When you talk with The Bold and the Beautiful’s Susan Flannery, you can’t help but be captivated by her. This would be true even if she wasn’t a Golden Globe and Emmy winning actress who has made movies with the likes of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Charles Bronson, and Kirk Douglas, and even if she hadn’t been on our televisions every afternoon. She speaks with authority and confidence, but she is engaging and amusing. One of the Grand Dame’s of Daytime, she has a sparkle in her blue eyes that reveals she is still happy to be going strong in the profession that she chose at a young age. She may have always known she wanted to be an actress, but even she could not have predicted that her first soap role as Dr. Laura Horton on Days of Our Lives – a role that was only supposed to last six weeks – would turn into a career that has spanned three decades in daytime television.
Today, as she's blocking scenes with the director, Susan is relaxed in a T-shirt and comfy slacks, for now far removed from the trademark power suits of her alter ego, fashion mogul Stephanie Forrester. She is extremely welcoming as we sit down to chat on the set of the Forrester living room. When I congratulate her on her recent Emmy nomination and inquire as to how many this makes, she answers with a genuine, “I have absolutely no idea.” It’s her ninth nomination, but she appears just as honored as she might have been when she received her very first back in 1975 for ‘DAYS.’ “Kim Zimmer [Echo, ‘OLTL’; ex-Reva, ‘GL’] texted me at 5:30 in the morning and said, ‘Congratulations. I’ve been out of the loop – what is that now, number 95?’ ” laughs Susan. “It’s fun because everybody’s so happy and excited for you. It’s filled with a lot of positive energy and joy. I always call the other nominees and say congratulations and I always say to them, ‘This is the best time, because we’re all winners until they open the envelope.’ ”
When Susan spoke with the other Emmy nominees in the Lead Actress category, they were all pleasantly surprised. “I spoke to Colleen Zenk [ex-Barbara, ‘ATWT’] and she said, ‘This just came right out of the blue. I haven’t been on the air since September. I couldn’t believe it!’ I told her that Christian LeBlanc (Michael, ‘Y&R’) said to me, ‘I judged the lead actress category and Colleen Zenk was magnificent!’ I just looked at him like, ‘You Schmuck!’ And Alicia [Minshew; Kendall, ‘AMC’) was beside herself. She said, ‘I have to tell you this. About six months ago, a reporter had asked me, if you got nominated what is the thing you look most forward to and I said, The Ladies Lunch, that’s what I want!’ ”
“The Ladies Lunch” she’s referring to is the annual luncheon for all of the ladies in the Lead Actress category, a tradition which Susan started back in 2000, the first year she was nominated for Bold and the Beautiful. That inaugural luncheon, held at a 100-year-old Italian deli, was also attended by nominees Jeanne Cooper (Katherine, ‘Y&R’), Jess Walton (Jill, ‘Y&R’), Hillary B. Smith (Nora, ‘OLTL’), and Finola Hughes (ex-Alex, ‘AMC’). “Everybody was just sitting there eating spaghetti and carrying on. Hillary Smith said, ‘Whose idea was this anyway?’ And I said, ‘It was mine,’ She said, ‘I should have known it was somebody from the west coast!’ laughs Susan, who not only won that year but was nominated again in 2001, which continued the tradition. Susan has decided to make this year's luncheon the best yet by including past winners and nominees like Hillary Smith, Kim Zimmer, Crystal Chappell (Carly, ‘DAYS’), Bobbie Eakes (Krystal, ‘AMC’) and Erika Slezak (Viki, 'OLTL'). “I called Slezak and said, ‘You’ve gotta come. We’ll drink a lot of champagne, laugh and giggle and tell stories. It’ll be great!”
The awards ceremony itself, however, may have a slightly bittersweet undertone considering the recent cancellations of One Life to Live and All My Children, which is nominated for Outstanding Drama Series. Susan’s reaction to the cancellations and the slow death of the medium is rooted in realism and also optimism. “It’s so hard to compete with reality television,” she says. “With some reality, it’s the same type of emotional conflict but people are getting to watch themselves. And it’s cheaper so what are the networks going to go with? This is what I’ve been saying to my daughter [Blaise], who is finishing college. I told her, ‘You’re probably going to have three different careers. Very few people work for any one company more than ten years now. So you’ve got to try to figure out what you can do that you can make your own.”
“Every season has it’s time,” she laments. “Just think about it. We’ve had a very long run with soaps. And I believe it’ll come back in some form.” And for Susan it already has. Last year, she directed episodes of the online soap opera Venice, created by and starring ‘DAYS’ Crystal Chappell. “It was great fun,” she says. “I wanted to do it because it was single lens reflex which was a whole different thing and I was really delighted to do it.” Venice has even been recognized with an Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Special Class Short Format – Daytime. Also nominated in that same category is Gotham the Series, the online soap produced by soap star Martha Byrne (ex-Lily, ‘ATWT’). “It’s a well-written little show,” Susan says of Venice. “It looks good too. I was very impressed. Crystal recently called and said she’s putting the gang back together so I would love to direct more for them.”
In addition to Venice, Susan has also directed episodes of Guiding Light and Bold and the Beautiful, for which she was honored with two Director’s Guild nominations. Unfortunately, Susan no longer has time for it due to the budget cuts imposed on the daytime industry, “I can’t direct [the soap] anymore,” says Susan. “We do eight shows in four days now, which makes it impossible.”
It’s every soap fans’ wish that shows like Bold and the Beautiful will remain on the air for many more years to come, but just like her formidable character, Stephanie, Susan is already one step ahead. And whether she’s in front of or behind the camera, on television or on the web, we will always be captivated by her.