Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview (ATWT): Eileen Fulton Celebrates a Half-Century as Lisa, Part 1

Eileen Fulton is the original Diva of Daytime. As Lisa Grimaldi on As the World Turns, she has navigated uncharted territories and forged pathways for actresses who came after her — and she did it all on her terms. I spoke with Eileen recently about the time she spent on this venerable soap — 50 years in May, to be exact.

Daytime Dial: Did you have any idea when you first started on ATWT back in 1960 that you’d be celebrating your 50th anniversary with the show?

Eileen Fulton: Never! Not in a million years. I remember I screamed and hollered and yelled when they wanted me to sign a seven-year contract. I said: “Are you crazy? I’m not going to be here in seven years!” I wouldn’t sign it. They had to get it lower, but I don’t remember what I finally decided on.

DD: How has the soap-opera genre changed and evolved since you began all those years ago?

EF: Pardon the pun, but it was a world of difference. First of all, we were live and we were a half-hour show, and it was in black-and-white. We read the script in the afternoon, rehearsed, fought for our cuts and changes and blocked it. And the next morning, we came in and had a dress rehearsal, got our final notes and went on live. It was like doing a play every day. Sometimes there would only be four of us on the show that day; those were tough days. The stage managers would be offstage just in your peripheral vision, telling you to speed up or to stretch, and I would tell them, don’t do that to me, because I totally forget where I am. We made a deal, they’d do all that to Don Hastings, because he could handle that and I could not. I couldn’t even use a teleprompter; it takes you out of it.

DD: How are you and Lisa similar?

EF: Lisa is extraordinarily impulsive, like Eileen. That’s about the only thing we have in common.

DD: Lisa is THE prototype of the daytime diva, which now every show imitates. How does it feel to be such a trendsetter?

EF: I am very proud of that. I really am. It’s just terrific. The thing that really surprised me is people would come up to me and say, “I named my daughter for you.” I’d think: “How could you name your daughter after my character? She’s such a bitch.” They’d say, “Lisa is a survivor.”

DD: What are some stories from the early days of filming, while you were all finding your footing in this new way of telling stories?

EF: My first day on the set, I was supposed to meet Bob at the sweets shop for a milkshake. Being that I am a Method actress, I was supposed to enjoy it and tell him so. The prop guys were freaking out, because I actually drank it. What it was was shaving cream to really make it stand up tall and look really pretty. But I had to say how delicious it was. That really took some acting!

But the thing that really interested me was how they did it, how they got the effects they were after. For example, I loved it when we had snow, but you just didn’t stand too close to the window, because it would come right through the window, because we didn’t have window panes. The same for the rain; if you got too close, you’d get soaking wet. So later on, they finally put windowpanes in.

Stay tuned next week when Eileen talks about catching flak for instilling the infamous “Granny Clause,” as well as how she’s like to see the show end.