Two Years After Her Passing, a Loving Remembrance of a Soap Powerhouse Whose Presence Alone Could Turn Heads
Daytime lost one of its greats when Marj Dusay died at age 83 on January 28, 2020.
If you never got to spend any time with Marj Dusay, you really missed out. As amazing as she was on screen, a runaway roller coaster careening wildly from conniving to conflicted to cowed, she was even more memorable off screen.
A native of Russell, Kansas, the actress was a broad in the awesomest sense of the word. When she laughed, it wasn’t half-assed, she went all in. And when she entered a room, the room changed. On. A. Dime.
Part of that was Dusay’s beauty; she was a knockout whose appeal only increased with the number of candles on her birthday cakes. But beyond that, well beyond that, she radiated an energy that rippled around her like a force field. You couldn’t help but be captivated, to want her to like you…
Hell, just to notice you!
She Had ‘It’
I interviewed the soap-hopper a few times during her long run as Alexandra Spaulding on Guiding Light, and every time was a delight. I don’t say that about everybody, either. She was forthright and funny, and so well-versed in the slings and arrows of showbiz, she could recite the rulebook from memory.
And man, was Dusay present. She didn’t walk through the world, it seemed to me. The world revolved around her — and happily so. Dining with her in Manhattan was one of the few occasions I didn’t look around to see what celebrities might be getting their chow on; there couldn’t have been anyone there more captivating than my own dinner companion.
Lathering Up, Up and Away
Needless to say, Dusay’s career extended well beyond daytime. In the 1960s, the rising star appeared in Clambake with Elvis Presley, TV Westerns like Bonanza and The Wild Wild West and a particularly memorable episode of Star Trek. (See above.) She continued down the guest-star route in the 1970s and ’80s, adding everything from Mannix to The Facts of Life to her resumé.
But once Dusay made her daytime debut, replacing the late Carolyn “Morticia Addams” Jones as Capitol scheme queen Myrna Clegg, she was, for all intents and purposes, home. Soapdom embraced her like an old friend, and teed up one glorious role after another.
After before-its-time DC-set sudser Capitol was cancelled, Dusay slayed as Mason Capwell’s crazy-like-a-fox mother Pamela Capwell on Santa Barbara, did the impossible and succeeded the estimable Beverlee McKinsey as Alexandra on Guiding Light, and gave a stylish flare to insanity as Josh Duhamel’s All My Children Mommie Dearest, Vanessa Bennett.
Watch her in fantastically off-kilter action below, opposite Santa Barbara son Gordon Thomson.
One of a Kind
Vincent Irizarry played Dusay’s offspring on not one but two soaps; on Guiding Light, he was Nick McHenry to her Alex, and on All My Children, he was David Hayward to her Vanessa. In his estimation, “she was a force of nature as an actress, courageously pulling out all the stops in whatever role she was gracing us with…
“I reached out to her a couple months back, having heard that she was having a difficult time with some physical challenges as of late,” he added after learning that we had lost her. “I’m grateful to have heard her voice one last time, to have heard her infectious laughter one last time. RIP, darling Marj. Your gift was our blessing.”
And how. On this somber occasion, cheer yourself up with the below photo gallery that updates you on other Guiding Light alumni with then-and-now images that suggest no one’s getting older, just better.
