GL’s Greatest Villains: Part Four: Roger Thorpe
To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, a story is only ever as good as its villain is bad. Whether you love them or simply love to hate them, Guiding Light‘s nastiest characters have always made things more exciting. In it’s long history, GL has had some very impressive villains. While many of its heroes and heroines have been morally dubious, most of its villains have been almost unrelentingly evil. It’s always been a remarkably human evil, however, which has rarely dipped into caricature. This is due in no small part to the nuanced acting displayed by many of the show’s finest villains. Their wonderful capacity to pull so many devilish gems from the writers’ words has been one of the greatest animating features on the show for the past thirty years.
In honor of Halloween, this years 70th anniversary and the return later this month of David Andrew MacDonald, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at Guiding Light‘s greatest villains. After running a little poll on the site about a month ago, I came up with four main contenders. Each week, for the rest of the month, I’ll be posting a little look back on their infamous lives and highlighting a bit of the unique nastiness of each character.
This week we conclude our look back on the show’s great villains by revisiting the notorious career of Roger Thorpe. Although Thorpe was a clearly despicable fellow, he also managed to be one of the most beloved characters in the show’s history. And it wasn’t simply that people loved to hate him; many viewers actually became almost sympathetic to him, in no small part due to the extraordinary talents of the actor who played him.
Roger was played by the incomparable Michael Zaslow from 1971 until 1980 and then from 1989 until 1997. GL wasn’t his first soap. He already had experience working on Search For Tomorrow. In the interlude between his two stints as Roger, he appeared on OLTL as David Renaldi and worked behind-the-scenes as a writer for Another World. Although he worked on stage and screen for decades, he’ll always be best remembered for playing Roger, a part which earned him several Soap Opera Digest awards as well as a Daytime Emmy. He died of ALS in 1998. The charity group ZazAngels was set up in his memory.
Brought to Springfield with the promise of a corporate future, Roger worked as an underling for Stanley Norris. His primary task was keeping the women in Norris' family in line, although Roger soon found his own way of doing this. After seducing a young and naive Holly, he began pursuing her brother's wife. When Holly caught him forcing himself on the other woman, she ran to tell her brother. After being beaten by an angry husband, Roger left town in disgrace. While he was away, Holly married Ed Bauer but quickly became bored. As soon as Roger came back, she pursued him and became pregnant. Fearing scandal, she tried to convince Ed that the baby was his although Roger had already drifted to Peggy Fletcher. The deception was brought out into the open when the baby needed a blood transfusion from its biological father. Although the revelation of true paternity destroyed Holly's marriage, Roger stayed with Peggy. This was not to last. Soon, when Rita Stapeleton came to town, Roger's marriage to Peggy ended when he had to testify at her murder trial that Rita was with him the night of the crime.
With his life once again in a mess, he took a job working for Alan Spaulding and continued his vendetta against Ed. Having been diagnosed as sterile, Roger became increasingly jealous of the attention Ed gave his one and only daughter, Christine. He seduced Ed's sister, Hillary, and raped Rita (who was no with Ed) as a way of demeaning his enemy. Before things could go further, a business rival ran him down in an attempt to kill him. While he was recovering in the hospital, he played on Holly's pity to get her back. Although they reunited and married, he continued to sleep with Hillary until she couldn't take it any longer. Holly became increasingly disgusted with him and, after repeatedly pushing him away, he raped her. Ed convinced her to press charges but Roger's defense team almost got him off, until Rita came forward and revealed that sexual violence was a pattern with him. Although he was convicted, he was let out on bail and went out for revenge. He brutally attacked Ed and was only stopped from killing him when Holly, suffering from flashbacks to her rape, shot him down. As he lay in the hospital dying, he blackmailed Alan to smuggle him out of the country where he supposedly died.
Mike Bauer remained suspicious about Roger's death and for good reason. The ever devious Mr. Thorpe had recovered in Puerto Rico and then traveled to Paris where he had plastic surgery and seduced his surgeon, Renee DuBois. Returning to Springfield, he plotted to steal his daughter, Christina, back. Disguising himself as an old professor, he hid out in the Reardon boarding house and spied on his daughter and her family. Dressed as a clown, he tried to abduct her but Rita recognized him before he could. He took the pregnant Rita captive instead but abandoned her in labor as the cops began to close in on him. She miscarried the baby and he went on the run. Renee came to town from Paris to find him and, as he manically searched for his daughter, he tried to strangle Renee when she claimed, quite rightly that she didn't know her whereabouts. After falling down some stairs when she tried to escape, she went into a coma and died. Ed and Mike began to pursue Roger next, chasing him down to the Dominican Republic where his abduction of Holly and Christine had gone wrong. In a desperate battle, Roger shot Ed, who still managed to squeeze off a shot that sent Roger off a cliff. Though Ed grabbed him before he could fall, his grip gave way and Roger fell to his death.
