Soap Hub Flashback Friday: John Wesley Shipp Recalls GL’ Kelly and Nola Showdown

Two soap stars played out a big confrontation.

john wesley shipp recalls guiding light showdown for nola and kelly.John Wesley Shipp recalls this Guiding Light moment.

John Wesley Shipp won Daytime Emmys for his roles on As the World Turns and Santa Barbara, but many will always remember him most fondly as Kelly Nelson, Ed Bauer’s medical student godson on Guiding Light. Shipp chatted with Soap Hub for Flashback Friday about the climatic scene in which Nola Reardon’s machinations to steal Kelly from true love Morgan Richards finally were exposed.

John Wesley Shipp: Kelly V. Nola

For most of 1980 and into the first half of 1981, Nola (the late Lisa Brown) expertly manipulated most of Springfield as she set out to win Kelly’s (John Wesley Shipp) heart. From befriending Morgan (Kristen Vigard) and planting doubt in her ears at every turn to making Kelly think that Morgan gave away his touching holiday gift (bitch!), Nola justifiably earned the ire of millions.

The story was penned by the late Douglas Marland. He created the role of Nola in the vein of General Hospital’s Bobbie Spencer (the late Jacklyn Zeman) and later, ATWT’s Meg Snyder (Jennifer Ashe) — have-nots who longed for a better life.

GL: You Are Not the Father

Nola led Kelly to think that he had fathered her unborn daughter (in reality, Floyd Parker had). However, Nola’s own mother, Bea (the late Lee Lawson), tipped Kelly off that he wasn’t the dad. Kelly went to Ed’s house to confront Nola, who was all packed and ready to start her new life as Kelly’s wife.

Ironically, the 1981 writers’ strike coincided with the climax of the Nola/Kelly/Morgan (Kristen Vigard) story. Shipp recalls that the scenes in which Nola was exposed were so key that Marland wrote them himself in advance so that they could be used even though a strike was happening.

Kelly and Nola’s showdown was so important that GL devoted additional time to it. “Someone said that it was [in total] the first 22 minutes of the show,” Shipp shared. “I can hardly believe that, but [the scenes], I recall, went through two commercial breaks. It was astounding.” (As the three sets of clips below total over 15 minutes — minus commercials — 22 minutes in total is entirely feasible.)

John Wesley Shipp Says GL Had Him Covered

The two actors met well in advance to rehearse the scenes. Shipp recalls episode director Harry Eggart telling him that one camera would always be on him, another would remain on Brown, and a third would capture them both so that shots from all three could be edited into a continuous scene. “Harry said, ‘Go for it,'” Shipp remembered.

After giving Nola the benefit of the doubt for too long, Kelly blasted her for her duplicity. He was furious that she had lied and was going to use an innocent child to tear him away from Morgan. “I hate that name!” Nola screamed after Kelly said, “Morgan.”

Shipp has nothing but praise for Brown’s performance. “One of the big oversights at the Daytime Emmys the following year is that Lisa wasn’t nominated,” Shipp says of his co-star. “There was no better performance than what she did.”

While Nola’s plans were thwarted and she was at her lowest ever, Shipp says that Brown managed to make sure that her GL alter-ego would rise like a phoenix. “She took the most reviled character on Daytime TV and did a 180-degree turn, showing such vulnerability,” John Wesley Shipp says. “A new character was born. A brand new character in those 20 minutes. That’s a testament to the writing [and to Lisa]. Very few actors could have pulled that off.”

GL: Just Desserts

Shipp says when he views the scenes today, he can’t help but feel that Kelly was a bit self-righteous (Hey, to paraphrase a song from Chicago, “She had it comin!”) “They wanted me to go there,” Shipp says. “They said, ‘John, the audience has been waiting for this moment.’ Lisa through some kind of alchemy was able to turn that character around and [later] launch her into being a heroine.”

As veteran GL viewers recall, Nola later passed on marrying Floyd (Tom Nielson), telling the jilted groom, “I…can’t” as Kelly and Morgan exchanged “I do’s” at Laurel Falls. Soon, Nola went to work for the mysterious Quint McCord (the late Michael Tylo), and a legendary couple was born as their romance unfolded.

“We didn’t do a full-out rehearsal for those scenes,” Shipp says. “Harry knew we were ready and that we didn’t want to leave any of it in the rehearsal hall…he knew we wanted to leave it on the studio floor. We went for it. The very last scene, where Kelly walks out, was done in one take. You can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.” While the Daytime Emmy voters didn’t nominate either John Wesley Shipp or Lisa Brown for these scenes, Marland and GL were both nominated. Marland won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series Writing, and GL won Outstanding Drama Series in 1982.

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