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People Top 5
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- May 25, 1981
- Vol. 15
- No. 20
When Bill and Susan Rehearse Their TV Soap Vows as Offscreen Mates, It's 'Hayes of Our Lives'
The Days writing staff have managed to keep their star lovers crossed since they first became smitten on the NBC show a decade ago. For starters, Doug and Julie already have had nine other mates between them. After they first married each other in 1976, an oven fire scarred Julie "for life." Plastic surgery restored her beauty some six months later, but not before she had divorced Doug and hid herself in shame. So this will be their second go-around, but for Days fans the icing on the wedding cake is that Doug and Julie are also real-life man and wife. Bill and Susan Hayes have been married since 1974. And it is fitting that after seven years they're again getting hitched, not an itch. "I know Bill better and I love him more," glows Susan. "Now that I know what marriage is all about, I think the TV ceremony will mean more to us than our real wedding." For his part, Bill has contributed a romantic poem by his real grandfather to the TV nuptials, at which 20 actor guests—many off-camera friends—will snuffle on cue.
That blur between art and reality is an everyday fact of life for the couple. Susan had been a cast member for two years when Bill was hired in 1970. At the time he was "emotionally exhausted" by personal troubles as traumatic as anything on Days. His first wife had left him after 23 years of marriage, and Bill had custody of their five kids, then 13 to 21. Susan was in the sixth year of a romance (with L.A. newscaster Hal Fishman) that was going nowhere. Why was she attracted? "Bill's house was like a zoo," Susan says with a smile. "He didn't have a nickel, and the kids were out of control, living on pizza. It was a spaced-out household. I thought he needed help."
Still, it was "just a friendship for a while," recalls Bill. "I didn't want another long-term relationship." Perhaps more to the point, he adds, "Our characters didn't have any love scenes at first." Then the writers began playing Cupid and, Bill jokes, "You do have to rehearse." Adds Susan: "Once we became lovers, I never had eyes for anyone else." As for the difference in ages, she shrugs, "I'm an old 37, and Bill's a very young 55."
But not so newfangled that he would sanction co-habitational hanky-panky off the set. "I'm a product of my times," he says. "We didn't live together before we were married." They wed only after Bill's youngest graduated from high school, and they became, says homebody Susan, "the most boring newlyweds in L.A." Their hard work playing the decidedly unboring still sees to that. Each morning at 6 the Hayeses drive the two miles from their North Hollywood home to NBC's Bur-bank studios for a grueling 11-hour regimen. At night they study lines for the next day. They couldn't even take a honeymoon until they had been married two years—when their characters finally had one. Now they have parallel vacation clauses in their contracts, and usually holiday abroad (Britain, Italy, Egypt), where they aren't recognized. Otherwise they are mobbed by fans—who inevitably call them Doug and Julie.
Hayes was born in Harvey, Ill. to a housewife and an encyclopedia salesman who doubled as an actor in local theater. At DePauw University (after a World War II stint as a naval airman), he was turned down by the drama group four times, but later got a part in a touring company of Carouse/ because, he says, "I fit the costume." While earning his M.A. in voice and music at Northwestern he fronted a jazz quintet, sang as a cantor in a Chicago synagogue (though he's a Christian), and delivered Danny Boy at Irish wakes. The singing experience paid off in 1954 when he recorded The Ballad of Davy Crockett, which became a No. 1 record and sold 2 million copies.
Hayes also had successes during the 1950s on TV (he sang the weekly closing song on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows) and touring nightclubs with Florence Henderson. But the 1960s were lean years, and he "was wrecked" when his wife, who had been his high school sweetheart, left him and took up with another man. He needed a steady job that would keep him near his kids, and Days of Our Lives "fit the bill."
Susan, whose father left home when she was 2, grew up "never having seen a happy marriage." She was raised by her mother, radio soap actress Elizabeth Harrower, in her grandmother's' 27-room boarding house in tough downtown L.A. "We were quite poor," remembers Susan. "Among our guests there were rapes, suicides, drug addiction, a murder, a birth and true love. That was home." So was the theater. From a local production of Madama Butterfly at 4, she moved on to steady work in TV. Once, on a Lassie episode, she played a villainous girl who tried to poison the canine superstar—only one reason, Susan recalls, that she "had very few friends." After high school she often played the other woman on the docudrama Divorce Court, and, ironically, found herself frequently dating married men. "I wasted a lot of time," she says of those years. "I see now what I was doing."
In the 1960s Susan's career also stalled when she began speaking at Goldwater rallies and trying to drum up support for a constitutional amendment allowing prayer in public schools. "I lost work," she says, "but I believed in it. I was totally unaffected by the '60s. I never smoked a joint." Now, she reports, "I'm quite liberal."
As is Bill (they both voted for John Anderson), but they remain a contrast in styles. Bill is quiet. Susan is more theatrical. But both agree on affection, and they kiss off-camera as much as on. "There's an awful lot of warmth, honesty and sexuality in this marriage," declares Susan, though she has ruled out kids because "I wanted him to be my only concern, and me his."
Their modest two-bedroom redwood home on a quiet street is super neat (except for Bill's study), mostly because they're so rarely home. Occasionally they'll jog or play tennis or visit Bill's seven grandchildren. Weekends are taken up with benefits and personal appearances to promote the soap. Bill still cuts record albums—sold by mail order—and they sometimes tour with a cabaret act that they've written.
As for other ambitions, for a while, Susan admits, "I wanted to move into nighttime TV, but it's apparent that the quality just isn't there in prime time." Bill, too, has come to respect soaps. "The camera is so close; it's looking right down into your soul," he says. "There's no way you can speak your lines and not mean them." It rankles, though, that their estimated combined earnings of $250,000 are less than they'd get in prime time. After a dispute with the network this year, in fact, Susan began seeing a therapist. "I needed to reassure myself that I'm a good actress doing my job," she says.
Still, they plan to stay with the show—and definitely with each other. "The thing we like best is being together a lot," says Bill, "and the show allows us to do that. The worst thing would be for us to become two free-lancers again." Their characters, Doug and Julie, could take a lesson in faithfulness for their second Days union. "I think of marriage as a calm, secret, quiet place where you can be with the person you want to be with," declares Susan, "and not be afraid."
April 27, 2015
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