The Guiding Light
January 25, 1937: The Guiding Light (GL) first airs. The soap opera began as a 15 minute broadcast on NBC Radio. Irna Phillips was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1901. She was an actress and writer and created many of the early American soap operas. Before GL, she worked on Painted Dreams and worked with eight others soaps later, including As the World Turns, a sister show to GL. Irna was one of ten children and her father died when she was eight. Even as a child, she longed to be an actress and made up complicated stories for her dolls. At nineteen, she found herself pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend. She then gave birth to a still-born baby. She found comfort by listing to the radio sermons of Preston Bradley and it was these sermons that helped her create GL.
On June 2, 1947, the series moved to CBS Radio and on June 30, 1952 it finally came to the small screen on CBS TV. It remained also on the radio until June 29, 1956. The show remained a 15 minute presentation until 1968 when it went to a half hour program. Then in 1977, it became a full hour. The 15,000th CBS episode aired on September 6, 2006. The last show was broadcast on September 18, 2009 after a 72 year run. That makes it the fourth longest running program of all time. A Norwegian children’s program, Lørdagsbarnetimen, is the longest with its first airing in 1924 and running until 2010. The Grand Ole Opry and the BBC religious program The Daily Service both were on the air longer than GL.
The original premise for the radio show centered on a preacher named Rev. John Ruthledge with everyone living in a fictional Chicago neighborhood, Five Points. The plot twists of even these early shows were convoluted and involved extortion, murder, and divorce. One of the characters even managed to have an out-of-wedlock baby. During the radio years, other preachers entered and carried on being a “guiding light” to their flock. When the show’s broadcasting moved to California, so did the location of the inhabitants who next lived in Selby Flats near Los Angeles. The Bauers were a family in Chicago and they moved locations as well. In 1948, the Bauers became the focal point of the soap opera.
For the four years the show was on both TV and radio, the cast would have to record their performances twice, once for each venue. When Irna Phillips left GL for As the World Turns, Agnes Nixon became the chief writer. She left in 1967 to work at Another World. In that same year, GL was first broadcast in color. During the 1960s, the first African-Americans were introduced to the script. More characters, more plot twists, more escapades could not keep the ratings up and on April 1, 2009 it was announced the show would come to an end. The final taping was on August 11 with the show airing the next month. On October 5, 2009, CBS replaced GL with Let’s Make a Deal hosted by Wayne Brady.
In the next 43 years, she [Irna Phillips] would create or co-create 18 radio and television serials; four were still on the air when she died, including Guiding Light and As the World Turns, the two longest-running daytime dramas on television. – Lynn Liccardo
If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role. – Judy Garland
Soap opera seems to be a dirty word, but actually they are the most popular shows we have. People want to know what happens next, people hate the villains and love the lovers. It’s good, fun TV. – Dan Stevens
They’re getting me involved in intrigue again, and I think it follows a classic formula in a soap opera. – Michael Zaslow
Also on this day: Moscow University – In 1755, Moscow University was established.
Rebellion – Shays’s Rebellion attacked an arsenal.
First Winter Olympics – In 1924, International Winter Sports Week opened in Chamonix, France.
Payola – In 1960, punishments for those involved in the payola scandal were issued.
Tragedy Strikes – In 2005, hundreds were killed at a stampede near a holy shrine in India.