Jerry verDorn, beloved as Ross Marler on Guiding Light and Clint Buchanan on One Life to Live, passed away on Sunday, May 1 after a battle with cancer. The actor was 72 years old.
In Memoriam – Jerry verDorn
Born Gerald M. verDorn on November 23, 1949, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to the late Jake and Janice verDorn, Jerry verDorn grew up in various parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Dakota according to Dignity Memorial.
He set out to become an English teacher after graduating from what is now called Minnesota State University Moorhead, but verDorn gravitated towards the performing arts, landing big roles in numerous stage shows. He spent a year in London studying acting. Later, he moved to New York with his wife Bethea “Beth” Stewart.
After amassing some stage credits, he was discovered by late GL casting director Betty Rea. The actor joined the cast of the CBS soap in March 1979 as attorney Ross Marler, Roger Thorpe’s (Michael Zaslow) attorney when he was charged with marital rape.
The character of Ross Marler was created by GL head writers Bridget and Jerome Dobson, and verDorn was discovered by legendary GL casting director Betty Rea. “After a long search to cast Ross Marler [Betty] set out for the theater on a bitter cold January night and there he was,” shares Jill Lorie Hurst, former GL head writer, who recalls Betty telling her about verDorn, “He’s a real actor, dearie…and a lovely, lovely man.”
Douglas Marland, who took over head writing duties from the Dobsons, created additional backstory for Ross by revealing he was the college sweetheart of Vanessa Chamberlain played by Maeve Kinkead. “How could I have been so lucky on my very first day on Guiding Light in 1980 to have had Jerry verDorn as my scene partner?” Kinkead says. “There is no possible answer, at least no possible way for me to adequately convey his actor’s intelligence and generosity on that day, or the steadying effect of his confident presence. Certainly, no way to describe the effect of those blue eyes and their mischievous glint!
“The phrase ‘a man for all seasons’ has kept running through my mind these last few days,” Kinkead continues. “Jerry could do anything that was asked of him as an actor — comedic scenes, intensely emotional ones, the hard work of essential and quiet support. And oh, the smarts and professionalism that he brought to the preparation and performance of those mammoth-paged courtroom dramas that, as Springfield’s lawyer, he often had to shoulder.
“But beyond that, he understood just what makes for good daytime drama and what kind of friendships, day in, day out, help sustain an acting company,” Kinkead shares. “He could have been a fine producer, a fine writer. But just as he was, in all his aspects, he was the linchpin for many years for GL. I think we felt more solid, more energetic, more able when he was on set. I think we respected him greatly, and many of us loved him. It is very, very hard to say goodbye.”
“Jerry was the anchor of Guiding Light,” says Grant Aleksander, who played Phillip Spaulding, Ross’ biological nephew. “His kindness and generosity to everyone on both sides of the camera regardless of their relative ‘importance’ set the tone for the rest of us. If you had a problem his door was always open. If you needed something he was always there. His professionalism, decency, and talent made the show and everyone he worked with better.
“I just never wanted to disappoint him,” Aleksander continues. “There’s no way to replace someone like that. In a recent email he reiterated to me that he’d been playing with ‘House Money’ for a long time. He got to see his sons grow up and have children of their own, his greatest wish when he was diagnosed so many years ago. With his usual good humor, he closed the email saying ‘And thanks to YouTube we’re all immortal.’ Rest In Peace Jerry. You were the best of the best. I miss you already.”
“Jerry and I started on Guiding Light on the same day,” Elvera Roussel, who played Hope Bauer on Guiding Light, tells Soap Hub. “He had entire courtroom scenes with many pages of courtroom dialogue and all I had to memorize was ‘Grandma, I’m home!’ From the first day I met Jerry, I just knew he was the best. He and I would travel together, promoting the show on weekends. We jokingly referred to each other as ‘weekend spouses.’ I’m glad I was able to see him at his charity benefits in more recent years.”
