SUSAN HASKELL GOT HER JOB BECAUSE someone was dying. Someone on One Life to Live. And from a life-threatening disease: lupus. The producers, however, did not want viewers to think that lupus, in which the immune system attacks its own tissue, is always fatal, so they decided to introduce—temporarily—a second character who survives the disease.

Enter Haskell, 26, who has been playing that "temporary" character, Marty Saybrooke, on the ABC soap for nearly three years. "The character was planned to be part of just one story line," says Susan Bedsow Horgan, OLTL's executive producer. "But Susan is such a wonderful actress that we wanted to write more for her."

Write they have. During Haskell's years on the show, her rich orphan character has suffered through not only lupus but a gang rape and the ensuing trial; the murder of her boyfriend plus an unconsummated relationship with a married minister. The endless suffering helped earn Haskell a Daytime Emmy last May for best supporting actress. And recently she was nominated for a Soap Opera Digest award as younger lead actress.

But the actress sees Marty as more than the sum total of her disasters. "She's strong and tough, and she really doesn't trust anyone. She just wants to love and be loved, but that hasn't worked for her yet," Haskell says. "I always think if she'd had the life I had, we'd probably be very similar."

Haskell grew up in Toronto, the second of three children of American parents Roger Haskell, president of an industrial-products company, and his wife, Marilyn, an actress who had put her career on hold to raise a family. (She now manages her daughter.) "Our house was where everyone came to hang out," says Susan, recalling how she, her younger sister Carolyn and her older brother Roger often shared rooms with troubled kids who became unofficial foster siblings.

Haskell began modeling at 16 but had no plans to follow her mother into acting. At Tufts University outside Boston, "I was premed," she says, "but watching people work on cadavers gave me a funny feeling." After graduating cum laude in 1990 with a degree in biopsychology, she moved to New York City, where she she modeled, did TV commercials (Oil of Olay, Burger King) and found her way to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After studying one year, she appeared (briefly) in the syndicated series My Secret Identity, and (even more briefly) in the movie Strictly Business. She first appeared on the soap early in '92.

The steady gig has been great—except possibly for her relationship with beau Tom Caffrey, 30, an emergency-room physician in Jacksonville, Fla., whom she met four years ago through friends. It's not that he frets about her kissing all those soap studs—and Caffrey notes, shrugging, "I don't think she worries when I'm doing pelvic exams." The real problem is the 835 miles between them. They try to connect every two or three weeks ("I know everyone at Continental by name," says Haskell. "Half of them think I work for the airline"), and they speak on the phone every day. "The one rule we have is whenever we feel like calling, call," says Haskell. As if on cue, the phone in her dressing room rings. It's Caffrey, checking in for the afternoon. No suffering on the set today.

BETSY ISRAEL
TOBY KAHN in New York City

  • Contributors:
  • Toby Kahn.