Random Play: “Guiding Light” (Part 2)

Like Reva Shayne coming back from the dead, Kelly Stitzel and Robin Monica Alexander aren’t quite done with their tribute to the once-great, now-canceled soap.

Welcome back to Random Play’s really, really detailed look back at Guiding Light, the great-great grandma of daytime drama. GL went off the air in 2009, but for Kelly Stitzel and Robin Monica Alexander, the show’s glory days, chock-a-block with secret love children, prison breaks, and many cases of amnesia, seem like yesterday. In our first installment, we reminisced about some of the core families of fictional “Springfield,” where GL was set. We remembered the humble yet fallible Bauers, the blue collar Reardons, and the upper-crust Spauldings, whose members came together in love, friendship, rivalry, and enmity. But those clans weren’t the full story–not by a long shot. It wouldn’t be a soap if it didn’t have far too many characters doing way too many things every day. You think keeping track of baseball stats requires focus? Don’t make me laugh. Try following an average week in daytime.

Springfield, provincial as it may have been, somehow had room for more than one household of millionaires. Providing a counterpoint to the cold, calculating Spauldings was the Lewis family, a hot-headed bunch who came up north from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they had made their fortune in the oil business. Of course, you can’t talk about the Lewises without talking about the Shaynes. Hawk Shayne and his wife Sarah worked as servants in the Lewis household, and the children of both families grew up together, leading to jealousies and entanglements of Biblical proportions:

Robin: Poor Reva Shayne and wealthy Josh Lewis had been in love their entire lives, but unfortunately, both of them had impulse control problems. That’s what led Reva to marry Josh’s brother, Billy, when Josh went off to college and left her behind. It’s what led Josh to run away to Venezuela to work on the family oil rigs when he learned Reva had become pregnant by his father (you read that right), H.B. And it’s what caused him to marry Sonni Carrera, a woman even crazier than Reva, after a whirlwind romance. Josh almost got out of that situation when Sonni slipped off a cliff during their honeymoon, but “somehow” she survived and showed up in Springfield just when it seemed Reva and Josh were getting it together. Sonni (played by the future Ensign Ro, Michelle Forbes) seemed like a smart, sane lady—in fact, she was a well-respected psychiatrist—but then she started plotting against Josh’s life and sleeping with his best friend. Her co-conspirator seemed to think her name wasn’t Sonni, but Solita. Turns out there had been two Carrera girls, identical twins, and one had committed suicide as a teenager. But which one? The good girl, Sonni, or the rebel, Solita? And did Sonni/Solita herself even know who the hell she was? The answer was finally revealed in the fury of a Venezuelan rainstorm, but not until after Sonni/Solita lost a baby, Reva had a heart attack, and several murders were attempted.

Kelly: Postpartum depression is no joke (see “Ed, Maureen and Claire” in Part 1). And when you are over-the-top Reva Shayne Lewis, it’s really no joke. After giving birth to her second child with Josh (whom she affectionately called “Bud”), Reva began acting very strangely—she went on incredible shopping sprees, went on trips abroad without telling anyone and leaving her children unattended.  She was diagnosed with a whopper of a case of postpartum depression and given meds, which she refused to take. Eventually, her condition brought about the return of her “slut of Springfield” days, and almost got her into some serious hot water when Roger Thorpe tried to blackmail her with some illicit photographs. To try and help his wife recover from her depression, Josh decided that a family vacation in the Florida Keys would be perfect.  However, the fun times quickly came to an end when Reva’s condition worsened and she started having paranoid delusions that someone was following her. With her eldest son’s innocent girlfriend as her passenger, she attempted to outrun the people supposedly tailing her—and drove right off an unfinished bridge. That scene became one of the most memorable in GL history and, had it happened today, I’m pretty sure some enterprising GL fan would’ve created an “I’m comin’, Bud” Tumblr.

Robin: Reva has jumped off a bridge, almost been pushed off a bridge, and driven off a bridge…I wonder, did this become some kind of in-joke among the writing staff? “It’s sweeps…get Reva near some water!”

