Friday, May 28, 2010

The Men

A while back, I responded to the WLS list of greatest women on soaps list with my own list. Last week, WLS completed their list of greatest men. Again, the results are somewhat controversial. Again, fans are responding. Equal time for the men. I must note, however, that soaps have long been the domain of women. IMO, there have been more strong, interesting, talented women on daytime than men. This isn't to say that there haven't been some truly great male actors in the genre but, the truth must be told: the genre has, for the most part, been one that caters to a female audience interested in seeing their own lives - and their own fantasy lives - portrayed. These lives - and fantasies - are not always about girl-meeting-boy, or women needing men in order to succeed. Note, though, that so many of the men I've chosen have as a benchmark of their greatness, their ability to work well opposite their female co-stars. I'm not sure a male actor can attain greatness in this genre if he doesn't have what it takes to work alongside women as his peers.

Here, then, my list of the greatest male actors of daytime drama:

Michael Zaslow - I've definitely got a bias, and I freely admit it. Zaslow was the best in the business. Charismatic, commanding, but also subtle and vulnerable, Zaslow's Roger Thorpe was the stuff of soap opera legend. I don't know that any two actors in daytime have matched the chemistry shared by Michael Zaslow and Maureen Garrett - chemistry that was as palpable in the 90s as it was 20 years before, when they first started working opposite one another.  Something about his portrayal of Roger Thorpe always broke my heart, even as Roger behaved like a monster. Inside of that monster was a vulnerable boy, and Michael Zaslow knew how to make just a little bit of that boy come to the surface. Zaslow's death left a void in the genre that many of us feel has never been filled.

David Canary - Canary did the seemingly impossible. AMC's Adam and Stuart Chandler couldn't have been more different, and Canary not only made each character three-dimensional, immediately recognizable, and attractive in very different ways, he did it consistently for 20 years. Brilliant. Adam and Brooke? One of the best couples, ever. Brownie points to Canary for his stint on AW. Who else but Canary could have stepped in to play AW's bigger-than-life Steven Frame after so many years of absence?

Larry Bryggman - An actor's actor. Bryggman has never had matinee idol looks to fall back on. With him, it's all about delivering a great performance, every single time. What more is there to say? Put him on the screen with Elizabeth Hubbard and I dare you not to watch.

Michael Levin - An Italian among Irish, Michael Levin's Jack gave Ryan's Hope a bit of a cynical edge. Always dependable, always likable, and just so damned real. When Mary Ryan died, we believed it, because Levin never let us forget it. He worked wonderfully with Kate Mulgrew and, once she was written off, his performance was often about her absence...not for a month, but for years. Ever the heart-broken widower, when the doors were shut on Ryan's Bar, it was a joy to see Levin's Jack get a happy ending, at last. 

Joel Crothers - My earliest memories of Crothers are a hybrid of Somerset and Dark Shadows, but it was on Edge of Night, as Doctor Miles Cavanaugh, that he found his niche. Incredibly handsome, charming, warm and human...he was just a natural in front of the camera. An actor who was well aware that he'd probably be muddling through a lot of crap in between truly great scenes, but who never gave less than 100% of himself.  Nancy Barrett, Tina Sloan, Holland Taylor, Sandy didn't matter who his female counterpart was on screen...he was at his best when he worked opposite women. Some actors seem as if they're waiting for their next line. When Crothers shared the screen, he always seemed to be in the moment, listening just as we were. Like MIchael Zaslow, Joel Crothers was taken from us too soon. I was fortunate enough to meet Joel about a year before he passed away he was just what you'd expect: warm, friendly, charming, and with a big heart. 

Gerald Gordon - Lots of this blog's readers are too young to have seen or even heard of The Doctors. Your loss. If you'd been around in the 70s you would have caught the great Gerald Gordon as Doctor Nick Belini. Unlike every other television doctor of the day, Nick Belini was gruff, a street kid who'd made good. Gordon never, ever played Belini as a Doctor Kildare clone. He was edgy. Good-looking in an off-beat way, ruggedly masculine, and irresistible to women.  If George Clooney and House had an ass-baby, it would be Nick Belini. Of course, he managed this about 40 years before either of those TV docs was even an idea. And Nick's female counterpart? Doctor Althea Davis, played by none other than the great Elizabeth Hubbard. During an era when soaps were relatively tame, Nick and Althea were all about heat.

Stanley Kamel - You know his face from dozens of television shows and movies. Columbo. Hill Street Blues. Star Trek. His final role was on Monk. He was one of those "Hey, it's that guy!"s. To me, Stanley Kamel will always be Eric Peters, the handsome rake who strolled into town after his brother, Greg, and raped Greg's fiancee'. Kamel's Eric was intense - when he spoke you wanted to get in closer and hear what he had to say. His run on the show lasted only a year but, all these years later, it's still with me: the way he toyed with Susan months after the attack, and her never suspecting that he had been her attacker. Those scenes, which were part of DOOL's heyday, were remarkable. Two fine actors (Kamel and, as Susan, Denise Alexander) meshing and making the moment real and true. It's still chilling to think of how good they were together. 

Honorable Mention

Benjamin Hendrickson - A great actor whose only reason for not making it to the main list is the fact that I never much cared for Hal Munson. Hendrickson's Hal was one of only two believable cops I can think of on daytime (the other being Another World's Gil McGowan.) 

Justin Deas - Yeah, Hendrickson and Deas both actually belong on the main list. So, shoot me. From Ryan's Hope to ATWT to SB to GL, Deas has always delivered the goods. People who only know him from the annoying last couple of years of GL may find it difficult to believe that he belongs here, but he does. Forget latter day Buzz Cooper - when Deas has good material, he sets the screen on fire. And seriously - Keith Timmons. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your mention of Edge of Night. We seem to forget about our cancelled shows. I loved Miles and Derek. Do you remember them?

Snapper said...

As you see, I remember Miles well. And, yes, I remember Derek Mallory - played by another actor who died young - Wade Nichols.

dirkmancuso said...

I would've added Lane Davies (Mason Capwell, SANTA BARBARA) to that list. The man was incredible when the Dobsons were writing for him.