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The original title card of Love of Life (1951)

LOVE OF LIFE was a long-running serial, created by Roy Winsor and directed for its entire run by Larry Auerbach, which aired on the CBS television network from 1951-1980.

The show was usually run for 25-30 minutes (the last five minutes was usually given over to a mid-morning newsbreak with the late Douglas Edwards, when it moved to 4 PM EST, it went back to 30 minutes). 

GOOD SISTER-BAD SISTER

The premise was the story of two sisters, one good, one bad. The good sister, Vanessa "Van" Dale (originally played by Peggy McCay) was always searching for human dignity and was upright and compassionate. On the flip side, her sister, Meg (originally played by Jean McBride) was the show's main villain. She was always greedy, amoral and grasping and was always wanting to marry for money.

The series was set at various times in two separate municipalities.  The first was a town called Barrowsville, New York, where we first met the Dale family, father Will (Ed Jerome); mother Sarah (Jane Rose, Joanna Roos, Valerie Cossart); and their daughters, Vanessa and Meg. Both sisters had been through many romantic and legal heartaches, although Meg often flaunted her disgraceful acts into her family's face.

While Meg initally married a wealthy man named Charles Harper and had a son, Ben (played as an adult by Christopher Reeve and Chandler Hill Harben), she would cheat on him every chance she got, while living in New York. (Charles often had Van as a sounding board, and would often complain about what Meg was doing to him and their son) 

Van, on the other hand, was initally married to Paul Raven (Richard Coogan), an attorney who had defended her in a murder trial. Van herself had moved to New York, mainly to keep an eye on her troublesome sister, and to give Beanie (as Ben was known at the time) a semblance of someone who loved him. Paul was killed (supposedly) in a plane crash pursuing his scheming brother in-law, Jack Andrews, one of Meg's later husbands. (Charles had finally had enough of Meg's antics and divorced her, stating that she was "the greatest actress on any stage", something he clearly did not mean as a compliment.)

Paul Raven (this time played by Robert Burr) would eventually reappear in 1970 while in the new locale of Rosehill, still as an attorney (under the alias of Matt Corby) who defended younger characters, Tess Krakauer and Bill Prentiss (Toni Bull Bua and Gene Bua) for the murder of Tess's husband, John Randolph (Byron Sanders). He would be killed (for real this time) in a prison riot, where he had been sent for killing his wife, Evelyn Corby.

FROM BARROWSVILLE TO ROSEHILL

The second locale of the series, and the locale which the series ended at, was the upstate New York community of Rosehill.  This occurred when Tom Craythorne, an attorney who had been the failed victim of a palimony suit filed against him by a spiteful Meg, befriended her sister Van and introduced her to a friend of his, Bruce Sterling (Ron Tomme), a teacher at Winfield Academy, a boy's private school in Rosehill. 

Van moved there from New York City and fell for Bruce and eventually married him. In spite of dealing with her husband's ex-mother in-law, Vivian Carlson (Helene Dumas); her stepdaughter, Barbara Sterling (Nina Reader, Lee Lawson, Zina Bethune)'s various escapades; infidelity on Bruce's part; and various other trials, Van and Bruce were soulmates and stayed together through thick and thin. They even took in Stacy Corby, the daughter of Matt Corby (Van's first husband, Paul Raven) as their ward.They were still married when the series ended.

Van was considered a woman of such goodness and caliber that a woman named Maggie Porter (Joan Copeland) wanted her husband, Link (Gene Pellegrini) to marry Van after she passed on. However, she went back to Bruce. Link married Tammy Forrest (Ann Loring), Van's old friend from New York City, and after some chicanery from the late Maggie's twin sister Kay (again Joan Copeland, this time wearing a blond wig), settled into domestic happiness until Link died of a heart attack.

Sometime after Van moved to Rosehill, Sarah moved from Barrowsville, a long time after Van and Meg's father, Will, died, and got remarried to Alex Caldwell (Fred Stewart), Rosehill's pharmacist. (When Fred Stewart died, so did the character of Alex Caldwell) After his death, Sarah was stricken with a brain abcess and was near death herself. Her wish was that she wanted to see her daughter, Meg, who had been incommunicado for many years.  Van and Bruce investigated and had found out that she had last married a man named Edouard Aleata (John Aniston). Van wrote her a letter, but it was intercepted by Meg's grown daughter, Caroline Aleata (Deborah Courtney, Roxanne Gregory), who, like her half-brother, Ben, had been unloved by her mother.  Van, Bruce and Sarah welcomed Cal with open arms.

AND ALONG COMES MEG........AGAIN!

Some time later, Meg (now played by Tudi Wiggins) and her son Ben moved to town.  Sarah was happy to see Meg, and she recovered from her illness, but was saddened to see that Meg was still as grasping and greedy as she had ever been.  Ben was a money mad scoundrel, due to his mother's warped character, who was in love with Betsy Crawford (Elizabeth Kemp; Margo McKenna) who was his half-sister's best friend; but what nobody knew was that Ben was already married to one Arlene Lovett (Birgitta Tolksdorf). He fell for Betsy and was promised a half million dollars if he married her by his mother.  However, she amended the rules and had him promise to be a good husband for six months before he received his dowry.  Meg and Carrie Lovett (Peg Murray) were not trusting of Ben, and it was proven for good reason.  (Carrie was also a good friend of Cal Aleata and Betsy Crawford.)

