I don’t often use this space to talk of personal things. But events of this past weekend have prompted me to bend that practice.
Two great friends of mine received recognition from their peers last Sunday in Los Angeles. Bill Hayes and Susan Seaforth Hayes were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Daytime Emmy presentation for their multi-decade work as Doug and Julie Williams on NBC’s Days of Our Lives.
Soap operas sometimes get short shrift in the world of entertainment. They shouldn’t. Perhaps more than any other broadcast genre, daytime dramas mirror the fabric of society. Contentious issues are many times first tackled on shows such as Days. And countless viewers with myriad problems of their own follow the stories because the characters’ troubled lives often serve to make their own situations seem not quite as bad. There’s always someone worse off.
Bill has known me from my birth. He and my dad were best of friends from the day they met on the campus of DePauw University in 1941, until my dad died in 2014. (Bill flew to Dad’s bedside during his last week to reminisce and sing – there was always singing.) I first met Susan in 1970 on the lot at NBC in Burbank during a family trip to my grandparents and a visit with the Hayeses.
The two Emmy winners met on the show, married in real life, and their alter egos became the King and Queen of the soaps (see the cover of Timemagazine, January 1974).
During my peripatetic career, I was fortunate enough to help create plots and write scripts for Daysin the late 70s under the tutelage of the head writer at that time, Elizabeth Harrower, who just happened to be Susan’s mother.
But this isn’t about me.
Susan and Bill Hayes have made their livings in the world of show biz for about 70 years apiece. Susan is a lifelong Californian, and began her career as a child on the radio. Her single-parent mother was an actress then and would take Susan along to the set sometimes. Producers and directors put her to work. And she liked it.
Bill Hayes first appeared on national TV in 1948 – when the medium was in its infancy. He rose to fame as part of the Your Show of Showsensemble and then with his Gold Record recording of The Ballad of Davy Crockett. Given the fact that he still appears on Days, Bill has been on national TV continuously for longer than any other performer.
Susan and Bill make their craft look easy. It isn’t. But that’s the mark of a true professional. You don’t become beloved by fans or saluted by fellow thespians by simply reading lines of dialogue into a camera lens.
It takes constant practice and dedication to your craft to get it right. What an audience sees is the culmination of endless hours of preparation, searches for nuances in a word or a phrase, creation of a character that is as believable as a real-life person, and elevation of the performances of everyone around you by putting your own heart and soul into every presentation.
The exploits of Doug and Julie Williams have enthralled viewers of Daysfor just about 50 years. Triumph and tragedy – the staples of daytime drama – have been part and parcel of the package. But as most fans would tell you, it’s the love story that has captured their hearts. The two characters originally weren’t expected to end up with each other. Doug Williams began as a bit of a rogue, while Julie was the apple of her grandparents’ eyes. But the sparks flew on and off the set.
I’ve never asked them, but I’m guessing the love scenes on-screen weren’t all that hard to play. Might even have been kind of fun. Art imitating life was well in evidence when the vows Doug and Julie spoke on TV mirrored the very words Bill and Susan had vowed years before one bright October morning in their living room surrounded by a few close friends.
Susan and Bill Hayes embody the finest aspects of their chosen profession. And it was my great honor to help them celebrate their Emmy Awards with their family members in California. As they then were praised in front of a national audience, I couldn’t help but think how deserving they are of recognition for their lifetime of work in the entertainment world. And while I was able to offer my congratulations in person, I also wanted to repeat them publically. Thanks for letting me do so here.
©MMXVIII. William J. Lewis, III