Stars No Longer Passing The Soaps Fugard And Cavett Visit The Daytime Shows This Week

Posted: September 07, 1988

He is a crusty old sea captain, a prisoner of his wheelchair and his deranged daughter. Sometime this week, with a bullet lodged in his chest, he will rescue a pregnant woman his daughter is holding hostage in the lighthouse.

It is not an unlikely plot in soapdom, but the role is played by a surprising new face in daytime TV: Athol Fugard, the noted South African playwright now appearing on Broadway in "Road to Mecca."

Fugard makes his soap opera debut tomorrow on ABC's "One Life to Live" (2 p.m. on Channel 6) and will appear through Sept. 19. Also tomorrow, talk show host Dick Cavett makes his sixth appearance on a soap opera in a two-day run as an Atlantic City magician on NBC's "Another World" (2 p.m. on Channel 3). They are the latest on a long list of celebrities who have appeared on soap operas in recent years.

For Fugard, who describes himself as a "total stage, theater person," the stint was a chance to learn about another acting medium. It was a difficult lesson. Not only did he have to master a runaway motorized wheelchair, but he had to learn how to cram lines. Unlike the theater, soap actors are given hours rather than weeks to develop their characters.

"In theater, it is architecture," said Fugard. "You build your character carefully. You assemble your bricks, you call in the electrician and the plumber, the mason, and so forth.

"This was like putting a teaspoon of Nescafe into a cup of hot water. Instant acting. Instant character. Instant show."

Years ago, an actor of any repute would not be caught on a soap opera. Daytime television was a place for the aspirant or the has-been or the never- to-really-make-it. But the runaway success of such prime-time soaps as ''Dallas," "Dynasty," and "Falcon Crest" in the early '80s changed all that.

Suddenly the genre was hot, and soaps were in. Celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr. and Carol Burnett, and macho athletes like boxer Gerry Cooney came out of the closet and admitted they were diehard soap watchers.

In recent years, scores of celebrities have appeared on soap operas. They include Burnett, Cooney, Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Milton Berle, Gwen Verdon, Stevie Wonder, Imogene Coca, Germaine Jackson and Johnny Mathis.

Fugard's stint made him appreciate how hard soap actors work. He would do another guest role, he said, but could not imagine leaving "the womb" of the theater and its carefully rehearsed scenes permanently. Life as a soap actor, he said, would be "too exhausting."

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