I originally submitted this and it was published on the website Soap Opera University. I just discovered they’ve closed down. Although I’m sorry they’re gone, they did inspire this post and a few others you’ll see rebuilt here over the next year or so. Enjoy!
At 72 years, Guiding Light was the longest running soap opera ever. It is highly unlikely that its record will ever be broken. This introduction will focus mainly on its TV run which began in 1952. Originally The Guiding Light was a literal light, a friendship lamp which Rev. John Ruthledge kept burning in his window, welcoming lost souls to seek his counsel.
Rev. Ruthledge’s sermons served show creator Irna Phillips as a soap box for political, moral, and religious issues of the day. Go to the link below for links to a detailed recreation of what the soap was like in these early days and links to some representative sermons from Rev. Ruthledge.
The show’s first star crossed lovers were in Rev. Ruthledge’s family. His daughter Mary Ruthledge fell in love with her adopted brother Ned Holden. The Ruthledges and their friends and relations kept the show in story for many years, but Phillips brought in a new focus when she introduced a new core family in 1948. This new family was the Bauers, a family of German immigrants. Viewers watched the family go from struggling immigrants to the leaders of the community. The two most important Bauers were Papa Bauer and his daughter-in-law Bert Bauer who in turn served as embodiments of the Guiding Light for their families and the community at large. This was especially shown in the annual Bauer BBQ held each year on the Fourth of July and attended by the entire town. The Bauers were occasionally sidelined, but they remain a focus of the show until its end. For a detailed description of the Bauer family tree go to the link below.
Home for the Bauers from the mid-1960s on was Springfield, USA. (Sometimes it was specifically tied to Springfield, IL, other times not. They also frequently mentioned Oakdale, IL from As the World Turns and Bay City, IL from Another World.) In Springfield the once working class immigrant Bauer family become known as doctors (Ed and his son Rick are both doctors, several of their wives are doctors, Michelle was a Physician Assistant and Maureen as a hospital administrator) at Cedars Hospital. As the local hospital, Cedars plays a large role in the show. Read a description of Cedars Hospital here:
Rick Bauer’s best friend is Phillip Spaulding who (despite a complicated parentage back story reveal) shows himself to be every inch tycoon Alan Spaulding’s son. Read a summary of Phillip’s complicated parentage here:
Phillip, together with Alan, Alan’s sister Alexandra, and Alan’s other son Alan-Michael make up the most visible part of the Spaulding family from its introduction in 1977 to the end of the show. The Spauldings are very rich. They live in the Spaulding Mansion which is on Skyline Drive next to the Bauer House and run the Fortune 500 Company Spaulding Enterprises. They are also dysfunctional and you never know if they’ll be fighting each other or teaming up to fight the rest of the world.
Another well off family, but of a very different character than the Spauldings, are the Lewises. The Lewis family still has a lot of the oil wildcatting spirit that made them their family money in Oklahoma. The difference between the two families was played off nicely in one of the shows final supercouples Bizzie (Bill Lewis and Lizzie Spaulding). The Lewises run two family businesses, Lewis Oil and Lewis Construction. Josh Lewis’s true love is Reva Shayne and together they form the show’s flagship supercouple Jeva throughout the second half of the show’s run.
Josh’s older brother Billy Lewis’s true love is Vanessa Chamberlain. The Chamberlains are old school blue bloods that helped build Spaulding Enterprises and for most of its existence ran the local TV station WSPR. The other important media outlet in town is the town newspaper, The Springfield Journal. The Journal was most strongly associated with sometime foreign correspondent Fletcher Reade and his onetime wife Holly Norris Bauer Thorpe Lindsey Reade. Holly was the true love of master criminal and seriously conflicted man, Roger Thorpe whose plots and spasms of violence wrecked havoc in town for decades. Sadly Roger could never decide which he wanted more: power and money or Holly and happiness, so he vacillated back and forth reaching for one and then the other leaving chaos in his wake. The most controversial story between Rolly was when Roger’s jealous rage over Holly’s continuing connection to ex-husband Ed Bauer led him to commit martial rape. Roger was also one of three of the town’s most famous phoenixes, he and Alan Spaulding and Beth Raines each rose from the dead in spectacular fashion more than once.
