Hunks Everlasting: Six Iconic Soap Stars Look Back at the Wild ’80s and Reveal Their Secrets to Survival
They’ve battled supervillains and evil twins, been stalked and kidnapped by sex-crazed women and buried beneath the rubble of countless collapsed buildings. But they’ve also overcome two things that are way more frightening: obscurity and unemployment!
We corralled six of the hottest, hunkiest daytime stars of the Reagan era for TV Guide Magazine’s ’80s issue—Kin Shriner (Scotty Baldwin, General Hospital), Stephen Nichols (“Patch” Johnson, Days of Our Lives), A Martinez (Cruz Castillo, Santa Barbara), Doug Davidson (Paul Williams, The Young and the Restless), Don Diamont (Brad Carlton, Y&R) and Michael E. Knight (Tad “the Cad” Martin, All My Children)—and sat them down for a straight-shooting talk about stardom and survival. All are still in the game: Nichols, Shriner and Davidson continue in the roles that put them on the suds map, while Martinez is now Eduardo Hernandez on Days, Diamont is Dollar Bill Spencer on The Bold and the Beautiful and Knight is Dr. Simon Neville on Y&R. OK, so maybe they’re not household names exactly, but these guys have stayed vital and exciting on screen and boast fan followings that are unshakably loyal. How many of the big primetime stars from 30 years ago can say the same?
The ’80s are all the rage these days. Why do you suppose that is?
Stephen Nichols: I guess because we were there! [Laughs] People were so much more excited about soaps during that decade. Everything was huge—the ratings, the budgets, the supercouples. All across America, whole towns would take lunch to watch Days of Our Lives.
Michael E. Knight: The soap business was never hotter. We came along at just the right time.
A Martinez: It was kind of miraculous, really. Of course, it helped that there weren’t a thousand channels back then. There was no Internet. We were it.
Knight: Being on a soap back then was the best entrée to the world of scandal. My character was having an affair with an older woman who was giving him money, which he then used to woo this beautiful young girl. He had no idea they were mother and daughter.
Kin Shriner: I don’t think there’s an actor who was in soaps in those days who doesn’t look back fondly. We had it great. But, hopefully, the wardrobe’s not coming back. Or the hairdos. If I was still sporting that shag haircut, that wouldn’t be good.
Doug Davidson: My old mullet still haunts me!
How crazy did the fandom get?
Shriner: It was the Wild West. We were all young and loving it. And the girls were nonstop! They’d shove me and Tony Geary out onstage for a fan event where 10,000 women were screaming our names, but we had no act. When the screaming died down, we were stuck out there going, “Uh, now what?”
Don Diamont: It was mania. We actually needed security when we went places. It was a pretty heady time.
Knight: I used to love the fan mail from prisoners. That was really fun. You never got anything weird like that?
Davidson: No. Never. Prison mail?
Knight: Don’t leave me hanging like this! Was I the only one getting prison mail?
Davidson: I got a few panties in the mail. And invitations. I got lewd pictures. And this was before selfies. You had to have someone take the photos, and then you had to have them developed. [Laughs] Now, that was fan devotion!
Stephen, you were such a big thing in the ’80s that you rated second only to Bill Cosby in the Q ratings, which measure public familiarity and marketing appeal. You even rated higher than Michael Jordan. How do you explain that?
Nichols: [Laughs] I can’t. That was huge…and weird. I was blown away by that. And now it’s even weirder, considering what’s happened with Cosby. [Laughs] So we don’t talk about the Q ratings anymore!
Of course, nothing was nuttier than the fan frenzy surrounding GH.
Shriner: If Tony Geary hadn’t retired, I wouldn’t even be here at this interview. You would have picked him instead.
What are you talking about? Sure, the Luke and Laura wedding was the all-time monster soap event but the big moment was Scotty Baldwin—Laura’s jealous ex-husband—catching the bouquet. The audience was in shock.
Shriner: I’d foolishly left GH to go do the New York soap Texas, which lasted about 10 minutes, and [GH executive producer] Gloria Monty was furious with me. But she did take me back. She stashed me in a trailer for hours—and hours—the day they shot the wedding to keep my return hush-hush. She didn’t want any spies on the set leaking the big scoop about the big snatch. The audience might have expected Scotty to show up at the wedding and stop the ceremony but, when that didn’t happen, no one could imagine he’d show up a little bit later and catch the flowers. I don’t know if Gloria could have pulled off that surprise in this modern era of tweeting. There are no more secrets.
Was there a downside to ’80s fame?
Knight: It was the age of excess. They took the “anything goes” attitude of the ’70s and added money.
Davidson: It was like that Eagles song “Life in the Fast Lane.”
