Grande Dame Marla Adams Is Living It up on 'The Young and the Restless'
She’s kicking ass—at the tender age of 79! Marla Adams has triumphantly returned to CBS’s The Young and the Restless as Madame Dina Mergeron, the man-hungry jillionairess who merrily abandoned her three young children decades ago in pursuit of more sensual pleasures. Now Dina is in the early stages of dementia and under the spell of heartthrob scam artist Graham Bloodworth (Max Shippee). Will those kids she once dumped be able to step in and save her? Adams breaks it down.
There’s so much crazy stuff coming up for Dina! On October 13, she collapses in her hotel room after a fight with Graham and then—in the following episode—he leaves her there and walks out. Why does she put up with this creep?
Not only does he leave her for dead, he puts the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door! Can you believe it? When Dina was diagnosed, she left Graham the bulk of her estate. He cared for her and protected her, but he’s really just a bum who wants her money. Max is a lovely actor and a very nice person—of course that has nothing to do with the price of eggs. He’s playing a rat! And he has power of attorney! Graham comes back when Dina’s in the hospital and apologizes. What can I say? She depends on him because he knows her secret. Only in the suds, honey!
Even though Graham is bitter and out for revenge, he does care for Dina, don’t you think?
Yes, I do think he loves Dina…in his own way. But after she dies he’ll get it all and he’s quite happy about that. And we don’t know all of his secrets yet. You are going to learn so much more about that man! It’s Ashley [Eileen Davidson] who finds Dina on the floor. And, oh boy, are there going to be fireworks between her and Jack [Peter Bergman] and Graham! Jack gets a lawyer to ban Graham from ever coming back to Genoa City. [Laughs] Good luck with that! But it’s Dina who’s done a bad thing. After keeping quiet about [the identity of] Ashley’s real father for years—for decades—she blurts out the truth in a moment of absolute rage!
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There’s no happy ending with Alzheimer’s, but the fans are crazy about Dina. Is there any way out of this?
Who knows how quickly this disease will progress? And there are so many different levels of dementia. I’m not on contract. I’m just a humble day player. But, for all I know, they might keep me on for five more years. We’ve been working with the Alzheimer’s Association to make sure we’re doing all this accurately and realistically. Sometimes this has been scary as hell to play because it puts me in touch with my own mortality. But I’m also blown away by the opportunity because it’s a groundbreaking story and the audience can really relate. Almost everyone has been touched, in some way, by Alzheimer’s.
But on the upside, Dina is still looking pretty damn sensational.
[Laughs] Well, I happen to agree with you! I may be about to turn 80, but I clean up pretty well. I don’t bleach my hair and I’ve never had a facelift. I’m the oldest broad in daytime and the only one who hasn’t had work done, so it’s thrilling to find myself playing a leading role on the No. 1 soap opera. In fact, it’s downright amazing. Let’s face it, they call this show The Young and the Restless—not The Old and the Useless!
Is 'The Young and the Restless' heading into uncharted territory?
Safe to say you were shocked to be invited back?
Beyond! I had really been wanting to come back to Y&R so I put it out there in the vapors—and look at what happened! Of course, when I got the call about this wonderful storyline from [former head writer] Sally Sussman, I could see where it might be heading. I said, “So you’re bringing me back just to kill me off?” But I promised her I’d give it everything I have. And when Sally was gone, I said to [Sussman’s replacement] Mal Young, “You will have the best of me, too.” It’s been so good to be back with everyone.
You have spectacular chemistry with literally everybody.
I’m very close with Eric Braeden [Victor] and love our scenes together. And I’m crazy about all my TV kids. I really wish they’d give Beth Maitland [Traci] much more to do because she is the heart of the Abbott family. And Dina’s relationship with her granddaughter Abby [Melissa Ordway] is so special to me, because it really brings out Dina’s softer side, her regretful side. And Melody Thomas Scott! Dina may hate that her son is dating Nikki but I simply adore working with the magnificent Melody. And they never should have killed off John Abbott [Jerry Douglas], but I’ve had really fun scenes with his other wife Gloria [Judith Chapman] where Dina gets to throw in all those nasty little digs. That’s the bitch I love so much! And I have such a great time flirting with all the boys in the cast and crew. [Laughs] I’m such an old raunch! They allow Dina to be that way, too. At first, a lot of the fans thought she was having an affair with Graham.
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Oh, c’mon, you were teasing that like crazy. You wanted us to believe that!
Well, we certainly had some good, campy fun [implying] it. You know, my icons are Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, those marvelous English women who are just so frickin’ amazing. That’s real talent! So many of the young women today get breast implants as a high school graduation gift from their mothers. Well, that’s Hollywood for ya! But that’s not me. I’m a clam digger from South Jersey. Ocean City. I was on Broadway at age 18 in the great Durrenmatt play The Visit working with Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt and being directed by Peter Brook. [Laughs] And it’s been downhill ever since! After you’ve acted with the Lunts, where do you go from there?
Well, you’ve certainly seen lots of action in the soaps—The Secret Storm, Capitol, Generations, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives.
I remember being mobbed in Wisconsin when I was playing that villainous Belle on The Secret Storm. I was buying kitchen gadgets at a Walmart with my kids and looking like death when suddenly I hear them blasting over the loudspeaker: “MARLA ADAMS IS SHOPPING ON AISLE 2!” And I was deluged by people! It was hysterical! So I am indeed a big star…at least at Walmart. [Laughs] At one point things had really slowed down for me and my mother said, “I don’t understand. You’re such a good actress. Why don’t you get on my favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless?” And she was visiting me in L.A. the day I got the part! She’s now gone on to Heaven but she’d be so pleased to know I’m back on the show. Every time I hear the Y&R theme music, I think of her and get a little teary-eyed.
Word is, Madame Mergeron will do something quite startling and destructive later this month—something that, at first, only the audience will know about.
The frost is on the pumpkin! A lot is going to happen between now and Halloween. They’re addressing my story full tilt and it really gets juicy. It’s very emotional, very draining. In fact, I just got off work before I sat down for this conversation with you and, when I get done with you, I am going to have myself a little vodka martini! [Laughs] And I have earned it!
The Young and the Restless, Weekdays, CBS
This article also appeared in the Oct. 16-29 issue of TV Guide Magazine.