February 23, 1988 - Days Of Our Lives - Stephen Nichols Unmasked

October 10 2006 at 3:05 PM

Pat  (Premier Login Mrs.B.)

Response to Old SOD Scans and Articles

February 23, 1988 Vol. 13, No. 4

Articles included are the cover story - Stephen Nichols Unmasked and David Forsyth's Vietnam Horror.

Other Articles and Interviews in this issue included:

James Goodwin's Charmed (?) Life GL's Johnny is a country boy who has made it in the big city - on more than luck and timing.
Dixie Carter EDGE OF NIGHT got this Southern belle started, and now she's a hit on DESIGNING WOMEN.
Randolph Mantooth's First Love Sure, he likes playing LOVING's Clay, but the former EMERGENCY star would rather be on Broadway.
Easy Come, Easy Go TV fame is great, as long as you don't lose your job, say some actors.
Real-Life Couples Couples sizzle off screen as well as on. Here's a look at actors' real-life love lives.
Fashion Trends Serials feature some gorgeous wedding gowns.

Cover Story – Stephen Nichols Unmasked by Dan Logan

Stephen Nichols comes straight to the interview from a day on the set of DAYS OF OUR LIVES. At Le Dome in Hollywood, most of the diners are dressed in keeping with the string of Rolls Royces parked in the lot. That is to say, elegantly. Not long after Dyan Cannon leaves in a high-fashion miniskirt and thigh-high black boots, Nichols strides in wearing well-worn stovepipe bluejeans and a string tie. It’s Patch himself, minus the trademark eyepatch and black leather jacket. Nichols drops into a chair and the interview quickly turns into a quiet conversation.

“I have my script with me – it’s my friend, my constant companion,” he says without embarrassment. “If I just look at it during the day, it sort of soaks in.”

The script doesn’t appear to be an actor’s prop intended to show how serious he is about acting. Like Patch, Nichols seems to be an upfront guy; what you see is what you get. But with Nichols, there’s a mild side. It’s Steve Johnson minus the sandpaper quality.

Perhaps the key to Stephen Nichols is out in the parking lot, amid the Rolls Royces. Nichols has arrived in the family station wagon, a Ford Taurus. Not exactly a hell-for-leather driving machine. Or one that will turn heads at Le Dome. But it does the job for a father who enjoys making up songs to sing to his children.

Actually, the Patch role was an ideal assignment for this intense and ambitious young actor. Given a minor part as a street rebel, Nichols fleshed him out. He worked in a sense of humor and a unique vocabulary that soon made Patch a sympathetic anti-hero – a far cry from the run-of-the-mill sleazeball he had originally been handed. Soon it was apparent that Nichols had created a character worthy of the devotion of the show’s rabidly romantic fans. As a result of their response, the part grew.

“DAYS OF OUR LIVES is that way,” he explains. “The follow the actor’s lead. They bring in a person for a small part, and if that person is creating something that really stands out, they go with it.”

Assessing the situation, Nichols decides that he was able to see, and take advantage of, a flaw in the original conception of Patch: his language. “Because my character is a little bit specialized – he’s kind of a street person – not everyone knows how to write that kind of dialogue,” he says. “They tend to write them all the same, which is like forties gangster-type dialogue.” But the Patch personality wasn’t cardboard to Nichols, it was quite familiar. So instead of playing a stereotype, he pushed for a more contemporary, street-wise twist. “I just have a feel for this kind of person, I guess,” he says, adding that he based Patch on real-life acquaintances. “I really used people I knew as a kid. When they grew up, this is the kind of guy they’d be. And I use a lot of my own life experiences.”

Certainly, there are parallels. Born in Cincinnati, his early life was disrupted when his father abandoned the family. Eventually his mother remarried and the family moved to nearby Dayton. His interest in acting goes back to the musical variety shows he watched on television as a kid but, at home, academics were stressed over more creative pursuits. “My mother wanted me to be a Trotwood, Ohio police officer,” he says, laughing. “When I was a kid, I had all those creative feelings – art, singing in the chorus – but because I didn’t get that encouragement at home, they were like dreams to me.”

A year after high school he moved to Los Angeles, passing up an art scholarship to Ohio State University because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to college. One reason for his choosing L.A. was what he refers to as “the old monk story that everybody knows.” That is, he joined the Self-Realization Fellowship Center with the intention of becoming a monk. “I wouldn’t even call it a religious thing,” he reflects. “It was for me to find out what I was supposed to do in this life – it was what I have to call a spiritual search.” During his most intense three-year affiliation with the center, Nichols worked as cook for the organization. Today, he still has spiritual ties with the group (his children attend Sunday school there), although as he puts it, he “lives in the outside world.”