Knight: I definitely couldn’t do the stuff to my body that I did then. You were going out all night, rolling into work around 6am, taking a shower and hoping nobody noticed that you’re wearing sunglasses in rehearsal.
Davidson: With Scotch aftershave coming out of your pores!
Were you comfortable being hunks?
Martinez: I can’t complain about it, though it took me aback sometimes when we were expected to take off our shirts for pictures and deliver that hot, steamy vibe. And then that frozen image follows you for years.
Diamont: I had no issue with the hunk label. It goes with the territory. I embraced it, even when I was playing the pool boy on Y&R and they had me wearing nothing but Daisy Dukes.
Davidson: Schwarzenegger was changing the way society looked at male bodies, so we all had to be ripped. I saw it as a way to ensure I got good storylines.
Knight: I was a wallflower in college and then, all of a sudden, I was a mac daddy on TV. I’ve always suffered from terrible body dysmorphia, so the heartthrob stuff was hard to handle. I was never good at pretending that I’m good-looking. I remember Julia Barr [who played Brooke on AMC] telling me back in my early years that the sexiest thing you can do in bed is be funny. She said: “If you want the audience to believe you’re truly intimate, get your partner laughing in bed.” So I just joked my way through the decades.
Doug and Don were the first in soaps to show their bare butts—a craze that ended as quickly as it started.
Davidson: I was stunned when I found out what Y&R wanted me to do. I called my wife and said, “I’ve been working out the wrong muscles at the gym!” I was the first to do it, but my rear-end scene was more normal—a shot of me getting out of bed. But Don was at a urinal standing next to Peter Bergman [Jack].
Diamont: I had to drop my towel as I walked into the shower so you got to see wet butt cheek. [Laughs] We really made history with that one.
Davidson: Our boss, Bill Bell, was big on realism, but there were complaints from America—especially from people who hadn’t seen it but were offended at the very idea. I think Bill would have had us doing soft porn if they’d allowed it.
Did the plots ever get too crazy for you?
Martinez: Cruz was drugged and raped by a woman and got her pregnant, even though he was unconscious. I was like, “Is that even possible?”
Nichols: It wasn’t the ’80s unless you were trapped—in an elevator, a cave-in, an imploding building.
Diamont: Brad was held captive in a cage by his jealous ex-wife. But the wildest thing happened several years later when it was revealed that Brad, the CEO in the three-piece suits, was actually a Jewish Navy SEAL named George Kaplan. I had a scene where George wrapped his legs around the head of this bad guy and snapped his neck. It was death by thigh. Specifically, inner thigh. [Laughs] Another first!
Knight: So much happened to Tad—amnesia, evil twins, a wife who died from poisoned pancakes—that they finally ran out of ideas. Then the producer calls me to the office and says: “We have a new storyline for you: Tad’s coming out with his own line of shampoo!” That’s when you know you’ve stayed too long at the party.
Romance was so important to the soaps back then. How tough was it to maintain supercouple status?
Martinez: Stephen and Mary Beth Evans [Kayla] have survived what’s largely perceived to be unsurvivable—playing out a romance on TV for 30 years. How do they still do it? You always hear stories of people who play lovers and how it so often hits the rocks and how they wind up not being able to tolerate each other off camera. With Marcy Walker [Eden on Santa Barbara], I remember being really concerned about how we could have all that intimacy on screen and not have it mess with us. And it did mess with us. We were lucky because we fought our way out of that, but a lot of actors don’t. It can eat you alive.
Nichols: Mary Beth and I have had our ups and downs, but there is such a deep level of trust between us. We’re not afraid to tell each other anything—or tell each other off—and it has helped us stay connected. When things are rocky with us and a scene just isn’t working, Mary Beth will say, “Look in my eyes. Look in my eyes.” And we’re instantly where we need to be. I know actors who’ve been partnered for years and have a very contentious relationship. I’d have to walk away from that. I would have to say, “I can’t do this job.”
A, weren’t you and Marcy under pressure to become a supercouple?
Martinez: Cruz and Eden only happened because Santa Barbara wasn’t clicking with the audience. Everyone was looking for a solution and [executive producer] Jill Phelps thought it was worth taking a chance on us. They wrote three episodes for Marcy and me—some kind of situation where we were trapped together—and Jill said, “You’ve got three days. This is your shot. Make it work. You can make excuses that the writing is inconsistent, or that you don’t like the directors, or you can basically decide to succeed. Your choice.” And it worked.
How are you dealing with aging?
Davidson: I’m OK with it because, in my mind, I’m still in my thirties. But the truth is I’ve been at Y&R for 38 years and I’m now the longest-running guy in the building. That includes cast, crew, network execs, everybody. People overuse the word surreal, but in this case it sure applies.
