More Than a Decade After Her Passing, a Loving Tribute to a Soap-Hopping Daytime Legend Who Endured a *Whole* Lotta Drama Off Screen as Well as On — Plus, Her Epic Headwriter War
On December 20, 2010, we lost one of our greats.
There are some actors who are just made for soap operas. Part of it is the look, beautiful but also relatable. Like they could be your sister or your aunt if your sister or aunt were just 10, 20 percent prettier. Part of it is the skill, an innate ability to make the most of a moment — every moment, as a matter of fact. They know how to play scene after scene as if it’s do or die, and not only that, make us believe over and over again that it really is do or die.
Jacqueline Courtney was among this rare breed.
A Star in Orbit
The native of East Orange, New Jersey, was all but born to be soap star. And after paying her dues via short runs — sprints, really — on The Edge of Night (in not one but two roles) and Our Five Daughters, she nabbed the part that would really put her on the map: that of Alice Matthews on Another World. She debuted along with the NBC show itself in 1964 and became a VIP just a few years later, when viewers got hooked on the love triangle between her good-girl character, George Reinholt’s Steve Frame and Rachel Davis, a supervixen played by future One Life to Live Emmy winner Robin Strasser (Dorian… but you knew that).
Trouble in Paradise
Though the audience of Another World hung on every twist of plot between Alice, Steve and Rachel, the real drama was going on behind the scenes. Headwriter Harding Lemay, you see, was not among Courtney’s fans. In his memoir, Eight Years in Another World, he recalled one instance in particular that horrified him. “The actress turned what was written as muted, catatonic grief,” he suggested, “into a histrionic display more fitting to a 19th-century madhouse.”
Upset, Lemay phoned executive producer Paul Rauch, who explained that the series regular, erm, “did not always reveal how she intended to play her scenes until they were being taped, by which time it was too late to direct her properly.”
Courtney was apparently no more interested in altering her technique than Lemay was in accommodating it. As he detailed: “The star, unhappy with her material, refused to change her approach, and I, unhappy with the star, wrote token scenes for Alice and quickly cured her of her disorder.”
In 1975, their cold war came to an abrupt end when Another World made a far riskier move than any soap would today and fired not only Courtney but Reinholt. While the soap replaced Alice’s original portrayer with Susan Harney, described by Lemay as “a personable, well-trained actress who resembles Miss Courtney slightly but was a far better actress,” the departing star and her leading man were immediately snapped up by One Life to Live, the creator of which had once been the top scribe at Another World: Agnes Nixon. (See how all the dots connect… )
Of course, hot commodities never stayed on the market for long, and they didn’t come much hotter than Courtney.
Her Second Act
Alas, the dynamic duo’s rematch in Llanview wasn’t quite the hit that ABC had hoped for, and two years later, Reinholt exited stage left as Tony Lord. Courtney, however, stayed on as Pat Ashley and remained seated comfortably on the front burner until 1983 — just a few years after Strasser took over as Dorian and just before Rauch assumed the EP’s reins.
In the years that followed, fences were mended, and Courtney appeared on Another World now and then for special occasions (the show’s 20th anniversary, for instance, and the funeral of Douglass Watson’s Mac Cory). But for the most part, it was over for her careerwise. In the late ’80s, she briefly appeared on Loving as madame Diane Winston; after that, she retired from acting.
Take a Bow
Courtney died at age 64 on December 20, 2010, a casualty of metastatic melanoma. We can only assume — in a way, hope — that, as ever, she gave no hint of how she would play her last act until the curtain began to fall. We like to think of our greats as remaining so until the very end.
While you’re here, why not take off for Another World by perusing the below photo gallery, which features characters you knew and loved on the NBC soap that — just sayin’ — is so ripe for a revival, its new stories would practically write themselves.
Video: YouTube/Another World