Beth Maitland Traci mashup
Credit: Howard Wise/JPI

“Viewers would lift me up.”

Ask most viewers of The Young and the Restless which character they’d want to have as their closest friend, and they’re likely to say Traci Abbott. “She’s someone that the audience can relate to,” says portrayer Beth Maitland, “and that’s been true from the very beginning.”

Believe it or not, the beginning of which she speaks was actually four decades ago. “That hardly seems possible, right?” laughs Maitland, who considers herself fortunate to have been the only actress to have walked in Traci’s shoes. “There’s something very special about having a relationship with the viewers which stretches over that many years.”

As the show this week marks the 40th anniversary of Abbott sisters Traci and Ashley (Eileen Davidson) first appearing in Genoa City, Maitland admits to being “gobsmacked” by her longevity… especially given the circumstances under which she was hired.

“They were introducing the Abbotts,” she recalls, “and they were having a difficult time filling the roles of the sisters. They already had Terry Lester as the original Jack. He’d been there for three years and they loved him, so they wanted to give him a family.”

YR traci ashley abbott davidson maitland

“How blessed am I to have worked with such wonderful people for so many years?” says Maitland, here with TV-sis Davidson.

Credit: Sean Smith/JPI

More: Christel Khalil reveals how Cane forever changed Lily

Ironically, Maitland was actually working in a casting office at the time while also doing theater, so when an agent saw her in a play, he suggested she’d be perfect for the part of Traci. “I got a friend to cover the phones for me during my lunch hour,” she laughs. “A day later, I was called back. They hired me on Thursday, I went to the studio for costume fittings on Friday and started on Monday! It happened so quickly, because they had episodes they wanted to begin taping. I signed a three-year contract, but I was sure it wouldn’t run that long. I assumed I would really only be working in the summer storyline they had planned. As it turned out, those three years extended to quite a few more!”

During that time, she’s played an awful lot of stories, some of which were easier than others. “There were times when things got uncomfortable for me,” Maitland admits, “especially in the early days.” Longtime viewers will recall that as a teen, Traci was being bullied, especially by Lauren, who back then was the ultimate mean girl.

“Everyone is bullied to some degree or another growing up,” says Maitland. “It’s not easy growing up, no matter what decade you’re in. And Traci was not your ordinary character in that she wasn’t a typical soap opera beauty. She was pretty, but she was a real girl, and the audience could see themselves in her.”

YR lauren traci apology maitland bregman

“We’ve gotten to see these two women move beyond their past and find forgiveness,” says Maitland of Lauren and Traci’s relationship.

Credit: Howard Wise/JPI

More: Why does Young & Restless keep making this mistake?

Not coincidentally, the actress also was able to relate to the young woman into whom she was breathing life. “There were stories that sort of made me personally vulnerable, and viewers would lift me up,” she reflects. And that continues to this day, including when it comes to the sometimes ugly world of social media. “I don’t have to lift a finger. My fans will go after a person and ask, ‘How dare you say something insulting like that!’

“I’m constantly surprised and so moved that people connect with this woman who is just a character on TV, but is someone they can relate to,” she continues. “And because I bring that character to life, their generosity extends to me.”

In honor of this momentous occasion, join us in flashing back to just some of the highlights from Traci’s storylines over the years!