Actress/author Harley Jane Kozak is recalled fondly for three roles she played on daytime dramas in the 1980s. Her first daytime experience was outgoing Brette Wheeler on the NBC soap opera Texas from 1981-82. The year after that show ended, the actress reunited with some of the creative team from Texas, after they were charged with helming Guiding Light.
Following a two-year stint as psychic/teacher Annabelle Simms Reardon on GL, Kozak traveled 3,000 miles across the country to join the cast of the Burbank-based serial Santa Barbara as nun Mary Duvall. Mary left the show in unforgettable fashion – a giant “C” on the Capwell hotel conked her on the head, sending her to that great soap in the sky.
In the first of a multi-part interview that originally appeared on Soap Hub Insider and now debuts on Soap Hub, Kozak, who appears in the 2020 film More Beautiful for Having Been Broken, chatted with Soap Hub about her time on Texas. Read on to learn about her experience on the NBC soap opera that received a record-breaking response from viewers protesting its untimely end.
Soap Hub: What did you know about soaps before working in them?
Harley Jane Kozak: My grandmother, who raised me, called them her ‘programs.’ She watched The Edge of Night and Search for Tomorrow. I associated soaps with organ music and bad sound effects and how they were all shot on one sound stage. Most people in scenes drank coffee. That was it. I didn’t have any idea that they had changed along with everything else in life. I was shocked that there was sex and supernatural stories on soap operas!
How did Texas come about?
I had gone to the [Tisch] School of the Arts at NYU. It’s very much an artistic, stage-oriented, somewhat avant-garde experience – nothing to do whatsoever with television. I had auditioned for the show and gotten the part. I was told to show up three days later. I walked in early one morning to the sound stage in Brooklyn and went to the costume department.
The [assistant] costumer, John [Helgerson], who was very intimidating and very good-looking. He said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Harley; I’m playing Lacey [Wheeler].’ He got so mad! Apparently, no one had told him that the character was being recast [with me] and I was a foot taller than [the first Lacey]. No one had told him and he had to outfit me in Lacey Wheeler’s clothes! His minions were running around saying, ‘Don’t pay attention to him. We’ll figure out something for you to wear.’
I did a week as Lacey and then I got a call a week later from Gail Kobe [the producer]. She said, ‘I have some good news and some bad news.’ She said you’re not playing Lacey anymore – you’re playing her sister Brette. She’d been talking to the head writer, Paul [Rader], and he said, ‘I don’t want to have her be Lacey. I want her to be Brette.’ So, they had to get the old Lacey back. What’s weird is that I knew the head writer’s name – Paul Rader because he had written a book titled Professor Wilmess Must Die and the reason I remembered the book was because the hero’s name in it was Rick ‘Kozak.’
I remember thinking the first time I saw the book ‘there’s my name in print!’ So, the author of that book all these years later becomes the head writer on Texas and creates this character for me. The actress who originated the role of Lacey, [Lily Barnstone], the poor thing, had the humiliating experience of being fired and then coming back only to be written off again. She was a good sport about it, but it was a nightmare of awkwardness.
What a way to start!
Yes. In the end, I had a totally fun time. John, the costumer, became one of my best friends and he actually gave me his apartment after he moved back home…it was a beautiful, rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side.
What I learned about myself by doing Texas is that I am not someone who wants to have the same job year after year. When they told me we were canceled, I was secretly excited about it. I have a different internal professional rhythm (than other actors). I like to do a project and move onto the next one. Texas was my first foray into television.
To read more of our interview with Kozak, check out part 2 where she relives her time on Guiding Light, and part 3 about Santa Barbara. For more info on the actress/author, check out her website Harley Jane Kozak.
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