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The Secret Storm is a soap opera which aired on CBS from February 1, 1954 to February 8, 1974. The series was created by Roy Winsor, who also created the long-running soap operas Search for Tomorrow and Love of Life. Gloria Monty of General Hospital fame was a longtime director of the series.

Plot

At the soap's center was the Ames family, a prominent clan in the fictional Northeastern town of Woodbridge (eventually identified as being located in New York). The Ames family consisted of Peter, his wife Ellen, and their three children: Susan, Jerry and Amy. The mother Ellen was killed off in the first episode and subsequent stories focused on the widower Peter raising his three children. Lending a hand, however dubiously, was Peter's former fiancee/sister in-law, Pauline Rysdale.

An interesting fact to note is the character of Amy was allowed to age in real time and not to be subjected to rapid aging as most soap operas do. Jada Rowland played the character, minus a few breaks, for the length of the show's run.

One of the most unforgettable villains of the time was Belle Clemens. Belle was played by Marla Adams, up to the show's end and was the main source of trouble for Woodbridge, taking up where Aunt Pauline, who was the show's original villainess, left off. Originally due to die of kidney disease, the writers had Belle's daughter drown in an accident, and Belle blamed Amy for the death.

Actress/writer Stephanie Braxton and actor Dan Hamilton met while performing on the show. They later married in real life. Lori March, who played Valerie Hill Ames for many years, later played the wife of her real-life husband Alexander Scorby. Actress Diana Muldaur married her co-star, James Vickery, in real-life, also.

Actress Diane Ladd who played the role of Kitty Styles, would go on to greater fame in the movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (she played Florence Jean Castleberry) and would later on play the role of Isabelle Amanda Dupree on the television show that was based on the movie.

Joan Crawford

In 1968, Joan Crawford, at the time over 60 years old, filled in for her ailing daughter, Christina Crawford, who played the role of Joan Borman Kane, a character aged just 24. The episodes aired on October 25, 28, 29 and 30, 1968. Although no full shows with Joan Crawford are known to exist, clips from some episodes have appeared on YouTube. The 1981 film Mommie Dearest dramatized Crawford's appearance (presenting her as intoxicated and stepping in a role decades too young for her merely to get personal attention) without specifying the name of the series.

Broadcast history

CBS first placed Secret Storm at 4:15 PM (3:15 Central) as a 15-minute program, sandwiched between The Brighter Day and On Your Account (later The Edge of Night). Beginning in 1957, it would compete against ABC's American Bandstand, then a five-day-a-week show (it was reduced to Saturdays-only in 1963).

On June 18, 1962 CBS expanded Storm to 30 minutes. The Brighter Day was moved to an early-morning time slot (which contributed to its demise). Storm took over the 4:00 PM timeslot, where it ran for six years, mainly competing against NBC's The Match Game. However, 1966 witnessed the premiere of the eventual teen-cult soap Dark Shadows on ABC, and that (later the Dating Game) prompted CBS to move Storm ahead an hour to 3:00 PM (2:00 Central) on September 9, 1968. There, it faced NBC's fast-rising Another World, a soap itself largely modeled on the melodramatical style of Storm.

Storm was the last daytime soap opera on the three major TV networks to convert to color. It did so on March 11, 1968.

After four years of mediocre success, CBS next tried it a half-hour later beginning on September 4, 1972 as part of a major overhaul of the network's daytime lineup. It managed to run about even with ABC's One Life to Live and, deciding to put in stronger competition at the 3:30 PM (2:30 Central) slot, CBS returned Storm to its mid-1960s 4:00 PM slot on March 26. There, it faced reruns on ABC and the weak Somerset on NBC - but its audience share and ratings would not be enough to save it from cancellation in an increasingly cost-competitive network daytime scene.

A prime example of that scene happened in September 1973, when the CBS affiliate in San Franciscomarker, KPIXmarker, stopped airing Storm without warning, replacing it with the syndicated Mike Douglas Show. According to Bob MacKenzie of TV Guide, KPIX's switchboards received 400 calls that first afternoon, and one woman in Oaklandmarker wrote "We all are wondering what Belle is up to and what Amy is doing and how Brian is coping with his problems." Another viewer wrote to TV Guide "I am addicted to it, and they simply cut it off in the middle of a fascinating plot. This is not fair! Onions to the station!"

In November, with affiliate pre-emptions like KPIX's mounting and an economic recession causing a decline in ad revenues, CBS made the decision to cancel the serial in favor of a less-expensive game show, Tattletales. This had also been the reason for the cancellations of Where the Heart Is and Love is a Many Splendored Thing the previous year.

