Night of the Hunter

There are unforgettable performances in daytime television, many of them etched in fable or memory. Who among us who witnessed it the first time it aired will ever forget Judith Light during Karen Wolek’s testimony in which she revealed she was a hooker on One Life To Live?  How about Kim Zimmer as Reva declaring herself the slut of Springfield or Beverlee McKinsey’s Alexandra and her lethal evisceration of Roger at the country club on Guiding Light? Almost everyone involved in the aftermath of BJ’s death on General Hospital was awesome. There was Mary Fickett’s brilliance in the aftermath of Ruth’s rape by Ray Gardner on All My Children. And who could forget Douglass Watson’s titanic performance when Iris (Carmen Duncan) revealed to Mac she was behind the attempted takeover of Cory Publishing on Another World?  There are untold dozens of scenes, including quite a few in recent years that have been mesmerizing in their own right.

For my money, one of the most electric performances on daytime drama for all time was rendered by Academy Award winner Kim Hunter in her final episode on The Edge of Night as faded film star Nola Madison.  For your consideration, I have posted the meatiest scene — the episode’s second act, featuring the confrontation between Nola and rival Margo — at the top of this entry, but the two brilliant scenes that follow are at the end of this entry with some additional background after the jump.

While other soaps in the 80’s and 90’s would attract Hollywood stars from earlier eras for long term gigs (Farley Granger & Claire Bloom, As the World Turns; Richard Egan, Julie Adams & Rory Calhoun, Capitol; Dame Judith Anderson, Santa Barbara), it would be fair to say that most those great talents and others were largely relegated to strong supporting roles designed to lend an air of prestige to their shows with their own fleeting storylines, but these actors were clearly props for their respective shows’ younger featured stars.

Before them all, Hunter burst onto Edge in multiple balls to the wall front burner storylines that played like the soap opera equivalent of a prequel to Sunset Boulevard: Nola’s entire family had temporarily relocated to Monticello to shoot a low budget horror movie called "Mansion of the Damned." The producer of the movie and Nola’s husband, Owen (Bruce Gray), fell in love with police detective Deborah Saxon (Frances Fischer, most famous as Rose’s mother in Titanic).  Paige and Brian Madison (ATWT’s and Gossip Girl’s Margaret Colin, Stephen McNaughton) were Nola and Owen’s children who were in love with each other, not knowing that Brian was actually the son of Nola’s movie producer Eddie Vaughn and the sibs were not blood relations at all. The "Mansion of the Damned" movie set was plagued by disasters, attempted murders and death.

In the middle of it all was Hunter’s Nola, mixed up in all of these plots including her own rivalry with Margo for the attentions of Margo’s husband, gigolo Eliot Dorn, and the poisoning/gaslighting of Dr. Miles Cavanaugh (Joel Crothers). By the time it was all over Margo had been murdered, Owen had left his marriage, the truth had come out about Paige & Brian, Eliot had sidled up to Nola, Draper Scott (Tony Craig) had been wrongly convicted for Margo’s death and "Mansion of the Damned" was completed.

Kim Hunter’s performance throughout was stunning. Head writer Henry Slesar shrewdly wrote Nola as a combination of Stella Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire (for which Hunter won the Oscar) and Norma Desmond: drunk, neurotic, jealous, egotistical, vengeful, lonely, sad, murderous, tragic and ultimately broken.

Even more astonishing, before Eileen Davidson went on to acclaim for playing five roles on Days of Our Lives and Erika Slezak’s Viki’s multiple personalities split into a baker’s dozen, Hunter played three characters on Edge: Nola; an old woman named Martha Cory who was poisoning everyone in sight (actually Nola in a disguise that would have made makeup legend Rick Baker jealous); and Hester Atherton, the main character in the movie-within-the-show. For her efforts, Ms. Hunter was nominated for a Best Actress Daytime Emmy award in 1980, beaten by Judith Light.

For over two and half decades, the episode presented here has been one of my all-time favorites.  Watch a young, dashing Lee Godart (Kent Bogard, AMC) as disgusted playboy Eliot Dorn. Watch the brilliant Ann Williams, one of the most talented and underrated actresses of daytime past, as Margo Huntington Dorn go toe to toe with Hunter.  Listen to crackling dialogue filled with subtext, and the perfect musical score echoing Streetcar yet summing up Nola with a few well placed cues.

Most of all, keep your eyes on Hunter, who dominates every frame, going from mildly tipsy to staggering drunk to slightly detached insanity, yet never losing her wit or intelligence. Hunter does bravura work in an episode that was a brilliant denouement to one of Edge’s most confounding murder mysteries and magnificent send-off for one of the series most memorable characters and actresses. Enjoy!