Meg, meanwhile, fell for Jeff Hart (Charles Baxter), the totally corrupt mayor of Rosehill, and after a torrid affair, which caused Van to clash with Meg over morals again, married the evil man. However, even she had wised up after a time. After his crooked schemes were revealed by the rest of the family (including Meg), Jeff had planned to leave town (the evidence was there that he would have been convicted and impeached from office), but before he left, he raped his stepdaughter, Cal, to exact revenge on Bruce, Van and the rest of the family. 

His son, David, caught him in the act and then something snapped inside of him, and he shot his father dead for what he had done.  He had a total emotional breakdown and went into the sanitarium. Meg then fell in love with Bruce's former son in-law Rick Latimer (Jerry Lacy), even going into business with him.  He ended up falling for Cal, and Meg, angered at that, used her money to keep him in his place.  He was ordered to break off with her, and when he didn't, she told Cal about what they had done. Rick, at least having the grace to be ashamed of what happened, confirmed what Meg had told her. Cal was angered at both of them and drove off in a car.  She crashed it and was injured.  

At Van's request, Edouard, the only father Cal had ever known, came to town to help his stepdaughter through her rough time and then proceeded to tell Meg exactly what he thought of her. (While he did not get along with Meg, due to their acrimonious marriage, he truly liked and respected Van) Meanwhile, Ben revealed the bigamy to Betsy, who was angered and sickened, and threw him out, despite giving birth to their daughter, Suzanne. 

In one of the show's most famous episodes, Meg finally saw the extent of Ben's deviousness, values she had instilled in him. She completely erupted, beating him in a fit of rage, and sunk to the floor calling her newborn granddaughter, Suzanne, a bastard.  This was the first time the word was uttered by anyone, good or bad, in daytime television.  This also showed how complex Meg really was.

Meanwhile, Cal and Rick patched things up after Rick threw Meg's money back in her face, and he married Cal.  Cal proved herself to be an excellent stepmother to his son Hank and the three left Rosehill for good. 

ALUMNI

Many actors have been showcased on the series over the 29 years it was on the air, and there were many alumni that came from the show. Notable alumni include Bert Convy (Tattletales; Super Password); Ja'net DuBois (Good Times); Christopher Reeve (Superman);  Irene Cara (Fame); Marsha Mason; Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch); Bonnie Bedelia; Jennifer Bassey (the lovable Marian Colby Chandler of All My Children); Barbara Barrie (Barney Miller); Eileen Letchworth (Margo Flax of All My Children); Robert Alda (father of Alan Alda of M*A*S*H fame); Damon Evans (The Jeffersons); Dana Delaney (China Beach); Ray Wise; Nancy Marchand (Lou Grant; The Sopranos); Mark Pinter; Jessica Walter; Roy Scheider (Jaws); Joan Copeland; Jerry Lacy; Jane Rose (the gently befuddled Audrey Dexter on Phyllis); Peggy McCay; and Audrey Peters.

Unlike most shows which often tie up their storylines to give the viewers a proper ending upon coming to the series end, Love of Life did not do this but ended them on a definite cliffhanger note when Betsy Crawford (Margo McKenna) faints on the witness stand, during Ben Harper's trial for assaulting her.

CASTING

The role of heroine Van was originally played by Peggy McCay (now known as Caroline Brady on Days of Our Lives).  When McCay left the role, she was later played by actress Bonnie Bartlett. Bartlett played Van during her courtship with Bruce Sterling (Ron Tomme). 

When she actually walked down the aisle, she was played by Audrey Peters, who would play the role until the series end.  Because Audrey was new to the role and didn't know the names of the characters Van was interacting with, she called everyone "dear". 

Theatrical actress Joanna Roos would play two separate roles during the series' run, both of them mothers. Her first role was as Althea Raven, Van's mother in-law; and then later she would play Van's mother, Sarah. When she retired from the role, actress Valerie Cossart would play the role until the series end. 

Jane Rose, who originated the role of Sarah, would become better known today as Audrey Dexter, the gently befuddled mother in-law of the oblivious Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman) on the situation comedy, Phyllis. The show also starred Lisa Gerritsen as Audrey's granddaughter, Bess Lindstrom; Henry Jones who played Audrey's second husband, Jonathan Dexter, a judge; and also featured actress Judith Lowry as his​ mother, Sally "Mother" Dexter.  Of everyone, Mother Dexter was by far the best one at insulting Phyllis, as she really despised her. 

Villainous Meg was played by Jean McBride and then when she returned seventeen years later, she would be played by Canadian actress, Tudi Wiggins. The role of her son, Ben Harper would be played as an adult by the late Christopher Reeve (of Superman fame) and by Chandler Hill Harben. 

Years after Love of Life ended, Audrey Peters (the last Vanessa) would join the cast of Guiding Light playing the mother of character Reva Shayne (Kim Zimmer) named Sarah Shayne. Her husband (and Reva's father), Hawk Shayne, would be played by Gil Rogers, known for his role of evil Ray Gardner on All My Children. 

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