As any savvy soap reporter will
tell you, there are almost as many juicy scandals going on behind the
scenes as there are on screen. But in all my years in the biz, none
will ever compare to the day Beverlee McKinsey -- who for my money is the
greatest actress ever to grace daytime drama -- took a hike from Guiding
Light. The day was August 5, 1992. After quietly taping what
nobody but she realized was her final scene as Alexandra Spaulding, she
exercised an outclause in her contract that then-exec producer Jill Farren
Phelps didn't even know she had -- a clause that allowed the queen bee
to abdicate on only eight weeks notice no matter how crucial she was to
Like everybody else, I was dying to get the
scoop! But dealing with La McKinsey -- who is reclusive, tempestuous,
mysterious and extremely leery of the press -- isn't easy. Let's
put it this way: She makes Greta Garbo look like a chatterbox. But
she and I did have some semblance of a relationship (stemming mostly from
my endless gushing about her in my TV Guide column), so several days after
she took a powder, I got up the nerve to give her a buzz.
Of course, one never dialed Bev directly. If you were among
the relative few lucky enough to have her answering service number, you
had to call it and leave a message. The service would then call Bev
and then Bev either would or (as most often was the case) would not call
you. It was a maddening system, to be sure, but within three minutes
of my leaving a message, she dialed me back and said -- in that gloriously
sexy voice that drips equal parts honey and cyanide -- "Well, what the hell
took you so long?" And she proceeded to give me her only farewell interview.
I squeezed as much of it as I could onto my
one dinky page in TV Guide, but I have always wanted to share the whole
thing with my fellow McKinsey Maniacs. Soap Opera Digest's Online
tribute to Guiding Light's 60th anniversary seems like the perfect opportunity
-- so here it is. Bev Rocks!
Interview Date: August 11, 1992
Everybody is in shock over this departure, Beverlee.
What on earth were you thinking?
It was time for me to go. This last
year has been too difficult in terms of the hours that I've been asked to
work. The hours got entirely too long. At first, I thought I'd
ask them to cut me back -- but I didn't want to anger my fellow actors.
So, the more I thought about it, the solution was simply just TO GO.
The show has been working me way too hard and the day finally came where
I need to exercise that clause. That, after all is what it's there
for. I no longer want to get up every morning at 4:45 and sit in a
studio every night until 10. I want my life back. But I won't
say anything bad about Guiding Light. I just won't.
Oh-kaaay......so what are your plans? Rumor has
it you'll be moving to California to be closer to your son, Scott.
I don't know that I don't want to be in California,
but I certainly don't have any plans. I'm leaving on Sunday on a
European vacation I've had planned for some time and when I come back,
I'll figure out what I'm going to do. But Lord, I have a home in
Connecticut, two apartments in New York. It would really be major
if I decided to move.
Would you consider a west coast soap?
I don't want to do a soap again. The only thing
I'd like to do is a sitcom. Of course, I don't even have an agent!
You know what I'm saying? I've worked for so long in daytime with
no plans of ever doing anything else. How do you get a sitcom without
an agent? How do you get an agent when you haven't had one for 15 years?
So, you see, I really have no plans. I just know that I don't want
to do Guiding Light anymore. My friend [exec producer] John Conboy
says I can get any agent I want, but I don't know that I can. I'm a
big deal in daytime but nobody else gives a rat's hip about us soap people.
And I think I'd only want to do a sitcom. I don't want to do guest
shots. Oh, my God, the thought of driving the L.A. freeways in my
little Subaru scares me to death! I'd love it if Linda Bloodworth
Thomason would just ring my phone -- but I don't think that's gonna happen!
I'm not even in the Academy Player's Directory. If you wanted to find
me, you wouldn't know how.
Did you realize what a shock your departure would be?
No, I didn't. They're going around saying, 'She's
irreplaceable.' What foolishness! Meryl Streep is irreplaceable.
Everybody else you can replace. It's silly. I, myself, can think
of ten women who can play Alexandra.
So what's the deal with this 'outclause' no one knew
I've had outclauses in my contracts for years.
Maybe they didn't read the contract. It's not my job to tell 'em what's
in their contracts -- and it's not my fault they're surprised. And
they were to a degree. They didn't see this coming. I didn't
see this coming. I didn't make the decision until July. Actually,
I've been considering leaving soaps since 1978. That's the first time
I quit daytime. I only had to work 14 more years to make it stick.