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Somehow, the intelligent and hard-working Marler brothers, lawyer Ross and doctor Justin, got themselves mixed up but good with all of these mega-clans the moment they arrived in Springfield. They were pretty smart, but even they couldn’t avoid getting caught up in the endless drama:

Robin: Okay, let’s see who can follow this: Dr. Justin Marler cheated on his wife, Jackie, and she left town. Years later, she returned and became involved with rich asshole Alan Spaulding, much to her ex’s chagrin. Alan’s son, Phillip, was having heart problems, and Jackie referred him to Justin. Justin couldn’t understand where Phillip’s heart defect came from, as neither of his parents’ families had such a history. He was also smitten with Phillip’s mother, Elizabeth, who out of gratitude to Justin for saving her son eventually married him. Jackie married Alan, making the wife swap official. But she had a good reason, which she finally confessed to Justin after being injured in a terrible holiday decorating accident: she had done it to be close to Phillip, who was not really the Spauldings’ son, but hers and Justin’s! She had been pregnant when they broke up, and had given Phillip up for adoption. Elizabeth, meanwhile, didn’t even know Phillip wasn’t her biological son; her real baby had died at birth, but Alan had had Phillip brought to her and she was none the wiser. Jackie’s confession brought her and Justin together again; sadly, she later died in a plane crash, and unlike many soap characters, she stayed dead.

Kelly: So, you blame your mother for the break-up of your marriage and you want to find a way to get back at her. What do you do? If you’re Blake Thorpe, daughter of nefarious Roger, you seduce mom Holly’s fiancé, Ross, during a citywide blackout, that’s what. Of course, it becomes less of a scheme if you actually fall in love with and eventually marry the man, but getting to that point is half the fun, isn’t it?

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And we can’t forget the Coopers. If it weren’t for Buzz, Frank, and Harley, GL would probably have gone off the air long before it did. In the show’s final two decades, the working-class screwups from the wrong side of town gradually transformed into pillars of the community…though not without tons of parenting mistakes and bad relationship choices:

Kelly: For years, Harley and Frank Cooper thought their father, Frank Achilles “Buzz” Cooper, had died in Vietnam. Their mother, Nadine—who had at one point left Frank and Harley to fend for themselves, but eventually returned to Springfield—knew otherwise, but kept the truth from her children. While on vacation in Washington, D.C. with boyfriend A.C. Mallet, Harley decided she wanted to visit the Vietnam War Memorial to see her father’s name. Confused after she was unable to find the name on the wall, Harley and Mallet began to investigate what actually happened to Buzz, despite Nadine’s insistence that he was dead. Eventually, Mallet discovered that Buzz was actually alive and living in Springfield, masquerading as Nadine’s cousin, Rex Mancini. Before he could tell Harley the truth, though, she independently came to the same conclusion and confronted “Rex” during brother Frank’s wedding. Buzz’s return turned Frank’s and Harley’s lives upside down and at first, neither of them wanted anything to do with him. But they both came around, especially after Buzz threw a surprise wedding for Harley and Mallet as an attempt to make amends for all the pain he’d caused. Eventually, Buzz Cooper, portrayed by the brilliant Justin Deas, would go on to become one of Springfield’s most beloved residents.

Robin: The Coopers were great. But why were they Greek? Because they owned a diner?

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Good lord, this could go on forever…we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s nothing in here about newsman Fletcher Reade or scheming heiress India von Halkein, and we’ve only briefly alluded to Vanessa Chamberlain, Beth Raines and the worst (that is, the best) villain in Springfield history, Roger Thorpe. (We’re happy to ignore more recent developments, like the Santos crime family and a sudden influx of royals from the fake kingdom of San Cristobal—lame!) But everything must eventually come to an end, as the cancellation of Guiding Light in 2009 demonstrates. Of course, thanks to the Internet, a beloved TV show need never really die…but even without the miracle of YouTube, these moments, episodes, and stories would keep burning bright in the hearts and minds of mildly insane people like us. So viva Reva, and rock on Rick Bauer. We’ll leave the lighthouse on for you.