Realizing that becoming a monk didn’t suit him, he began to study acting at the Los Angeles City College Theater Academy. “I had a real desire to make something of myself. My feelings about myself, growing up, were very confused. When I found there something I could do, and I could do well, I was very excited about that,” he recalls.

After City College, he acted on the stage, performing in such plays as Delirious, The Cage, Death of a Salesman,andPieces of Time. His first movie was Choices, with Demi Moore, and he made five more movies before he became a regular on DAYS. On television, he did guest appearances on DALLAS, CRAZY LIKE A FOX and T.J. HOOKER. “I was on the very first episode of DYNASTY because my ex-in-laws wrote and created that show,” he says in passing.

Publicity bios rarely mention an actor’s age, particularly if the actor is playing someone younger than himself, and Patch is assumed to be about twenty-eight. Nichols bio is no exception, but when asked, he promptly says he’s thirty-six. “I don’t care, I don’t want to lie about anything,” he says. “I don’t think that’s going to hurt me. These producers, and people who want the guy twenty-eight, look at me and say, ‘He looks twenty-eight. What’s the problem? I don’t have any problem with it, really. I don’t feel old. I feel like the thirties have been the best years of my life, so far.” And, in fact, across a table and separated by a couple bottles of Perrier, he does look twenty-eight.

We spend a lot of time talking about acting. “The spiritual side I’ve pursued has always helped me in my work. I really believe in practice. My grandfather always told me practice makes perfect. It’s a silly cliché, but I tell my kids that,” he says with a laugh. His attitude seems to work. He receives a thousand fan letters a week, more than anyone else on the show, according to a Columbia publicist.

His family is a nest of acting talent, and Nichols is very proud of that. His wife, Lisa, to whom Nichols has been married three years (it’s his third marriage), is a “fledgling actress” who has appeared on DAYS and is currently doing plays in Los Angeles. His children, ten-year-old Vanessa and seven-year-old Aaron, are also actors. “The producers [of DAYS] wanted Aaron because he looked so much like me,” Nichols says, and the boy plays Patch as a child in flashback scenes.

“Aaron’s very bright and he understands everything intellectually,” Nichols says. “Emotionally, he’s never experienced anything that this kid, the young Steve Johnson, experienced,” Steve says, referring to the child-abuse story line which show-cased his son. So Nichols gives Aaron pointers on performing. “Kids want to make their face do something – look sad, for example,” he explains. “I tell him to try to imagine his own life that way, and then let his heart control what his face does. Let his heart do the work.”

Concerned about Vanessa being over-looked if Aaron got an acting role, Nichols told the producers, “ ‘Aaron will do it if you’ll give my daughter a small part, because I don’t want her to be left out.’ So she got a nice little part and she works every now and then.” Vanessa has made several appearances as Kelly, an abused child, and Nichols feels she “has deep dramatic instinct.”

“I’m very proud of the work they’ve both done on the show,” he says, but it’s clear he doesn’t want it going to their heads. Nichols notes that Aaron recently used some of the money he has earned from the show to buy himself a computer. “If we had let him he would have bought one of those electric-powered cars that you see at F.A.O. Schwarz,” Nichols says. “We said it wasn’t practical because he’d grow out of it and he couldn’t drive it when he was eighteen.”

After two and a half years on DAYS, Steve is now starting to put out feelers for stage and movie roles. “Creating opportunities for myself,” he calls it, believing that attracting attention can’t be done overnight. “People in the industry don’t take daytime actors too seriously. I don’t have any illusions about that,” he says.

As he finishes a cappuccino, Nichols adds, “Some people believe acting classes make you a good actor, or you find that magic when you finally become a good actor, but I think it’s a lifelong process. You’ve got this creative energy and you keep trying to develop it your whole lifetime.” He’s also intrigued by Patch’s development. “The physicality of the character – that’s one advantage of being an ongoing character – you turn the switch and the guy is on,” he explains. “There’s a way he walks and talks that’s different from me.”

But on appearance tours, fans enjoy seeing “Patch” live and in person. One request he always gets from fans is to call them Sweetness, the endearment Patch uses for Kayla Brady. Sweetness is a nickname he originally gave his daughter. “I can motivate a lot of love behind that word, so that’s why I like it for Kayla,” he explains.

