CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (2), Aaron Montgomery/JPI, John Paschal/JPI (2)

The veteran actor is one of only two remaining cast members who was there from the beginning. (The other is, of course, Katherine Kelly Lang, who plays Brooke.)

Looking forward to the 34th anniversary of the debut of The Bold and the Beautiful on March 23, Soaps.com has John McCook looking back — so far back, in fact, that he remembers that he wasn’t sure he even wanted to take a meeting about doing the show. “I was on the fence about it,” he admits. “But they kept calling my agent and saying, ‘Bill Bell [the new daytime drama’s co-creator] really wants to see you.’

“And I said, for God’s sake,” he continues, “I can’t say no to him!”

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When he was Young & Restless, McCook was paired with Jaime Lyn Bauer as Lorie Brooks.

A Fateful Meeting

McCook had already worked for Bell, originating the role of playboy Lance Prentiss on The Young and the Restless. When he’d left after five years, “we parted on very good terms, so just to be a gentleman, I agreed to take the meeting,” McCook says. “We hadn’t seen each other in seven years, and the first thing he said was, ‘I thought you’d be older!’”

Knowing that Eric Forrester was to be the silver-haired patriarch of the soap’s central family, McCook suspected that he’d been called in in error. “I suggested perhaps I wasn’t right for the part,” he says. Bell thought otherwise. He already had in mind to play Stephanie Susan Flannery, for whom he’d written kickass material while she was playing Laura Horton on Days of Our Lives. “He said, ‘If I can have you, too, we can build the show from there.’

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“They really wanted a strong pair to be the Forrester matriarch and patriarch,” he continues. “So I took it home and talked to [my wife] Laurette, and we concluded that while the show might run 10 or 15 years, at the very least, it would run five — which was what Capitol, the show that it replaced, had done — and that would be a good job.”

Even in his wildest dreams, McCook didn’t see the show becoming the international sensation that it has. “I knew it would run for a while, but never imagined that 34 years later, we’d still be going strong,” he admits. He did, however, have an inkling of just how special the soap was from the start.

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Bell sure cast his tentpole characters right!

A Touch of Class

Since McCook was one of the two first actors hired, he got to bear witness to, in essence, the show’s birth. “I was there for the casting and the set design,” he says, “and it was really quite exciting to be a part of such a massive undertaking from the get-go.”

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The first day that he walked onto the set, he was blown away. “It was the now-iconic Forrester living room, and I thought, ‘My God, they’re spending some money here. This is going to be beautiful!’” he exclaims. “But the first scene I actually taped was in a backstage area where we were putting on a fashion show.

“It was Ridge [then Ronn Moss], Thorne [then Clayton Norcross], Eric and lots of models,” he goes on. “I remember the energy of those scenes. It was so completely different from anything I’d done on a soap before.”

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Sweet as she was being, Eric didn’t think Sally Spectra (the late, great Darlene Conley) was “maid” for him in 1997.

A Moment of Reflection

On the eve of this remarkable milestone, McCook can scarcely wrap his head around his good fortune. And to think — he almost refused to be considered to play Eric! “Being on this show and, to back up even further, to be able to be an actor all these years and be able to make a living at it… It’s such a cliché to say it’s been a blessing, but it has,” he says. “The very definition of a stunningly good job in show business is a long run on Broadway, a TV series or a soap opera.”

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And in his stunningly good job, McCook has himself done a stunningly good job. On your way to the comments to share your congratulations — after all, the show’s anniversary is also the anniversary of his debut as Eric — check out the below photo gallery, a collection of nostalgia-tinged images from the show’s start to today.