Soap Opera Encyclopedia, 1987
by Christopher Schemering
Article Provided By Carol
ABC's Ryan's Hope, about an Irish family who ran a bar in New York City, became the most critically acclaimed serial on the air after its premiere in 1975. From left to right: Kate Mulgrew as the spirited Mary Ryan, Helen Gallagher as the understanding Maeve Ryan, and Bernard Barrow as the lovably temperamental Johnny Ryan. (Daytime TV Magazine Photo.)
Although never the winner of extraordinary ratings, Ryan's Hope became ABC's prestige soap - the winner of unanimous critical acclaim and more Emmy awards than any other daytime serial. The story of a struggling Irish-American family who ran a bar in New York City celebrated the American Dream, the hopes of immigrants John and Maeve Ryan for their modern society, and the rampant, unresolved emotions that family and love relationships inevitably produce.
Created by Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer, Ryan's Hope began with an idea by ABC who wanted the team to write a new soap called City Hospital, after seeing the miraculous surgery the two had performed on CBS's ailing Where the Heart Is and Love of Life. Labine and Mayer countered with an offer of a story centering on a large Irish family who run a bar across the street from a New York hospital. A year later, they presented ABC with a 200-page "bible" that contained background information on the family and the first two years of story. ABC wanted to call the show A Rage to Love, but when it was unable to clear the rights to its use, Labine and Mayer prevailed with their more appropriate title, Ryan's Hope.
In March 1975, Ryan's Hope, ABC's first soap in five years, went into production. It had already broken several soap opera rules by identifying the setting as a real city and the religious affiliation of the Ryans as Roman Catholic. Following the lead of One Life to Live, the show was an amalgam of ethnic types. Labine and Mayer created not villians and passive ingenues, but strong-minded, opinionated characters who stood up against adversity and each other. More importantly, the show was more interested in "moments" than in story: long dialogue scenes between mother and daughter, lovers dreaming of their future; and brothers and sisters squabbling among themselves, remembering real and imagined slights and resentment. It was close to the original concept of As the World Turns, but with sharper dialogue and an eagerness to delve into the darker side of basically good people.
At the head of the family was Johnny Ryan, an Irish immigrant who was born in 1917 and was a teenage rumrunner during Prohbition, then briefly a boxer, before returning to Ireland to marry the sixteen-year-old Maeve. They settled in New York, opened a pub, and raised five children: Frank, a lawyer with political ambitions, who married Delia Reid and raised a son, Johnno; Cathleen, who married and had two children, Maura and Deirdre; Mary, a headstrong, aspiring journalist; Pat, a doctor at Riverside Hospital; and Siobhan, the family free spirit.
At the outset, Frank was slated to die after being pushed down a flight of stairs by his childish wife Delia. But ABC interceded, and Labine and Mayer did a major overhaul in their story. The early, realistically poignant scenes as the family gathered around while Frank's life hung in the balance set the tone of the show for years to come. Ryan's Hope was shockingly well written, with dialogue that cut to the bone. In one memorable monologue, Maeve alternately lamented and celebrated her son as she watched Frank struggle for his life. "I've known how to share his joy all these years," she said. "What I don't know is how to share his dying."
As Maeve Ryan, Helen Gallagher won the Emmy for Outstanding Actress the next year and again the following year. The show was also inundated with nominations and awards, winning the honor for Outstanding Series in 1977 and 1979, and Outstanding Writing in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983, and 1984. But the show also had its share of bad luck - the worst recasting problems within memory - causing untold continuity problems and audience unrest. Helen Gallagher and Bernard Barrow, as Maeve and Johnny, in the serial's first eight years saw fifteen performers playing four of their children: four as Mary, four as Frank, four as Pat, and three as Siobhan (Only one actress has thus far played the happily married Cathleen, a recurring cameo role.)
The stories over the years have been deeply romantic, pitting feisty Mary Ryan with the hard-boiled reporter Jack Fenelli, causing many strongly articulated arguments on feminism and social mores. Frank and Pat Ryan's love for the Coleridge sisters, Jillian and Faith, was continually thwarted by the machinations of the immature but highly lovable Delia. Jillian's romance with Frank finally culminated in marriage after almost nine years. After her divorce from Frank, Delia married Pat, which sent his childhood sweetheart, Dr. Faith Coleridge, into the arms of other men. When her marriage to Pat did not pan out, Delia married Jill and Faith's brother, Dr. Roger Coleridge, who understood and enjoyed her chicanery.
In 1979, Mary was killed by organized crime after investigating the Mafia. Her death triggered years of Marifa stories and a shift to Siobhan as the show's central heroine. Siobhan became deeply involved in criminal activity when she married Joe Novak, a member of one of the most notorious crime families. By the end of the 70's, it seemed that Labine and Mayer had tried every romantic variation among their small cast of characters and had exhausted, with beautifully written dialogue scenes, such issues as abortion, marriage versus career problems, and premarital sex.