Of course, Roger didn't die. Instead, he was recruited by the CIA and became a special agent. He traveled across Europe as a spy and assassin before ending up in the Caribbean. Coincidentally, Alexandra Spaulding and Fletcher Reade crashed on that island. Seeing opportunity, Roger hid his face behind a mask, called himself Adam Malik and brought Alex to a cave where he began seducing her. Hearing about the sad life of his daughter and seeing her when she and Phillip came to rescue Alex, Roger resolved to return as well. This was buoyed along when the local military came searching for him. Though Alex tried to hide him in the wine cellar of her mansion, Alan's suspicions were raised and the two consummate frauds spent months trying to outdo one another in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. It ended in a gun battle at Blake and Phillip's wedding which left both Phillip and Roger with gun shot wounds. As Ed tended to the disguised Roger, he and Holly realized who he was. Although they thought about letting him die, Ed's Hippocratic oath won out and they saved him from bleeding to death. Unsatisfied, Holly tried to kill him without success. After reuniting with his daughter, he teamed up with Phillip to go after Alan, whom they tricked into revealing that he was responsible for the recent shootings, among other things.
With Alan now in prison, Roger positioned himself for power. He tried to repair his relationship with both Holly and his daughter and convinced Phillip to make him Vice President of Spaulding. When Alexandra returned to town, he seduced her again. Ruthless in business as in all else, he schemed to bilk Henry Chamberlain of all his money through rigged poker games. Henry lost everything and almost committed suicide. Roger then tried to impress his daughter by building a skyscraper in her honor. As he bought up real estate, the Coopers refused to sell and a thug Roger hired burned down their property, killing 'Pops' Cooper in the fire. Thorpe managed to save himself from being implicated by shooting the man who set the blaze. After covering this up, he signed a pre-nup with Alex which let him become the head of Spaulding, provided he could remain faithful to her. Immediately taking the reigns of the company, he ratchetted up his war against Lewis Oil. When he discovered that one of Billy's workers owned the lease to the land, he moved her into his apartment. She died soon after. Billy then sent his daughter, Mindy to spy on him. Although they were attracted to each other, he resisted her. Reva went after him next and, after a failed attempt at seduction, stole the lease from him. Billy had Roger thrown out of the building and Alex threw him out of the marriage. To retaliate, he began an affair with Mindy. Not knowing this, Alex sent Holly off to seduce Roger so that she could dissolve the marriage. The old couple began to bond as they rescued Blake and her new husband Alan-Michael. She began to forgive him, but the reconciliation was short-lived when it was revealed that she had been on a mission from Alex all the while. He wanted to marry Mindy but didn't want to lose Alex's money in the divorce. Thinking fast, he called an old CIA friend who helped him embezzle millions from Spaulding. He also became involved with the mob and in a land grab from the Jessup's which ended up killing an old man.
Things seemed to catch up with him all at once as a pregnant Mindy (he was no longer sterile) went into contractions as Alex discovered his affair and young Hart Jessup went to confront Roger with the revelation that he was his father. This last bit of information completely threw Roger and he was confused long enough to forget about Mindy. She became annoyed and left him. It was also long enough for Alex to realize he was robbing her. Banding together with Alan-Michael and Mallet, they went in search of the money he'd stolen from the family. Although Roger used his mob connections to battle Mallet down and to keep himself free from jail, Alex started a campaign to publicly humiliate him, forcing him from his position in the company. While he turned back to Holly, she was already moving on with someone else. While he dug around in her life and became the suspect in a murder, Alex discovered that Nick McHenry was having an affair with Mindy and finally broke the fact of Roger and Mindy's secret relationship to Billy. He freaked out and nearly beat Roger to death. As he recovered, Mallet came back for revenge and threatened him with murder charges. When Roger tried to convince everyone, especially Holly, that the new man in her life was a murderer, she pushed him away even more. Luckily, Roger came running to her side just as her new beau was threatening her life. Roger killed the man after an elaborate hostage taking. Nonetheless, Holly still rejected Roger.
