Growing up in very rural Hancock County with not much to do during summer vacations, I often sat by the radio listening to soap operas. Monday through Friday afternoons you could count on them being on the air.
You probably know why they are called soap operas. For years many of the sponsors were companies that made and sold soap. I especially remember Lux, a white, flaky detergent. The program sponsored by Lux was “The Lux Radio Theater.”
As Christmas neared, shoppers bought extra boxes. Lux was perfect to use as snow on and under Christmas trees.
Soap operas have a continuing theme that leaves listeners wondering what will be happening in the next episode. Will the star of the show recover from a heart attack? Will a wanton wife move away leaving her devoted husband and the children behind? Will the bank renew the loan on the family business?
The stories moved so slowly that when I missed a week each summer for 4-H Club camp it was not a problem. I could start listening again on the following Monday and easily know what had happened while I was away.
Another soap opera sponsor at that time was a washing power called Rinso. The company slogan, “Rinso White, Rinso Bright,” was well known by housewives and resulted in them buying the product. Rinso sponsored daytime shows “Big Sister” and “Grand Central Station.”
“Just Plain Bill” was one of my favorites. Bill was a well-loved barber who owned the town barber stop. He and his daughter, Nancy, lived in Hartville. As Bill cut the hair and shaved the faces of his customers, he often got involved in their lives. A wise man, he would help them resolve their problems.
The theme songs for the opening and the closing of “Just Plain Bill” were very well known—“Darling Nellie Gray” and “Polly Wolly Doodle.”
Another favorite of mine was “Stella Dallas.” It was on for 15 heart-wrenching minutes.
Each day the show began with, “We give you now Stella Dallas, a continuation on the air of the true-to-life story of mother love and sacrifice, in which Stella Dallas saw her own beloved daughter marry into wealth and society and, realizing the differences in their tastes and world, went out of Laurel’s life.”
Incidentally, “Stella Dallas” was also a movie. One of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwych, played the lead role. A modern claim to fame of the show is a vintage furniture store in Dallas, Texas, named Stella Dallas.
I confess. I did not remember all of that about “Just Plain Bill” or “Stella Dallas.” I went to my computer to refresh my memory.
As television became affordable, new soaps were aired. My mother-in-law, Bess Cline, often planned her day so she would be home to see “Days of our Lives,” “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light.” When my daughter, Cindy, would stay with Mama Cline, she would watch the soaps with her.
She remembers that some characters would die on the show but the actors would then come back with different looks and different roles.
Of course, I had seen the advertisements for the PBS current hit “Downton Abbey.” Then I heard my daughter-in-law Millie talking about how good it is. She thought I would like it. Since season two had ended, she encouraged me to watch reruns of season one and season two before season three started.
I did and I was hooked. The plot is fast-paced, the costumes are stunning and the surroundings are beautiful. As intended, each episode leaves viewers wanting to know what happens next.
Some folks say “Downton Abbey” is not a soap opera. I think it is. It has a continuing story from episode to episode. The only differences I see are, thankfully, the story moves faster and there are no ads for Tide or any other soaps.
Season four has now ended and thankfully no one important to the show died or was killed at the end. Now I find myself thinking about what will happen when Downton Abbey, season five, begins.
Will Mr. Bates be charged with murder again? Will long-suffering Lady Edith finally find happiness? Will the mansion be saved? Is the venerable Mr. Carson falling in love with Ms. Hughes?
As I said, after 50 years I am hooked on a soap opera and I am happy about it.
Marguerite Cline is former mayor of Waleska.