Actress/author Harley Jane Kozak played three memorable roles on daytime in the 1980s. After stints as adventurous Brette Wheeler on Texas and psychic Annabelle Sims Reardon on Guiding Light, she traveled 3,000 miles across the country to take on, arguably, her most memorable role — Mary Duvall on Santa Barbara.
Harley Jane Kozak — Remembering Mary
Mary, a nun, brought some light into the life of caustic Mason Capwell (Lane Davies). The two were on their way to sharing a life together. Alas, fate — in the form of Kozak’s contract coming up — intervened in very dramatic fashion.
In their first meeting, Mason, instantly taken by Mary’s beauty and charm — and unaware she was a nun — didn’t exactly hide his interest in her. Upon learning that she was staying at the Oasis (which was not exactly offering five-star lodging), he, ironically, insisted that she stay at the Capwell Hotel.
A year later, Mary died after a giant “C” on the Capwell Hotel came loose during heavy winds and struck her on the head. Soap Hub Insider chatted with Kozak about her soap stints in two preview interviews. You can also read Part I of the interview with memories about Texas and Part II about Guiding Light. Now, she shares her memories of her time on Santa Barbara.
Soap Hub Insider: The manner in which Mary’s death played out is still talked about today by soaps fans. What are your memories of that scene?
Harley Jane Kozak: When I read it on the page, it looked thrilling. Then, when I walked onto the set and I saw this large styrofoam giant “C” — I looked at it and thought, ‘What?’ It looked like a school production, but I have to say that it worked on camera. I was told that it would look better on-screen and I think it did. All my co-stars in that scene — Lane, Nancy [Lee Grahn, ex-Julia; now, Alexis, General Hospital; Jon Lindstrom (ex-Mark; now, Kevin, GH)] were wonderful.
Were you aware of the outpouring of sadness?
Nobody saw that coming. Maybe Lane Davies did. I had no idea it was going to happen. What I recall is that New World had taken over the show and they were looking to cut costs, which is why Mary died. My contract was coming up and I believe an automatic raise would have kicked in [if I’d stayed on the show]. Mary Ellis Bunim [the producer] was deeply upset by it. She said to me, “I don’t know how to tell you this.” At the time, I had another dear friend who was dying in real life. I couldn’t get [that] upset [about Mary].
Did they ever come back to you and ask you to return either as a revived Mary or a look-alike?
They did. But [even before Mary was killed off] I was looking at my metaphorical watch thinking it was time for me to move on. I have had this instinct over the years that if I ever get too comfortable at a job and didn’t have to go try and look for more work, then my other professional goals would fritter away. I’d wake up and realize, “OMG; I’m a lifer!” [Having only one job] isn’t what I had trained for.
So, you said no?
I knew I had to be resolute. I had to be firm and say, “No thank you.” I said to my agent I feel strongly about this. Of course, I did go back once or twice as an angel. And I went on a Santa Barbara Reunion Cruise [in 2019]. That was super fun. I became really good friends with Judith McConnell [ex-Sophia] whom I knew. It was fun. Lane and I did a little onboard production of Love Letters.
Mary ended up being your shortest run on soaps, but, in a way, your most memorable.
Yes, Guiding Light was two years. Then, I went to Santa Barbara, which was only a year. I’ve been blessed to have had a long ride in my career. I remember Tricia Cast (Nina, The Young and the Restless) played my little sister, Christie. And Grace Zabriskie (the hitwoman/chambermaid from Knots Landing who shot Karen) played our mother, Theda. She was scary [on-screen] and what a wonderful actress!
To learn more about Kozak’s projects including her published works as an author, check out her website!