Well, I’m sorry to see One Life to Live is getting the axe from ABC after all these years, but I must confess I feel a tinge of satisfaction because of what that show did to me 35 years ago. Not that I’m one to hold a grudge, but still…
You see, I became quite hooked on OLTL near the end of my junior year in college. I’d been married that May, and while my bride Cindy was out earning a living as a substitute teacher in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I was running out the clock at Rutgers, taking a handful of gut courses and filling the gaps between them watching TV (Stanley Siegel at 9 in the morning; One Life To Live at 2 p.m.). This was during a weird period when One Life to Live went 45 minutes, and General Hospital followed with another 45 minutes, having just expanded from a half-hour each. Frankly, I didn’t feel anything more was happening per episode; it just seemed the characters started staring at each other for longer periods.
I think I was watching OLTL because I liked the character Joe Riley, who was a reporter and then editor for the Llanview Banner.
Despite his propensity for brain tumors, Joe was a hard-driving newsman, and at the time that’s what I wanted to be (I got over it). He was married to Viki Lord, the daughter of the newspaper’s owner, the tall, distinguished, and very old Victor Lord. He lived in the stately mansion called Llanfair—which I subsequently learned was named for the real-life Welsh coastal town called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Unfortunately, Victor had fallen under the spell of the vixen Dorian Cramer, who married him and then, through withholding vital medicine, caused him to fall into a coma.
Each day Cindy—who’d been watching One Life to Live for years, ever since the innocent young Jenny Wolek had left the convent to marry the doomed Dr. Tim Siegel, but that’s another story—would come home and breathlessly debrief me about what had transpired in Llanview that day (this, gentle reader, was in a day when if you wanted to make a video recording of a TV show, you needed to own your own television station).
Well, I don’t know what I was thinking. I must have imagined this would be funny. Clearly, having been married for just a month or so, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of my subsequent actions. But one night Cindy came home, asked me what had happened on One Life to Live that day, and I blurted out, “Victor’s been faking his coma. Dorian came into the hospital room, and he jumped out of bed, grabbed a lamp and crushed her skull!” That wasn’t quite true. In fact, nothing of the sort had happened; it had been a particularly dull day on the show, a Monday, probably, which at least in those days you could count on as being the day of the week when the soap writers pretty much ran in place.
I can still see the look on Cindy’s face: The mouth agape, the eyebrows flung upward, almost beyond her hairline. I could have told her I’d opened the refrigerator and found a baboon reciting the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V and she would not have been more shocked.
“WHAT???” she croaked, and immediately I knew I was in serious, serious trouble.
I knew my only hope was to take it back with a take-back so swift she may doubt the original statement ever left my lips.
“Nah, I’m just joking,” I ventured. “Victor’s still in his coma.”
Alas, I suppose there were no words that could have prevented the maelstrom, stirred from the very bowels of hell, that immediately engulfed me. I learned, then and there, that you do not trifle with people when it comes to their soap operas. Decades later—in fact, for the rest of her life—if ever I appeared to be on the verge on gaining the upper hand in a disagreement, Cindy’s eyes would narrow, and I knew what was coming next, with a hiss that resembled the sound of a steam engine coming to rest:
“And you lied to me about Victor Lord.”
Yes, guilty as charged. But I still think my plot twist was the better one.