Inside the Great America amusement park in Gurnee, Ill. near Chicago, the audience is going wild. “Maybe you can touch Nick Benedict,” gushes announcer Joyce Becker amid a crescendo of squeals. “Maybe you can feel him,” she teases, and the squeals turn to screams. “Maybe a little kiss here and there,” she yells. Pandemonium!
Nick Benedict is not, of course, just another handsome hunk. He’s the lady-killing Phil Brent on ABC’s All My Children. Onstage with him are three more of the biggest stars of daytime TV. One is Eileen Fulton, the “queen of soaps,” who for 18 years has brought Lisa Colman to villainous life on CBS’s As the World Turns. “I’m the classic daytime meanie,” Fulton admits. “I’ve had 32 lovers, four husbands, two children and one phantom fetus.” Next to Eileen, blowing kisses at the audience, are Chandler Hill Harben, the amoral Ben Harper on CBS’s Love of Life, and Michael Storm, the saintly Dr. Larry Wolek of ABC’s One Life to Live.
They’ve come to Gurnee for the Soap Opera Festival, the 17th in a series of shopping center and dinner theater hoedowns organized by Becker, 34, a Westport, Conn. soap addict turned fan mag columnist. She is assisted by her husband, Allen Sugarman, 37, an ex-teacher of the mentally retarded who now does P.R. for soap stars. Joyce pumps the audience for questions. “Michael,” asks one, “how long are you going to put up with Karen?” To shouts of “Dump her! Dump her!” Storm merely shrugs. “Nick,” pipes up an 8-year-old, “do you want to get married?” “Yes,” he replies, while Instamatics pop blindingly. “In fact, I’ll wait for you.”
At $250 a day plus expenses, the stars definitely are in it For Richer, For Poorer. “It’s just a gig, you know,” sighs Benedict. Harben adds, “The networks like us to do it.” But they find Joyce’s cutesy come-ons to the fans—”Wouldn’t you like to ask him how he kisses?”—a trial. “Why can’t she be more real?” Harben wonders. But that’s not the way the world turns.