Eb's girlfriend on Green Acres became one of the most prolific soap opera villains of the Eighties
Before she played scheming and glamorous women on daytime TV, Judith McConnell started her career as almost the exact opposite – a country girl in Hooterville.
Many household names began their careers on television. Action movie stars Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen had their own small-screen Westerns, Rawhide and Wanted Dead or Alive, respectively. Actors like Jodie Foster and Kurt Russell started in Hollywood as child stars appearing in everything from Gunsmoke to Gilligan’s Island to many Disney TV movies.
While there is a clear line from Western shows to action movies, one classic TV performer made a total 180-degree switch in her career. She went from playing a country sweetheart to portraying many different villains soap opera fans loved to hate.
Judith McConnell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and attended Carnegie Mellon University. At 21, she won the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, in part because of her talent performing a monologue from a play about Joan of Arc.
Two years later she received her first TV roles, appearing in the legal drama Judd for the Defense and playing an Enterprise crewmember in the Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold.”
Her first recurring role was in four episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies as an assistant at Mr. Drysdale’s bank. The next year, she got her biggest part to date on another one of producer Paul Henning’s shows, Green Acres.
McConnell appeared in Hooterville as farmhand Eb Dawson’s girlfriend, Darlene, for the wacky sitcom’s final season. She was a friendly country girl who had a soft spot for goofy Eb and enjoyed the simpler things in life. A world apart from her role as Valerie Conway in As the World Turns or Miranda Bishop in Another World. She also appeared in General Hospital and One Life to Live.
McConnell clearly had years of soap opera experience before her most famous role as the scheming Sophia in over a thousand episodes of Santa Barbara. She told the Mason Valley News in 1985, “Sophia is a dynamic lady who is emerging as one of the core characters in Santa Barbara. I see her as a woman with charm and yet with a chilling determination to get things done.”
One storyline even required McConnell to don a body suit and beard to play Sophia’s disguised alter ego, Dominic.
Another Santa Barbara star, A Martinez, started his career on classic TV in shows like Adam-12 and Bonanza. The soap opera also featured Robin Wright before her breakout role in The Princess Bride.
Do you remember Judith McConnell’s time on Green Acres? Or do you only know her as Sophia Capwell?