Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Remember Susan Douglas Rubes

"Will you please stop phoning me about The Guiding Light," Susan Douglas begged in mock indignation.
I had the Toronto Star's crack telephone operators track her down to her Florida condominium where she was vacationing with her long time husband Jan Rubes.
And Douglas was right --every time another milestone was reached with The Guiding Light I'd phone her up to get background.
Douglas died this week, aged 87, a delightful friend to those who knew her and the founding mother of Toronto's YPT theater group.
Douglas debuted on the soap opera when it was still on radio. It had started on NBC in 1937 as a 15-minute daily dose of kindness, created by soap maven Irna Phillips.
Douglas who was a refugee from Hitler had started in 1944  (TGL had switched to CBS) when she was just 19 and she lasted a decade playing the same character all along --Kathy.
When the soap moved to TV as a daily live event Douglas was one of the radio veterans invited along.
In fact when she debuted her English was still tentative --she'd learned her English by watching three movies a day and on radio sometimes gave off  bizarre interpretations of words new to her.
One bizarre historical note: Douglas's acting partner on TGL was a dark haired, thin actor named James Lipton.
These days he's more famous as host of TV's  long running hit Inside The Actor's Studio.
And the last time I chatted with Douglas it was a sadder occasion.
The little blonde girl named Robin Lang  who was Kathy's daughter had been originally played by Zina Bethune. She died in a car crash in Los Angeles on Feb. 12 2012 and my chat with Douglas a few days later was very teary indeed.
Douglas also enjoyed a brief movie career starting in 1947 with the feature The Private Life Of Bel Ami opposite George Sanders and Angela Lansbury.
"I can only report my part was small and I hated working with George who was a very nasty man."
In 1949 she made the ground breaking film Lost Boundaries cast as Mel Ferrer's daughter. "It was about a family that passed for white and was a very controversial indictment about race discrimination. Many theater owners simply refused to book it."
In 1951 she starred in Arch Oboler's film Five cast as one of only five survivors of a nuclear holocaust. "I had shivers making it. Audiences were properly terrified. Even today most TV stations will not show it."
All the while Douglas continued her daily appearances on TGL.
Douglas met and married tenor Jan Rubes while working on TGL which irritated her mentor Irna Phillips to no end.
Her first pregnancy caused tension on the set with Phillips writing her out of the cast for a bit but the second caused real fireworks.
"Irna was very displeased. She said she had made me and now she was going to break me." And 10 days later the character of Kathy died when she fell under the wheels of a bus.
Douglas had already moved to Toronto with Rubes (she commuted to New York for her soap appearances) but expected parts on Canadian TV did not come easily. "I was considered the foreigner. And that really hurt me."
Eventually she did act on such  Canadian TV series as Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1960), Seaway ((1966), Norman Corwin Presents (1972) and in such Canadian films as Face-Off (1971) and Adderly (1987).
In 1965 she founded the Young People's Theater and in 1979 she became head of CBC Radio drama.
When I jumped from The Spectator to the Toronto Star in 1980  as TV critic she was the first to phone and congratulate me.
She remained married to Rubes until his death in 2009 and awards such as the Order of Canada (in 1977) came her way as well.
Warm and witty, she claimed I was the only one out there who remembered her Guiding Light stint. Not so I always used to say. A lot of us first met her on that long running soap which lasted a record 72 years on radio and TV.

1 comment:

Kathy B. said...

my mother named me kathy after the character ms.douglas-rubes played on the guiding light.she has told me this all my 56 years.too bad i just today found out who played the part,several months after her death.she sounds like an amazing person.may she rest in peace.