Anna Holbrook caught the attention of Another World fans when she began playing the role of Sharlene Frame in 1988. Although the actress didn’t create the role, Holbrook immediately made Sharlene her own. Her chemistry with David Forsyth, who played John Hudson, was off the charts and made John and Sharlene one of Another World’s most popular couples.
Anna Holbrook — Catching Up
Anna Holbrook’s professional acting career began when she was living in Shreveport, Louisiana. While her husband served in the Air Force, Holbrook began doing commercials in Texas.
“I had ventured over to Dallas to try my hand at acting, mainly through commercials at the time. I had always wanted to act and had done so in my childhood in Arizona, but never pursued it as an adult. In Dallas, ‘Waspy Blondes’ without an accent were in demand. I did very well.”
After an agent saw her in a play, Holbrook was encouraged to go to New York to pursue her craft. “My sweet husband was totally on board as we had both decided the Air Force life was not really for us. I moved to the city two years ahead of my husband.
“I went to New York feeling very green and knowing I needed a craft. I started studying immediately. Commercials were still lucrative for me at the time, but I had my sights set on film and theater.”
Soap operas weren’t in Holbrook’s plans, but her agent offered some advice that would change her mind. “My agent told me soaps would be a gift, a stepping stone, a great way to learn the craft of acting. She also gave me one of the best pieces of advice as an actor, ‘work begets work.’
“I was doing an off-Broadway play when the audition came for Sharlene…. I knew nothing about Another World. Nothing! I called my close friend who had watched the show for years and asked ‘Who am I?’ Seriously, that was rather helpful.”
Though she would win the role, Holbrook, at the time, didn’t think she was any good. “I went to the audition in the late afternoon, then headed back to the theater to do the show that night. I recall weeping on my dear friend, Marilyn’s shoulder, just wrecked because I knew I had blown it, that I was just awful in the audition! [A reminder that] we are not always the best judge of our own work.”
Anna Holbrook’s audition was with her co-star, David Forsyth, who played John Hudson. “David Forsyth, as anyone who has worked with him can attest to, is just a gem. I’m not sure the chemistry was immediate – I was truly terrified at the speed of the work – but he protected and guided me. He is my Davey. To this day, I adore him.”
It didn’t take long for Anna Holbrook’s popularity to take off and her chemistry with David Forsyth to soar. But like in all good soaps, some conflict was needed to come between John and Sharlene. That wrench in the works was Sharly, an alternate identity formed after Sharlene was sexually abused as a child. It turns out that the idea for Sharly came about because producers saw Holbrook dressed quite differently from her character at a Christmas party.
“[The party] was up at the Rainbow Room at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The way they used to throw parties for casts was great fun! And, you have to remember, Sharlene’s wardrobe basically consisted of gingham and aprons. So, making an entrance in rather sultry attire was refreshing and perhaps not a bad idea.
“Michael Laibson, the Executive Producer, called me into his office shortly after the party and told me he had exciting news. The writers were going to give me a split personality. I was thrilled. What a total kick for an actor. I said ‘Great. Why?’ As in, what happened to Sharlene that would have created this? He said ‘We don’t know.’”
Although excellent in her portrayal, Anna Holbrook has been candid about her disappointments. “I worked very hard on Sharly… Did much research. Met with psychiatrists, even listened in on a recording of one real case. I’ve talked about the frustration of this before. When on a soap, one must remember it’s fantasy and it’s there to entertain.
At the time, I was trying to offer up a very serious, grounded, honest, true idea of a person dealing with this disorder. I guess it served me well, but it was very frustrating for this young budding actor. I will say that when I have gone back and looked at some of those old scenes, many of which I don’t even remember doing, I cringe a bit at the melodramatics. Yikes! It was truly learning on my feet.”
Sharlene was thought dead in 1991 after Anna Holbrook left the show, but two years later, Holbrook returned with a third personality, Kate. Her work over the next few years brought her an Outstanding Supporting Actress Daytime Emmy award. Surprisingly, she was let go from Another World soon after her win.
“Charles Keating and I used to joke: win and Emmy, end your contract. It’s a business. There was always a round-robin of Executive Producers. When one was on your team, that was a good thing. When they weren’t, bye bye. I hold no grudge.”
Her time away from Another World enabled Holbrook to work in film, nighttime TV, theater, and do voiceover jobs. She’s appeared in Law and Order multiple times, as well as The West Wing, Homeland, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Bull, Blue Bloods, and many others.
When asked if she has a preference, she replies, “I love the mix of them all. Like a super supreme pizza! The spice of each different one keeps it all interesting. My favorites of late are voiceover work and the stage. I miss theater so much. We all do. When my kids went off to college, I had the chance to take the time for theater again. I adore it. It’s where I feel the most full as an actor.”
Anna Holbrook speaks fondly of her time at Another World. She’s friends with lots of her co-stars. “[We’re in touch] all the time! Linda Dano, Alice Barrett, Anna Stuart, David Forsyth, John Bolger, Amy Carlson…. You know, we all agree, we were a company. [Being] stuck out there in Brooklyn made us closer than most casts. It was a back-handed gift.
“I also keep in touch with some of the writers, stage managers, and producers.” As for her fans, “I am always amazed when people still approach me. What a lovely thing that is – never to have met, but to feel a connection…. I would not have traded that time at Another World for the world!”