Friday, May 07, 2010

Interview (ATWT): Eileen Fulton Remembers Helen Wagner

The soap world lost an icon on Saturday, May 1. Helen Wagner (pictured, left) — who originated the role of Nancy Hughes on “As the World Turns” in 1956, and even spoke the venerable soap’s first lines — passed away at the age of 91. Her last on-screen appearance was in April for the remarriage of Bob and Kim, as well as the much-lauded return of Julianne Moore to her old stomping grounds in Oakdale.

I caught up recently with Eileen Fulton (pictured, below), who has played Lisa on “ATWT” since 1960, and was a lifelong friend and cast mate of Helen Wagner. Eileen, like many of us, was shellshocked when she heard the news that Helen had passed: “I am just reeling from it.

“I was shocked when I heard the news. She was just on the show a few weeks ago, looking so good and being so sharp and with it.”

Back in the early days of the show, Helen and Eileen shared a dressing room. “Needless to say, it was close quarters. But we liked each other a lot. I had the greatest respect for her. I have never seen anyone in my life who, as the years went on, got more beautiful. She was just amazing to me. I would just stare at her, because her hair was so gorgeous, and just her way was so beautiful. And I have to say, without exception, she had the greatest legs in daytime television.”

Much like her alter ego, Helen had a nurturing air about her. Eileen tells me: “I learned a lot about cooking from her. We used to share recipes. She had a great stew recipe. We shared so much. To see her bring her handwork to the studio — her needlepoint — was so wonderful. She did needlepoint for all of the chairs in her dining room; she did that in character as Nancy.

“The things she did in real life, she put to work in the show. Like her cooking — when fans would send her aprons, she would wear them on the show.”

Eileen laughs to remember a little-known fact about Helen: “She and her husband, Bob, were big football fans. She would get into the biggest arguments with Don McLaughlin and Don Hastings and the other men on the show, and they would have these rip-roaring arguments about what players should do what, and so on. She could certainly stand up to anybody; she knew football.”

What Eileen will remember most about Helen is what fans also loved about her, and about Nancy as well. “I’ll remember her smile, her hair, her kindness to people — and she was really sharp. That was Helen. She was always supportive of people on the show. She was always gracious.”

While Eileen found it hard to encapsulate 50 years of friendship, she is grateful for all the memories she’ll take away. “I’ve had some wonderful scenes with Helen. I think one of the best scenes we had together was when poor Eduardo was killed and Lisa was moping about; she came over and brought a mop and some stuff to clean the blood off the floor. ‘You have to get on with it,’ was her attitude. That was Helen as well. Get over it.”

It will be a while before fans get over the death of “ATWT’s” matriarch, and it will be even tougher for the cast mates she has left behind. “My one regret is that she didn’t hang on a little bit longer to wrap the show up (when it ends in September). That’s the thing that keeps haunting me. As you know, she spoke the first words on ‘ATWT.’ We were all hoping she’d have the last words, too.”


Loyal ATWT's Watcher said...

I saw the the picture showing the dates of her birth and death.Doesn't she deserve more? I was very very very disappointed in that I think she deserves better then that. I was hoping to see maybe clips of her work as someone one of the castmember talking about her. I think that that is the least if not more she deserves.Please ATWT's do better by Helen Wagner.

Laurie Majul said...

Hi I have watched ATWT since the late 60's & I have loved Helen Wagner as Nancy Hughs. She always gave great advise & helped everybody with their problems. I loved the friendship with Lisa, Barbara, & Katie. I think ATWT should dedicate a show to Helen on TV & have many old clips, & share some of her recipes online.

Cindy Elavsky said...

Usually when a longtime character passes, they place their picture at the end of the show and dedicate it to them, but the writers need time to implement it into the story. As you know, they film weeks (if not months) ahead of time, but I know ATWT will incorporate this into the show. They won't let Helen down!