STRANGE PARADISE's Most Prolific Director
Director William Glenn joined the STRANGE PARADISE team early in the show's Desmond Hall era with Episode 68. He proved himself a capable craftsman, eventually helming more episodes than any other director on the series. He is credited with directing at least 48 installments, including the series' final episode in 1970. Reprinted below is an article and interview with Glenn, originally from the
Ottawa Citizen, March 10, 1998, reflecting upon the span of his career in television and film.
Tuesday, 10 March 1998
"Ottawa's where I learned to love soaps"
Article by Tony Atherton
The Ottawa Citizen
(Bill Glenn, former director of Y&R, honed his skills with Ottawa's Orpheus Theatre and the National Theatre Company.)
It's 1975, another smoggy day in L.A. The phone rings in the control room on the set of The Young and the Restless, CBS's trend-setting new soap opera. Director Bill Glenn folds his six-foot, seven-inch frame into a chair and picks up the receiver. He knows who it is.
"Well," says Bill Bell, "What do you think?"
Glenn again looks at the monitor, on which a flaxen-haired youth with sculpted features stares back from somewhere on the studio floor. "He's too pretty," says Glenn perfunctorily. He knows Bell, the writer-producer who had created the instantly popular Y&R two years before, has already made up his mind. He wants this living, breathing Malibu Ken as the new Dr. Snapper Foster. It's a crucial cast change for a central character in a series that doesn't want to lose its impressive momentum. It's not up to Bill Glenn to advise his boss against it. It's up to Glenn to make it work.
"Well, what can we do?" Bell asks. Meaning, "What can you do?"
"Nothing," says Glenn. "I'm sure the women will love him."
But he walks to the set anyway. Drawing on skills in theatre production honed years before with the National Theatre Company
and Orpheus Theatre back in Ottawa, he resets the lighting to tone down the actor's shining locks and sharpen his soft facial features. Then he tells the camera operator to pull back; Glenn pioneered the extreme close-up in soap operas, but with this guy it would be too much of a good thing. He tells the kid to deliver his lines again, this time with a bit of a punch, not so lightweight. Back in the control room, there's another call.
"Perfect. We're signing him."
So, thanks to Bill Bell's instincts and Bill Glenn's alchemy, the kid with the chin is going to get a big break. Not much you can do about the kid's name though. What is it again, Heidelberg? No, it's Hasselhoff, David Hasselhoff.
Bill Bell's instincts (with those of his partner and wife Lee Phillip) and Bill Glenn's alchemy proved a potent combination for Y&R. By the time Glenn finally left the series, nine years after it had launched, The Young and the Restless had already been the No. 1-rated daytime soap on CBS for three years.
Soon after, it became the top-ranked soap overall, a title it still holds on the verge of its 25th anniversary this month. The celebrations include Y&R's annual prime-time episode tonight at 8 on CBS.
Bell cut his soap-opera teeth on The Guiding Light and wrote for As The World Turns and Another World before creating Y&R. With the new show, he set new standards for soap operas, which at the time were not much different from the fusty old kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s. Bell hit a nerve with viewers by emphasizing beautiful people, sex and lavish lifestyles. Yet he wasn't afraid to leaven the glitz with explorations of such previously taboo social issues as euthanasia (Liz Foster ending her husband's suffering), alcoholism (Kay Chancellor), breast cancer (Jennifer Brooks) and even incest (Nick Reed and his daughters).
But it was Glenn, as senior director, who provided the artistry that gave the soap a look as distinctive as its themes. His approach, mimicked by many daytime directors since, included imaginative lighting, a lot of fancy camera movement, beautiful sets, chic wardrobe and a lush orchestral score.
"It was big turn-around in soap operas, because we went very elegant with one of top designers in Hollywood," Glenn said recently from his Palm Springs home. "People would burst into song on the show, and people would play the piano. It was a
The beautiful people of the fictional bedroom community of Genoa City seemed a long way from good, grey Ottawa, where Glenn was born and bred. But Glenn can draw a direct line between his success with Y&R (and several other soaps) and his nine-year-old self hurrying home in the 1940s to listen to Laura Ltd., a 15-minute CBC radio soap set in Montreal.
