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Monday, May 3, 2010

Helen Wagner: You Will Be Missed

She is best known for her long running role as Nancy Hughes on the soap opera As the World Turns. Wagner also played the role of Trudy Bauer during the first few television years of Guiding Light in the early 1950s. Wagner died on May 1, 2010, at the age of 91.

Wagner played As the World Turns matriarch Nancy Hughes (with only a few interruptions), since the show's debut in April 1956 until her death. She is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as being the longest-running character played by one actor or actress on television.

When As the World Turns premiered on April 2, 1956, Wagner spoke the first lines of the program: "Good morning, dear." On November 22, 1963, about ten minutes into that day's broadcast of As the World Turns, a scene was interrupted by Walter Cronkite's first news bulletin that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.

She took some breaks from the role, both voluntary and involuntary. After six months in the role of Nancy, show creator Irna Phillips fired her because she did not favor the way Wagner poured coffee. After an overwhelming pressure to hire her back, Irna did so begrudgingly.

Wagner left the show again in the early 1980s. Then-producer Mary-Ellis Bunim wished to take the show in a different direction; the show fell out of the top slot in the daytime Nielsen ratings, and Bunim wished to gear the program toward the younger generation by showcasing the Hughes family less. Wagner and co-star Don MacLaughlin walked away from the show after vocal dissent in the press. However, she returned to the role in 1985, and in 1986 Wagner and an ailing Don MacLaughlin were prominently featured in the show's 30th anniversary celebration, where their characters, Nancy and Chris Hughes, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

After the death of McLaughlin in 1986, After many years of little to no part in the story Wagner returned to the screen with a pivotal role in a 2004 storyline, revolving around her grandson's marriage to na├»ve teenager.
In 2005, 2006, and 2007, Wagner averaged around three appearances a month in the serial. Wagner was prominently featured in the show's 50th anniversary episode in April 2006.

There was a sharp decline in appearances for Wagner in 2008; she only appeared twice that year. In 2009, Wagner was absent from April onwards. Her character didn't even make an appearance when her son Bob had a brain tumor removed. Wagner returned to the screen on November 25, 2009, during the show's Thanksgiving episode, and also on December 29, 2009. She appeared again on April 2, 2010. Wagner's final appearance on As the World Turns, taped in March, aired on April 5, 2010 — 54 years after her first appearance and less than a month before her death.

Although Wagner played Nancy for more than 50 years, she never won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work. She was, however, awarded a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for her role on the show in May 2004.

May she rest in peace.
Helen Wagner
September 3, 1918- May 1, 2010



BobNYC said...

Thanks GB for this thorough and comprehensive tribute. You're sweet.

Anonymous said...

GB - Thanks for the wonderful rememberence. People like her are the backbone of the industry and what you wrote is certainly more than she'll receive elsewhere.