Video: YouTube/Santa Barbara Soap
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The late Christopher Bernau’s successor played imperious tycoon Alan Spaulding from 1994 to 2009. <strong>Since Then:</strong> The Broadway vet has returned to his stage roots and was nominated for a Tony in 2012 for his superlative work in a revival of <em>Follies</em>.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> Katy Perry didn’t write “Teenage Dream” about him, but she could’ve, back when he originated the role of preppy hottie Phillip Spaulding. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Following the cancellation of <em>Guiding Light</em>, Aleksander has only shown up on the Web soap <em>Tainted Dreams.</em> Well, and on our shortlist of actors who need new soap roles.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She was already a soap vet when as a youngster, she was cast as Lizzie, Phillip’s daughter with Beth Raines. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Panettiere has done just about it all, from modeling (she was the face of Neutrogena) to movies (<em>Scream 4</em>) to primetime (<em>Heroes</em>, anyone? <em>Nashville</em>?).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The Daytime Emmy winner lived up to his potential as a soap star as poor little rich boy Alan-Michael Spaulding. <strong>Since Then:</strong> He’s knocked it outta the park on <em>The Young and the Restless</em> (as a recast Matt Clark) and <em>The Bold and the Beautiful</em> (as Whip Jones). And we’re still waiting for him to show up again on <em>General Hospital</em> (as Ric Lansing).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She stole viewers’ hearts from 1991-95 as Eleni Andros, the Greek goddess torn between Alan-Michael and blue-collar Frank Cooper. <strong>Since Then:</strong> The primetime MVP has headlined her own series (1999-02’s <em>Providence</em>) and fought crime as a regular on <em>CSI: Miami.</em></p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He was goodhearted Frank from 1987 until the end of the soap’s run in 2009. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Dicopoulos lent his voice to the audio soap <em>Forever and a Day</em> and took to the stage in the jukebox musical <em>Calling All Divas.</em></p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She played heiress Vanessa Chamberlain off and on from 1980 until the soap’s cancellation. <strong>Since Then:</strong> The actress has battled breast cancer and discussed on PBS’ <em>The New Medicine</em> the importance of communicating with one’s physician.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He was Matt Reardon, the younger man who swept Vanessa off her feet in the mid-1990s. <strong>Since Then:</strong> The star of the 1985 martial-arts classic <em>No Retreat, No Surrender</em> has mainly appeared in indie movies. He also returned briefly to daytime with small roles on <em>As the World Turns</em> and <em>One Life to Live</em> (pictured).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She won two Daytime Emmys for her portrayal of Vanessa’s daughter, Dinah Marler. <strong>Since Then:</strong> She returned to her first soap role of Kelly Cramer on <em>One Life to Live</em> and replaced Michelle Stafford as Phyllis Summers on <em>The Young and the Restless.</em></p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> Tognoni’s predecessor as Dinah made the role her own as she took it over from future <em>The 100</em> star Paige Turco. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Moniz has joined the cast of the Paramount Network hit <em>Yellowstone</em> as the governor and married (and split from) her former leading man…</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He put an end to the frequent recasting of Roger Thorpe’s son, Hart Jessup. <strong>Since Then:</strong> He threw a knockout punch as the star of the mixed-martial-arts drama <em>Kingdom</em>. But the show’s <em>most</em> successful primetime star may yet be…</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The Daytime Emmy winner pumped adrenaline into the soap as Reva Shayne’s heretofore-unknown son, Jonathan Randall. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Pelphrey so dazzled on Netflix’s Ozark that he was nominated for more awards than we knew existed.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She succeeded the late Brian Dennehy’s daughter Elizabeth as Roger Thorpe’s chip off the ol’ block, conniving Blake. <strong>Since Then:</strong> After her three-year stay in Springfield, Stringfield made a name for herself in primetime via lead roles on <em>NYPD Blue</em> and <em>ER</em>.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> They were “Bloss,” aka Blake and Ross Marler, one of <em>Guiding Light</em>’s most reliably unreliable supercouples. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Keifer has appeared on <em>Venice: The Series</em>, and her on-screen husband stepped in for the late Clint Ritchie as Clint Buchanan on <em>One Life to Live. </em><strong>Ed. Note:</strong> Sadly, verDorn passed away in May 2022 following a cancer battle. (<a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/630167/soap-star-dead-jerry-verdorn-guiding-light-one-life-to-live-dies/" target="_blank">Read our tribute here.