As Soap Star and Scriptwriter, Meg Bennett Faces Double Duty on the Young and the Restless
06/06/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT
Meg Bennett was leaving the cast of The Young and the Restless. After a year on the show, her character, Julia Newman, was being written out of CBS' highly rated soap at the end of 1981. But since Meg's on-the-set script doctoring had impressed the production staff, series creator William Bell suggested a career alternative. Would Meg join the show's stable of writers? Recalls Bell, "What it comes down to is that she's such a lovable little thing, and I felt so bloody guilty." For Meg, 32, it came down to having a job. Says she, "I get insecure real fast."
These days Meg has little to worry about. As a writer, she scripts one episode a week of The Young and the Restless. And last October she made a triumphant return to the series when Julia Newman reappeared to overwhelmingly positive viewer response. Alternating between acting and writing could take a toll, but a double life suits Meg. Says she, "As an actress, you're always seeking approval. 'Am I doing all right? Is the scene working?' As a writer, I feel like an adult."
Meg's second career has affected Julia Newman too. Once a spineless victim of her ex-husband, Julia is now a successful, self-assured fashion designer, after an extended stay in Paris. That change is, in part, the result of Meg's stint at the typewriter. The other writers "saw how different I was from the character they'd been creating," explains Meg, "and they said, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if Julia were more like Meg?' " Sometimes Julia's new toughness even astonishes Meg. "Now they've got her so strong that I think, 'That's what I want to be like.' "
Despite her current success, Bennett never envisioned herself at the typewriter. The eldest daughter of a printing company executive and a psychologist, Meg had a comfortable childhood in Pasadena, Calif. She majored in drama at Northwestern, acting in summer stock between terms. Hired in 1971 as the "Cadillac Eldorado convertible girl" for a New York auto show, she decided on Manhattan as home, which proved a fortuitous choice. In an elevator, a man asked Meg if she wanted to be on a quiz show. Thus was born a champion of NBC's Three on a Match, with winnings that included complete furnishings for her new apartment. "I felt charmed," she says. A part in the original Broadway cast of Grease led to the role of the good girl, Liza, on Search for Tomorrow. Meg quickly beguiled the cast, which included Kevin Kline and Morgan Fairchild, who had beaten out Meg for the show's vixen role nine months earlier. Notes Morgan, "I still consider her a best friend, even though we don't see each other very much."
In 1978 Meg left that soap and New York for acting opportunities in California. But a bout of hepatitis interrupted those plans. Meg's weight dropped to 95 pounds. While recovering, she was approached about a part on The Young and the Restless. Explains Meg, "When the writers saw me, I was very frail, and that's how they wrote Julia."
Because she is usually in front of the cameras four or five days a week, weekends are reserved for scripts. The soap's head writers in Chicago concoct the story lines, which are sent to Meg and other dialogue writers in Los Angeles. Each writer executes an entire episode. To avoid a conflict of interest, however, Meg never scripts scenes for Julia. Like an actress, a writer can get typecast, according to Meg. Says she, "They tend to send me the more emotional scenes. I do better with that than glib, snappy repartee. In real life, I can never think of the great remark." Her guiding principle at the typewriter: "I try not to make any character say something that would make me gag if I had to say it."
Meg's schedule cramps her socializing, but she admits, "I really like working all the time." Still, she would like to have a marriage and children someday. "There's this life I envision going on in one place, and my real life is going on over here."
For Meg, working double duty has paid off. With Julia's resurgence of popularity, she now receives 100 to 200 fan letters a week, some of which contain offbeat requests for a photograph "where I can see your belly button." Most mail, however, concerns a continuing plot line in which Julia's ex-husband was being slowly poisoned by the evil Eve. Says Meg, "People have written to me saying, 'Dear Julia: It's Eve! You've got to do something right away, or he'll die!' " At least those fans are addressing the proper party. Meg the actress may be unable to help, but Meg the writer does have influence.