JESSICA TATE (nee Gatling) was one of the two principal characters on the serialized situation comedy Soap. She was played by actress Katherine Helmond.
The sweet but daffy sister
To look at her, Jessica Tate was someone who was just absolutely sweet and lovable. Anyone would have loved her, but despite her lovable nature, there were times where she was just plain daffy! However, she was that way due to her being sheltered and that made her more than a bit naïve towards the world.
When she was younger, she became involved with a pompous boy named Chester Tate, the son of a wealthy stock broker. His father had stolen a large amount of money from Mrs. Gatling, and she demanded that Chester marry Jessica or else his father would be sitting in prison for embezzlement! Chester married her, but years later, Chester proved he was worse than his father had ever been!
The Tates had three children, Eunice and Billy, were their natural born children; Corrine was revealed to have been adopted (her parents were Jessica's brother, Randolph Gatling, and his paramour, Ingrid Svenson, the family's former housekeeper). Jessica had never gotten used to the fact that her husband had been cheating on her mercilessly from the moment they said I do.
It finally sunk in on Jessica that he cheated on her during a lunch with her sister, Mary Campbell. She saw Chester and his blackmailing secretary, Claire, kissing and necking over at another table. This devastated Jessica and she sobbed in her sister's arms. Later, she confronted Chester for his deceit and left him, only to return the next morning.
Unlike Chester, who was so obnoxious that nobody really liked him, their servants adored Jessica. Benson, their first cook-butler, adored her, and had made it no secret that she was his best friend. His replacement, Saunders, also liked Jessica and would place her on a pedestal, as opposed to Chester, whom he despised. In fact, it was Jessica who had hired Saunders.
After discovering that Chester was STILL cheating, Jessica threw him out of the house. He tried to get back in, and she relented, until he confessed that he had been cheating on her with the daughter of their minister! This time, Jessica had had enough.
She would launch into a finely written diatribe against him, featuring the following exchange between husband and wife:
JESSICA: You know, it's funny. I--I feel more stupid than anything else. I feel so incredibly stupid to have thought for one minute you would ever change.
CHESTER: Well, Jess, this hurts me as much as it hurts you.
JESSICA (angrily): It hurts you?! It hurts YOU?! Nothing could hurt you, Chester Tate, you have no soul! But I will tell you one thing and you listen to me carefully, I will never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, take you back again. This is the very last time, Chester, it is final and it is irreparable! Now, YOU get out of this house! I've got a life I'm going TO LIVE!"
Now, newly empowered and finally taking her life back from her no-good husband, she then ordered him out of the house for good! She was compassionate enough to allow him to live in the pool house but she ordered him to pay room and board by cleaning their pool, which would be a dismal come-down for the once high-and-mighty Chester!
This empowering situation would allow her to be brave enough to divorce him at last in the final season.
Although Jessica wasn't a serial philanderer like her hated husband, she too had indulged in a few affairs. One of her affairs was with Mary's stepson, Peter Campbell, the local tennis pro, who had also been seeing Corrine. He was murdered, and at first, it was thought that Jessica had been the killer, but it was revealed that she WAS innocent (she had proclaimed her innocence all the time) and it was Chester who had killed him and was intent on framing Jessica for it!
Jessica was freed, and Chester was sent to prison! After her affair with Peter, she had affairs with George Donohue (John Byner), a police detective; Dr. Alan Posner, her psychiatrist; E. Roland Mallu (Eugene Roche), her attorney during the Peter Campbell murder trial (and the lawyer for her nephew, Jodie Dallas, who was trying to get custody of his daughter, Wendy, from her selfish mother, Carol), and Dr. Hill (Granville Van Dusen), her doctor who was ministering to her while she was in a coma. Another one of Chester's affairs nearly sundered her relationship with Mary, after Jessica discovered that before they had been married, the former had an affair with Chester, resulting in the birth of Danny. For a time, Jessica did not speak to Mary, until she realized that Chester had never been any good. Jessica forgave Mary, but she did NOT forgive Chester!
Her last affair was with revolutionary, El Puerco (Gregory Sierra). However, she was caught and sent back to Malaguay where she was executed by firing squad. It was during the comedy series, Benson, which was spun-off from Soap, that Jessica, in ghostly form, visited Benson, showing him how far he had come from being their butler to where he was as State Budget Director. Since she had visited him in ghostly form, it meant that the Tates and Campbells had declared Jessica legally dead.