As the World Turns

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As the World Turns

Four-and-a-half decades after its April 2, 1956, debut, top-rated daytime soap opera As the World Turns keeps spinning along. Created by Irna Phillips, whose other soaps include The Guiding Light, Another World, Days of Our Lives and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, As the World Turns debuted on CBS the same day as The Edge of Night (which played on CBS through 1975 before moving to ABC for nine years), and the two were television's first thirty-minute-long soap operas, up from the fifteen minutes of previous soaps.

The show is set in the generic Midwestern burg of Oakdale, a veritable Peyton Place whose inhabitants are forever immersed in sin and scandal, conquest and confession, deceit and desire. Originally, the plot lines spotlighted two dissimilar yet inexorably intertwined families: the middle-income Hughes and the ambitious Lowell clans, each consisting of married couples and offspring. One of the first plot threads involved law partners Jim Lowell and Chris Hughes, with Edith, the sister of Chris, becoming involved in an affair with married Jim. The Lowells eventually were written out of the show; however, a number of characters with the Hughes surname have lingered in the story lines. Over the years, the plots have been neck-deep in additional extramarital liaisons along with divorces, child custody cases, car crashes, blood diseases, and fatal falls down stairs—not to mention murders. The dilemmas facing characters in the late 1990s—"Will Emily confront her stalker?" "Is David the guilty party?" "Will Denise develop a passion for Ben?"—are variations on the same impasses and emotional crises facing characters decades earlier.

In some cases, five, seven, and nine actors have played the same As the World Turns characters. However, one performer has become synonymous with the show: soap opera queen Eileen Fulton, who has been a regular since 1960. Fulton's role is the conniving, oft-married Lisa. Beginning as simply "Lisa Miller," over the years her name has been expanded to "Lisa Miller Hughes Eldridge Shea Colman McColl Mitchell Grimaldi Chedwy." Don MacLaughlin, who played Chris Hughes, was the original cast member who remained longest on the show. He was an As the World Turns regular for just more than three decades until his death in 1986.

Of the endless actors who have had roles on As the World Turns, some already had won celebrity but had long been out of the prime-time spotlight. Gloria DeHaven appeared on the show in 1966 and 1967 as "Sara Fuller." Margaret Hamilton was "Miss Peterson" in 1971. Zsa Zsa Gabor played "Lydia Marlowe" in 1981. Abe Vigoda was "Joe Kravitz" in 1985. Claire Bloom was "Orlena Grimaldi" from 1993 through 1995. Robert Vaughn appeared as "Rick Hamlin" in 1995. Valerie Perrine came on board as "Dolores Pierce" in 1998. Other regulars were movie stars/television stars/celebrities-to-be who were honing their acting skills while earning a paycheck. James Earl Jones played "Dr. Jerry Turner" in 1966. Richard Thomas was "Tom Hughes" in 1966 and 1967. Swoosie Kurtz played "Ellie Bradley" in 1971. Dana Delany was "Hayley Wilson Hollister" in 1981. Meg Ryan played "Betsy Stewart Montgomery Andropoulos" between 1982 and 1984. Marisa Tomei was "Marcy Thompson Cushing" from 1983 through 1988. Julianne Moore played "Frannie/Sabrina Hughes" from 1985 through 1988. Parker Posey was "Tess Shelby" in 1991 and 1992.

As the World Turns was the top-rated daytime soap from its inception through the 1960s. Its success even generated a brief nighttime spin-off, Our Private World, which aired on CBS between May and September 1965. In the early 1970s, however, the ratings began to decline. On December 1, 1975, the show expanded to one hour, with little increase in viewership, but the ratings never descended to the point where cancellation became an option—and the show was celebrated enough for Carol Burnett to toy with its title in her classic soap opera parody As the Stomach Turns. From the 1980s on, the As the World Turns audience remained steady and solid, with its ratings keeping it in daytime television's upper echelon. Over the years, the show has been nominated for various Writers Guild of America, Soap Opera Digest, and Emmy awards. In 1986-87, it garnered its first Emmy as "Outstanding Drama Series."

—Rob Edelman

Further Reading:

Fulton, Eileen, as told to Brett Bolton. How My World Turns. New York, Taplinger Publishing, 1970.

Fulton, Eileen, with Desmond Atholl and Michael Cherkinian. As My World Still Turns: The Uncensored Memoirs of America's Soap Opera Queen. Secaucus, N.J., Birch Lane Press, 1995.

Poll, Julie. As the World Turns: The Complete Family Scrapbook. Los Angeles, General Publishing Group, 1996.