In all the turmoil of its later years, the main reason for the show's demise was likely CBS' choice to buy the show from the original sponsor/packager, American Home Products, in 1969 (the network also bought Love of Life from AHP as well). One effect of the purchase was that the show suffered from numerous changes in head writers and producers. Upon CBS' cancellation, AHP reacquired the rights to Storm in an attempt to move the show to another network. After NBC executive Lin Bolen rejected the show in favor of a project of hers, How to Survive a Marriage, and ABC chose to use its daytime budget to buy out Agnes Nixon's soaps, an effort to syndicate the show failed because AHP could not obtain enough clearances among affiliates in the largest markets to justify continued production.

That failure occurred largely because of scheduling complications local stations would have faced. Storm would likely have aired on ABC affiliates between 10:00 and 11:30 AM (when the network feed began for the day) or on CBS or NBC stations during their respective networks' half-hour breaks at 1:00 PM (Noon Central). This would have meant that the soap would have faced in either case considerably-stronger network programming (game shows in the first case, ABC's All My Children in the second). Stations could have preempted their network feeds to run the syndicated version, but would probably have not done so because the program's relatively-high production expenses (compared to situation comedy reruns or talk shows) would have been passed down to the local station's purchase price. That in turn would have reduced potential profits from local advertising, likely to the point of amounting to less than the network's payment for a half hour of station airtime.

Neither would it have made sense to broadcast Storm between 4:30 and 6:00 PM, as housewives of that day would have been away from the television set, tending to chores like preparing the family's dinner. Scenarios like these are the main reasons that few soaps have ever been attempted in syndication on American television, and none as of 2008 have lasted past their first seasons.

The program's ending was particularly poignant: the 5,195th and final Secret Storm episode aired one week after the show's 20th anniversary.

Title sequences

The series had three distinctive opening visuals. The first was a shot of a tree with windblown branches. The second was a short-lived shot of a town with shots of people walking about similar to Peyton Place. The third, perhaps the most remembered one, had shots of the surf at high tide, crashing against the rocks in the opening titles similar to that of Dark Shadows (the ABC television show which aired opposite The Secret Storm and whose popularity contributed to its demise). The in-house organist was Charles Paul. Carey Gold provided the music during the show's last years.

For the last several years of the show, the theme song was the theme from the second movement of the Concerto for Violin and Violincello by Johanes Brahms.

Characters

Susan Ames Dunbar

Susan was the eldest daughter of Peter Ames and his wife, Ellen. After her mother's death in a car accident, she became the new mother figure in the family. She was usually responsible for the well being of her younger siblings, Jerry Ames, and her youngest sister, Amy. She also resented any plans of her father to remarry, a situation shared by her maternal aunt, Pauline Rysdale. Despite all her plans, though, he did eventually remarry. First to Myra Lake, whom she despised; and then to Valerie, whom she somewhat got along with.

She was married to a man named Alan Dunbar,(James Vickery) a former golf pro who was involved in a drug ring. He slowly broke away from that life, and married Susan. She also had his son named Peter, named after her father, Peter. Susan and Alan were happy, despite some storms, especially dealing with his fellow newspaper reporter Ann Wicker, who was seducing Alan. He almost succumbed to tempation, but still remained a good husband, until he was presumed dead in Vietnam.

Thinking that he's dead, Susan married a man named Frank Carver. Until Alan, now played by Liam Sullivan, turned up alive, and his war experiences made him psychotic. He also reestablished his mafia connections. Susan annulled her marriage to Frank and returned to Alan. She and Alan left Woodbridge in the late 60's and early 70's, leaving her sister, Amy, to be the only Ames left in Woodbridge. Her brother, Jerry, married to a painter named Hope, had already moved to Paris.

Susan Ames Dunbar Carver was played by several different actresses.Jean Mowry originated the role in 1954 and departed The Secret Storm in 1956, going on to play Pat Cunningham in As the World Turns from 1957-1959 until retiring from acting to marry.Rachel Taylor then took on the role before departing the show in 1957. Actress Tori Darnay temporarily played Susan. Norma Moore stepped into the role in 1958 but was soon replaced by Mary Foskett that same year who successfully carried on Susan's role until 1964 when Frances Helm took on the role for a few months before she was replaced by Judy Lewis (the illegitimate daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable). Lewismarker left the show in 1968 and Diana Van der Vlis temporarily replaced her. Van der Vlis was then replaced by Mary McGregor who was in turn replaced by Lewismarker when she returned to the show in 1969. Lewismarker played the role until 1971 when the character took her exit.

References

  1. Joan Crawford Takes Daughter's Soap Opera Role
  2. SECRET STORM' STILLED BY C.B.S.; But 20-Year-Old Show Will Resume Under Syndication

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