Soap Opera Digest: What do you each remember about auditioning for your role?
Beth Maitland: I don’t remember almost everything that happened in the last 40 years of playing Traci, but I remember the audition! Apparently, they’d been trying to find Traci for a while and they were at the 11th hour when an agent saw me in a play I was doing and said, “There’s this role that you might be good for. Do you want me to make an appointment for you?” And I said, “Yeah, okay.” I didn’t even have an agent. I auditioned and they set up a callback for the next day. I went again, and this was for all of the big guys and they said, “We want you to screen-test tomorrow.” So I screen-tested with Mr. Jerry Douglas [ex-John], who, as he did every day of a beautiful relationship, told me exactly what he thought I should do. On Friday morning, they told me, “We’ll see you Monday for a fitting.” I mean, it was a whirlwind. I was hired originally for just three months for the summer storyline, but here we are 40 years later.
Eileen Davidson: I don’t remember my audition, just the screen test. I had lost a contact lens that morning, so I was screen-testing with one contact lens. For my scene, Terry Lester [ex-Jack] was sitting on the sofa, and I was supposed to walk between the sofa and the table but he put his legs up so I couldn’t get by. I kicked them off the table and I think that had a lot to do with me getting the part because it kind of set the tone for those characters. I do know the search for Ashley had been going for a while and someone from CBS later told me that I ad-libbed or did something and everybody looked at each other and said, “That’s Ashley.” I don’t have any idea what I said or did, but thank God. I had also auditioned with Jerry and he was very loving and very easy to work with. He was just a doll and very much in your corner.
Digest: What do you remember about meeting each other for the first time?
Maitland: I actually don’t remember meeting Eileen for the very first time.
Davidson: Beth, we had an incredibly long and deep conversation about life and I remember every word of it. I’m kidding, I don’t remember, either. Honestly, the only memory I have is you and me thrown together and we had Jack’s wedding, that was pretty soon after we had just started. There was tons of dialogue and we wore those crazy, giant bridesmaids hats.
Maitland: She’s right, we were thrown into the deep end and as a compliment to both Jerry Douglas and Terry Lester, they took us on. Terry would have these dinner parties at his house and we would have food, drink champagne and get to know each other. Terry would play the piano and we’d sing. Jerry would sing “When I Was 17”.
Davidson: I would sing “I’m Special” by The Pretenders. I was terrified of Terry because he had an amazing voice and I had absolutely no talent for belting anything out.
Maitland: I think it was a testament to these two guys, knowing that having a relationship with us was going to make or break how the family was perceived. Eileen and I were in our early 20s and just trying to figure out what was happening and those guys kept us afloat. It was a great family relationship built really quickly right at the start, and that set us up for success on screen and off.
Digest: Despite their differences, the sisters really loved each other. Did that help foster a friendship between you guys?
Maitland: I think so. Right away, Eileen and I called each other the fu**ing soap queens. We didn’t know any better but we were so overwhelmed by the journey and still having so much fun. The situation made us family, made us friends, and made us compatriots sharing the trenches.
Davidson: I would agree with that. We started at the same time so we were going through the same situation and we got very close, very fast in the beginning.
Digest: The fans fell in love with the Abbotts pretty quickly. Did you know that you were a hit?
Davidson: I remember there was a big buzz about us because we were replacing this other [core] family. Jerry and Terry were both extremely excited and there was a lot on the line for them because they were waiting to get a family, which always meant longevity. I think it was [Co-Creator/Head Writer] Bill Bell’s very genius writing that successfully brought us into the fans’ homes and Jerry was a fantastic patriarch. He had this warmth and gravitas and he really parlayed that with his [TV] children and even with the Jack character, who could be such an a**hole. They were not perfect children but they always had this devoted father who loved them despite their problems and flaws.
Maitland: I had never watched a soap opera, so I had no idea what I was walking into, but the fan response was overwhelming. I thought I was playing a really relatable character and that this kind of fan outpouring was normal. I thought it was just how it was supposed to be, while we were trying to keep our heads above water.
Digest: How quickly were you recognized in public as your characters?
Davidson: Right away and I remember it being kind of mind-blowing. All of a sudden, people knew who you were and it was a very different experience for sure. Also, the show was popular in Canada and when I was there, I got chased and cornered in a bookstore and security had to save me. People were trying to cut off parts of my hair like I was a rock star. It was so crazy.