And his relationship with Mary Beth Evans, the actress who plays Kayla, is a warm and enjoyable one. “Sometimes we’re a little too friendly even when we’re in scenes that are not so friendly. When there’s a lot more tension happening, we have to watch ourselves on that, and get stuff created before we go on the set. Sometimes I’ll tell her I have to be alone for a while – or she’ll do the same thing – we have to get our own individual things together.”

Evans agrees. “There’s love there, and I think it shows. It seems kind of corny to say, be we connect,” she says. “I think that after my maternity leave, you could see it in our eyes.”

Evans’s recent pregnancy itself provided some backstage moments of fun as they filmed around her growing stomach. “In the cabin scene, I was supposed to be naked,” she recalls. “Normally, I would wear a body stocking, a sort of nude swimsuit, but being pregnant, my body stocking more like a muumuu. Stephen was to walk in and stare at me as if I looked sexy, but instead I looked like Omar the Tentmaker,” she laughs, adding that Steve managed to keep a straight face. Good thing. Before Mary Beth had her baby, she and Nichols pre-taped ten shows and to do one hundred pages of dialogue in one day, most of it heavy emotion. And suddenly sounding like Patch, Nichols says seriously, “That’s kamikaze acting. Doing a soap, you do kamikaze acting.” But Nichols has no plans to self-destruct or burn-out. He intends to live a full and healthy life – with or without career pressures. Like Patch, he knows what’s important.


David Forsyth Relives the Horror of Vietnam As Told to Ellen Byron in His Own Words

David Forsyth (John Hudson, ANOTHER WORLD) spent four years in the military. From 1968-69, he served in Vietnam as a Navy medic attached to a marine unit. During his tour of duty, he won a medal for bravery for risking his life to aid a wounded corpsman. Forsyth is still haunted by what he swan d experienced during his year in Nam. Here is his painful and at times brutally explicit story.

I came from a military family. My mother was a navy nurse, my father was a colonel in the Marine Corps. I grew up around the military. It was part of my existence.

Around 1966 or 1967, I got out of high school and went to college, but after a couple of semesters, I realized I didn’t know why I was there. Vietnam was really going strong, and I felt that supporting the government was the right thing to do, so I enlisted. I was in Japan for a year, came back to the United States to attend field medical school in California, then shipped out to Okinawa, where I received specialty training in counter-guerrilla warfare. Then I went to Vietnam.

I was attached to the First Marine Division. I stayed with them through Christmas, then got attached to Charlie Company, First Tanks. Then they moved the entire Marine regiment way south of Denang, where I spent the rest of my tour.

After two weeks in Vietnam, I realized the absurdity of the whole thing. It was just insane for us to be there. They wouldn’t let us fight the war. Our government was trying to run a twofold policy. We were trying to be pals to these people, but we really didn’t know who they were or what they wanted. We had restrictions on us. We couldn’t even fire on the enemy unless we had approval. One night, my outfit was overrun three times. Being a corpsman, I had access to a radio and I listened to this guy call in to CMC bunker where command communications were, and say, “I’ve got activity outside my lines of fire. Request permission just to send up a flare.” Permission was denied. The last communication from this fellow was, “Major, this son of a bitch is three feet from my bunker. I’m going to shoot him.” And then the whole place exploded. The Vietnamese version of kamakazis had come in, loaded with explosives all over their bodies. We sat listening. There was nothing we could do.

I carried three guns. There were a lot of occasions where I could have and probably should have used them, but after two weeks, I made a decision in my heart that I would not kill anybody while I was there. I didn’t become a conscientious objector. I still don’t think I am. It’s just that the circumstances there were different.

One night I was supposed to go out on rat patrol (which we actually called snake bites) where we’d take three people, dig a hole, sit out all night in it and observe. Something happened – I don’t remember exactly what – and someone said, “I’ll take your place.” I said, “It’s OK,” and he said, “No, I want to go. I feel like getting out.” He and the others were all killed. Not only were they killed, their bodies were mutilated. I was in a blind fury and rage. That night I filled two pages in my journal with the question, “Why?”

Then there was this little girl I used to visit. She was about eleven years old, and she’d had both legs blown off. She was at a German-run hospital, neutral hospital, which would take anybody, North Vietnamese, Americans, civilians. I don’t know why, but there was a kindred heart the first time I saw this little girl. She was very dear to me. I’d go visit and just sit with her. I didn’t speak Vietnamese and she didn’t speak English, but we definitely communicated. If I had a child, it would be her. Well, they killed everybody in that hospital. I never understood that because hospital treated everyone. But that’s the insanity of it all.

