Guiding Light reached its diamond anniversary on January 25th, just in time for what will hopefully be the first of a series of Guiding Light DVD roll outs, showing that there is interest and life in the show yet, despite its 2009 cancellation. Created by Irna Phillips in 1937, Guiding Light appeared in the first decade of radio soap operas, and was one of the few radio shows that survived the jump to television. GL began its television run in 1952.
Many fans consider Guiding Light a family heirloom and passed it faithfully down from generation to generation. My family, specifically my great-grandmother, started following the show in 1939. Think about that for a second. Not only do I know she was a fan of the show; a story was handed down through the family about WHEN she started watching. How many facets of your great-grandparents’ lives can you track down to the year they began to do something? That is how important an event joining Guiding Light fandom is to families. My family certainly is not alone or even that impressive in its devotion. There are families who have followed the show from the first episode or can trace the tradition back through as many as six generations. So what is so special about this show that it alone, from all the radio shows that aired in the 1930s, is still turning out new products in 2012 and continued to air into the new Millennium?
Guiding Light offered a home away from home. While I watched, loved, and lost many soaps over the years Guiding Light has left the largest hole because it was not about individual characters or even families. Guiding Light was the story of a community and you became a part of that community. Although I know I wasn’t really there, I feel like I learned about true love from Hope and Alan and Nola and Quint. I feel like I went to high school and prom with the Four Musketeers. I feel like Bert Bauer was another one of my grandmothers and that I could always get sensible advice from Aunt Meta. EVERYBODY needs an Aunt Meta. I know that no matter what their differences, the whole town would come to help if the lighthouse was broken in a storm or a blackout hit the area or if someone needed to get home or an individual, even a sworn enemy, was really, truly in desperate trouble.
Eventually every new (non-psychopathic) character became a part of this community living up to the poem A Creed by Edwin Markham that was frequently quoted throughout the show’s run “There is a destiny that makes us brothers: None goes his way alone.” This feeling of community survived throughout the run and while watching an episode from the 1970s would look very different from an episode from the 2000s, watch any given week during any given year and this sense of being part of the same community would flow through.
Guiding Light offered friendships. Nobody did friendships better than Guiding Light. Much of the last half the show’s run was built on the friendship of Rick Bauer and Phillip Spaulding. When one of them was in trouble the other one was always there, even to the point of Rick stealing a body to help fake Phillip’s death when Phillip was wrongly accused of murder and even after Phillip went around the bend and back again, Rick helped him slip out of the Pscyh Ward undetected when Phillip asked him to. While everything else changed in their lives, their friendship remained a constant. Even when they hurt each other (Phillip impregnated a woman Rick was in love with or married to three different times and Rick returned the favor once) they forgave each other….eventually and both knew that they would. Often their discussions would take place on a basketball court and thankfully they got in one last game after Phillip returned in the show’s final year.
However, some of the friendships were quieter than that. Ross Marler and Ed Bauer were best friends and after Ed left the show, Ross just quietly stood up taking Ed’s place as best he could with Rick and Michelle until Ed returned. Even less epic friendships David-Bridget, Harley-Cassie, Frank-Mallet, Reva-Phillip, Annie-Dinah-Beth, Danny-Frank, Olivia-Cassie, Frank-Blake, Matt-Josh, Michelle-Drew, Michelle-Marah, Billy-Hamp, Billy-Reva, Bill-Michelle-Ben among many others were touchstones for each other and they were shown keeping in touch, showing support, and sharing good times and bad together.
Guiding Light offered family. The Bauer family, although sometimes sidelined, remained represented and an important part of the show from 1948 to 2009. Fredrich “Papa” Bauer, Bert Bauer, Maureen Reardon Bauer, and in her last incarnation Meta Bauer, all took turns being the true center of the show, the family member everyone looks up to, respects, and wishes they had in real life. Family was an important part in almost every character’s life and while they might fight among themselves, families like the Lewises, the Coopers, the Speakes, the Reades, the Grants, and even the Spauldings eventually made peace and came through for each other with support or forgiveness in the end.