Rolly’s (Roger Thorpe and Holly Norris Bauer Thorpe Lindsey Reade) daughter Blake (originally known as Chrissy, but renamed as an adult) is a reckless spitfire who was only ever partially tamed by her love for lawyer and generally town all around good guy, Ross Marler. The Marler family started poor and were always looking for opportunities to better their position in town and although Ross was known as a good guy, he had his family’s ruthless streak and it came out on occasion, especially when he first came to town and much later when dealing with half-brother Ben Warren and in a mayoral campaign against the son-in-law of his best friend (Ed Bauer) and a close friend in his own right, Danny Santos.
Firmly on the other end of social scale from the Spauldings, Chamberlains, Lewises, and even the Marlers, were two main families, the blue collar Reardons and Coopers. The Reardons ran the Reardon Boarding House and a restaurant called Company for many years. Eventually the family did better (one daughter, Maureen, married Ed Bauer and another, Nola, married Quint Chamberlain and one son Jim, became a doctor). The Coopers were another blue collar family. They were also of immigrant descent with both family patriarch Buzz Cooper’s father and uncle coming from Greece. The family’s already high Greek quota (they were famous for their Greek dancing and Baklava) was kicked up another notch when eldest son Det. Frank Cooper wooed and eventually married his initially unwilling arranged bride Eleni, who was born and raised in Greece. The Cooper’s maintained a family restaurant for many years, first the Fifth Street Diner, and after it was accidentally burnt down, they purchased Company from the remaining few Reardons. Although the Coopers had other jobs, when it was needed they all pulled together to work at the restaurant and all hands on deck included current love interests helping out and even being a Spaulding didn’t excuse you from covering shifts if you were currently dating or married to a Cooper. While both restaurants were community centers, neither was a money maker and the Coopers were very frequently on the verge of the losing the business and sometimes did, although somehow they always eventually got it back.
If you were in the mood for something other than a Buzz Burger you might want to try one of the nicer restaurants in town; Towers (located on the top floor of a high class hotel which was part of an urban renewal project near 5th Street), the Lakeland Country Club (for its old money charm), Olivia’s at the Beacon Hotel (located near the lighthouse, the show’s symbol), or one of the night clubs such as the Blue Orchid, Millennium or Inferno. Dive bars were common through the years, but the one with staying power was Farley’s that took on an increasing importance in the final years of the show.
In 1998, the show returned to the immigrant theme, but this time with a darker twist. The Santos family were three generations from emigrating from Cuba (the family was still bilingual), but took a different path to making it in America, one filled with violence and crime. The Santos family was one of the largest crime families in the Midwest, but the scion Danny Santos was a good man and eventually with his true love (in a soap rarity they were only ever married to each other) Michelle Bauer, fought their way free and the Santos name was clean for their children Robbie and Hope, who as Michelle’s children were among the final generation of Bauers on the soap.
A note from behind the scenes, mainly because of circumstances beyond the control of TPTB cancellation was a real threat the last 10 years or so Guiding Light ran. Budgets were cut repeatedly and it showed on screen. The last two attempts at saving money were the most visible on screen. For a time everyone lived at the Beacon Hotel so they could do minimal redress of the sets between scenes and a lot of action took place on a strange Sesame Street looking set called Main Street. When that proved a failure, they totally abandoned the traditional three wall set and pedestal cameras to go to more or less permanently built sets and hand held cameras, plus a lot of outdoor shooting in the town of Peapack, New Jersey. Although there were various issues with this change in set up, the primary one was that they couldn’t figure out how to properly capture the sound on these sets which were basically rooms in a house and although it got better over time, fans complained about the sound for the last two years of the soap.