Rumor is you've been miserable for quite some time.
There are about 15 people at Guiding Light who would
leave if they could afford to. Did I run around the halls screaming,
'My God, my God, this is driving me crazy! I've got to do something
about this!'? No. I weighed all the possibilities, thought about
it very strongly from about last February on. I thought about presenting
them with the idea of cutting me back, fewer days, shorter hours, but you
can't do that. It affects all the other actors in your storyline, many
of whom have been at Guiding Light longer than I have. Decreasing my
story could mean decreasing theirs and [consequently] their work days, their
income. They have homes in the suburbs, they have families. You
don't want to do that to your friends.
Who knew about this?
I discussed it with no one. I didn't even discuss
it with my son until the end of June. Somehow talking to him and his
wife about it, I just woke up. We went to a restaurant one night and
I said, 'I'm really very unhappy. I'm depressed. I don't have
much of a life. This show is my life. and they're working me too
hard. I'd like to [hang in] for another year to the end of
this contract but I don't think I'm gonna make it.' And somehow just
saying that out loud helped my head to clear. And within the next week,
I woke up one morning and said, 'It's time to go, Beverlee. It's time
for you to stop this getting up at 4:45.' That's crazy. These
hours I've worked the last year have been the longest I've put in on any
You never voiced this?
I did complain at two actor/producer meetings about
the hours. I did not go to Jill one on one about me specifically
but I complained on behalf of me and all the rest of the actors because
I was sort of like the matriarch figure there. 'If anything's wrong,
Beverlee'll speak up. She'll take the heat. She doesn't care.'
I said, 'On behalf of your company and your crew, I think you should cut
back these hours a bit. Conduct a study and find out why the day has
gotten so much longer and then fix it.'
What was the response?
I guess they didn't hear me. Or they didn't
pay attention. Or maybe they didn't think it was really that important
to me. But let me tell ya, I don't stand up in a meeting and complain
about something unless it's really, really important to me. I did
that twice, so for them to say they didn't see it coming...well...
Word is you've been unhappy with the unsympathetic turn
Alexandra has taken.
I was very unhappy. What they've done with Alexandra
during the last six months is close to assassination but I would have continued
to play it if I'd been happy. That was not the straw that broke this camel's
back. I've been doing daytime 22 years now. When you do it
as long as I have, you go through a lot of periods where you don't like
what they're writing for the characters. Or you don't like the person
you're playing opposite. Or something, there's always something.
But you're able to keep going for various reasons: One, you need the
money and, two, you like the people you're working with, the family feeling
you have there. But when you get tired, when you find that you just
don't have a minute in the week that you can do anything but that show,
then those things get bigger. When you're spending 12 or 13 hours
a day there, those things suddenly get huge. When you're tired, you
can't get past the other problems. But this should be no secret to
anybody. In 1978, I told Procter & Gamble, 'I can put up with a
lot. Bad writing. Bad acting. Bad working conditions. But
when I'm tired, I get angry. And when I get angry, you don't want me
around.' I'm very professional. I behave really well. And
I always do my work really well. But when I get tired and angry, I
begin to behave in a way that is not me. I'm not proud of it and it
shocks people. I was that tired when we started Texas because Another
World had done that to me.
Quitting was the only solution?
(Getting a little testy) I'm burnt out and the
only solution to that is to stop -- and stop immediately. It's
like trying to doctor a major wound with a bandaid. If they had said,
'Well, [McKinsey's favorite head writer] Nancy Curlee is coming back and
that'll put Alexandra back to where she used to be,' that would have been
wonderful but that wouldn't have fixed it.
Tell me about your final scenes.
When I played my final scenes, nobody knew.
The next day, Vincent Irizarry said to somebody, 'My God, if I'd known those
were her last scenes, I don't think I could have made it through.'
