Daytime fans have a special place in their heart for daytime veteran Dorothy Lyman, a true multi-hyphenate, who has literally done it all. SoapHub recently caught up with Lyman to discuss her new play, her lengthy career, and if she would return to soap operas.
Dorothy Lyman — Exclusive Interview
She has appeared on four soap operas — The Edge of Night, One Life to Live, Another World, and All My Children, where she won two Daytime Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Opal Gardner. Lyman has starred on primetime, directed TV and theater, and has written three plays, the most recent of which, We Have to Hurry, starring Kathleen Chalfant, will air virtually on May 1 and 2.
SH: What prompted you to become a playwright?
DL: There was never enough work for me as an actor or director after a while, so I learned to do other things to keep me busy. When my oldest child went to college and I got divorced again, I went upstate and became an egg farmer; and the extra time I had motivated me to write. I ended up writing three plays about women of a certain age facing new challenges, from a woman who wants to go to the moon to a woman who’s being asked to move out from her family farm. And then people wanted to know what happened to that character, which is the genesis of this play. I started writing it before the pandemic, and it had six characters.
But during the pandemic, I turned it into two characters on opposite balconies so the actors would never have to be in the same space. When Zoom came along, I then added the granddaughter as a character to help give the audience some extra information. We did one “practice” reading with Erika Slezak [ex-Viki, OLTL] and Brian Kerwin [ex-Charlie, OLTL] and I am hoping they can do it again. This play is meant to be done with rotating celebrities and I especially want to use soap people. I am not supposed to name names, but I am a huge fan of Judith Light [ex-Karen, OLTL] and I’d be so thrilled if she’d consider it. Anyway, I hope somehow that we can do a reading of this play once a month.
SH: After doing four soaps, you really clicked with both viewers and your peers in creating Opal on AMC. What do you think made her such a fan favorite?
DL: I think it’s because I didn’t care if I was making people laugh. I know some of the actors didn’t know what to do with that and would complain to the producers, but the fan mail started to come in and people kept saying she was a breath of fresh air. I knew Opal was the best part I’d ever have. One of the things I love most about daytime TV is that women are the main focus.
SH: Your onscreen children, Kim Delaney (ex-Jenny) and Michael E. Knight (ex-Tad), are now on General Hospital. Would you consider coming back to soaps, even for a one-day cameo, to reunite with them?
DL: I would go anywhere to work on anything, and I would really love to work with Kim, who I have not seen in years. She was 17 years old on her first day on AMC. She had no idea what to do, so I told her to be uncomfortable and embarrassed no matter what I did. Her face lit up. For the first two weeks on the show, we were on the bus to Pine Valley, so there was no blocking and that helped her get comfortable with the medium.
SH: Why did you end up leaving AMC?
DL: When my contract was up on AMC, the producers said you have to choose between us and Mama’s Family. I split my weeks between New York and Los Angeles during the first season of Mama’s, but it meant filming AMC on Sundays, and they didn’t want to keep doing that. Still, they wanted me to stay; they were even going to let Opal become mayor of Pine Valley. But Carol Burnett “traded” her performance on AMC so I could move out to L.A. permanently. And the fact is when you do a primetime series, you get residuals; soaps don’t do that. Series television is why I am not a greeter at Walmart.
SH: How did you end up directing 75 episodes of The Nanny?
DL: Back in the ‘80s, I was teaching acting in Los Angeles and Fran Drescher came to study with me. A few years later when she and Peter Marc Jacobson created The Nanny, she wanted me to play CC, but the network thought I was too old. At the beginning of the second season, she called me and said if you can commit to sitting in [the] control room, maybe you’ll be able to direct. And then they finally asked me to direct the one episode where Charles Shaughnessy’s character has an emergency appendectomy, and I immediately got the job for the entire next season. I directed though the fifth season, and it was great fun.
SH: The show recently debuted on HBO Max and younger viewers are loving it! Why do you think the still show resonates across so many generations?
DL: I just think it was really well written and the passion and warmth of those people came through the screen. And it’s good clean fun, not something you would be afraid of watching with your kids. And, yes, people do love all the guest stars!
SH: Which of those guest stars stand out the most?
DL: Elizabeth Taylor [ex-Helena, GH] was a pretty major get for the show. She wanted to promote her perfume; that’s how they got a lot of those people to appear. And did you know Donald Trump was on once? When he ran for President, all the papers called me for the “inside scoop.” But I didn’t want my taxes to get audited, so I kept my mouth shut.
Tickets for the live stream of Dorothy Lyman’s We Have to Hurry are priced at $15 per household and are valid for one live stream performance only. The performance schedule is as follows: Saturday, May 1 at 8 pm and Sunday, May 2 at 3 pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here.