Monday, April 05, 2010

Interview ATWT: Eileen Fulton and the Infamous "Granny Clause," Pt. 2

In her 50 years of playing Lisa Grimaldi on As the World Turns, you can bet Eileen Fulton has seen pretty much everything. From on-air accidents to offset death threats, Eileen has been through it all. But in true Lisa fashion, Eileen, like her alter ego, is a survivor.

Daytime Dial: Doing the show live every day, there must have been some mishaps you had to try to work around.
Eileen Fulton: I remember some horrible things that happened live on the air. Penny and Chris were having a very serious conversation in the kitchen, and Don MacLaughlin went over and opened the refrigerator, and everything fell out. But you were timed down to the second, so you had to keep on. He had cut himself, and Rosemary Prinz was taking care of his hand, wrapping it up in a dishtowel, picking up the stuff, and they still got it all timed. I thought that was amazing.

DD: I know you caught a lot of flak for instilling the “Granny Clause” in your contract. Any regrets about that?
EF: Absolutely none whatsoever. I thought it was clever. That was about 1974. I had gone on vacation, and when I came back, they had grown Tom up, and he was marrying Carol. I said, “I will not be a grandmother.” I was on the phone with Irna Phillips, and she said: “Oh yes you will. This is what happens.” I said: “No, I will not. I am in the middle of a big love affair with Michael Shea. If that happens, you’ll have to kill me off.” And she says, “Well, you have to.” And I said, “Well, I haven’t signed my contract.” They had a fit, but they finally wrote in the clause. Therefore, Carol became sterile — sterile Carol.

And it really did save my career. I remember that Claire, played by Barbara Berjer, was married to the man Lisa was having the affair with. A guardian angel must have been on my shoulder that day we were taping and told me, “Go into the control room.” One of the directors was saying how Claire, who had grandchildren, was about to become a great-grandmother, because one of her grandchildren was going to be a parent. He said: “We can’t have Barbara being a great-grandmother; she’s too young. We’ll have to kill her.” And they hit her with a truck.

It did cause me trouble later on when Tom, played by Greg Marx, married Margo, played by Hillary B. Smith, and Greg wanted to go back to the West Coast. They were like, we’ve just gotten Tom married — he can’t go. And they didn’t know how to handle it. How can they break up Tom and Margo? Back then, they didn’t replace actors so quickly, like they do now. They had Margo get pregnant and lose the baby. She decided to go on duty (as a police officer), and she had a miscarriage. People blamed me — that was ’85 or ’86. I had such horrible, threatening mail. They called me a baby-killer. I had to have a bodyguard.

DD: What was your reaction when your good friend Colleen Zenk Pinter was diagnosed with oral cancer a few years back?
EF: I was devastated, absolutely devastated. She is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known — how she’s handled it, how she’s made it public to warn other people. I think she’s a terrific mom, and to hold down a career — words cannot express my admiration for her.

DD: How would you like to see the show go out when it wraps up in September?
EF: I think they should really wrap up the characters that people most care about, in a good way. I also think it should be done in a glamorous, fun way. I think they’ll do the best they can. Lisa needs to get with one other person, at least. She should marry a nobleman, and then she could be Lady Lisa. She needs a title! I personally want to ride out of town on a golden coach drawn by gorgeous horses.

DD: What are your plans for after the show ends? Will you do your nightclub acts, maybe write another memoir?
EF: I am already doing a big nightclub act in New York at Don’t Tell Mama’s on April 16, 17 and 18 — that’s when our last fan-club luncheon is going to be. I am going to do a tribute to “ATWT” in this show. 

The last memoir I did was in 1990, so I guess I need to do another one. I’ve been thinking about that; in fact, I’ve been encouraged by people to do it. That is definitely something to think about.