"Ottawa's where I learned to love soaps," Glenn says. Ottawa is also where he learned to love stagecraft, first as a teenage actor with the Ottawa Little Theatre's children's theatre, and later as the first assistant stage manager at the Canadian Repertory Theatre in the La Salle Academy on Sussex Drive. The CRT was the hub of Canadian drama before Stratford.
Glenn says he had wanted to be in theatre since childhood, but it was a dream he thought best not to share with his practical father. When dad did find out, "he took me out of Lisgar (High School) and put me in (the High School of) Commerce and said, 'Learn to type.' "
The founding of the Canadian Repertory Theatre saved Glenn from a life of clerical ennui, and gave him the contacts that landed him a job at Stratford Festival in 1953.
He continued with summer theatre, directing at Orpheus and working at the CRT until 1960, when he was hired on at the local CBC television station. He directed local news and produced variety shows until he moved to Toronto, where he produced such CBC children's shows as Razzle Dazzle and and The Mystery Maker.
But by the late '60s, says Glenn, there wasn't much work in Canada. In 1969, he got a short-term contract directing a bizarre soap financed out of New York but shot at CJOH and Meech Lake. Strange Paradise, inspired by the success of the gothic soap Dark Shadows, was a syndicated series about magic and voodoo on a Caribbean island.
The job led to a stint in New York as director on a short-lived CBS soap called Where The Heart Is. There, he had a chance to direct several anthology dramas, one of which caught Bell's attention in Los Angeles.
It was the beginning of a long relationship. Bell was so impressed with Glenn's work on Y&R that, when he got the green light for
his second CBS soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful, the first call he made was to Glenn, his fixer.
"(Bell) liked to cast on looks, says Glenn. "Most of the actors who came on (Y&R) were really non-actors. They had done some
commercials -- maybe a little bit of theatre if we were lucky -- but generally they were models and they walked straight off the street into character."
When one of Bell's comely protégés tested for a role, it was up to Glenn, who had taught drama in Ottawa, to turn him or her into an actor. "Bill would say, 'Fix her. I want her.' And that was my duty."
"It was a wonderful relationship, because you knew you were being counted on, but the guy who was the genius, who created the show, knew what he wanted. And you wanted to please him by giving him what he wanted and needed."
Initially a half-hour show, Y&R was originally taped as if it was going live to air. There were no retakes, and if something went
wrong, it had to be fixed on the fly. It saved money, says Glenn, but caused some memorable moments.
He recalls the time he gave the thoroughly undomesticated actress Dorothy Green (Jennifer Brooks) a bit of work to do in the
kitchen. She was supposed to put a pan of buns in the oven, but she upset the rack. The whole thing fell down with a mighty clatter, which Green ignored entirely, Glenn recalls.
Bell gave Glenn the freedom to try his hand at TV movies and other projects while at Y&R, but eventually even these flexible
arrangements seemed too binding. Soaps continued to play an occasional role in Glenn's subsequent
career. The networks would call him in, to spruce up shows such as One Life to Live and Santa Barbara. Glenn, who's busy writing movie scripts these days, says he's sworn off soaps for now, although he would return to the genre for a chance to create his own series.
He and soap writer Claire Labine (creator of Ryan's Hope and head writer on One Life to Live), whom Glenn met on the set of Where the Heart Is, have pitched three soap concepts to the networks over the decades. One seemed a shoo-in to replace the cancelled Santa Barbara, but at the 11th hour, says Glenn, NBC went with Sunset Beach instead.
Later this month, Glenn will be reminiscing with former cast members and crew at The Young and the
Restless' silver anniversary party. But, for the time being, he's having trouble believing 25 years have gone by since he first stepped into the Y&R studio.
Glenn has his own theory about why the soap has remained so popular for so long, and its not what you'd expect given the patina of sex and glamour that predominates.
"(Y&R) has a kind of 1950s value in it that's very much Bill. The '50s was a more family oriented time. Families being together was not a '70s thing, at all, but it is very much a part of this show."
is Strange Paradise?