This interview was written by Linda T. Hersch originally appeared a 1984 issue of Soap Opera Digest. To view the republished interview, click here.
Daytime’s Ms. Popularity Plays An Important Role In The Lives Of Her Fans!
Not long ago, thousands of protesting fans called, wrote and picketed on behalf of their favorite soap performer, Deidre Hall (Marlena Evans, “Days of Our Lives”). NBC studios in Burbank finally asked the actress to face her fans to calm them down.
What was this all about? Well, it looked as though Marlena had been killed off “Days”; the fans couldn’t accept this. How could Marlena, the woman who has helped so many solve their problems, the woman who had just found love again with Roman Brady, be dead?! To their relief, the multitude of fans found out Marlena didn’t die — the victim was her twin sister, Samantha.
Sitting with Deidre at the Daytime Emmy Awards rehearsal, I had the opportunity to see how she looks when she’s just relaxing. Dressed in jeans, work shirt and sans makeup, the actress was going over her lines for the show with “Family Feud” host Richard Dawson. He mocked anger when Deidre turned her attention to me for this interview. “You’re leaving me for another woman!” Dawson hissed with a grin. Giggling, Deidre took a sip of her coffee and admitted to being astounded by the “intensity” of the fans who protested against Marlena’s supposed demise.
At one point during the furor, Deidre answered phone calls from worried fans. “Some people were rational and disappointed and others were inconsolable,” she remarked. Although the fans were thrilled to learn Marlena was alive, they were disappointed the character’s twin sister, Samantha, had died. Jake, the Salem Strangler, vowed he’d kill Marlena for butting into his romance with sweet Jessica. When he found Samantha in Marlena’s apartment, he had no idea she was Marlena’s twin. Andrea Hall-Lovell, Deidre’s real-life twin, played Samantha. Deidre real-life fided that her sister was disappointed she was killed off the soap. “Her storyline has been running on and off for the last four years and it had been so well received. There were so many ways to go — why did they have to kill her off?” Deidre asked wistfully.
Deidre is pleased with her storyline. “I think it’s terrific; I know what’s coming up in the future and it gets better! We’ve always had soap firsts on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ We had the first crib death story, which I was involved in, the first twin story and the first surrogate mother story.”
Speaking about soap firsts, I mentioned “All My Children’s” presentation of a story dealing with Downs Syndrome. Deidre, who has a brother afflicted with DS, is actively involved with the California chapter of Special Olympics. The games are held for the mentally and physically handicapped children and adults. Would Deidre like to see “Days” do a similar story to the one “All My Children” presented? “I feel daytime programming teaches the public ways to handle different situations. It shows that love, communication and understanding can improve our lives. I think that’s one of the ways we serve our audience. At one point, I thought it would be interesting to have the surrogate baby (Sarah — Maggie’s daughter) have [special needs]. Everyone involved in that storyline would have had to cope with the problem. It would have shown the audience how to deal with the child’s disability.”
Playing a psychiatrist, Deidre has a special relationship with many of her fans, which accounts for the intense reaction of the viewers to her character’s supposed death. Marlena can be trusted and many of the viewers consider her their friend. One such viewer, a young girl, wrote a heartbreaking letter to the actress. As Deidre related this story, her tone became somber and her eyes were misty.
“The girl wrote about her sixteenth birthday coming up and how unpleasant her life was. She was very subtle in what she said, yet I thought I knew what she was trying to tell me. So I called the local rape crisis center in her area and told them what I thought the problem was. I gave a counselor her name. Then I called the girl — she wasn’t that willing to speak to me. I gave her the number of the crisis center and the name of the person I talked to. She finally admitted that she was being sexually abused by her father. I told her she’d be helped, she wouldn’t get into trouble . . . it’s okay. I said I knew she could do it. Two months later, she called me. She said, ‘I kept thinking if you said do it, I could do it.’ The girl called the crisis center and talked to the counselor. Six months later, she said her father was taken out of the house and her school grades were picking up — her life was better and she was no longer afraid.” Beaming, Deidre admitted it felt terrific to help that troubled girl. “I think most people just need to know that somebody understands what they’re going through and that they have the capacity to help themselves.”
What about Roman — Marlena’s romance, you ask? Well, according to Soap Opera Digest‘s mail, “Days” viewers are very taken with Roman Brady, (Wayne Northrop), and heartily approve of his relationship with Marlena. We do get a fair share of letters expressing a desire to see Marlena return to her ex-husband Don Craig (Jed Allan). Deidre revealed that the mail sent to the studio shows that the amount of viewers who are pro-Don viewers are equal to the number of pro-Roman viewers. “A radio show in Pittsburgh did a poll and found that 43% of their audience were for Don and 45% for Roman. I think Wayne’s fans are more ardent because he’s a new face,” she explained.
Thanks to the fans who screamed bloody murder when they though Deidre was axed from “Days,” she’s been offered scripts for various shows. “My agent had to close his office for three days because he couldn’t get off the phone! I even got an offer to record an album, and I don’t sing!” she said, laughing.
I gave Deidre the opportunity to say something to those faithful fans who flooded the NBC studios with phone calls and letters on her behalf. “I am incredibly grateful for the show of support. I’m flattered and totally overwhelmed by the response. People picketed and some actually stayed on the telephone lines for two hours! The reaction was a big help to the show and everybody cared about that.”