Then my friend told me that James Lipton's big acting break was in a soap opera. Which, if you've ever seen this show and you've heard him talk like he's Mr. Smarty Uppercrust, you would find surprising and then kind of funny.
Of course I had to look this up to verify it, and it's true. James Lipton's biggest role was playing Dr. Dick Grant on Guiding Light for ten years, from 1952 to 1962.
Then my friend and I started talking about all the famous Hollywood actors who got their start on soap operas. Lots of soap opera stars hope they can break out of it, but most of them don't. So it's surprising that how many people we now know and love as Hollywood stars cut their teeth on daytime soaps.
The list below is probably not complete, but it's probably pretty close. Maybe you'll be able to tell which actors I know and used to watch on the soaps Back In The Day.
- James Earl Jones - in 1966 played Dr. Jerry Turner on As the World Turns, and then later that same year, played Dr. Jim Frazier on Guiding Light
- Martin Sheen - now known best for his role as President Bartlet on The West Wing, but way back before all the movies and all the fame, he was Jack Davis on As the World Turns, from 1965 to 1970.
- Julianne Moore - first appeared as Carmen Engler on the now-defunct Edge of Night. The next year, she played both of the half-sisters Frannie Hughes Crawford and Sabrina Hughes Fullerton Crawley on As the World Turns.
- Lauryn Hill - in 1991, played Kira Johnson, who falsely accused the dashing Duncan McKechnie of sexual advances, on As the World Turns.
- Meg Ryan - played love-triangle-tortured Betsy Stewart Montgomery Andropoulos on As the World Turns from 1982 to 1984.
Meg Ryan, on the cover of Soap Opera Digest, in September 1983. Hey! Her lips used to look normal!
- Demi Moore - played rough-voiced, intrepid reporter Jackie Templeton on General Hospital. When she wasn't looking worried, she was flipping her hair around a lot.
- Rick Springfield - played Dr. Noah Drake, who was utterly unmemorable except for the fact that he was a rising rock star who played at a hospital benefit concert on General Hospital. He also appeared on the Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files, the original Battlestar Galactica, Wonder Woman, and the Incredible Hulk. Oh, and this year, he went back to General Hospital.
- Jack Wagner - was bad-boy-turned-investigator Frisco Jones on General Hospital, then he appeared on Santa Barbara briefly, then he got a decent part as untrustworthy Dr. Peter Burns on Melrose Place, a couple disappointing movies, and now he is Domenick "Nick" Payne Marone on The Bold and the Beautiful. Back in the 80's, when General Hospital was trying to get more stars launched into rock & roll fame, he released an LP with the hit single, "All I Need."
- Kelly Ripa - played recovering alcoholic Hayley Vaughan Santos, who was married to her real-life fellow-actor husband, on All My Children, before moving to Regis' show and Hope & Faith at the same time.
Kelly Ripa as Hayley Santos, about fifteen years ago maybe?
- Marisa Tomei - her first role was Marcy Thompson Cushing on As the World Turns, from 1983 to 1985. She and Meg Ryan actually shared a dressing room for a while.
- Salma Hayek - in 1989, played the lead role in the Mexican soap opera Teresa, in 1989.
- Eva Longoria - now known as the sexpot Gabrielle Solis on Desperate Housewives, got her start as a flight attendant on Beverly Hills, 90210. She was in one episode of General Hospital as a Brenda Barrett lookalike, and then spent two years on The Young and the Restless as Isabella Braña Williams, from 2001 to 2003.
- David Hasselhoff - before Baywatch, before Knight Rider, he was Dr. William "Snapper" Foster, Jr. on The Young and the Restless, from 1975 to 1982.
Hasselhoff, working it on The Young and the Restless, as Snapper Foster
- Lisa Rinna - was Billie Holliday Reed on Days of Our Lives, from 1992 to 1995. She moved on to Melrose Place, opposite Dr. Peter Burns, from 1996 to 1998, but then went back to Days from 2002 to 2003. Now she's the host of Soap Talk. She was also on one of those Dancing with the Stars-type shows one season.
- Brandon Routh - the disappointing most-recent Superman appeared as Seth Anderson on One Life to Live from 2001 to 2002. I used to watch that show back then, and I barely remember him. Not exactly an electric person on-screen.
- Lester James Brandt - once upon a time, he played Rafael "Rafe" Santiero on Another World, from 1995 to 1996. He got some bit parts on such stellar TV shows as Silk Stalkings and Walker, Texas Ranger, and then, instead of going on to Hollywood, he decided to work for Heidi Fleiss, in her all-male bordello in the desert north of Las Vegas. I guess the fate of a soap opera star can go in either direction.
IMDB, multiple biographies on individual actors
IMDB Movie/TV News for January 5, 2001
Soap Central, As the World Turns, Who's Who in Oakdale
Tiscali Film & TV, Marisa Tomei Biography
Superior Pics, Selma Hayek biography
Globalist, Bollywood Beatbox for August 23, 2003
"Rick Springfield Rejoins 'General Hospital,'" NPR, March 2, 2006
Betting on the Studs, Newsweek, December 12, 2005
Hair Boutique, Lisa Rinna Short Sassy Signature Hairstyle
This Summer's Screen Sizzlers, Gwinnett Daily Post, May 5, 2006
Eva Longoria Sheds her 'Desperate Image,'" Media Blvd, April 20, 2006