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Library features 'The Young and the Restless' soap scripts

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor 
(217) 333-2177;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Showcases that typically display rare and priceless Bibles now are featuring scriptures of another kind – the scripture according to daytime television.

Scripts, story lines, color photographs, bios, reference works and other memorabilia that document the award-winning television series “The Young and the Restless” are on display through March 20 in the University of Illinois Rare Book and Special Collections Library.  Instead of a catalog, visitors to the exhibit in Room 346 Library can take home an actual script (duplicate copy) from the show.

While not exactly rare – the Library now has “thousands upon thousands of
them” – the Y&R scripts “are considered modern manuscripts,” said Nancy Romero, the Rare Book and Special Collections librarian who put up the display.

The scripts, which have been flowing into the library in bunches over the past few years, are a gift from the show’s head writer, Kay Alden, who lives and works in Chicago, some 120 miles north of the UI campus.  When she learned the library was featuring the scripts in an exhibit, she sent along several dozen glossies of past and current actors from the show.  Alden joined Y&R as a scriptwriter in 1974, and became head writer in 1998.

Many of the original writers’ scripts contain editing marks and other notations in Alden’s hand.  Other scripts are presented in their final studio version, sometimes with a pink cover sheet, including production information such as tape and air date; cast; sets; phone calls that figure into the plot; and the day’s schedule (dry rehearsal, 8-10:30 a.m.; camera blocking and run-through, 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m.; lunch, 2-3 p.m.; notes, 3-4 p.m.; taping, 4-6:30 p.m.).  Although written in Chicago, the program is taped at CBS Studios in Los Angeles.

Alden, who with her team has won Emmy's for outstanding writing in 1992 and 1997, began shipping the sometimes steamy, always dramatic scripts about the roller-coaster lives of normal American families to the UI when she learned that the Rare Book and Special Collections Library collected TV scripts.  When representatives from the University Library went to the Chicago warehouse to pick up the first batch, they were surprised to find not one or two, but 14 boxes. 

It is an embarrassment of riches, Romero said, noting that the library’s scripts are used in both standard and unusual ways.  Typically, scholars use them when researching aspects of popular culture.  However, at least one UI professor of English as a second language used copies of the scripts in the classroom.  He had his students act out scenes from the show to help them perfect their conversational English.

Another UI professor, Norman Denzin, a major authority on popular culture, compares soap operas to Charles Dickens’ 19th century serialized novels, in the sense that “soap operas provide narrative continuity and meaning in daily life.  They place attractive people in situations that are glamorous, fantasy-like and also realistic.”

Denzin, a College of Communications Scholar in the Institute of Communications Research, also argues that soaps allow viewers to “vicariously live through real-life problems without confronting the problems directly.”

“These texts reproduce larger cultural myths concerning patriarchy, family,
male-female intimacy, friendship between women, women’s sexuality and women as objects of the male gaze.  These texts are places to study how whiteness, for example, is constructed and reproduced in everyday popular culture.”

The most recent batch of scripts arrived a few days ago.  The Rare Book and Special Collections Library now has the majority of scripts written since episode No. 44, which aired on May 24, 1973.  The show’s writers are closing in on their 7,000th script, according to Terry Delgado, Alden’s assistant.

“The Young and the Restless” premiered March 26, 1973.  Series creator William Bell was a young advertising executive in Chicago when in the 1950s he was approached by Irna Phillips about the possibility of writing for her daytime serial “The Guiding Light.”  Phillips, a 1923 U. of I. alumna, is considered the mother of TV soap opera.  Bell went on to write for “As the World Turns” and co-created “Another World” with Phillips.  He became head writer for “Days of Our Lives” in 1966, and brought the show to national prominence.  While he originally planned to call “The Young and the Restless” by another name, “The Innocent Years,” his concept for the show from the start was to put “a broad base of wholesome, identifiable people in situations that reflected a segment of contemporary life,” he said.

Before joining the Y&R team of writers, Alden was a doctoral candidate in communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  In the late ’60s, Alden taught speech and debate at Central High School in Springfield, Mo.  Two of Alden’s children have appeared in continuing roles on the program their mother writes.

According to Romero, the modern TV soap opera traces its roots to Depression Era Chicago, where the first radio soap opera took hold.  Today, it is estimated that some 50 million U.S. viewers watch one or more soap operas every week.  The genre was dubbed soap opera because of its early sponsors – household laundry detergent companies.

Browsing through the exhibit, Caroline Szylowicz, a staff member in the UI Kolb/Marcel Proust Archive and a native of France, observed that even in Paris, American soap operas flood the television airwaves at midday.
“One of the most popular of these,” Alden said, “is, indeed, ‘The Young and the Restless.’ ”