And that is one of the reasons I didn't tell anyone, because that would have
been wrong for the scenes. Nick doesn't feel about Alexandra the way
Vince feels about Beverlee. It would have been wrong to see heartbreak
on his face. We got the scenes in the can true to the story because
absolutely nobody at that moment knew except me. They didn't take
"The Shot" 'cause it's the last time we'll ever see Beverlee. No they
just did what they would normally do. And when it was over, I said,
'That's the name 'o that tune, guys, I'm outta here.' I was able to
say goodbye one on one to all the members of the crew and the actors that
I feel close to. And those that I didn't encounter, I called them,
but that's the way I wanted to do it. I didn't want weeks and weeks
of people running through my dressing room and crying and going, 'Oh, my
God, you've only got four more shows!' and 'Why are you doing this!? --
Oh, and by the way, could I have your shoes?' You know, that kinda
crap. And I didn't want a surprise party with balloons and stale tacos
and bad margaritas. I've been to sooo many of those at Guiding Light,
I really didn't want one of those for me. I wanted to leave the way
I came, without any fuss -- just saying goodbye to the people I cared about
on a one-to-one level without some Mexican band playing in the background.
When people leave, we always go to Mexican restaurants and everyone gets drunk
and says things they regret the next morning. No, no, I did not want
to do another one of those.
Do you really realize how much you are missed?
Somehow I don't think so.
There are some people there who don't like me at all.
But there are a lot who really do. I had a really strong year and
they felt, as you did, about the Emmy situation [Note: Like many in the industry,
I was outraged that McKinsey did not receive an Emmy nomination for the
1991-92 season and said so in print]. But I can tell you now that
I was relieved not to be nominated. By the time they were announced,
I was contemplating going. So when I didn't get nominated, I thought,
'Oh, thank God' because how would you leave your show if you had an Emmy
in your hand? They'd say that was really tacky. 'She
won and she walked.' This way, I didn't have the burden of that.
I didn't want it to appear that I took the goodies and ran. When
the nominations came out, I thought, 'It's meant to be like this.'
The young actors especially love you.
I've always had a special relationship with the young
people on the show. That goes all the way back to Texas and Another
World. The young ones are so frightened when they come on the show.
They really need someone to reach out and make them feel safe and secure
and I love doing that. It makes for a very special bond. Grant
Aleksander, Robert Newman, Michael O'Leary [Note: None of them had returned
to the show at this point] -- I still hear from these people and have
a very special relationship with all of them.
Why have you always been so publicity shy?
When I started on Guiding Light, my husband was very
ill and p.r. was the last thing on my mind. The CBS or P&G types,
whoever they were, took me to lunch one day and discussed, among other things,
my going on David Letterman. Like a fool, I turned it down because
in those days it was, 'Who the hell is David Letterman?' Now, I'm
sorry I did that. Otherwise, I do not even think about publicity --
and never have. I don't avoid it to be elusive or create mystique.
It was a necessity in the beginning because of my husband's health.
I didn't have time for it. Then [after his death], I was in such a
state of depression for so many years that I didn't really want to talk to
anybody about anything. I was just soooo depressed. I thought,
'Who wants to read about that?' Then, after reading all the junk in
the magazines, I came to realize that most of what everybody says is so dumb
and so trivial that I thought, 'Hey, this is a good policy. Just stay
quiet.' You look better that way, you know? I'm not trying to
be Great Garbo or anything. I always looked at acting as just a job.
I don't think of myself as any kind of star or celebrity. Every now
and then, somebody on the street goes, 'Oh, my God -- look who that is!'
But it's not like I'm Robert Redford, for pity sake, you know? Nobody
gets carried away with me, so why would anyone want to read what I had to
say in a magazine? I'm just a working stiff. And I don't consider
my life important enough to talk about it to a magazine.
But people do care what you have to say. You're
a very big deal.
But, you see, you've got an awful lot of people out there
in this business trying to build bigger careers. I was never trying
to do that. I was very happy being in daytime. I intended to
stay there until I basically just stopped -- and that's what I've done.
Any qualms about the ill will this seems to have caused?
I was sorry I couldn't hang on for one more year.
I know they're angry and I suspect they feel vindictive -- which I won't
go into. But that has to do with nothing I did. I abided strictly
by the terms of my contract. I did not violate anything in my contract.
I did my work to the best of my ability, then I left. So if they're
angry about that, there's nothing I can say or do about it. I'm not
angry with them. I could be, but I'm not. And it's not as though
I left at the peak of a storyline. Sherry Stringfield, for Christ's
sake, that was a bigger shock. This storyline with Alex has been going
on for a year and should have climaxed and been over by now and she should
have been on to something else. All there has been to do is rehash
and rehash. It's not as though they're desperate to have Alexandra
right at this moment. They could take her off and bring her back when
they've got something more interesting for her to do. That would be
better for all concerned, particularly the actress who will play the part.
