Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Irene Dailey

My Aunt Liz died last month. Actually, she was Aunt Liz for thousands of people as the interfering, but well-meaning matriarch of the Matthews family on the classic soap “Another World.” Actress Irene Dailey was 88 and died Sept. 24 of colon cancer in California.

Ms. Dailey has been a part of my life since 1974 when she first appeared on AW. Even though that most wonderful of soaps stopped production in 1999 -- I still miss it! -- Aunt Liz continues to live on in the AW episodes AOL puts up from time to time and on all the tapes I have from the show when it was rebroadcast on SoapNet.

Unfortunately I never got to see her on stage. I couldn’t get a ticket to The Father in 1995 when she starred with Frank Langella (photo) in what was to be her last theatre appearance. She had had a successful career on stage following a series of Broadway flops, earning her chance to shine in the role of the quick-witted, sensitive mother, Nettie Cleary, in the 1964 Tony Award-winning drama The Subject Was Roses, in which she starred with Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen.

“Miss Dailey’s Nettie is a luminous creation,” Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times. “She can suggest hurt and desiccation with a stricken glance. Wearing a plain hat and coat and holding her purse, she can turn to walk out of her apartment so that her back conveys her utter defeat and despair.”

Although she had numerous TV credits, my only association with her was as Aunt Liz on AW, a role she played from 1974 to 1986, and then again from 1988 to 1994, winning a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding actress in 1979.

According to The New York Times obit today, Ms. Dailey was born in New York City on Sept. 12, 1920, the daughter of Daniel and Helen Ryan Dailey. Her father managed the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. Her brother Dan Dailey gained fame as a song-and-dance man and Hollywood actor.

At 8, The Times says, she was dancing in vaudeville, and at 18 she was working in summer stock. “With consistent bad luck, she kept winning parts in what she once said were 13 of Broadway’s worst shows. Miss Lonelyhearts, for example, had a nine-day run.”

The Times says Ms. Dailey “ran a lampshade store and worked as a waitress while making the Broadway rounds. Then, in 1960, she tried her luck in London. She was the 47th actress to try out for the lead in Tomorrow — With Pictures, about an American woman trying to take over a British newspaper empire. She got the part and drew rave reviews.”

“Every plummy-voiced English rose of an imitation actress should be dragged to see Miss Dailey,” The Daily Express critic wrote. “She sweats love, breathes hate, weeps desire.”

In an interview with Time magazine at the time, Miss Dailey said: “I shall be 40 in September. I have nothing, really nothing. I’m not married. I have no children.

“All I really care about is the theatre,” she continued. “But now, for the first time, I know in my stomach that my work is good.”

Your work was good, Ms. Dailey, at least what I saw of it through all those years on AW. I’d like to see it again. Maybe you can finagle the Divine to get SoapNet to restore AW to its programing and AOL to put up episodes more frequently. Please try, Aunt Liz.

And God bless you.

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