At loose ends, he accepted Alex's offer to help break up Mindy and Nick, traveling to Europe to find Eve Guthrie, Nick's long lost love and bring her back into the picture, thus destroying another relationship. While his back was turned, Jenna Bradshaw robbed he and Alex, finding the details of his betrayal of his own son Hart. When Hart discovered this, he was outraged and left town. Roger turned back to his daughter and tried to use her to destroy his old rival Ross. After a series of double-crosses and botched blackmail, Blake almost ended up in prison and Roger had to accept defeat at the hands of Ross to save her. He then began an affair with Jenna, largely because she stood to get a windfall of cash thanks to a lawsuit against Spaulding. With his contacts inside the company, Roger managed to rig things so that she couldn't lose her case. He had a hard time staying faithful to her though and soon turned to Holly for comfort when his alienated son Hart returned. When Hart went to work for Lewis, Roger went back to war, setting out to humiliate HB and Billy. Meanwhile, Jenna threw Roger out and his former partner in embezzlement, John Davis, came looking for his money. When Roger refused, Davis tried to kill him. Roger, by a twist of fate, ended up knocking both Davis and Ed Bauer off the side of a mountain, rescuing Ed and letting John die. Ed and Roger didn't heal their longstanding animosity, however, when Roger slept with Holly only hours later. Ed promptly punched Roger all the way back to Jenna's feet. She felt bad for her wayward lover and took him back, though he quickly ran to Holly who beat him out of her home with a phone. Roger then ran back to Jenna again and proposed to her. She accepted and the wedding was broadcast on TV. Before the honeymoon was over, Jenna's eyes increasingly wandered to Buzz, Hart left town again and Alex returned to take back everything Roger had stolen from her.
His marriage to Jenna was quickly disintegrating, thanks largely to the psychopath he hired to torture the Coopers and Alexandra's stories of what Roger was really like. Unfortunately, Jenna was pregnant with his child, though that didn't stop her and everyone else form despising him. After a particularly heated fight at the country club, where virtually the entire town ganged up on him, Roger wound up shot. Everyone assumed he was dead and that Alex killed him but, in fact, he was hiding in Holly's basement. Sneaking out at night, he spied on his enemies around town and realized that the police wanted him for fraud and other crimes. Finally, at the brink of death from his wound, he revealed himself to Holly. She called Ed and they saved his life again. Before Ed could turn him in, Roger went on the run, showing up to threaten Jenna who threatened to shoot him again. Only Buzz managed to stop her and she went into convulsions, miscarrying the baby. Roger used the chance to escape with help from Tangie (who he had raised in Switzerland unbeknown to anyone), had the bullet still lodged in his body removed, stole Billy's gun and then framed him for shooting him. He more-or-less allowed himself to be arrested and exploited the occasion to get himself on TV and attack the Lewises. Holly paid his bail and they reunited. More surprisingly, Billy confessed to the shooting and was sent to jail.
After convincing Spaulding to drop the fraud charges against him, he started trying to put his family back together by going after Peter and Hart. At the same time, he became involved with the mysterious Mr. Tashiwa who asked him to infiltrate Spaulding. He soon discovered that the mystery man was none other than Alan, out of prison and ready to take everything back. He and Roger made a deal and Roger began to seduce Alex yet again while Alan stole the company out from under her. Although Alex and Roger never slept together, once she realized what was happening, she told Holly that they had. Holly promptly dumped him and turned back to Fletcher. He fought to get her back, threatening to kill Alan unless he revealed their plot to her. She went back to him, but still had feelings for Fletcher so dumped Thorpe again. He kept trying to get her back, faking a car accident and amnesia to solicit pity and attention but nothing worked.