Perhaps in desperation, Labine and Mayer began to crib bits and pieces of their plots from movies such as The Godfather (the machine gun attack on Ryan's Bar), On a Clear Day (Delia's E.S.P.), Raiders of the Lost Ark (the archeological adventures of Aristotle Benedict-White), and most ridiculously, King Kong (Delia's kidnapping by a gorilla!). On the other hand, the backstage story of Barbara Wild, a soap opera actress - a soap within a soap - was fun and fraught with ironies, but the storyline was never developed.
With the ratings, which had been respectable during the late 70's, falling, ABC replaced Labine and Mayer with their associate writer Mary Ryan Munisteri. The new headwriter once again emphasized the Siobhan-Joe romance and the organized crime theme. Less attention was paid to the Ryan family, and a new family, the wealthy Kirklands, were introduced. With the soap meandering aimlessly, ABC brought Labine and Mayer back in early 1983. They wrote out the Kirklands and pushed the Ryan family back into the forefront of the drama. The original actors who had played Pat and Delia were brought back, and, in an unusual move, Kate Mulgrew, the original Mary Ryan, taped a number of scenes in which the daydreaming Maeve and Jack finally came to terms with Mary's death.
With the show suddenly resembling its old self, Labine and Mayer came up with their best story ever, the entrance of Charlotte Greer (Judith Chapman in a mesmerizing performance) and her family, who were bent on avenging an old Irish feud. But the story, which included romance, adventure, and potent domestic drama, was wrapped up quickly and Charlotte left town. Shortly afterwards, ABC again replaced the show's writers. (Labine and Mayer later nabbed their sixth Emmy for the Charlotte Greer story.) Pat Falken Smith, who engineered General Hospital's top ratings, took over and emphasized the Coleridge family and their new relatives, esepcially Maggie Shelby, Jill's half-sister; Siobhan's star-crossed romance with Joe; and a gaggle of new, younger characters. During the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration, in which Maeve always sang "Danny Boy," Cathleen's eighteen-year-old daughter Maura, who called herself "Katie," was introduced into the drama. Ryan's Hope, now focusing on the dreams of the third generation of Ryans, was a serial in transition.
With a crippling time change and more affiliates across the country dropping the show, Ryan's Hope's ratings plummeted. The Dubujak family became predominant as Siobhan married the suave Max, who was later revealed to be the head of an organized crime syndicate, and, still later, was presumed dead after a nasty chemical spill. Siobhan once again became involved with Joe Novak, who had alreayd been presumed dead twice before! The Ryans had their share of trouble too, with the introduction of John Ryan's illegitimate son, Dakota Smith. Then there was the overnight aging of Rya Fenelli - who married Tigerbeat cop-heart-throb Rick Hyde - while Johnno Ryan, who now called himself John Reid Ryan, showed up at the bar carting along an infant son, Owney.
As always, there were moments of beauty and clarity, and with the umpteenth return of co-creator Clarie Labine in March 1987, Ryan's Hope was certainly not going down for the count without grace and dignity - as well as a pungent side dish of good old Irish blarney.
Soap Opera Encyclopedia, 1987
by Christopher Schemering
Article Provided by Carol
Born July 19, 1926, Brooklyn, New York.
Maeve Ryan, Ryan's Hope
Two-time winner as Outstanding Actress Emmy, Helen Gallagher is also one of the most respect actresses of the musical stage. She studied dancing as a child, and as a teenager performed in the chorus of several musical musicals. Her first big break came with Jerome Robbins' High Button Shoes, which was followed by her 1952 Tony-award winning performance as Gladys Bumps in Pal Joey. The next year she starred in the ill-fated Hazel Flagg, a highly touted Broadway show that proved to be a minor setback for the actress. Gallagher fell into relative obscurity, touring in musicals such as Finian's Rainbow, Guys and Dolls, and Pajama Game.
In 1966, Gallagher staged a comeback with Sweet Charity, a musical in which she performed for two years. Three years later she won her second Tony for the long-running hit Broadway revival of No, No Nannette. After seeing her dramatic performance in the Megan Terry play Hothouse, ABC selected her to head up the cast of Ryan's Hope. Gallagher soon won back-to-back Emmies for her memorable performance, especially in superbly written scenes between Mary and Siobhan. She was nominated again for Outstanding Actress in 1981 and 1983. While continuing to perform on Ryan's Hope, she moonlighted in the 1977 film Rosebud and in the 1983 Broadway revue Tallulah, starring as the outrageous Tallulah Bankhead, who happened to be one of the first famous, ardent fans of TV soap operas.
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