Soap Stars Jerry Anthony and Brynn Thayer Have Two Lives to Live, and Live Them Together
For Brynn Thayer and Jerry Anthony of ABC's One Life to Live, romance began in the usual way, with sweaty palms, shaky knees and butterflies in the stomach. But, initially at least, it wasn't love that set these soap opera hearts to thumping: It was a special 1979 series of game show guest shots featuring duos from ABC's daytime dramas. Teamed on The $20,000 Pyramid against such heavies as Helen Gallagher and Michael Levin of Ryan's Hope, Genie Francis and Richard Dean Anderson of General Hospital and Candice Earley and John Donnelly of All My Children, Brynn and Jerry "wiped out everybody," she remembers with pleasure. Flushed with success, they decided to keep their winning partnership going. Wed last November, they are now one of only three married couples with roles on the same soap, along with Susan Seaforth and Bill Hayes of NBC's Days of Our Lives and Jane Daly and Duncan Gamble of CBS' Capitol.
When Brynn, 32, and Jerry, 31, met four years ago on the Manhattan set of One Life—TV's third most watched soap, after two other ABC entries, General Hospital and All My Children—they barely noticed each other. Brynn, in her first acting job, was just getting used to her role as Jenny Vernon (now Janssen), an ex-nun turned suburban Philadelphia wife and mother. Jerry was already an old hand, having played the roguish ex-pimp Marco Dane—a role that won him an Emmy nomination last spring—for almost two years. "We weren't nuts about each other at first," says Brynn. Nonetheless, network execs paired them on the Pyramid series. Says Jozie Emmerich, an ABC veep: "We feel like matchmakers."
For two weeks before their debut as a game show team, Jerry subjected Brynn to nightly rehearsals of word games. "He's Mr. Competitive," she explains. "Eventually it became like therapy. Our relationship started through word association." Helped along by what Jerry calls "one of those cosmic little accidents"—they had both just broken off previous attachments—they soon began dating. Last year she finally accepted one of Jerry's proposals. "We kept our engagement secret awhile," he says. "We didn't want to make it a big studio romance till we were sure."
Their 60-guest wedding at Manhattan's Windows on the World restaurant hardly rivaled Luke and Laura's five-alarm General Hospital nuptials, but it did raise a life-imitating-soap kind of issue: Could the cool brunette daughter of a Dallas executive find true happiness back East as the wife of the frenetic son of Italian immigrants?
Brynn's father is Paul Thayer, an Oklahoma oilman's son who forsook the family business to become a pilot for TWA and a test flier for Chance Vought Corp., a Texas maker of military planes. In 1970 he was named chairman and chief executive of Vought's parent company, the LTV Corp., with sales last year of $7.5 billion. An only child whose mother once worked as a stewardess, Brynn happily admits to growing up "a spoiled brat" in North Dallas, where she had her own horse before she was 14. As a 21-year-old education major at the University of Arkansas, she fell into a brief marriage to a fellow student. After her divorce and two years as a fifth-grade teacher in Dallas, she decided to seek a new life in New York. She took acting lessons, modeled for catalogs, and quickly hit it big in commercials as a wholesome-housewife type pushing products including Maxwell House coffee, Q-Tips and Blue Bonnet margarine.
Then, in 1978, Brynn auditioned for the role of Jenny. With encouragement from One Life director Peter Miner, who taught one of her acting classes, she won the part. Initially she was so stiff on camera that her first letter from a viewer urged her to "Please go back to the convent." "I wasn't making the character my own," Brynn explains. "I was more concerned about learning my lines and getting to work on time." But with help from friends like co-star Judith Light, she improved quickly. Says Light, who shares a dressing room with Brynn, "She was scared, and nobody really knew that till later. Though Brynn didn't have experience, her instincts were all there. She has a tendency to be extremely modest about her abilities."
Gerald Anthony is the eldest of three children of parents who came to Pittsburgh from a hill town in central Italy's Abruzzi region just after World War II. His father works in a steel mill, his mother in a department store. After high school and lemming-like participation in what he calls the "late-'60s hippie exodus" to the West Coast, he went to Monterey Peninsula Junior College before entering the University of California at Santa Cruz. There he discovered the theater. He formed his own company, then went on to further study at the University of Washington and Temple. Hitting New York in 1976, Jerry took an off-Broadway directing job that brought neither fame nor fortune. To pay the rent he accepted what was meant to be an eight-day stint playing Marco Dane, the heel. These days he describes One Life as TV's best-written soap and believes he has helped improve it. Marco, he maintains, "was the first really antiheroic character. He did rotten things but wasn't totally despicable because you understood him. He has matured."
Now living in New York's suburban Rockland County in the $175,000 two-bedroom home they bought earlier this year, Brynn and Jerry have mounted their marriage certificate over the toilet—a sign, perhaps, of their refusal to get hung up on protocol. "The No. 1 things people fight about—money, chores and who does the dishes—never enter into our lives," Jerry insists. Their combined incomes of more than $200,000 allow them to choose between a Porsche and an Audi for their 6:30 a.m. sprint into Manhattan, where they rehearse and tape for 12 hours or more. At home, Brynn is pleased to deal with repairs, yard work and decorating, while Jerry cooks most of the meals. So far, at least, they've been able to keep domestic tension below soap opera levels. "The other day the script said I had to scream at Jerry, and I found myself wanting to do the same in real life," Brynn admits. "But usually we try to settle problems before the day begins. As long as we communicate every day, we're okay."
Jerry does some play doctoring on the side but sees writing and acting principally as routes to his goal of directing. While he aims eventually to cut back on his One Life work to focus on various TV, film and stage projects, Brynn remains serene in the soap. "I'm like everybody," she says. "I would like to do a movie someday, but for now I just really want to enjoy what I have. After all those housewife commercials, I've finally become one."
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