Friday, May 10, 2013

My Grandmother and Katherine Chancellor: Restless No More

It’s common knowledge in my family that for all the years she worked, my grandmother took her lunch break from 11am to 12 pm. The town fire alarm would sound (as it did every day back then) announcing the arrival of lunchtime. She would drive the half mile home, make herself a quick lunch, sit down in her chair and watch her “story:” The Young and the Restless.
In the late 80s early 90s, Y&R had some of the most outlandish, creative, edge-of-your-seat story lines I’ve ever had the pleasure to get sucked into. I loved it. I couldn’t wait to see how Sheila Carter was going to torment Lauren Fenmore next. And when David Kimble awoke from anesthesia and looked in the mirror to see his new face, the reveal of the word “killer” carved into his forehead by his plastic surgeon was shocking and unexpected. Those story lines have stuck with me all these years. None were more exciting, however, than the ones that included Katherine Chancellor. That woman was feisty to the max. She didn’t take shit from anyone, least of all Jill Foster, the former manicurist who slept with, and got pregnant by Katherine’s husband. That rivalry produced some of the juiciest scenes and verbal smack downs I’ve ever seen in daytime drama, and at one point or another I’ve sampled them all (’85-present).

Katherine Chancellor was the epitome of a Grande Dame. She was elegant, sophisticated, and glamorous. (That’s how I always see my grandmother in my mind -- sophisticated, perfect hair and make-up, elegant.) One thing I seem to always remember about Katherine is her accessories; her diamonds to be exact. She often wore a large clustered diamond ring on her index finger. It was oblong and reached to the knuckle. It seemed so out-of-the-ordinary, yet exactly right for her.

Fearlessly portrayed by Jeanne Cooper for 40 years, Katherine symbolized to me the vibrant, active, older woman. Like my grandmother, she had the love of her family, but she had a mind of her own and wasn’t afraid to speak it. Well, if I’m being honest, she was more outspoken than my grandmother, but she had writers that my grandmother didn’t have so that kind of puts my grandmother at a disadvantage.   

To read that the character of Katherine was controversial is not surprising. This was after all a character that went through the same facelift surgery as the actress. Jeanne suggested and allowed footage of her own facelift to be used for Katherine. I did not see it first hand, but I’ve had the pleasure of watching it on YouTube. The idea and the execution was nothing short of groundbreaking. Jeanne made Katherine seem real; she made her human. She wasn’t afraid to show her worst side -- honest, ugly, and venerable. 

After I had moved away from my hometown, I used to call my grandmother sometimes to discuss the day’s goings on in Genoa City, the setting for The Young and the Restless. I really missed those phone calls after my grandmother passed away in 2004. Katherine Chancellor was my connection to her. There were many times I wanted to call and ask her what she thought of the current story line or what she speculated might happen. I continued to watch The Young and the Restless just so I could feel close to her. As with many people, I am fickle and eventually gave up watching Y&R. The writing got bad -- characters doing things that were out-of-character. But even as I would tune in from time to time while eating my own lunch I always felt an immediate connection to Katherine.

With the passing of Jeanne Cooper, and by extension Katherine Chancellor, my heart aches. The connection that I always felt to my grandmother by watching this character is now gone. I’m saddened by her passing. I wish I could talk to my grandmother about it, but short of sitting at her graveside and talking to myself, I don’t have that option.

I hope I never forget the conversations I had with my grandmother about Katherine and her doppelgänger, Marge. I hope I never forget the times that I would make sure to be at my grandmother’s house at 11am so that I could watch her “story” with her. We didn’t talk except during commercial breaks, and she didn’t like questions. If I didn’t know what was going on, I had to wait until an appropriate moment to ask. No interruptions tolerated.

It’s hard to separate the characters in daytime from the actors who play them. We get so involved in their lives that we forget they aren’t real people. Thank you, Jeanne, for bringing to life one of the best character’s daytime television had the pleasure to offer us. You and Katherine will be missed. If you see my grandmother up there, don’t be surprised if she calls you Katherine. Introduce yourself. She’s a nice lady. Her name is June.