The folks at We Love Soaps have compiled their list of the 50 greatest soap actresses of all time. I agree with a lot of their choices. I disagree with others. I marvel at some of the choices. It's inevitable that such a subjective list would generate all sorts of debate, and I applaud the WLS people for asking readers to submit their own favorites.
One thing to take into consideration: I've watched soaps since roughly 1970/71. I'm sure many great actors and actresses who appeared prior to this by all rights belong on a "best of" list, but I can only judge based on my own experience as a first-hand viewer. I don't believe one can fairly assess an actor's talent based on a few Youtube clips or reading about someone's greatness, so this is based on my own viewership
Here, then, in no particular order, is my annotated list of the top ten best soap actresses, followed by the ten women who complete my top 20.
Beverlee McKinsey - Daytime has seem many grand dames, but Iris Carrington was an original. By turns a wicked schemer, a spoiled child, an over-indulgent mother, a love-starved femme fatale, to say that McKinsey took both Another World and Texas by storm is not over-stating it. McKinsey was brilliant, period. And, in case anyone who thought her brilliance was a fluke, she turned around and joined the cast of Guiding Light, making Alexandra Spaulding one of the most memorable characters, ever.
Laurie Heineman - She may well be the finest Emmy winning actress that you've never heard of. Laurie Heineman was only on Another World for a short time,(1975-77) but what a time it was! Originating the role of Sharlene Frame (and you thought Anna Holbrook was the first Sharlene - nope), Heineman created a truly original daytime heroine. A woman with a secret past that threatened to catch up with her, Heineman's Sharlene was a study in quiet self-loathing, fear, anger, and loneliness. Heineman was a powerhouse, and her short stint on AW garnered her an Emmy, seeing her beat out co-stars Beverlee Mckinsey and Victoria Windham, and deservedly so.
Denise Alexander and Susan Seaforth-Hayes - Before the devil paid a visit to Salem, before Hope and Bo were even glimmers in their parents' eyes, before it became such a muddled mess...long before all of that, DOOL was all about Susan (Alexander) and Julie (Seaforth-Hayes), former-best-friends-turned-rivals, their battles over the attentions of Scott Banning, and their tug-of-war over Julie's son, little David Banning. This was riveting, character-driven drama...and it was all about these two fine actresses who brought so much depth to their roles that they turned what could easily have been a simple cat fight into an over-arching theme that endured for years, involved numerous characters, and challenged viewers to choose a side. Interestingly enough, neither Alexander or Seaforth-Hayes has ever been as good since this golden time. It speaks volumes of the chemistry these two actresses shared with one another that, together, they lit up the screen.
Beverly Penberthy - As Another World's long-suffering Pat Randolph, Penberthy was one of several great actresses from the golden age of Another World. Refined, vulnerable, almost timid, Pat Randolph could also be strong and assertive when need be. As a loyal wife forced to watch her husband spin into a vortex of alcoholism, Penberthy delivered a truly great performance, and it remains among the best examples of television attempting to portray how alcoholism effects every member of a family.
On Ryan's Hope, Addison had the unenviable job of making The Other Woman someone viewers loved, and whose happiness we rooted for. She brought a grace and gentility to Jillian that was in perfect contrast to Delia's (played by the wonderful Ilene Kristen, who doesn't quite make the cut for this list) selfish, crude neuroses. I find it impossible to put into words how and why Addison was so damned good, except to say that her work seemed effortless. To watch her was to forget there was an actor on the screen.
Elizabeth Hubbard - Best known as ATWT's Lucinda, to me, Hubbard will always be Dr. Althea Davis, of the defunct soap, The Doctors. Hubbard brought a strength and cynicism to her character - a well-respected surgeon and a single mother - that had mostly been reserved for villainesses. Also? Althea had a multi-layered sensuality - most evident in scenes with her lover, Nick Bellini - that was truly revolutionary for daytime: Hubbard made Althea a beautiful female character whose brains and sarcastic sense of humor were even more arresting than her good looks.
Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows I have a huge soft spot for Garrett. She's amazing. On and off for over 20 years, Garrett made up half of one of soapdom's most complex and enduring couples - Holly and Roger (played by Michael Zaslow.) Garrett is one of those actors whose talent runs the gamut - she can do vulnerable, strong, vindictive, neurotic, maternal, murderous, bitchy, frigid, seductive. When need be, she's also an actor who can be relied on to rise above substandard material. She brings out the best in other actors. Daytime needs her back.
Judith Light - There's almost no point explaining why Light makes my top ten. She took acting on daytime up a notch with a performance as OLTL's Karen Wolek that looked, sounded and felt like nothing else we'd seen before. While Light's dramatic courtroom confession has taken on legendary status, her other work on OLTL is often taken for granted. The baby-switch story feels tired and hackneyed in 2010. When OLTL did it with Light in 1979, it was new and different. And it was riveting. Light, of course, went on to a successful career in night time television, but she's rarely had material to work with that was worthy of her skill, with the exception of her role in the motion picture Save Me, which she produced, and her husband wrote.
Ellen Parker - Parker was so damned good as Maureen Bauer on Guiding Light, and made such an impression on the audience, that many have pointed to the killing off of the character as the beginning of the end for GL. Mo Bauer wasn't a grand dame. She wasn't a titan of business. She wasn't a jewel thief, a surgeon, or anyone's mistress. She didn't have a secret past. Simply put, Mo Bauer was a decent person: a mother, a wife, a good friend, a hard worker. The genius of Parker was that she made the seemingly mundane compelling. Everything Parker's Maureen did was steeped in quiet dignity. She was amazing in her big scenes, but her small, every day scenes were like haiku.
Robin Strasser - Another World/One Life To Live
Helen Gallagher - Ryan's Hope
Maeve Kinkead - Another World/Guiding Light
Kathleen Noone - All My Children
Kay Collins - All My Children
Julia Barr - All My Children
Robin Mattson - General Hospital/Santa Barbara/All My Children
Maeve McGuire - Edge of Night
Michelle Forbes - Guiding Light
Beth Maitland - Young and the Restless
Honorable Mention - The Young Ones
Rachel Miner - Guiding Light
Hayden Panettiere - Guiding Light
Natasha Ryan - Days of Our Lives