Friday, July 25, 2008

Interview: Catching Up With Marsha Clark

A familiar face has been seen in Salem lately — in the role of Judge Karen Fitzpatrick, to be exact. Marsha Clark knows her way around a soap set . She’s played iconic roles on “Guiding Light” and “One Life to Live” and even voiced a spirit on “Passions.” Now she is lending her vast talent and experience to the set of “Days of Our Lives,” and she couldn’t be happier doing it.

“I have been having loads of fun,” Marsha tells me. “It’s such a nice cast; they are really great people. It’s a fun role. Karen started out as an upstanding citizen, but now I am beginning to think she might not be as upstanding as I had originally thought.”

Besides the fact that Marsha is new to the Salem scene, so are a lot of the behind-the-scenes people. “‘Days’ recently had all these new people coming in, with the writing staff, directing and so on, and all these new things going on. It’s exciting to be a part of.”

Marsha isn’t worried that Judge Fitzpatrick isn’t a contract role — in fact, it’s quite a relief. “It’s nice to be a hired gun,” Marsha explains. “A recurring role is good because it’s not the kind of pressure you get with the contract roles. The actors get a lot of the pressure, and sometimes a lot of the blame.

“I remember many years ago, one of the young ingénues (at one of the soaps I was working on) had really long, beautiful hair. But she wanted a change, so she cut her hair. Soon after, the ratings took a dip, and they actually told her that her haircut was to blame. Poor girl started to think it was her fault.”

The role that Marsha is probably best known for is that of Hillary Bauer on “Guiding Light,” whom she played from 1978-1984. So, what was it like playing such a well-loved character during a time when soap operas reigned supreme?

“It was a terrific time. It truly was a golden time for soap operas,” Marsha says. “That’s back when we had Doug Marland, who was a terrific soap writer. He really loved the genre, and he really understood it and knew how to write for real people.”

In 1980, with Marland at the helm, “GL” won its first Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Daytime Drama.

“They were terrific people on that show. I still keep in touch with some of the actors. It really is like a family. You’re there from the early morning until late night; it’s an intense experience we all share. We’re down in the trenches together.”

Marsha has fond memories of her time spent being a good Bauer girl. “I like to think of Hillary as a good girl who made bad mistakes. When I first came on, she was involved with Roger, who was a rapist, but Hillary didn’t know that. I love that they let me use my wacky sense of humor sometimes, they let that come through. I remember that she was always sitting and having coffee with people and helping them with one crisis or another.”

Marsha made her big splash in the world of soap operas back in 1978. She helped usher in what many like to call the “Golden Age of Soap Operas,” which took place in the early to mid- ’80s, with her popular role of Hillary Bauer on “Guiding Light.” Since that time, she has appeared on various other TV shows and soap operas.

In fact, in what seemed like moments after completing her run on “GL,” “One Life to Live” came a-calling. “I got the call early one morning,” Marsha recalls. “I had moved to California and had gone back to New York (where ‘OLTL’ is based) on vacation. They called me one morning and asked if I could come in to play Tina Lord. I asked, ‘When do you want me to come in?’ and they replied, ‘Right now.’”

“OLTL” needed an immediate replacement for Kelli Maroney, who played the second Tina, so they called Marsha in to take her place.

“I went in with no rehearsals and not knowing much about the show, and just played Tina. I worked with Erika Slezak, who was an absolute doll. They offered me the role of Tina on a permanent basis, but I has just moved my family out to California from New York, and I had just come off ‘GL.’ Playing Tina was loads of fun, and had it been a little longer since ‘GL,’ I might have played her for a couple of years, but at that time, I really wanted to try other things.

“I told them I would play Tina for as long as they needed me to in order to find a replacement. That’s when they brought Andrea Evans in.”

With soap operas in general earning lower ratings than in times past, how can the current soaps gain more viewers and compete in today’s market of cable, satellite television, the Internet and so many other entertainment options?

“Good storytelling is really what is going to get audiences back,” Marsha explains. “I think that the powers-that-be need to give the audience more credit for their intelligence and their loyalty. The audience can follow complicated plots and story lines. I am much more interested in how characters interact and behave with one another — it’s about the character development, not just plot-driven story lines. The audiences are interested in good writing and good acting.

“I do know that it’s a numbers game, and it costs a lot less money to produce a talk show than an hour-long drama. I know that many people are wondering, ‘Will we be dropped a year from now?’ or even ‘Will the genre still exist?’”

With the advent of, however, fans can hearken back to “the good ole days” and watch some prime soap-opera footage. In fact, you can even watch the “Guiding Light” parody that Marsha wrote and produced, called “The Guiding Plight.”

“‘The Guiding Plight’ was a funny parody that we made back in the early ’80s where we goofed on our current story lines, and we even made bogus commercials. I recently saw that someone posted it on YouTube, so that’s something fun for fans to watch. We filmed that back when it was a less-corporate atmosphere; I don’t think we could get away with something like that nowadays. But it’s fun to watch the casts’ high-jinx, how we all got along so well and the fun we all had together.”

You can watch the “GL” parody on YouTube by searching “The Guiding Plight.” And you can catch Marsha in her recurring role of Judge Karen Fitzpatrick weekdays on “Days of Our Lives.”