Over the decades, verDorn was paired with several GL leading ladies including Jane Elliot (Carrie), Maeve Kinkead (Vanessa), Rebecca Hollen (Trish), Annabelle Gurwitch (Gina), Lisby Larson (Calla), Maureen Garrett (Holly), Jean Carol (Nadine), Mary Kay Adams (India), Sherry Stringfield (Blake), and Liz Keifer (Blake).
“My heart is broken and filled with profound sadness and bittersweet love for Jerry and his family,” Keifer posted on Facebook. “Thank you for being my friend – it was an honor and privilege to be yours. Rest well, Dear Jerry. You are loved beyond measure.”
“Ohhh. What is there to say at first but, oh no,” Maureen Garrett said to Soap Hub. “So sorry. Dear Jerry. He was the father of the group, so kind, thoughtful, wise. He spoke for us, read to us, enjoyed a glass of Pinot Grigio. I see him in pink or orange T-shirts. ‘Enjoy your gardens, Maureen’ — his last words to me. Farewell, old friend.”
“I auditioned with Jerry in addition to Beth Ehlers [Harley] for the screen test and he was great fun and he was game for trying some improvisational things,” shared Jean Carol to Soap Hub. “He was very supportive and great to work with. It’s a real loss. He was so talented and quite the gentleman.”
Starting in 1995, verDorn won two consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards for his role as Ross on GL. The actor was a mainstay on the beloved soap opera throughout numerous regime changes. In addition to defending Roger on marital rape charges, Ross worked on and off in the district attorney’s office prosecuting Jennifer Richards (Geraldine Court) for the murder of Lucille Wexler (Rita Lloyd).
Ross defended Billy Lewis (Jordan Clarke) for the attempted murder of Kyle Sampson (Larkin Malloy). He prosecuted Reva Shayne Lewis (Kim Zimmer) for the death of Annie Dutton’s (Cynthia Watros) unborn child but when it became clear that Annie was lying, Ross jumped into defense attorney mode to cross-examine Annie, who broke down on the stand and confessed Reva was not responsible.
After being released by GL (Ross was killed off in a plane crash — though viewers always hoped for his return), verDorn joined the cast of OLTL in 2005 as Clint Buchanan, ex-husband of Victoria Lord (Erika Slezak). He remained with that show until its finale in early 2012 and reprised his role as Clint for the brief Online Network revival of OLTL in 2013.
“Grant Alexander [Phillip Spaulding] called me yesterday with the news,” shares his former co-star, Michael O’Leary (Rick Bauer). “I’m still so sad, I feel like I could cry at any moment. Jerry was a leader among men, he was the personification of class and character. He was the unifier between us and management. He was our present day Bert Bauer, if I can say such a thing.
“He was the leader of our show and a leader for a reason,” O’Leary continues. “He did the speeches for our Christmas shows and Thanksgiving because that’s who Jerry was. Jerry was the personification of kindness at all times — to everyone. He always approached people with openness, kindness and we became very close. I looked up to Jerry, got advice from him.
“The last time I saw him was in Crystal Chappell’s [Olivia Spencer] web series, Venice, where we played two goofballs who were handymen at this haunted house,” O’Leary adds. “He looked me and said, ‘This is probably the last time I’ll be doing something like this.’ That was a year and half ago. That was the last time I saw him. My heart goes out to Beth and the rest of the family.”
The beloved actor stayed in touch with daytime fans through appearances on the YouTube talk show The Locher Room, hosted by former GL publicist Alan Locher and through his charity benefit Stars and Strikes. GL favorites would join the actor for an afternoon of bowling and fun with fans to support various charities including the American Cancer Society and Autism Speaks.
He is survived by his wife Beth; his sons and daughters-in-law Jake and Laura verDorn and Peter and Erin verDorn; his sister Bonnie Simpfenderfer and brothers Jim and Dan; several nieces, nephews, and cousins; and three treasured young grandchildren: Benjamin, Nora and Penelope.
A private memorial celebration will be held at a later date this summer. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Jerry’s memory can be made to the American Cancer Society, Autism Speaks, the Actors Fund, or a charity of choice.