Thirteen Years After His Death, a Fond Remembrance of a Soap Cowpoke Who Always Rode Tall… Even When He Wasn’t On a Horse!
On February 6, 2009, we all wished that Philip Carey had had more than One Life to Live.
You’ve read this story before — or you think you have. “Beloved soap star dead — everybody sad.” Except that this story isn’t like any other that you’ve read, because it’s about an actor who was like no other: Philip Carey, who for more than a quarter of a century played the Buchanan clan’s cantankerous pa Asa on One Life to Live.
More: Tribute to late legend who hated being a baddie… at first
By the time the former Eugene Carey relocated to Llanview, he was already a movie star, having been fifth-billed in his big-screen debut, 1951’s Operation Pacific, with no less than John Wayne. In the years that followed, he worked with some of the greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age, from Joan Crawford (in 1952’s The Woman Is Dangerous) to Gary Cooper (in that same year’s Springfield Rifle), from Doris Day (in 1953’s Calamity Jane) to James Cagney (in 1955’s Mister Roberts).
But he was always in the background.
Finally, after making a particularly memorable guest appearance in a 1971 episode of All in the Family (as a man’s man whose affinity for men shocked Archie Bunker), Carey made his daytime debut on Bright Promise on his way to the role that would put him permanently in the spotlight: One Life to Live’s Asa. The Texas oilman wasn’t just incorrigible, he was at time downright intolerable. However, the way that Carey played the womanizing rat bastard, you couldn’t just hate him, you had to love to hate him.
Off screen, well… it was just love. As Robert S. Woods, who played his son Bo, said at the time of Carey’s passing, “He was like Pa to me. My own father passed away in 1975, and I met Philly in 1979.
“I don’t know if I could love him more,” he added, “if he was my dad.”
Alas, a lifetime of puffing away led Carey to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006. He left his iconic role a year later and succumbed to the disease at age 83, less than a week after the death of his other soap son, Clint Ritchie, who’d played Clint.
Sigh. Rather than dwell on what we lost when Carey died, perhaps we could remember what we had when he lived, by reviewing the below photo gallery, a collection of images from the entire ABC run of One Life to Live.
<p>When ABC premiered Agnes Nixon’s <em>One Life to Live</em> in 1968, its central heroine Victoria Lord was played by none other than Gillian Spencer (later Daisy Cortlandt on <em>All My Children</em>). Also hanging out in those early days on what looked like a <em>Gilligan’s Island</em> jungle set were Lillian Hayman as Sadie Gray, Justin McDonough as D.A. Bill Kimbrough, Jan Chasmar as little orphan Amy (not her official name, but let’s be real), Antony Ponzini as Vince Wolek, Lynn Benesch as Viki’s sister Meredith and Michael Storm as Dr. Larry Wolek.</p>
<p>Yep, in the beginning, <em>One Life to Live</em> allowed characters to be shown — <em>gasp</em> — doing the dishes. Seen here in 1971 are Ponzini as Vinny, who fell for good-time gal Niki Smith, unaware that she was Viki’s alternate personality, and Amy Levitt as Cathy Craig, the <em>Banner</em> reporter who carried on with not one but two of Viki’s love interests!</p>
<p>In 1971, future six-time Emmy winner Erika Slezak became the third actress to take on the roles of Viki and her wiggy alter, Niki. “My first day,” she told the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpTyuvaG25o" target="_blank">Archive of American Television</a>, “was a little weird.” Not only did none of her castmates know that a recast was taking place until she showed up, “I had never been on television. I didn’t know anything… I didn’t know where the bathroom was!” Nonetheless, she soon distinguished herself as the rookie of the year.</p>
<p>When <em>Dark Shadows</em> vet Jim Storm (later Bill Spencer Sr. on <em>The Bold and the Beautiful</em>) decided to scrub out as doc Larry after only a year, he knew just the actor to recommend to replace him: his own brother, Michael, who made the rounds in Llanview in one capacity or another for the next 35 (!) years.</p>
<p>Legend has it that Nixon created for Ellen Holly the pivotal role of Carla Gray, who viewers wouldn’t learn until later was a light-skinned African-American passing for a white woman. Nixon also created for Holly quite a stir. The late-1960s being a less enlightened time, the audience was scandalized by Carla’s romance with a Black doctor. Only years later, after the truth about her ethnicity had come out, did she fall for her true love, Llanview PD lieutenant Ed Hall (Al Freeman Jr., not only the soap’s first Outstanding Lead Actor Daytime Emmy winner but the first African-American Outstanding Lead Actor Daytime Emmy winner).</p>
