After 15 years as sniggling troublemaker Dr. John Dixon on the CBS soap As the World Turns and a career-capping Emmy this June as best daytime actor, it’s hardly a shock that Larry Bryggman gets recognized in public. The trouble is the fans aren’t always smiling. Some, he says, bash him on the head with their pocketbooks while others hurl curses at him in supermarkets. That’s because Bryggman plays a meanie who makes J.R. Ewing look like Marcus Welby. Just how evil is Dr. John? One example: He once tricked his wife, Kim, an amnesia victim, into having his child and then kidnapped their son when she remembered his scheming ways. “The things I’ve done,” sighs Bryggman.
Of course in soap operaland, where only assaults on viewer credulity go unrectified, even Dr. John must pay for his sins. He’s been shot, beaten and temporarily blinded along the way. “My character is always physically punished for what he does,” says Bryggman, 45, who earns a hefty six-figure salary for his make-believe villainy. “If I had as many operations or physical mishaps as I’ve had on the show, I’d be dead or terribly deformed.”
New to television, Larry was hired on to ATWT in 1969 for three days of work that stretched—thanks to his talent—into six months. Then, “just when I got the hang of it,” the producers decided to kill off Dr. John as a ratings ploy. He convinced them otherwise and made something unique out of his salacious sawbones by adding a note of regretful self-awareness. The producers and the viewers loved it. “Aha,” Larry recalls them saying, “we have a complex villain.”
Happily, not everyone sees Larry as Simon Legree. Yet another wife (Dee) whom Dr. John betrothed and mistreated was played by his current wife, Jacqueline Schultz, 28. It wasn’t until the Dee-and-John story wound down, says Jacquie, that she began to feel it hadn’t all been acting. “But Larry was married, so there was a lot unsaid.” Bryggman and his wife, dancer Barbara Creed, were later divorced, and Jacquie and Larry married in 1982, two months after Jacquie left the show to pursue a career in films and commercials (L’eggs, Sprite, Old Spice). Recently the producers of As the World Turns asked her to return, but Jacquie demurred. “Not with Larry and me married,” she says.
Larry and Jacquie live in a Manhattan brownstone with a son from Bryggman’s first marriage, Michael, 18, a high school senior. His other son, Jeffrey, 14, who resides with his mother in suburban Westchester County, is a frequent visitor.
Of Swedish ancestry, Larry grew up in Oakland, Calif. In 1959, after two years at City College of San Francisco, Larry moved to New York and spent years looking for a break doing summer stock and off Broadway (Waiting for Godot) before landing the soap.
In 1977 he appeared on Broadway with Al Pacino in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel. After a matinee the stage doorman told Larry that there was a young lady waiting to see him. “There was this very attractive young blond girl sitting there. She’d come to town, come to see the show and of course she saw my name on the program. I guess it was quite an afternoon for her, to sit and watch her father, whom she’d never met.”
Heidi Brennan, 23, is the daughter of Bryggman and an actress he met while working in a Massachusetts summer theater in 1960. They went their separate ways before she was born. Since their first meeting, Bryggman says that he and Heidi have slowly gotten to know each other. “She went back to Ohio to finish high school and announced to me that she wanted to be an actress and would I help her out. I said, ‘Of course.’ ” Heidi is appreciative. “It’s really good,” she says of their relationship. “We met on an adult level and went on from there.” Heidi went to New York five years ago to study acting. She’s co-written a couple of scripts that are being read in Hollywood. Larry told her, “You make a film out of this and I want a part!”
On the basis of his vacation in July, Bryggman could write his own movie. With Jacquie and his two sons, Larry took a three-day, white-water trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. On the first day out their rubber raft slammed into a rock and flipped over in the rapids, dumping its 18 passengers into the icy water. “I was underwater and there was an awful noise and an awful current. I was struggling and gasping and swallowing a lot of water,” Larry recalls. When he surfaced all he could think of was the safety of his family. “I knew,” Larry says, “that unless somebody helped us or we were lucky enough to get pushed to shore, we were just going to keep going down this river until we weren’t anymore.” Finally a rescue helicopter plucked Larry from a lonely sandbar and he was reunited with his family across the river. Jeffrey had been fished out 3½ miles downstream, about to enter even more harrowing rapids. “I don’t know if we would have ever seen him again,” Bryggman says. Because of fierce electrical storms, the river trip passengers had to wait until the next day to be flown out and taken to Las Vegas.
While trying to check into the Flamingo hotel, Bryggman was abruptly wrenched back into the orbit of As the World Turns. “I had lost all of my identification,” he says. “We were standing in line with nothing but what we had on our backs. And don’t you know? Some guy comes up to me and asks, ‘Aren’t you…?’ ” Before the fan could finish the sentence, the actor snapped, “Not now I’m not!” However, says Bryggman, “I later apologized.” Now that’s something Dr. John would never do.