Maitland: I experienced a lot of that, as well. We were on air maybe three or four weeks when the fan response started. We were in tons of magazines and I’ve had people follow me to the ladies’ room and tell me I shouldn’t be having lunch with Tracey Bregman [Lauren] because she was really mean. It was all pretty startling.
Digest: Bill Bell still worked from his home in Chicago, so when did you first meet him in person?
Davidson: I think just a few weeks after we started. It was always a huge deal when he would come to town. He loved the Abbotts and I remember him always being so happy with how that was going. He was thrilled and very warm and very excited about what was going on.
Maitland: I do have an exact recollection. I didn’t know him and hadn’t heard that he was in town. I had finished scenes and I was walking from one stage to another and Patty Weaver [ex-Gina] was talking to this very handsome man in a smart suit. When I walked up, he ran over and threw his arms around me. He didn’t introduce himself and it took me a few minutes to figure out who he was. He was lovely and complimentary even though I had no idea who he was at first [laughs].
Digest: Eileen left in 1988 and Peter Bergman took over the role of Jack a year later. Beth, what was your first impression of him?
Maitland: Relationships off camera are as important to Peter as relationships on camera, and it’s important to him to connect. He wanted a sit-down with me right away and get to know me and have me get to know him. It was an interesting time because I was being let out of another contract as he was arriving but he was so encouraging. He talked about how the doors in daytime had closed for him in New York and how grateful he was for the role of Jack. Obviously, his portrayal is very different from Terry’s, who always played the very dark side of Jack, while Peter had a very different take. The fans don’t welcome change easily but Peter was accepted much more easily than one would expect.
Digest: Eileen, you returned to Y&R in 1999, how did you like working with Peter?
Davidson: He was so welcoming and kind, which made it super-easy. I was really nervous because I hadn’t played Ashley for over a decade, so I had to adjust. Peter was so great and loving when I told him I was nervous. He was very supportive and very much the flatterer. He was happy to have me on board and I was happy to be working with somebody of his caliber.
Digest: Ladies, please share the highlights of your 40 years with Y&R.
Maitland: My favorite storylines were the concerts in the early years. That was a time when I really felt like a rock star. We would go to Capitol Records, the iconic building in Hollywood that looks like a stack of vinyl records, and record with people who were significant musical influencers. When we shot the concerts, there would be a hundred extras and the soundstage would look like an amazing venue. So those summer concerts live in my memory as some of the most extraordinary highlights of my career, both acting and singing. Skipping ahead, the most significant acting storyline is when Traci’s daughter, Colleen, died. I did 30 episodes of crying over my dying daughter and everybody was joking that I was the Godmother of Tears. It was the most demanding but also rewarding time of my career. I was very proud of my work during that time. And so I think those are the two most significant for me and for very different reasons.
Davidson: I liked telling the story of Ashley’s abortion, although I didn’t like the correlation between her going crazy and the abortion. The breast cancer story was great because it got so much attention and saved people’s lives. It really elevated the concept of entertainment. One of my favorite memories was in the ’80s when Ashley was being rained on in a scene. Other soaps were flying people to Europe for remotes and I was going to Griffith Park with a rain truck. I was literally trying to climb up this muddy hill and had the crew guys underneath me, trying to boost me up, but I kept sliding down and we were there all night in freezing rain. Later, the crew gave me an award that said: Best Performance Under Adverse Special Effects Conditions. I had such a great relationship with the crew.
Digest: Moving forward, what do you hope happens for your characters?
Maitland: I have aged into and love the Auntie Traci position that I fill on the show, so I very much hope that all the young characters coming in bring their problems to Traci so she can have an impact on helping them to find their way. I hope there’s a place for her as the heart of Genoa City and not only as the heart of the Abbott family. I also hope there’s a way for Traci to find romance again. It’s an opportunity to tell the story that it’s never too late for people who aren’t commercially beautiful, in the way that show business and commercialism suggests, to find their match.
Davidson: I can’t really answer that question because I don’t really want to be there for a huge amount of time and you need to be if you’re going to have story. If I wanted this to happen, I think it would be great if Ashley got into a huge romance. It’s been a very long time for her. I think the last one was with Tucker and she usually gets the short end of the stick. She’s always the one getting her heart broken, so it’s time that she goes out and breaks some hearts.