<p>In 1976, the cast included Jeffrey Pomerantz as Dr. Peter Janssen, Doris Belack as Anna Wolek, Nat Polen as Jim Craig, Kathy Glass as Jenny Wolek, Lee Patterson as Viki’s husband, Joe Riley, the irreplaceable Slezak as Viki herself, Farley Granger as Will Vernon and Nancy Pinkerton, aka the original Dorian Cramer.</p>
<p>Arguably — and we know that you <em>will</em> argue — the love of the life of upwardly-mobile Dorian (ultimately Robin Strasser) was her babydaddy, David Renaldi (the late, great Michael Zaslow). When the actor was stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease and fired from his long-running role of Roger Thorpe on <em>Guiding Light</em>, <em>One Life to Live</em> rehired him and wrote his deteriorating condition into his character’s storyline.</p>
<p>As the ABC soap sought to capitalize on the popularity of primetime’s <em>Dallas </em>and<em> Dynasty</em> in the 1980s, it thrust to the forefront not only Strasser’s Alexis Carrington stand-in, Dorian — whose shoulder pads grew along with her schemes — but J.R./Jock Ewing hybrid Asa Buchanan, played with inimitable swagger by former movie star Phil Carey.</p>
<p>As a matter of fact, a whole family was built around Carey’s Asa — Pa to his sons, Viki’s future husband, <em>Banner</em> editor Clint (Clint Ritchie), and passion’s plaything Bo (Robert S. Woods), riding tall in the saddle here with Cord Roberts (John Loprieno), Clint’s surprise son from a long-ago love affair.</p>
<p>In its heyday, <em>One Life to Live</em> thrived in its study of contrasts, a la the massive differences between good guys like Woods’ Bo and Gerald Anthony’s always-scheming Marco Dane, a character so popular that he was eventually crossed over to stir the pot on <em>General Hospital.</em></p>
<p>In 1995, Joey and Jessica Buchanan were played by future primetime megastar Nathan Fillion (currently the titular newbie on <em>The Rookie</em>) and Erin Torpey, who went <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/gallery/soap-stars-who-grew-up-on-screen/alfonso/" target="_blank">from cute kid to leading lady</a> before bequeathing her legacy character to a successor, whom we’ll get to; don’t you worry.</p>
<p>Bo and his ultimate true love Nora Gannon (Hillary B. Smith) had to be ready at a moment’s notice to “drink to that” — and/or attempt to drink it away. And who could blame them? Certainly not us, not considering that over the years, they dealt with as many heartaches (remember when she slept with her ex to give her husband a baby?) as joys (no less than Little Richard was the officiant at their rock-’n’-roll wedding).</p>
<p>In the underground city of Eterna — what, your town <em>doesn’t</em> have one? — somehow bad girls Tina Lord (Andrea Evans) and Gabrielle Medina (Fiona Hutchison) were allowed to manhandle Christine Cromwell (Susan Floyd) while dad Leo (Alan Scarfe) held them at vague gunpoint. At the time, Viki believed that Christine was the daughter that she’d forgotten ever having. What, <em>you’ve</em> never forgotten… Never mind.</p>
<p>Viki’s daughter turned out to be her frequent sparring partner, <em>Fraternity Row</em> diva Megan Gordon (Jessica Tuck), who as you can see had the same reaction to iconic playboy Max Holden (James DePaiva) that most of the female population of Llanview did at one point or another. Often <em>more</em> than one point.</p>
<p>Though lupus ultimately cut short Megan’s life, at least she got to slip away in the arms of her true love, Jake Harrison (Joe Lando). And, perhaps owing to her background as a lead on Bo’s soap opera, even after her passing, she kept showing up as an angel to visit her nearest and dearest. Wings and harp not included.</p>
<p>During DePaiva’s hiatus from <em>One Life to Live</em>, the daytime drama attempted to replace him with soap vet Nicholas Walker (previously Trey Clegg on <em>Capitol</em>) opposite future <em>Baywatch</em> babe Yasmine Bleeth as Lee Ann Demerest. Did it work? Um… moving on…</p>
<p>Long before Judith Light learned how to pose without giving herself a double chin — see exhibit A — the Daytime Emmy winner stunned soap audiences with her revelation that yes! Fine! Doctor’s wife Karen Wolek had <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eCIAe4hLeU">turned tricks to pass the time.</a> Needless to say, the powerhouse has gone on to make a hell of a name for herself on stage and in primetime.</p>
