Thirty-Four Years Ago Today, Jess Walton Made Her Young & Restless Debut as Jill — and Neither Genoa City, Nor We, Were Ever the Same Again
CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, Aaron Montgomery/JPI, Sean Smith/JPI, Howard Wise/JPI (2)
The Emmy winner’s conniving character has always left us feeling delightfully off-balance.
When 1987 began, Jess Walton was riding high, playing a former prostitute named Kelly Harper on CBS’ political sudser Capitol. She’d been there for three years, and life couldn’t have been better. Then in March of 1987, the show was axed — ack! — and Walton was out of a job.
And for that, all we can say is: Thank God!
The Young and the Restless, it turned out, was looking for someone new to play Jill Foster Abbott, the pivotal role Brenda Dickson had originated 14 years earlier, before passing it to Bond Gideon and Deborah Adair (later Kate, Days of Our Lives). The show hired the newly available Walton, who stepped into the role on June 22, 1987.
Honestly, though, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the latest Jill. How long was she even going to stick around?
Looking back, we now know that we should have expected everything. That’s exactly what Walton’s given us for the past three-plus decades as she’s taken one of Genoa City’s original residents and made her irrevocably her own. By 1987, Jill had been through five marriages, was knee-deep in one of daytime’s greatest feuds (hey, Katherine!) and had already schemed her way up from a manicurist to a titan of business.
There was, in other words, plenty for Walton to dig her nails into. And there were plenty of men for Jill to do the same with.
Though Jill’s only been married three times in the past 34 years (to Rex Sterling, John Abbott and that irredeemable scoundrel Colin Atkinson), it’s safe to say that she’s bedded half of Genoa City. At least half. And that’s something the late, great Jeanne Cooper (Katherine) loved to remind everyone of. In an interview with on-screen son Jason Thompson (Billy), Walton fondly recalled with a laugh that Cooper would “insult me. We’d go out on the road together on public appearances, and she would say, ‘I had to bring the slut along!’”
Over the years, Walton and Cooper reveled in taking Katherine and Jill’s feud to new heights (remember when Jill almost choked Kay to death in the attic?), to the point that Walton marveled to Thompson that they were “like a supercouple.” And they delighted in tackling their relationship’s ever-changing challenges, like when Jill discovered she was actually Katherine’s long-lost daughter (until we found out she was actually Lauren’s long-lost sister, because why not?).
But that’s something Walton has always wowed us with — her ability to play the woman beneath the witchiness. As much of a schemer as Jill could be, her portrayer ensured that she was never one-note, and nothing trumped her love for her family — even when that family was her archenemy!
We watched Jill mourn son Phillip, then go through the shock of finding out he was not only alive but that he’d faked his death because he was struggling with being gay. She became a mother to Phillip stand-in Cane and a grandmother to his children, holding on to that love even after learning he wasn’t her long-lost Aussie son. And Jill’s always been there to support Billy no matter how many times he screws up.
Screwing up, after all, is something Jill understands very, very well.
A few years back on Marie, Walton referred to Jill as Wile E. Coyote. “Jill keeps getting anvils dropped on her head,” the actress cheekily explained. “She gets these schemes, and she gets all excited, she brags to the whole town she’s marrying Victor Newman, and then he breaks up with her on the day he’s supposed to be proposing, and she gets smashed again.”
But like Wile E. Coyote, Jill always comes back. And though she only stops into Genoa City from time to time these days to, we can rest easy knowing that every time she leaves, it’s only a matter of time before she’ll come back.
Since we know that like us, you just can’t get enough of Jill Foster Abbott, we pulled some photos just for you of some of Walton’s most memorable stories from her time in Genoa City!