You can’t necessarily settle into a career working on a soap opera. Especially not these days, of course, when the longest-running soap operas are slowly losing their places in the schedule and being canceled, but even in their glory days. You could never be sure your character wouldn’t be killed or otherwise written off the show. But there were still plenty of people who worked steadily on the same show for decades and did little else, because the work on a soap opera was more demanding than people think about.
Texas-born Frances Reid is one of many famous performers to have gone through the Pasadena Playhouse. She acted opposite Jose Ferrer as Roxane to his Cyrano on the stage and on early television. She worked on the radio. She made a whopping six movies in her career—admittedly including Stage Door and The Wrong Man, albeit uncredited in both. She was on two episodes of Perry Mason. She did a lot of the early television dramas, including Lux Video Theatre.
On November 8, 1965, NBC debuted Days of Our Lives. It was the story of the Horton family. Reid played the matriarch of the family, Alice. The adventures she experiences throughout the decades are just a lot, and no summary of them here would do them justice. It’s a soap opera, after all. Unlike many other characters, she only seems to have risen from the dead once, and it was in fact a faked death. However, yeah, much happens and continues to happen for a very long time. The Hortons are clearly much more interesting than my family.
What’s astounding is that Frances Reid is not, despite having done nearly 3500 episodes of Days of Our Lives, the longest-running soap opera performer. Not even close. She’s not even in the top ten, even if you limit it to American soap operas. (The top ten worldwide is nine people from either Coronation Street or The Archers and one from a Polish radio drama.) Heck, two people have done more Days of Our Lives than Reid did, and both are still on the show. (Which is now on Peacock, not broadcast television.) She does come near the top of the list, but domestic and international, but others have portrayed even single characters longer.
There’s a lot to soap opera acting. Sure, The Archers is a twelve-minute radio drama, and Coronation Street was for most of its run twice weekly. Still, the people on these shows are often required to learn new scripts constantly, and it would probably help if they were able to keep track of everything their character has been up to for all those years. Frances Reid spent forty-two years as the same character, learning new scripts every day and having practically no time to rehearse. We don’t cover many soap opera performers here, but that doesn’t mean that what they do isn’t worthy of note.