Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, Howard Wise/JPI (2)
Guiding Light’s Bert Received Devastating News
In one of daytime’s earliest storylines tackling real, meaningful social issues, back in 1962, Bertha “Bert” Bauer was diagnosed with uterine cancer. The topic, back then, was still fairly taboo. Folks just didn’t talk about these things — especially when it came to the reproductive system. But Bert’s diagnosis and battle with the disease helped teach an entire generation of women about the importance of checkups and prevention.
As the World Turns’ Barbara Battled Cancer
After nearly 30 years playing As the World Turns‘ Barbara, Colleen Zenk received devastating news that she had oral cancer. She needed surgery that would partially remove and reconstruct her tongue — a terrifying prospect for anyone, let alone an actor. Rather than ignore what she was going through, the show wove her oral cancer and recovery into Barbara’s tale, helping to teach viewers about the signs and dangers of the disease.
All My Children’s Erica Had an Abortion
In one of daytime’s most famous stories, in 1973, a young Erica Kane had daytime’s first legal abortion, shortly after the landmark (and recently overturned) Roe v. Wade ruling. At the time she was married to Jeff Martin and didn’t want to bear his child just as her modeling career was taking off. Though decades later it would be revealed that the child had instead been stolen from her womb, at the time, All My Children didn’t flinch from a topic so many women faced.
General Hospital Tackled the AIDS Crisis
Through Robin and Stone’s heartbreaking story, General Hospital taught a generation of viewers to approach HIV/AIDS with compassion and understanding rather than fear and prejudice. Stone contracted and eventually succumbed to the disease at just 19, unknowingly passing HIV on to Robin while they were together. It’s something she lives with to this day, helping to destigmatize a condition that’s no longer a death sentence.
Days of Our Lives Gave Us Daytime’s First Interracial Couple
Days of Our Lives made history with David Banning and Valerie Grant’s 1975 love story. Played by Richard Guthrie and Tina Andrews, the show moved daytime’s first interracial couple along at a snail’s pace in order to win fans over. Frustratingly, it didn’t work, and fans refused to accept them together. Eventually, they were broken up, but not, we learned decades later, before they conceived a child together: Eli!
All My Children Took On Racists
Almost two decades after Days of Our Lives‘ David and Valerie, All My Children tackled racism head-on when Terrence Frye was confronted, dehumanized and nearly beaten to death by two racist university students. It was a brutal story that led to taking down a larger racist network in Pine Valley and didn’t flinch away from the ugliness of bigotry.
All My Children Taught Compassion With Zoe
All My Children continued to take on social issues and difficult topics well into the new millenium. In 2006, they introduced rock-star Zarf who could never shake the feeling that he was born into the wrong body. She began her transition into living life as a woman named Zoe, all while growing close to Bianca. Though she didn’t stick around too long, Zoe broke ground as the first transgender character transitioning on-screen.
Bold & Beautiful’s Maya Helped Educate Us *All*
Almost a decade after All My Children‘s Zoe, Bold & Beautiful revealed that Maya, who was, at the time, dating Rick, was a transgender woman. Told with sensitivity as Maya dealt with her family’s — and particularly her father’s — disapproval, it helped educate all of us, including portrayer Karla Mosley. The actress now feels that should Maya ever return onscreen, she should be played by a transgender actress.
One Life to Live’s Billy Came Out
Long before he skyrocketed to movie-stardom, Ryan Phillippe got his start in Llanview, playing daytime’s first openly gay teenager, Billy Douglas. He confronted homophobia and hate from the town and his own father, and when Reverend Andrew dared show compassion and understanding, he too was attacked, beaten and ostracized. It was a powerful, unflinching confrontation of bigotry and hatred.
Young & Restless’ Chelsea Tried to Take Her Own Life
Soap operas love to put their characters through heartache and loss, but rarely do they tackle the results of those things as painfully realistically as with Chelsea. After years of battling mental issues, Chelsea nearly gave in to her depression as she decided her life was no longer worth living. Billy’s intervention and compassion saved her life, and the storyline opened up a flood of dialogue on depression, mental health and suicide.
Days of Our Lives Taught Us About the Dangers of Posession
OK, you caught us, this isn’t a real social issue, but we thought after such a heavy list, we all could do with a bit of… levity to close it out! So here’s Marlena floating above the bed as the devil possessed her — the first time — on Days of Our Lives. If there’s anyone out there who sees this and can relate… we are so sorry!