-laws, Meave and Johnny Ryan, hoping that somehow or other, Frank would forgive her and take her back. It seemed an idle hope.


Frank’s sister, Mary Ryan, has been having problems of her own. While working on Frank’s political campaign she met Jack Fenelli, a young reporter assigned to cover the campaign for the Village Banner.

Jack and Mary were truly a case of opposites attracting. He was Italian—she was Irish. He ridiculed Mary’s family—they, in turn, resented him. Jack was a devout bachelor—Mary was a stubborn career girl. How in the world they ever got together (and stayed together!) is nothing short of a small miracle.

Jack and Mary spent most of their courtship arguing about her family. Take Mother’s Day, for example. Jack thought the holiday was a farce—a trumped-up excuse for greeting card manufacturers to make a buck. But Mary strongly believed in the occasion—as do all the Ryans—so she convinced Jack to drop by Ryan’s bar on Mother’s Day and pay his respects to her mom. Meave was touched by Jack’s thoughtfulness, and delighted that he’d even brought her a gift—until she opened the package. It was a book—a history of the Irish people. It turned out to be a bigoted and derogatory account written by an Englishman. Jack hadn’t known that when he bought the book, but Maeve couldn’t help being outraged. It was only one of many blunders that characterized Jack Fenelli’s rough-and-tumble relationship with the Ryans.

Occasionally, Jack Fenelli and Mary’s father have even come to blows! Still, the courtship somehow progressed. Of course, the wedding itself could not be expected to come off without a hitch—and, in true Fenelli fashion, Jack went on an all-night drinking binge the night before the nuptials. While Mary waited at the altar, he was nowhere to be found. Ironically it was Johnny Ryan who finally located him. He sobered him up by throwing him into a cold shower, so that the tottering bridegroom could make a presentable appearance in church.

The wedding was filmed on location at St. Benedict the Moor Church on Manhattan’s West Side. The cast and crew of Ryan’s Hope arrived there on a sweltering hot, muggy day in June. Outside, on the city streets, the temperature was registering ninety degrees. Inside the church—under the intense camera lights—it was yet twenty degrees higher! Mother-of-the-bride Helen Gallagher later confessed that “I surely thought I would faint during the ceremony,” but since it was not in the script for Maeve or any of the other Ryans to faint, the whole cast merely wilted in silence. According to ABC, “the only casualties of the heat were the altar candles. They had to be replaced several times during the taping because they were melting faster than they were burning.”

Aside from using a real New York church as the site for the wedding, there were several other touches of authenticity. Mary Ryan’s bridal veil was Irish lace— handmade by a woman in County Monaghan, Ireland. And Mary walked down the aisle wearing a dime in her shoe, which is an old Irish tradition. Ryan’s Hope headwriter Claire Labine recalled it from her own wedding in 1958. She not only wrote the dime into the script, but gave Kate Mulgrew the same coin she’d used, to wear on the show.


Pat Ryan, the youngest of the Ryan brood, is an intern at Riverside Hospital. One of his fellow interns is Faith Coleridge, sister of Jill and Roger. Faith has been secretly in love with Pat for a long time, but he only regards her with friendly affection. Pat is too busy “sowing his oats all over town,” as his mother puts it, to be interested in a serious commitment to Faith. Still, he’s seen her through some pretty grim times—including her kidnapping by a hospital madman, which resulted in the death by her father, Dr. Ed Coleridge, during her rescue.

In the past, while pursuing Pat Ryan, Faith has herself been pursued by Bucky Cater, a wealthy intern (and the nephew of Seneca Beaulac). But Bucky’s interest in Faith seemed to peter out when he discovered that mobster Nick Szabo had a gorgeous young daughter named Reenie. At the moment, Bucky’s otherwise engaged and Faith is still gazingly longingly at Pat Ryan, while he remains oblivious.

And these days Faith Coleridge isn’t the only one suffering in silence. Delia sits at Ryan’s bar, hoping against hope, that Frank will come to his senses and return to her; while Delia’s brother, Bob Reid, secretly pines for Mary Ryan, despite her marriage to Jack Fenelli. The only two people who seem to be perpetually full of hope and joy are Maeve and Johnny Ryan. They seem to possess a magic formula all their own. It’s a shame they can’t pass it on to their luckless offspring.

Many THANKS to a Totally Kate! contributor for this article!
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