Guiding Light offered romance. Some of the most romantic couples ever lived in Springfield. While Josh Lewis and Reva Shayne were clearly the flagship couple of the show for the second half of its run, they were far from the only supercouple. Josh’s brother Billy had an equally storied and tumultuous relationship with his true love Vanessa Chamberlain. Vanessa’s half-brother Quinton McCord Chamberlain fell in love and married romantic Nola Reardon accompanied by incredible fantasy sequences. Hope Bauer fell in love with her father’s nemesis Alan Spaulding after their plane crashed on a desert island. Although the marriage was cut short by life under the shadow of his father Brandon’s legacy, the romance is still remembered as a high point by many.
My personal favorite was the romance between Danny Santos and Michelle Bauer who in a rarity for a soap opera, might have broken up many times, but they were only married to each other. Many things complicated romances. Gilly and Hamp faced down problems caused by her ambition and his rebellious teen-aged daughter Kat. Ross and Holly broke up after he fell in love with her adult daughter Blake. Holly and Fletcher broke up over her continued involvement with her ex-husband Roger Thorpe and a disagreement on how best to care for their daughter Meg who had Down’s Syndrome. But whether your preferred brand of romance was hearts and flowers or steamy sex on a beach, there was always plenty of romance in Springfield.
Guiding Light offered an acceptance of differences. For most of its run, multiple cultural traditions were kept by different characters. The German Bauers, the Irish Reardons, the Oklahoma wildcat Lewises, the Greek Coopers, and the Cuban Santos families arrived in town over the years. These groups kept some of their distinctions in their cultural traditions and their religion instead of being homogenized until the last few years of the show. Cultural groups outside of the WASPs normally depicted on soap operas, such as African-Americans and Jewish-Americans, were featured as main characters, and while this tendency sadly faded in the last decade, the last supercouple introduced was the lesbian couple, Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera. It was OK to be who you were in Springfield.
Guiding Light also was always on the technological leading edge, from going to color TV from black and white to producing podcasts of the episodes, the show led the way, even if sometimes their technological changes didn’t work out as expected. They created a phone in fan vote to determine Quint and Nola’s baby’s name. They created websites for everything from Blake Marler’s romance novels to the restaurant menu at Company. While the format innovation of the last two years is still controversial, it would be hard to argue that it hasn’t affected other soaps and encouraged them to show mini-location shoots outdoors, if only nearby the studio.
Guiding Light offered ways to make lemons out of lemonade. This tracks back even to when creator Irna Phillips was writing the show. Popular heroine Meta Bauer had clearly killed her husband Ted White, the audience itself was a witness, but no one wanted to lose Meta from the show by sending her to jail or make the audience feel pulled out of the reality of the story by just letting Meta get away with murder. Phillips got around the problem by having the audience vote as the jury in one of the first interactive fan decisions. Meta was found innocent and viewers felt more connected to the story. Although most people would put down the senseless death of solid center of the show Maureen Bauer as one of the show’s biggest mistakes, later writers used that to create a generation of young people centered around her daughter Michelle who all had lost a parent and bonded over the fact. Guiding Light gave hope there was coming back from even the worst decisions and you always felt the show could turn around, even at its worst, which it started to do with Phillip’s return in the final year of production.
And those are just a small part of what Guiding Light offers to its fans. It also has humor, drama, glamour, mystery, suspense, and more wrapped up in one community who offered all that not just to the people onscreen, but to the fans as well. Is it any wonder that Rev. Ruthledge’s friendship lamp (the original symbol of The Guiding Light) is still burning bright in the window for so many people? Happy Anniversary Guiding Light and many more.
To purchase a special 4-disc set featuring 20 episodes of Guiding Light, visit http://www.soapclassics.com/index.php/gl-main.html
GLManny runs the GLManny blog, located here http://glmanny.wordpress.com/. Visit her blog for clips, information and more on Guiding Light.