After fighting cancellation off for many years, a lack of support from both the network and producer P&G led to a cancellation announcement. To add insult to injury, the announcement was made April 1st (April Fool’s Day) 2009. The last air date was announced for September 18, 2009. This was an especially hard blow because signs had been pointing towards at least one more year. Ratings were up since Phillip’s return, the sound quality was improving if still not stellar, and the story seemed to be moving in a positive direction as unpopular stories that had drug on far too long (e.g. Lizzie’s kidnapping and aftermath) were wrapped up and more popular ones were getting center stage (e.g. the Bizzie romance, Phillip’s return, even Vanilly began to find their way back to each other). While fans held out hope and launched several fan campaigns to try to save the show, its fate was pretty much sealed when CBS made the initial announcement. Quickly stories were revamped and at least brief returns of favorite characters were arranged (Danny and Michelle Bauer Santos and their kids, Mindy Lewis, Holly Norris Thorpe, Jonathan Randall and his daughter Sarah) although the only one who got a full, properly played out return was Dr.Ed Bauer. Other veteran characters, still on the canvas, but long neglected were suddenly given more air time (Blake Marler, Rick Bauer).
Three major stories provided a focus for the end of the show. The Spauldings dealt with the fact that Phillip was diagnosed with a fatal disease and Alan’s previous behavior was explained, not by his backstory with Hope Bauer which would have made sense, but by a previously unknown man who took Alan’s place in the Vietnam War and was killed and Alan’s guilt over it. Eventually Alan faced his fear and was a donor in a risky operation that saved Phillip’s life. Alan lived, but died of an unrelated heart attack the next week. The Coopers once again almost lost Company as Buzz became obsessed with completing Coop’s research on his mother Jenna Bradshaw Cooper. Eventually it was revealed that Jenna’s last secret was that Cyrus Foley was Jenna’s son she had given up for adoption as a teenager (it turned out that the unlamented Grady was only his foster brother and absolutely no word was given on Rocky’s fate – Jenna’s son who was actually born on the show). Blake, Ashlee Wolfe, and Cyrus worked together to finish Coop’s book on Jenna called Stories from Jenna which provided the money to save Company once again. Finally, a convoluted story that involved Edmund, a dead duplicate Edmund (aka Deadmund), a broken stroller, and multiple people covering up or manufacturing evidence and a series of faked deaths, ended with Mallet and Dinah Marler on the run in Europe and Jeffery O’Neill letting Reva go in order to forever chase Edmund Winslow around the globe. A fourth was the fairly isolated Otalia storyline (Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera) which was very popular as it was one of the first lesbian romances on a soap and played out at close to old-fashioned soap love story speed which was much preferable to the meet and jump into bed speed so many modern couples follow.
For a sum up of where they left the Deadmund story watch this:
A focus was also on ending with as many happy couples as possible. Bizzie, Vanilly (Vanessa Chamberlain and Billy Lewis) and Lillibuzz (Lillian Raines and Buzz Cooper) finally married. Pheth (Phillip Spaulding and Beth Raines) and Mindy and Rick became engaged. Mayne (Marah Cooper and Shayne Lewis) reunite after Shaynah (Shayne Lewis and Dinah Marler) split. Otalia, Holly and Ed, and Remy and Christina reunited. Matt started to date one of Maureen’s teachers. Frank and Blake started to date as did Mel and Cyrus. Doris Wolfee came out of the closet and started dating a dayplayer. Jaisy (James Spaulding and Daisy Susan LeMay Cooper) was more solid than ever, even though Ashlee and Daisy are going to college at Berkley. And finally the show ended as it should, Jeva (Josh Lewis and Reva Shayne) reunited under the lighthouse and drove off in H.B.’s pickup for new adventures. Then just like in a classic movie “The End” came across the screen with the lighthouse in the distance as Josh and Reva whispered “Always” to each other. Fans not content to let it go, lead to a series of fan events around the country throughout the year after cancellation.
Suggested for further reading:
Dates in Springfield
Places in Springfield
Couple Codes for Guiding Light
Soap Centrals Character Profiles
Poll, Julie and Caelie M. Haines. Guiding light: the complete family album. Los Angeles : General Pub. Group, 1997. ISBN 1-57544-006-7
Robansuefarm is the handle of one of Manny and Guiding Light‘s biggest fans following in her family’s footsteps of Guiding Light fandom since 1939. This blog is an effort to make it easy to find Guiding Light and especially Manny online. Check back here for her blog, find fanfic previews and fake WSPR newscasts on her YouTube, find podcasts that look back to old shows and audios of her fanfics on Blog Talk Radio, and finally follow her on Twitter and Facebook.