eighties tv

‘She’s unafraid, unbowed, naughty…’

What I love most about the interviews Judith Anderson gave during later life is the way she comes across as formidable and endearing in equal measure. That striking combination of qualities is exemplified by a brilliant 1984 piece from The Washington Post, published on the eve of her debut as the mischievous matriarch, Minx Lockridge, in the first episode of Santa Barbara. It’s one of those interviews that’s guaranteed to make you adore her even more than you do already. I’ll go so far as to say it brought a tear to my eye.

If the appearance on daytime TV of one of the twentieth century’s most talented, successful actresses raised eyebrows, Judith was more than ready to defend her latest career move. ‘Why not?’ she argued when asked to explain why she was swapping classical stage parts for a recurring TV role. ‘It’s practically the same as doing a play. In a Broadway play, you fall in love with characters. The curtain goes up, and it comes down. Tomorrow you have a chance to do better.’

As Judith’s comments suggest, she was keen to liberate Santa Barbara from its genre’s low-brow reputation. ‘I dislike [the phrase “soap opera”] intensely,’ she declared (‘in a tone,’ the newspaper noted, ‘that makes you want to erase it from your vocabulary’!). Judith preferred to bolster Santa Barbara’s credibility by describing it as ‘a serial’ instead, thereby distancing it from the kind of prejudices some viewers (not to mention TV critics) hold in relation to daytime drama. As a devoted General Hospital fan, she knew the genre has the power to capture an audience’s attention and so deserves to be taken seriously.

By the time Judith agreed to play the delightful Minx, she’d been living in the real Santa Barbara, in central California, for many years. The soap’s serial’s creators, Bridget and Jerome Dobson (who’d previously written for General Hospital), extended a special invitation to her to take part in their new venture. As Judith knew and loved the city that formed the show’s backdrop, wasn’t being asked to travel far for filming and seems to have thrived on new challenges, Santa Barbara was surely the ideal job for her at this point. ‘The Dobsons are aware of my time of life […] – and it’s nice to be wanted,’ Judith remarked touchingly.

Despite having won a host of awards and international acclaim, it’s clear from her attitude in the interview that Judith’s feet were still firmly on the ground. Although the newspaper nicknamed her ‘the grande dame of the town’, she wasn’t looking for special treatment on Santa Barbara. ‘I’m just a cog in the wheel, a part of the crossword puzzle,’ Judith said simply.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t having fun preparing to bring Minx (who never goes anywhere without her riding crop and doesn’t hesitate to use it!) to TV viewers’ living rooms. ‘She’s unafraid, unbowed, naughty, bitter – a certain amount of hate – all the ingredients of a good plum pudding,’ Judith pointed out gleefully. She may have been in her late eighties, but you only need to glance at any of her scenes in Santa Barbara to see that Judith still had a twinkle in her eye. Clearly, the production company hadn’t had to look far for inspiration when creating the role of the show’s witty matriarch. ‘They say I’m pretty much like her,’ she concluded.