What can you say about a woman who knows every inch of Springfield, but has never ever actually been there?
Darlene Anderson is a young 70 years of age and has been listening to Guiding Light since she was three years old. It would be almost impossible to find someone who goes back, almost to the beginning, but thanks to the internet and Soapdom.com, we’ve done just that. “The great thing about the stories was, what my Mom told me about right and wrong, was in the stories. I think ‘Guiding Light’ may have helped build a foundation for a life.”
Mrs. Anderson resides about 17 miles from where she lived when she first heard the strains of Guiding Light’s organ in 1939. The town, Cole Camp, Missouri, is about 117 miles south east of Kansas City, Mo. To put everything in perspective, when Anderson first started listening to the soap Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States. The Great Depression was coming to an end. World War II began with Germany’s invasion of Poland. Pan American Airlines was the first commercial airline to transport people across the Atlantic. A loaf of bread was 8 cents and the average price of a car was $700. U.S. audiences were flocking to movie theatres to see, what has become sort of a water-shed year for some of the greatest Hollywood movies – ever: “Gone With The Wind,” The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” and “Wuthering Heights.” The New York World’s Fair gave people a glimpse of the future with something called a television. Most people, however, were glued to their radios waiting for the next installment of “The Lone Ranger,” or listening to the fireside chats of President Roosevelt. But on NBC-Red -- a radio network all but forgotten -- young Darlene Anderson, along with her mother were already hooked on The Guiding Light.
They lived in the country near a mercantile store. There was a path to the bath out back and Anderson got her education in a one-room schoolhouse. There was no electricity. The radio ran on batteries, so the family was very selective about their radio shows. Anderson never listened to any news, especially war news. “The Guiding Light” came on before the noon news. She sat in front of the radio, cross-legged, every day eating her lunch and listened to the 15-minute broadcast. “It was about a minister whose home or church was open to everybody and he was very kind. I believe this man had a housekeeper.”
Young Anderson was a lonely child, so she began to think of GL as her family. It was her imaginary playmate. She put faces on all the characters, “When you’re only three years old you remember bits and pieces,” Her most vivid memory is the lamp. Today she’s not sure if it’s a real memory or the lamp her father, a lay minister, kept in their front window.
Anderson vaguely remembers a storyline where somebody left a baby at the church. She prayed that God would leave a baby for her at church. She isn’t sure where the show begins and her imagination ends.
Around 1946 either someone on the show had a baby or there was a baby. Darlene was fascinated by this storyline since her mom was pregnant at that time with her sister.
In 1954 Darlene’s family finally got a TV and the lamp was replaced with a lighthouse. That shocked her! For the first time she got to see the families she loved on radio, especially the Bauer’s, Papa and Bert, “I imagined all the people just as they looked. They evolved just like my family had evolved.”
There were two boys, Rick and Mike, who were Bert’s sons. One of them, she can’t remember which, had a daughter who seemed to have some discipline problems. This was something the then teen-age Anderson could identify with very strongly.
In the late 1950’s Darlene moved to Turkey but didn’t lose contact with the show. Her mother’s letters were full of the ups and downs in Springfield.
“The Bauer’s were the heart of the whole show,” she shared. “Good always prevailed. The bad always paid for it.” That’s what Anderson loved best about the show and what she believes is sorely missing today. It all started in the 1980’s, “Things got a little weird, especially with Roger Thorpe. Things got out of balance. No justice. I got angry and stopped watching until the 90’s.”
It was a back injury that brought her back. She was watching ATWT and something caught her eye. “The show brought back the old Phillip. Rick and Phillip were talking and that was it. I was hooked again.”
Over and over, Anderson told Soapdom that no one is left from the original show. The heart and the anchor have disappeared. “That’s upsetting and the death of Maureen Bauer was unconscionable…unconscionable.”
She believes the heart and the soul of the show were destroyed for the sake of ratings. “There was a form of punishment for those who were awful to their fellow man and that’s been lost. The Bauer’s represented that core and it’s gone.”
But she’s very fond of Harley and Gus. She knows people like them who aren’t really bad, but some times make bad decisions. Anderson fondly remembers Melina Kanakerdes (ex-Eleni); “I loved the whole Greek wedding and watched Providence because of her.”
“The story line with Rick and Phillip was just bizarre and a little goofy. I don’t mind a little strange…but still…” Phillip’s New York wedding was a real highlight, but the Phillip/Alan story line left her cold. Her memories of the scene in the garden, when Phillip found out that Alan was his father, worked very well because old and new story lines converged.
She loves the Coopers, “They are my cup of tea.” After all this time Reva’s finally grown on her, “Because she’s Irish.” Anderson’s own Celtic roots go way back. Her family settled in Virginia some time in the late 1600’s. From there they headed to Tennessee and onto Kentucky. When her grandfather went looking for a new place to farm, he founded Cole Camp, Missouri, which is named for a precinct in Kentucky.
Anderson also watches “As the World Turns” and likes to compare the two shows, “As the World Turns” always kept the core and when they didn’t, the fans were in an uproar. A group of about 20 women from Cole Camp, who all watched ATWT, bombarded CBS with phone calls when news leaked that Nancy was about to be written off the show. The same thing happened when the Snyder’s were going to be a part of soap history. They called! “The Snyder’s were working class people, not snobs, not mean.” The show still has its core. “Guiding Light,” to her way of thinking, went off in another direction. “There’s no core there. They don’t have to be the same actors, but I would like to see the same characters…keep them as a centerpiece.”
She would like to see more maturity on the show, “Alan should get his just due. Maybe his younger son or granddaughter could be nicer.” She likes Jerry Ver Dorn (ex-Ross) and misses him a great deal. “I like a balance like in here in Cole Camp. The story line should reflect society. Not everybody being greedy and shallow.”
Anderson’s seen the show go from 15 minutes to one hour, “The hour length is best. I can really get into the characters and the story line.” But more than anything she believes in continuity, “I think extended families in real life give foundations for the next generation because we’re all scattered and we live hundreds of miles away from each other.” She ought to know, she’s got three sons, one stepdaughter, nine grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
Even with all the changes, Darlene still watches the show. Five years ago she and her husband turned their backs on Kansas City and returned to Cole Camp, where they run a bed and breakfast, Tymes Past, near the Lake of the Ozarks. She’s busy 24/7. However, the more things change the more they stay the same. Like she did when she was a child, Anderson still eats lunch with GL and can’t wait to see what happens next.
A sampler from her grandmother hangs in the parlor. Anderson paraphrased it for Soapdom, “Build a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” The words resonate very deeply, “That’s what GL meant in the beginning, never turn away a stranger and feed them.”
The lessons she learned as a child, the differences between right and wrong, she credits to Guiding Light, the Bauer’s who gave the show its heart and soul, and that lamp in the window…
If you’re passing through Missouri and want to get your daily Guiding Light fix, stop and visit Darlene Anderson at Tymes Past, Cole Camp. Mo. 65325
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