Going back to his old ways, he hooked up with Dinah Marler, daughter of two of his old enemies (Vanessa and Ross) whom he saved from a kidnapping. They got married, which appalled everyone, and the fighting between everyone involved continued. When Hart finally learned that Roger had killed his grandfather, he seduced Dinah and began destroying his father's life. Of course, the marriage was already crumbling because Roger was embezzling all of her money and whatever he could get from her family. When she confronted him, he faked a heart attack. That didn't impress her and she went to his hospital bed ready to shoot him only to have Hart drag her away. Instead of divorcing him, she and Hart decided to torture him and make him think he was going insane. The plan worked, and Roger became gradually unhinged and more violent than ever, attacking both of them and drugging Dinah in an attempt to force her to commit suicide. Seeing how dangerous things were, they upped the ante with Hart fighting his father at gunpoint and faking his own death. He then 'haunted' his guilty father, pushing him into suicidal behavior. After Roger tried to kill Dinah again, he was locked up. When he was released, Hart and Dinah publicly confronted him, humiliating him and sending him into a breakdown. He was locked in a mental hospital but broke out and went looking for his wife and son. After cornering them, he was captured and sent back to the asylum where he promptly tried to escape again, chasing Dinah until she rang the fire alarm. She rushed authorization for him to receive shock treatment. As a response, he incited a riot, escaping in the chaos. After robbing the Spaulding mansion, he tried to hijack a plane. Captured again, he was sent back for treatment. He began faking amnesia and started acting good and self-controlled again. Released yet again, he got himself beat up to win his son's sympathy and then trapped Dinah in a grain silo so that he could 'rescue' her just before she was about to die. Playing up his reformed act, he seduced Amanda Spaulding in a bid to get back into the company and began blackmailing Vanessa. He and Amanda abruptly moved to California and he died several years later.
Rape and violence against women: Attempted rape of Janet Mason; verbal abused of his wife (Peggy Scott); raped Rita Stapleton; raped his wife, Holly; verbally abuse and threats against Jenna Bradshaw; intimidation of Bess Lowell; drugging of Dinah Marler.
Murders/ killings: Indirectly responsible for the 5th St. fire which killed 'Pops' Cooper; accidentally shot and killed Scully; knocked Renee DuBois' down a stairway to her death; while a CIA agent, he killed a double agent in Berlin; killed Daniel St. John; killed John Davis.
Abduction: Attempted to kidnap his daughter, Chrissy (several times); abducted Rita Stapleton Bauer; abducted Holly Norris; abducted Ruth Price; set up the abduction of Eleni Cooper.
Assaults and attempted murders: Assaulted Ed Bauer; shot Ed Bauer; attempted murder of Dinah; assaulted Fletcher Reade.
Blackmail and coercion: Coerced Rita Stapleton to keep silent about their affair; blackmailed Alan's attorney, Dean Blackford; blackmailed Alan into helping him evade police; coerced Alan to pay off a Cedars employee for a copy of the blueprints; threatened Diane Ballard into making Holly believe that they were having an affair; blackmailed an Vanessa Chamberlain into giving him Spaulding secrets; took nude photos of Reva for blackmailing Billy Lewis; blackmailed Daniel St. John; swindled Henry Chamberlain out of ownership of WSPR; blackmailed Gilly Grant; attempted blackmail of Vanessa so that she would remarry Billy.
Stealing/ financial/ evidence tampering: Took illegal loans from loan sharks to open The Metro and then committed accounting fraud to cover them up; used bribery to aid Jenna's defrauding of Spaulding; embezzled money from Dinah's trust fund; stole affidavits; stole papers confirming that Beth wasn't buried; swindled a million dollars from Philip; bribed Sonni Carrera, with expensive gifts; stole Ruth Price's deed to the Waterview Towers; stole evidence naming Billy Lewis as the owner of Waterview ; embezzled money from the Spaulding Foundation and WSPR (set up John Davis for the crime); swindled Hart Jessup's grandfather out of his farm; framed Bill for his shooting; staged a car accident and faked amnesia; faked a heart attack to avoid going to trial for embezzling Dinah's money.
Like his frequent enemy and sometime partner Alan Spaulding, Roger felt a desperate need to protect his family and his own legacy and this tended to make everyone around him suffer. Zaslow summed up this aspect of the character in an interview: 'Roger's desperately sincere, he wants to be loved and to love. He has a lot of love. He's trying to protect what's his, and himself. There's a lot of self-protection with characters like his. Usually it's not effective. There's a wall we throw up to protect ourselves. Maybe it doesn't serve our purposes but that's our defense mechanism. It's calculated, but not to hurt others . . . but to get the upper hand.'
One of the things which set Roger apart from the other villains on the show was his longstanding love with Holly. Although their often brutal relationship, filled with betrayal and rape, was controversial, there was an unmistakable spark between the two characters which made the whole affair both more disturbing and more involving. In spite of the cruelty in their love, people still rooted for them. It was this, admittedly perverse sort of love that highlighted and balanced the more eccentric aspects of the character. Although he was as, if not more, ruthless as the other villains on the show, he always did it with a theatrical panache and imbued it with a charmingly romantic quality. As horrible as Roger could be, he was always exciting.