11 Responses

  1. Profile photo of Scout

    I’ve been watching ‘Edge of Night’ on AOL and Truveo during the past few weeks (including this storyline) and it’s one of the best soaps ever. Guza and Frons should watch this show — they could learn a thing or two about balancing crime drama, romance, and character-driven stories. Also EON was truly an ensemble, as opposed to some crazed soap exec’s pimping of characters we don’t care about…

    Good call, JBJ!

  2. Profile photo of KingTV

    I am so upset that I never got to experience this masterful piece of acting, writing and pure genius soap opera. WOW! Kim Hunter is riveting. Judith Light was brilliant that year but this performance was right up there, maybe even deeper, richer and more subtle then Judith’s screeching confession on the stand. I am going to find “The Edge of Night” on one of these internet TV sites and start watching as soon as I get home from vacation. This IS what GH could be if it wants to border the line between crime show and human emotional arcs. This is truly exceptional and I always heard about the show’s reputation but it was before my time and unfortunately not on my mother’s show list the way that DOOL, GL, AW and RH were. To think that the entire writing staff consisted of 2 people is pretty astonishing when you have seen the long list of writing staffs on soaps since the 80’s. The only other show that I am aware of that had a small enough writing staff that was capable of fleshing out an entire canvas of characters was “Ryan’s Hope,” which was beautifully written by Claire Labine and if I am correct, 2 other people. Anyway, thank you J. Bernard for once again enlightening the fans (old and new) on the finer points and the art of daytime drama. This shows that harmonious, serious storytelling can exist. There is nothing in these scenes but a small set and major actors and a fierce script, no CGI, no half-baked ideas, just a pure, fire hot cauldron of drama and complex human psychology. All the acting performed here was better then most anything you can see today, but Kim Hunter was a revelation in a role of such magnitude. I feel like “The Edge of Night” doesn’t get the accolades and place in daytime history that it obviously deserves. IF only SoapNet would actually showcase classic soaps like it was created for, this should be on everyday starting from episode 1. I would TIVO it and add it my daily roster of soaps in a heartbeat. I hope Brian Frons listens to how the fans feel but even of he does, I guess he doesn’t care. He said that the music rights for “Santa Barbara” were too expensive and the episodes of “Ryan’s Hope” after 1981, I think, were not available or something lame. Soapnet is owned by Disney, Brian. Somehow, I think they can afford more then they or you are letting on. He has destroyed SoapNet when it should be full of classics like EON, AW, SB, Loving, Capitol, SFT, hell, any actual daytime drama they can get their hands on. The network’s programming should be soaps 24/7. I would love to watch “Edge of Night” anytime, anywhere.

  3. Profile photo of Sidney H.
    Sidney H.

    I used to love to watch this show which my grandmother turned me onto in the 1960s. Was very sad when it finally went off the air. Ms. Hunter was terrific as were most of the cast.

    Would like to point out one thing in your article, though. Yes, Kim Hunter was in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (both on Broadway and in the film, for which she received an Academy Award) but she played STELLA KOWALSKI, the sister of Blanche du Bois who was married to Stanley — portrayed indelibly by Marlon Brando.

  4. Profile photo of season1217

    Now, for the people who constantly say it’s just a soap so who cares if they hire High School Musical’s casting rejects need look no further than these clips to see why it matters!


    Pushing Daisies – You will always be in my heart!

  5. Profile photo of Scout

    KingTV, the show was on USA during the latter years on the 80’s, but the only available episodes are from ’78-’84. I think those were the years that were archived and preserved; but you can find selected scenes from the ’50s, ’60 and early ’70s can be found on YouTube. The upside of the those last years is watching an 18-year-old Lori Loughton in her very first role as independent Broadway chorus line aspirant Jody Travis, the newly found half-sister of longtime Monticello resident Nicole Travis Drake Cavanaugh.

  6. Profile photo of Scout

    Here’s some sad, ironically timed news from the PGP Classic Soaps blog: “Effective 2009, Another World, The Edge of Night, Search for Tomorrow and Texas will no longer be streamed on AOL. PGP appreciates the support of AOL and all of our loyal fans who loved and watched these shows during their most recent run. We are currently exploring other options in making these shows once again available for viewing and hope that that the break is only temporary.”


  7. Profile photo of dirksunboy

    They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!
    I think “I’ve got to get this wig over to the hairdresser or I’ll never be ready to do the 10 o’clock news!” is my new fave soap line ever.

  8. Profile photo of n69n

    so now ive been watching EDGE OF NIGHT episodes all day….

    i really like how, on EDGE OF NIGHT, the police aren’t screw-ups!

    that Frances Fisher is entertaining, & it doesnt seem like anyone’s gonna pull anything over her character, DEBORAH SAXON…she actually *SOLVES* cases!

    …& that RAVEN lady is *HOT STUFF*!!!

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