Martinez: My packaging has weathered and my future isn’t as big as it once was, but I’m a much better actor now. [Laughs] You find comfort in that. You can either be depressed about getting older or look in the mirror and say, “Hey, it could be a hell of a lot worse!”
Shriner: When you no longer have a 32-inch waist, you have to be more on your game than ever. These young soap stars today are like, “It’s our time. Get out of our way,” so you have to show up at the studio like a soldier of fortune who’s going behind enemy lines. You need to kill those scenes! So far I’ve spanned five decades with my character and hope to hit six or seven. It’s like I signed a deal with Lucifer himself. [Laughs] Hopefully, he’ll never cash in.
Soap stars never get the respect they deserve. Did that ever bruise your egos?
Nichols: So many times I’d try to get an audition in primetime and was told, “We will not see soap people.” There’s always been that pecking order, but at some point you finally go, “I really don’t care. I’m working!”
Knight: After All My Children was canceled, one of my jobs was playing a dead body on NCIS, and I was happy to have it. The casting breakdown literally said: “Must be able to lie still.” That’s why I was so thrilled when Y&R offered me a job. I was like, “You’re actually gonna let me talk?”
Shriner: Actors need a place to report to, a place to belong. Daytime television saved our asses.
Martinez: Lane Davies [who played Mason on Santa Barbara] used to describe it as “the simple dignity of having somewhere to go.”
Is it hard watching some of your costars go on to great success in primetime and film while you remain in the suds?
Knight: No. I get a real kick out of it. Bryan Cranston used to be my roommate! That’s when I was on All My Children and he was on Loving. One day I was making an omelet in my kitchen and watching CNN and suddenly there’s Bryan talking about the Oscars and Trumbo and acting with Helen Mirren. Sure, I could let that get to me, and there were definitely times when a little self pity would creep in, especially when [former ABC Daytime chief] Brian Frons was busy trying to chop the head off All My Children. But you can’t be jealous. You have to choose to be happy wherever you are.
Davidson: There was a time where I wasn’t working a lot on Y&R and it made me understand the Garden of Eden. What if I take a chance and try that tempting apple? But being a husband and a dad made me think twice. I wasn’t willing to take the risk and now I’m so glad I didn’t.
Diamont: I quit Y&R for a couple of years. I went here and went there and did guest spots and TV movies. But I hated it. I hated being gone from my kids for weeks at a time on location. It was emotionally painful, and it just wasn’t me. I was missing out on the great experience of life—raising children. I called Bill Bell and asked him to take me back. He wrote me into the show within two weeks, no hard feelings.
Martinez: There’s always hope in soaps. I remember getting very dark and depressed at one point and my father saying, “You’re in a game where the phone could ring at any time and it will change your world.”
And now you’re juggling Days and Longmire.
Martinez: [Laughs] Hey, I remember all those times when I had no jobs—and two is definitely better!
Diamont: A few years after Bill died, I was fired at Y&R on the last shooting day right before Christmas. It came out of the blue and was pretty unexplainable, but it turned out to be the best thing for my career. Two months later I got a call from his son, Brad Bell, at B&B, and there is no character I would rather play than Bill Spencer.
And that wasn’t your first firing.
Diamont: Right! Before Y&R, I played Carlo Forenza on Days, a South American revolutionary who had no accent. I lasted six months. Daytime TV magazine, which was the soap-opera bible at that time, gave me the award for Best Newcomer the same week I was fired. [Laughs]
Shriner: During one of my breaks from GH I did the syndicated soap Rituals, which started out airing at 8pm. Then it moved to 11:30pm. Pretty soon it was airing at 1:00am. That’s when I knew I was on a sinking ship. I’m, like, “I better call GH. Time to put on that Scotty suit.” And they took me back. Again.
With the exception of Selleck and Stamos and very few others, most primetime stars of the ’80s can’t get arrested now. Are you soap guys having the last laugh?
Diamont: We’ve seen ’em come and we’ve seen ’em go…and here we are! I take a lot of pride that we’ve been around this long.
Davidson: Anybody would want our jobs now…unless you’re Brad Pitt.
Nichols: Only 2 to 3 percent of all actors with a union card have a job, so we can’t be anything but grateful. I’ve had steady work, played really interesting parts and put three kids through college. Who can complain about that?
Shriner: Sure, we all wanted to be in the movies—not gonna lie—but, as it turned out, doing the soaps was the smartest move any of us could have made.
Knight: We’re the luckiest sons o’ bitches in the business. And we owe it totally to the fans, God bless ’em. The fact that they still give a s--t about us three decades later isn’t just wonderful. It’s un-freakin’-believable!