</a>)<em><br /> </em></p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The future Emmy winner tackled the role of Reva’s “Wait, a minute, <em>what</em>… ?!?” sister, Cassie Layne, a stripper-turned-princess. What? It could happen. <strong>Since Then:</strong> The actress became the fourth Carly Corinthos on <em>General Hospital</em> — and for most of the show’s audience, the definitive one.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The former child star played Gus Aitoro from 2001-2008. <strong>Since Then:</strong> The veteran of <em>Another World</em> (as rocker Dean Frame) has appeared on <em>All My Children</em> (as Jake Martin) and <em>The Bold and the Beautiful</em> (as Maya Avant’s no-good ex).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She was tangled-web-weaver Oliver Spencer from 1999-2009. <strong>Since Then:</strong> She’s visited other soaps but is perhaps best known for co-creating her own show, <em>Venice: The Series</em>, and casting former<em> Guiding Light</em> love interest Jessica Leccia (Natalia).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> In his TV debut, the Juilliard grad played Olivia’s brother, Sam Spencer. <strong>Since Then:</strong> He’s polarized viewers of <em>General Hospital</em> as Peter August, the nefarious offspring of supervillain Cesar Faison. (Of note: He’s also the real-life honey of <em>Guiding Light</em> and <em>General Hospital</em> castmate Laura Wright.)</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She played feisty Kat Speakes from 1991-94. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Long has amassed an incredible list of credits on screens big (<em>Boyz n the Hood</em>, <em>The Best Man</em>) and small (<em>Third Watch</em>, <em>NCIS: Los Angeles</em>).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He was ’80s dreamboat Kelly Nelson. <strong>Since Then:</strong> After winning Daytime Emmys for his work on <em>As the World Turns</em> (as Douglas Cummings) and <em>Santa Barbara</em> (as Martin Ellis), Shipp suited up to play primetime’s <em>The Flash</em> in 1990. But he may be best known for his stint as Dawson’s dad on the late-’90s primetime soap <em>Dawson’s Creek</em>.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The actor previously known as Paul Wasilewski was cast as teenage trouble magnet Max Nickerson when he was just a junior in high school. <strong>Since Then:</strong> He’s attracted a legion of fangs… er, <em>fans</em>… by giving the 2009-17 primetime hit <em>The Vampire Diaries</em> its bite.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The former model — she started at age 3! — spent three years playing Susan “Daisy” Lemay, the illegitimate daughter of Harley Cooper and Dylan Lewis. <strong>Since Then:</strong> She’s never stopped working in TV and film but is best known for the trilogy of <em>Pitch Perfect</em> movies in which she hit just the right, ahem, note.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> She turned Springfield upside down as petulant Drew Jacobs in the late 1990s. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Blanchard has cemented her star status with roles on stage (she’s a two-time Tony nominee), television (she won an Emmy for her portrayal of the younger version of the title character in <em>Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows</em>) and in the movies (including the Fred Rogers biopic <em>A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood</em>).</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He gave one intoxicating performance after another as alcoholic teen Tim Werner from 1980-81. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Bacon is so ubiquitous in showbiz that you’re no one unless you’re six degrees or less from him. Career highlights — and this list could go on and on — include 1984’s <em>Footloose</em>, the cult classic <em>Tremors</em> and the blockbuster <em>Apollo 13.</em></p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> The daytime rookie bowled over viewers as Annie Dutton, whose theme song could have been Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho.” <strong>Since Then:</strong> The Daytime Emmy winner shook up one primetime show (<em>Lost</em>) after another (<em>House</em>) before returning to soaps as Nina Reeves on <em>General Hospital.</em></p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He proved so popular as Alexandra Spaulding’s surprise son Lujack that he was resurrected as his character’s twin brother, Nick McHenry. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Irizarry traded his good-guy halo to go dark — at times <em>real</em> dark — as <em>All My Children</em>’s Dr. Evil, David Hayward.</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> He starred off and on as Josh Lewis from 1981 until the lights were switched off on the soap in 2009. <strong>Since Then:</strong> Newman has focused his career on the stage, appearing in productions of <em>Peter Pan</em>, <em>Nine</em> and <em>Gypsy</em>. In fact, when that last show played Pittsburgh, his leading lady was none other than…</p>
<p><strong>Then:</strong> Her name was synonymous with <em>Guiding Light</em>, owing to her long and legendary run as Reva, aka “the slut of Springfield.” <strong>Since Then:</strong> The four-time Daytime Emmy winner revisited her 1980s <em>One Life to Live role</em> (Echo DiSavoy), released her memoir and made her musical-theater debut as Madame Morrible in the first North American tour of <em>Wicked</em>.</p>
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