The Lives of Deidre Hall Fans, Made Bleak by Her Absence from the Soaps, Get a New Lease on Our House
Fingers running through her tawny mane, Deidre Hall sits in the living room of her two-story, two-bedroom Beverly Hills home, reflecting on her life as a demigoddess. Cut! A demigoddess? Oh, yes. As psychiatrist Marlena Evans-Brady on NBC’s Days of Our Lives, Hall became the Elvis Presley of soaps, her every footstep followed by a corps of slavishly devoted fans. And Deidre’s ego, rather like Presley’s, loved every minute of it. Now, after 11 years, Hall has abdicated her soap throne for Sunday night TV, co-starring with Wilford Brimley as wholesome mom and photojournalist Jessie Witherspoon in NBC’s Our House. No matter. For not only do Hall and her publicity people continue to fan the fires of fanaticism, they throw in the logs as well—distributing a video biography for Deidre voyeurs (showing her shopping, walking, small talking), holding annual Deidre Hall get-togethers and spurring a “hot pink” craze among the 7,000 members of her fan club. These Deidre devotees wore the color like the Irish wear green on St. Patrick’s Day to show they were “tickled pink” at their heroine getting the Our House role.
Hall, 39, is a throwback to a pre-Brat-Pack, largely mythical Hollywood, where it was a star’s duty, as she puts it, to be “responsive to the needs” of the fans. “Say they run into me at Gelson’s [Market] and want to talk,” Hall says. “For me to say ‘Do you mind? I’m trying to get to the margarine’ is unforgivable. To ask for love and trust on the screen and then not be responsive in life is wrong.”
So imagine the consternation of Hall and her flock when 20-year-old nude photos of her recently appeared in a skin mag. At least, says Hall of the photos, “they’re not pornographic.” She says they were casually taken by a friend. “They were cheesecake pictures. I’m not ashamed of them, but I wouldn’t do it again.”
Please, don’t. Let’s have nothing else taint the all-American credentials Hall presents to the world. Born in Milwaukee, she and her twin sister, Andrea (who appeared as Samantha, Marlena’s evil twin, on Days for two years), were raised in Lake Worth, Fla. Hall describes the place where she grew up as “a cozy, comfortable, safe town where nothing rippled the water.” Except for her. She developed a mission early in life: to win the title of Junior Orange Bowl Queen. But Daddy and Mamma (as she still calls John, a retired postal worker, and Jean, a former high school secretary) didn’t have the money for modeling classes, so Deidre enlisted a friend’s help in learning the fundamentals. Of course she won. “The odd thing was that I wasn’t the prettiest girl by any stretch,” says Hall, who was 12 at the time. “There’s a prettiness that has nothing to do with prettiness. It’s about confidence.”
After attending the local junior college, Hall moved to L.A. and began modeling and acting. For her first starring role, she played Electra Woman (no relation to Sophocles’ or Eugene O’Neill’s plays) in a Saturday morning kiddie television show, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. “I meet men who say, ‘I used to watch the show because of your costume,’ ” remembers Hall. “It was all latex and rubber and hip boots.” In 1975, after Electra Woman ceased production, Hall was cast as Marlena in Days and really started making her mark. She won the Best Actress award from Soap Opera Digest five times, and for 108 months was rated No. 1 in Daytime TV magazine’s popularity poll.
When it appeared that Hall’s character had been killed by a strangler in 1982, the plot twist touched off a major anxiety attack among viewers. Calls jammed NBC’s switchboards, and hundreds of her fans picketed the network’s Burbank building. “I knew how upset they’d be,” says Hall, who has a fan club coordinator in every state. “I knew it would be traumatic. They were grief struck; they were paralyzed.”
Her character returned, but Hall finally made the move to prime time last season, raising three kids in Our House with the help of her crusty curmudgeon of a father-in-law (Brimley). There have been tiffs between the two stars. (“They’re very different human beings, but they respect each other,” insists the show’s producer, Bill Blinn. When asked to comment on his co-star, Brimley offered only, “Not a peep.”) It must be said that Hall was putting in some long hours. She was still working Days during that first season, just in case Our House failed.
Our House survived, and Marlena was killed off last May. “The audience misses her—I hear it in all the letters,” says Hall. “But doing both shows was an enormous undertaking. Plus I had my video company [her firm, Custom’s Last Stand, makes video résumés and boasts such clients as Connie Sellecca and Maria Shriver], and I also had my new relationship, so I had no choice.”
Hall’s old relationship was a seven-year marriage to Keith Barbour, a singer-songwriter, that ended in 1977. “Life was a bit of a struggle then,” says Deidre, who has no children. “We did a lot of growing up together and facing monsters together, and we’re still friends.” Her new relationship, with Michael Dubelko, president of Cannell (Hunter, 21 Jump Street) Studios, began in June 1986. She made eye contact while they were taking business lunches at adjoining tables at Beverly Hills’ Ivy restaurant. He recommended the cajun pizza. She hated it. He apologized by inviting her to dinner. “There was an instantaneous rapport that just kept growing,” says Hall. “There’s such a joy in this commitment, such depth and caring. I care so much about that man.”
Dubelko, 35, who wed Hall on Oct. 17 of this year, tends to be a little less gushy. “As much as I care about her,” says Michael, “I feel kind of silly saying stuff like ‘When I first saw her, my heart skipped a beat.’ It’s really awkward saying things like that to the world.” Reticent as he may be, Dubelko says he’s had little difficulty adjusting to life with as public a figure as Hall. “I’ve always taken the low road in terms of publicity,” he says, “so I’ve had to work at it a bit. But for me it just means I get better seats when we go to the theater.” Don’t think the relationship is without romance. “I really think they’re great together,” says Hall’s friend (and video business partner) Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight. “As I announced on ET, ‘She found her prince, and he’s found his princess.’ ” And so we’re back where we started—an idyll for an idol.