I think to myself, 'What in the world is there left for you to do on this
show, Beverlee? You've acted every possible scene and emotion there
is.' Daytime is a strange job. It's not like being in show biz --
and I like that. I can just do what I do best, which is act, and not
have to deal with any of the other junk that others have to put up with.
Now don't imply that I said anything derogatory about Guiding Light because
OK, OK! How has the cast reacted?
Michael Zaslow called me up. He was on vacation
and didn't hear about it for a week. He said, 'You do have a flair
for the dramatic. You love to shock, don't ya?' Well, I do sorta,
but that was not the purpose. I wanted this to be so simple.
And it was. When I walked out of that building that night and had had
the chance to hug every member of the crew and say goodbye one on one, somebody
said, 'Well, what are you gonna do now?' And I said, 'Go home to
feed my dog.' I walked out of there feeling wonderful that I had
not had three or four weeks of people saying, 'Why is she doing this?
Is she angry with somebody? Is she unhappy with her story?'
I didn't want any of that. I just wanted to go.
But can you understand why people would be shocked, even
I guess it was a shock. But they should respect
my right to do it the way I want to do it as long as I didn't violate my
contract. And if they don't, that's their problem, not mine.
Alright, let's discuss this contract stuff.
They didn't read the contract! I read
it very closely. I knew every word. The next day, they were
all combing over the contract. Somebody said, 'Maybe Beverlee's not
familiar with the contract.' Well, of course she was! She wrote
it, you bozos. She wrote it! I've had this outclause since
1986. I asked for it and it was P&G that determined how much
notice they wanted me to give -- and they chose eight weeks.
When I decided it was time to go, I went to the calendar, counted back eight
weeks from the end of my current cycle and went, 'Oh, no, they're never
gonna believe this! That 8-week notice fell on August 7, and that
was the day I was to begin my six week vacation. Since the show was
two weeks ahead, that made eight. I thought, this is unbelievable,
you're gonna give your notice and do your last show on the same day!
It's so wild. They're gonna think there's some major plot. But
it was just a coincidence, really. So all you have to do is send written
notice to the advertising agency that's due on that date and we, in fact,
sent it August 6. I said goodbye on August 5 because I wasn't due to
work the 6th and 7th.
Why didn't you at least tell Jill Phelps?
I tried to reach Jill that week to tell her first.
She was on vacation. I tried for two days and they wouldn't give me
the number where she could be reached and I got crazy. I'm thinking,
'Oh, my God, my God, I'm gonna do my last scene and be standing there and
then what do I do?' Because the notice was going the next morning
to the ad agency and then everybody would know. Jill's assistants claimed
they didn't have a number for her. Well, that wasn't true -- but I
understand not wanting to be bothered on your vacation. So I said,
'If she calls in, come and find me wherever I am in the building. It's
very important that I talk to her.' And on that last afternoon, at
four o'clock when I got ready to go to the studio floor to work straight through
till I finished, I still hadn't heard from her. So I sat down and wrote
her a letter. I said, 'I'm really sorry you have to read this because
I wanted you to hear it from me, but I cannot leave this studio without saying
goodbye to the crew and the people who are here.' And that's the way
she found out -- in a letter. And she has never responded to that letter.
And I'm sorry about that. But I read the rules and I followed them.
If they're bent out of shape about anything, it's because for one of the
few times in their lives, somebody left them instead of the other way around.
C'mon, grow up! They fire actors there all the time. It happens
to us all the time without warning. So if they're bent out of shape
it's because, for once, somebody beat 'em at their own game. If somebody
wants to leave after they've been working 22 years, give 'em a break and
let 'em go! I didn't violate any clause. I went exactly by what
the contract said.
But really Beverlee, realistically, no b.s. now, who
the hell can replace you?
If they hire some blond bimbo with a cute little nose,
they're gonna be making a big mistake. They need to hire a good actress.
It doesn't matter if she's 5'11" with black hair. Replacements on
Guiding Light have been an enormous success in my time there, and this
one will be, too. They'll look back a year from now and wonder what
in the world they were so angry and upset about.