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Highlights Archives

'As the World Turns' Gone But Not Forgotten


Irna Phillips and her cat at her desk

The second longest-running soap opera in American television history, "As the World Turns," will broadcast its final episode on Friday, September 17. But, if future researchers ever decide to pen a history of the show, their first destination will be the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society, whose collections meticulously document the show's lengthy run. The daytime CBS show, which debuted on April 2, 1956, is second in longevity only to "Guiding Light," which ceased broadcasting on September 18, 2009, after 72 years on radio and television.

Part of Much Larger Collections

The scripts, correspondence, photographs and other records documenting the history of both programs are part of collections long maintained by the Society's archives in cooperation with the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Two of the most important of these collections are the Irna Phillips papers and the Proctor & Gamble television script collection. Phillips, pictured above, is widely considered to be the inventor of the soap opera, first on radio and later on television. Proctor & Gamble Productions was responsible for producing and sponsoring many daytime dramas, including "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light."

Famous Actors, Famous Fans

Delving through the "As the World Turns" scripts and correspondence reveals that, for the first few broadcasts, the show bore the name "As the Earth Turns." It also turns up a who's-who of famous stars who had acting roles on the show. Martin Sheen, Meg Ryan, Richard Thomas, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, Marisa Tormei and Dana Delaney are some of the names that rise to the surface.

The records also show that "As the World Turns" had some famous fans. Among them are pianist Van Cliburn, actor Fred Astaire, historian Shelby Foote, and former first ladies Mamie Eisenhower, Betty Ford, Lillian Carter and Barbara Bush.

Landmarks in American Television History

"As the World Turns" introduced daytime television's first gay male character, Hank Eliot, in 1988, was the first half-hour-long soap opera, and spawned the first and only nighttime spinoff from a daytime soap opera, with "Our Private World" in 1965.

:: Posted September 15, 2010

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