Since the early 1980s, Reva Shayne was at the heart of the action in Springfield; her portrayer, Kim Zimmer, became one of Guiding Light's biggest stars. Reva had many (many) husbands, even more lovers, three 'deaths,' five children, and lots of adventures. She was a time traveler, a psychic, a cancer patient, a princess, an Amish woman, a sufferer of post-partum depression, and a talk show host. She was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a survivor. Behind the scenes, many things changed from the time that Kim Zimmer first started at Guiding Light in the 1980s to when the show went off the air in 2009. With honesty and humour and pulling no punches, this is the story as Kim Zimmer lived it.
I started watching soaps in the mid-1990s when I was a young teenager. I watched the CBS soaps (Young and the Restless, Bold and the Beautiful, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light) mainly because those were the only ones that the old TV at our cottage could pick up with decent reception. When I started, Reva had just come back to the canvas after a five year absence (she had driven her car off a bridge in Florida and years later had been discovered living with an Amish family); she was married to Buzz and Josh was with Annie and I was torn because I liked Annie (until she went crazy, and then I loved her in a different way). I was watching during the Clone storyline, the 'Michelle befriends an angel' storyline, and the 'Vanessa fakes her own death and then reconnects with Matt over this new thing called the Internet' storyline. In those days, I could usually get home from school in time to catch the last thirty minutes of the show, meaning it was the only one (aside from Y&R, which aired from 4:30-5:30 on a local station) that I could watch regularly and not just at Christmas and summer vacations.
When I first started watching, I used to quiz myself on the characters' names as their pictures appeared.
Over the next ten-twelve years, I still kept up with soaps, and still loved them, but didn't watch them with the same regularity. I started high school, and could no longer get home to watch Guiding Light. At university I was usually in class (except for a semester where I randomly started watching Days of Our Lives with another girl from our dorm - it was the only time we ever hung out). Then, the summer before I finished library school, I found that I was working mostly evenings and didn't have to be at work until 5pm. I found my way back to soaps, and was most connected to Guiding Light. After finishing school and getting a full-time position, I was able to indulge in some luxuries - like a DVR. Guiding Light was one of the first shows that got a series pass.
By this time, though, the series had been cancelled. After seventy-two years on radio and television, Guiding Light was ending. Over the summer I watched as storylines wrapped up and characters faced tragedy and happiness; I welcomed back favourites and got caught up in the show. I watched the final show on September 18, 2009 with tears streaming down my cheeks; when it ended, I pressed play and watched it again. I spent the weekend watching youtube videos from the 80s and 90s, tearing up and thinking about what might have been. I was surprised by my reaction, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I grieved for the show.
Whenever a reader picks up a book, they bring to it their own personal history. All of this is to help explain what I brought to reading this book. I have been waiting for this book since the show went off the air almost two year ago. If anyone was going to write a book like this, it would be Kim Zimmer. I expected it to be an honest account of the drama surrounding the last few years of Guiding Light - on screen and off. And, sure, that's there, but that's only part of it. It's also Zimmer's story of how she became a working actress.
It's a story of what being a 'soap star' looks like from behind the scenes. It's tidbits like how great a guy Alec Baldwin is or how Zimmer once tried to walk off Oprah's show in the middle of taping. It's also the story of how Zimmer was self-medicating with wine during the last few years of Guiding Light. It's the story of how she got a DUI and how that refocused her life. It's the story of living with menopause. It's a story of how she and her husband made a showbiz marriage work. It's a story of what it was like to be at the end of four soaps: The Doctors, Santa Barbara, Guiding Light, and now One Life to Live.
But it is also about Guiding Light. There are tributes to cast members that she was close to and stories about life behind the scenes. She talks about her frustrations with storylines and how she production models changed over the years. She details her tense relationship with executive producer Ellen Wheeler and shares how hurt she was by things like the Daytime Emmy's insulting "tribute" to Guiding Light. She also details how the cancellation of Guiding Light happened at the same time as the death of her mother, and how this affected her and framed her reactions to fans who were mourning the show.
I still love and believe in soaps, but with the cancellation of Guiding Light in 2009, As the World Turns in 2010, and the cancellation/medium shift of All My Children this year and One Life to Live next year, they are a format in transition. I hope to one day read a big account of this time period, like The Late Shift or Live From New York.
But back to I'm Just Sayin'! Reading this book is like inviting Kim Zimmer to a long lunch and then getting to ask her all the questions you've been wanting to know about. Since most of us won't ever have the chance to do that in person, thank goodness for this book.
Find it at IndieBound.
Read it with:
Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter by Carolyn Hinsey
Jonathan's Story by Julia London and Alina Adams
Lorelai's Guiding Light: An Intimate Diary by Lorelai Hills
Changing Shoes by Tina Sloan
Guiding Light: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration by Christopher Schemering