I came back to the States on emergency leave. My father was having two major surgical procedures at the same time, and the Red Cross asked that I be sent home. I had less than thirty days to go “in country” so I knew I wasn’t going back to Vietnam. I came straight out of the field, where I had been in the midst of an operation. I was a wreck. I had mud and blood all over my uniform. I went from Denang to Okinawa to America still in my jungle fatigues.

The flight stopped in Houston before it went on. The flight attendants were wonderful. They invited me up to first class and started giving me liquor. I was getting pretty blitzed and having a wonderful time. As we started to land in Houston, they opened up the curtains that separate first class and coach, and I heard this screaming from the back of the plane. I couldn’t make out what the guy was saying until about the third time he said it. He was screaming, “How many did you kill, you son of a bitch?” Then I heard footsteps and the next thing I knew this guy had me around the neck and was punching me and trying to rip my head off my shoulders. I managed to get my seatbelt undone, and beat him up pretty badly. He was a big guy, but he was drunk. The engineer came out of the cockpit. He got there just in time because the buddy of the guy I was fighting came up and hit me from behind. The engineer hit him and we managed to subdue both of these guys.

When we landed, the plane had barely stopped rolling when there were FBI and FAA officials all over the place. They threw these guys off the plane, apologized, gave me another drink and we continued on. That was my welcome home.

For a long time after I got back, I had this almost apologetic attitude for having lived. I became a firefighter and paramedic in Boca Raton, Florida. As paramedics, we only participated in the worse fires. I was getting back into dangerous situations, reliving part of Vietnam, perhaps. But at the same time, I was doing something where you really help people. It’s what I did best over there, and I have no qualms about saying that. I know I saved a lot of lives.

My experience in Vietnam has a lot to do with how I relate to people. If somebody’s going to get close to me, my defense mechanisms go up. Over there, one second there was a person standing next to you and the next second there was a pile of mush. I was so confused about Vietnam and a lot of other things in my life that I really screwed up my marriage. My ex-wife and I are friends now. We’ve sat down and talked about it, and that’s made a big difference. I’m going through a whole process of unlearning a lot of behaviour these days. It’s been difficult for me.

I don’t think I was even aware of the extent of the hostility, rage and anger that I harbored regarding Vietnam until about three years ago, when they had the ticker tape parade here in New York for Viet vets. Bob Woods, who was on ONE LIFE TO LIVE at the time, called me up and said, “A bunch of us are going down to participate.” I hadn’t even known that he was a Nam vet. There were about five of us at the parade who worked in daytime television, either as actors, grips, or in makeup. Afterward, we stood around talking and it was the first time any of us had shared about it. The similarity of problems we’d had in our lives was uncanny. It was only about twenty minutes of conversation, but that twenty minutes turned my attitude around. I knew that I had to get out and talk with people about it. I belong to the Veterans of the Vietnam War Association, and through them, I’ve spoken to groups about Nam.

When John Whitesell approached me about playing John, he told me I’d have a lot of input. In the beginning, I was encouraged because they were doing some wonderful things. They had about three weeks of interesting stuff to do about this guy coming home and after that it was like, “OK, let’s be really happy and funny now.” I’ve been extraordinarily disappointed about their unwillingness to explore the issue. I don’t want to stand on a soapbox, but I’m not the one who asked to do this. They presented me with it and said, “This is what we want you do. We wish to do it honestly, and we wish to explore a lot of different avenues that haven’t been explored before.” That just hasn’t happened. I’ve been told to lighten up. I said, “You’re taking a character who’s been away for twenty years, a man who’s hurt, angry, and embittered by his experience, and you want him to be funny?” It’s like asking a woman who’s been raped is she would do a sorry about her rape experience and then telling her, “No, that’s not the way it was.”

I think the interesting thing to do would be to use the soap opera genre in the manner in which it was intended. Have him fall n love with someone who makes him talk about his feelings and get them out. I think soap operas sell themselves short. They can deal with issues honestly. Their audience wants it, and they’re definitely intelligent enough for it.

A few years ago when I was doing AS THE WORLD TURNS, there was a soap opera festival in Washington, D.C. I went over to see the Wall (the famous Vietnam memorial). I looked all over and couldn’t recognize one name of anybody in my outfit. I had blanked them all out. I went bank this summer over the Fourth of July weekend with my girlfriend, and it was the best experience for me. When we got there, I said, “I hope you’ll understand this, but please leave me alone for a while. I have to do this on my own.” When she left, I completely fell apart at the wall. It was a really good release for me. It was getting in touch with saying good-bye from the heart. But I still don’t remember their names.

This message has been edited by Mrs.B. on Apr 6, 2007 8:18 PM

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