<p>We dunno how, but it worked: The audience bought wholeheartedly into the romance of kooky spiritualist Luna Moody (Susan Batten) and DePaiva’s soulless Casanova Max.</p>
<p>Since scheme queen Tina was and always would be endgame for gullible Cord, it wasn’t exactly a jaw-dropper when he briefly found himself drawn into the tangled web woven by Dorian’s manipulative niece, Blair Daimler (Kassie Wesley, who of course in real life married James DePaiva). What <em>was</em> surprising was that, once he was in her clutches, he managed to find his way back out.</p>
<p>When Billy Douglas (future movie star Ryan Phillippe) confessed that he was gay, Reverend Andrew Carpenter (Wortham Krimmer) reached out to the teenager to reassure him — and wound up being falsely accused of preying upon the boy by a spiteful Marty Saybrooke. More on her in 3, 2…</p>
<p>After being gang raped by Todd and his frat brothers, Marty (Susan Haskell) was understandably shattered. She didn’t know if she’d ever feel anything again except for anger and fear. But that all changed when a trip abroad brought into her life rugged poet Patrick Thornhart (Thorsten Kaye, now Ridge Forrester on <em>The Bold and the Beautiful</em>). Their chemistry was too great to be denied — or contained on screen; their portrayers also became a couple in real life.</p>
<p>Llanview shuddered when Bo’s scariest ex, batty former secret agent Alex Olanov (Tonja Walker), tied the knot with Carlo Hesser (Thom Christopher), a mafioso who was so unscrupulous, he even cheated death. Their unholy alliance — sorry, <em>marriage</em> — left all of Llanview on high alert. Heck, it’s probably <em>still</em> on high alert, even now!</p>
<p>Viki probably shouldn’t have looked so shocked here. By the time she learned that the notorious Todd Manning (Roger Howarth) was her half brother, she’d already discovered that Megan was her daughter and Tina was her half sister. </p>
<p>“Muy caliente” doesn’t even <em>begin</em> to describe the amount of sexy that Kamar de los Reyes and David Fumero brought to Llanview as the Vega brothers, Antonio and Cristian. Fun fact: Both actors married co-stars, the former, Sherri Saum, who played his love interest Keri Reynolds; the latter, the former Melissa Gallo, who played his cousin, Adriana Cramer.</p>
<p>It sure didn’t look like it was in this “party picture” from 2010. Based on the expressions on the faces of Gigi Morasco (Farah Fath), beau Rex Balsom (at the time, the actress’ real-life significant other, Jean-Paul Lavoisier) and Kelly Cramer (Gina Tognoni), the champagne was flat. Or worse, there was none left.</p>
<p>Once Viki was made aware of the fact that she’d had two daughters, not just one, as she’d for so long believed, twins Jessica (Bree Williamson) and Natalie (Melissa Archer) made up for lost time by squabbling over everything from who Mom loves more to who can attrack whose boyfriend-of-the-week faster.</p>
<p><em>One Life to Live</em> sent us back to geometry class when it dropped detective John McBain (Michael Easton, now Hamilton Finn on <em>General Hospital</em>) into an emormously polarizing love triangle with Natalie and lawyer Evangeline Williamson (<em>Hamilton</em> Tony winner Renee Elise Goldsberry). In fact, it wasn’t resolved until… What’s that, you say? It <em>still</em> isn’t resolved? Well, alrighty then!</p>
<p>The residents of Angel Square couldn’t help but contemplate a name change for their hood whenever it was paid a visit by she-devil Blair and her “better” half, Todd. In their defense, they often had Very Big Issues to deal with. For instance? Erm, the odd stretch in which Todd had to prove that he was, in fact, Todd and not… Well, keep scrolling. You know very well the character to whom we’re about to get.</p>
<p>Well, he sure had <em>us</em> <em>fooled</em>. Victor Lord Jr. (Trevor St. John) spent the better part of a decade claiming to be Todd. Even <em>he</em> believed it, thanks to the brainwashing that he received courtesy of his and his brother’s maniacal Mommie Dearest, Viki’s old “pal,” Irene Manning.</p>
<p>… there was always Roxy Balsom (daytime deity Ilene Kristen). In this instance, she was surrounded by the too-ripped-for-words Ford brothers, Nate Salinger (Lenny Platt), James (Nic Robuck) and Robert (David Gregory), who everybody just called Ford. That is, when they could still form words in his presence.</p>
<p>At least in our minds, it does. So we like to imagine that somewhere out there, an executive with vision is wearing the same contemplative expression as Viki here as he or she maps out a way to resurrect the show as if it was just one of the many characters that have come back from the dead.</p>
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