Do you remember the show 'Love Is A Many Splendored Thing'?
Created by an unsung pioneer of American pop culture and featuring a Yankees legend, this soap pushed boundaries in the late '60s.
Born in Chicago at the dawn of the twentieth century, Irna Phillips would become one of the unheralded geniuses of American pop culture. After studying acting in college, the hopeful thespian was told she was too plain for pictures. So Phillips became a teacher.
She never gave up on acting, and got her foot in the door via radio plays on WGN. That gig led to her true life's work — writing serialized drama. Beginning with Painted Dreams, the first radio serial aimed at a female audience, Philips would become the most prolific creator of soap operas. She gave us Guiding Light, As the World Turns and Another World, just to name a few of the series that dished up decades of storylines. She chipped in on Peyton Place, A World Apart and Days of Our Life. Her early program Woman in White was one of the first pieces of entertainment set in a hospital. Her influence is immeasurable.
In 1967, a veteran Phillips served as the creator and head writer for a television spin-off of the 1955 film Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, which was an adaptation of the cross-cultural romance novel of the same name. Somewhere along the way the hyphen was lost and the setting moved from Hong Kong to San Francisco.
The central character would be Mia Elliott, the daughter of the characters played by William Holden and Jennifer Jones on the silver screen, and the plot would follow her career and love life as she developed relationships with two men. This was a soap opera after all. There was one catch. The CBS censors were uncomfortable showing a romance between an Asian-American woman and a white man — despite this being the central plot of the film and book. How could they find that shocking? Always grounded in the real lives of modern women, Phillips also developed a subplot involving abortion. That ruffled the network's feathers, as well. Phillips understandably grew frustrated and left the show after a matter of months. Mia Elliott was written off the show.
Though it lost its tenuous connections to its source material, minus the shots of junk boats in the opening credits, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing nonetheless clicked with young audiences thanks to the DNA left by Phillips. The cast skewed younger, and the stories touched on modern themes. The creative team flipped over as much as the cast in its six-year run.
Among the young talent were faces like Donna Mills and eventual Captain Kirk love interest Bibi Besch. Yet perhaps the most successful talent to come out of the series was Eddie Layton, the keyboardist who played the show's music. His modern playing put a spring in the step of the series. The year the soap kicked off, Layton also became the organist at Yankee Stadium, a job he held for four decades before retiring a baseball icon.