On the Anniversary of Guiding Light’s Final Episode, We Revisit 10 of the Much-Missed Soap’s Most Memorable Moments
Flash back to the end of the long run of a soap opera giant.
September 18th marks the anniversary of when the legendary soap opera Guiding Light aired its final episode. Among the only soaps to survive and thrive with the transition from radio to television, Guiding Light proved to be one of the longest-running soap operas in history. In its 72 year span, it lasted 15 years on radio and 57 on television. Not only did it survive this jump in medium, but it also managed to keep afloat on the waves of the major changes in daytime itself, bravely experimenting in ways that other shows often wouldn’t. The shifting series of writers and producers who created the show over its many decades always proved that it was as relevant and innovative as any newcomer. In practice, this meant competing for domestic drama, business brutality as well as outlandish tales of time travel and the princely storybook romance of San Cristobal.
Launched in 1937 by soap opera pioneer Irna Phillips with Emmons Carlson, the series took its name from the lamp of Rev. Dr. John Ruthledge, a clergyman in a Chicago suburb who sermonized for justice. This original image would subsequently be transformed into the lighthouse that became the show’s logo and one of its primary mythical reference points. While still on the radio, the series built up a complex set of relationships between Ruthledge and his cynical rhetorical enemy Ellis Smith. Their opinions of humanity were frequently challenged by the increasingly scandalous behavior in the parish. By the 1950s, the reverend was dead, and their moral debates were transformed into the show’s controversial tales of death, crime, hypocrisy, and sickness. And with the 1950s, the show made its leap into TV with 15 minute episodes. With each coming decade, the series would introduce another generation of characters for a new generation of viewers to grow up with.
The soap opera innovated with its use of exotic location shooting – including in Saint Lucia, Puerto Rico, Florida, and parts of the Caribbean – and with the more experimental and raw digital camerawork of its final year. It also worked to showcase actors in unusual ways, controversially providing episodes dedicated to specific characters and episodes about a special event like the blackout, the meeting of Phillip Spaulding’s (Grant Aleksander) many ex-wives, or an episode dealing with male characters. Perhaps its most remarkable standalone episode involved its then-current cast re-creating the early days of the soap’s history on the radio to honor its seventieth anniversary. Early on, it had also been especially inventive in getting its fans to vote on the criminal case of Meta Bauer (Jone Allison), who killed her husband Ted in 1950. Although she was obviously guilty, the fans liked her enough to acquit her.
Since its move to TV, the series kept up at least a few of its core families, most notably the Bauers who generally staffed the local hospital. If they provided the flawed moral center for the show, the other families that circulated in the town created significantly more friction. This included the often-mercenary and wealthy Spaulding family as well as the complex villain Roger Thorpe (Michael Zaslow). Over the years, the canvas introduced other families into the mix, including the Cooper family, the Reardons, Chamberlains, and Lewises.
With decades of rich and complex stories to choose from, it was hard to settle on just a few fleeting instances, but take a look at our gallery of 10 memorable moments from Springfield history and share your memories of the soap below. While you’re here, you can also check out then-and-now photos of your former faves.
<p>Longtime stalwart cast member Charita Bauer died in 1985. Her death was integrated into that of her character, Bertha ‘Bert’, matriarch of the Bauer clan. While perhaps not the most dramatic of moments, it registered strongly with longtime viewers, reminding them of the depth with which their lives were connected to the series and its long history.</p>
<p>In June 1976, Leslie Jackson Bauer (Lynne Adams) was killed off when she was run down by a drunk driver. Another seemingly random accident, it was particularly surprising since the young character was so popular.</p>
<p>In spite of their extraordinary wealth, the Spaulding family was rarely functional either in business or in their private dealings. Although the history of the family is littered with double-dealing and betrayal, one of the more surprising moments came when Alan (Christopher Bernau) was about to confess to his son Philip (Grant Aleksander), that he was not really his father. Before that could happen, Bradley (James Rebhorn) shocked Phillip by telling him that he was actually a Marler. Paternity panics would haunt the rest of Phillip’s life.</p>
<p>Guiding Light shocked audiences again by featuring the first marital rape story on daytime. Although Roger Thorpe (Michael Zaslow) had raped Rita Stapleton (Lenore Kasdorf) only a few months before, his rape of his wife Holly (Maureen Garrett) on March 5, 1979 left even more viewers unsettled thanks to its disturbing graphicness.</p>
<p>Fans were appalled when Maureen Reardon Bauer died (Ellen Parker, Ellen Dolan) in a car crash on January 11, 1993. Most shocking of all was its random quality. Maureen had recently discovered that her husband Ed (Peter Simon) was having an affair with her best friend Lillian Raines (Tina Sloan). When he attempted to sort things out with her, she drove away in a fury and crashed her car.</p>
<p>Reva Shayne (Kim Zimmer) left one of her first major impressions on audiences by leaping into a fountain. But this would only be the start of many memorable watery moments, including plummeting to her apparent death by suicide. In one of the more treasured incidents, she and Josh (Robert Newman) had the first of their many weddings at Cross Creek, with her making a grand entrance by boat.</p>
<p>Annie Dutton (Cynthia Watros, Signy Coleman) rarely had a bad scene and her villainous plots included everything from attempted murder to kidnapping Lizzie Spaulding and drugging Josh. But the severely mentally unstable nurse and her frequent bouts of pill-popping and boozing hit a special peak during her wedding to Alan when her secrets were revealed. She was promptly hauled off by the cops, but quickly escaped by knocking out the guard and setting her mattress on fire.</p>
<p>Although many may want to, few viewers would be able to forget that time that Josh cloned Reva. In January 1998, Bethany Joy Lenz began to appear as the cloned Reva, now a mischievous teenager. While the clone had been introduced as a baby, it wasn’t until her leap into burgeoning maturity that the extent of the show’s leap over the shark took full effect.</p>
<p>In a convoluted plot twist that would be used by several soaps, Blake Marler (Elizabeth Keifer) wound up getting pregnant with twins, each from a different father. Etched even more in the minds of the viewers however was the brutal confrontation between the fathers, Ross Marler (Jerry verDorn) and Rick Bauer (Michael O’Leary) which included Ross spitting in his rival’s face. In the end it turned out that Ross was the father of both.</p>
<p>Reva’s son Jonathan (Tom Pelphrey) quickly made a name for himself as even more of an emotional powder keg than this mother. His persistent emotional outbursts won the actor several Daytime Emmys, but probably no scene registered more in the minds of viewers than his emotional collapse following the death of his lover Tammy (Stephanie Gatschet), which included him climbing on top of her corpse at Cedars Hospital.</p>
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