From the moment he speaks his only line—”Those sutures are ready to come out soon”—it’s obvious that the white-coated man on the TV sound stage is no actor. Indeed, after the episode of Search for Tomorrow is in the can, Dr. Anthony Moulton will hurry back to Baltimore. There he’ll resume his real-life job as assistant professor of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the University of Maryland.
As the soap opera’s medical adviser for the past five years, Moulton, 34, is on call to explain the possible dramatic repercussions of various diseases. He once wrote a 15-page report to the show’s producers on the aftereffects of a mastectomy. Recently they wanted to know what complications could strike a little girl with pneumonia so that a nurse could save the child’s life. When Moulton’s advice is needed right on the set, which happens every three months or so, he has gone on camera himself (at union scale of $250 a day). He often portrays an anesthesiologist or junior surgeon, leaving the medical heroics to the series stars. Once Moulton’s hands were filmed sewing up an incision (actually a surgical cap) while an actor portrayed intense concentration for facial closeups. “The first few times on camera,” allows Moulton, “I was much more nervous trying to fake an operation than I am doing the real thing.”
On Search for Tomorrow (which has been on TV since 1951) these surgical dramas have taken place at fictional Henderson Hospital, where some of the soap’s characters work. Others check in and out regularly. “Fans who watch soap operas believe what they see,” says producer’s assistant Gail Starkey. “It’s important to have some-body on this show who knows his work.”
Born in New Zealand to an American Army officer, Moulton grew up in Maine, graduated from Bowdoin and studied medicine and cardiac surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. He spent a year (1978-79) at London’s internationally known Hospital for Sick Children, building up his competence and confidence to perform pediatric heart surgery.
While working his way through med school as a scrub technician at Harlem Hospital, Moulton often watched heart surgery and found it “real life-and-death trauma, where the results are instantaneous, dramatic and very gratifying.” He chose his specialty, children’s heart disease, for many of the same reasons. “It is where children come in the sickest,” he says. “There’s nothing more dramatic than to take an infant who has blue baby syndrome, operate on him and make him pink. It’s amazing how fast the kids bounce back.” Moulton performs between four and six operations a week on infants as young as 12 hours.
During Moulton’s internship in New York, a nurse who played bit parts on Search asked him to come along as technical adviser on an operating room scene. Though he had to say no because of hospital commitments, he was free a year and a half later when he was invited again. On the set he’s called “the real doctor” and treated “with great deference.” His Baltimore patients and their parents, he says, are “amused by the whole thing.” Though Moulton doesn’t watch the soap himself, his colleagues at the hospital who do constantly press him for upcoming twists of plot. “They all think I know what is going to happen to their favorite star,” he says. “I don’t.”