Thirty-five years ago, NBC launched Santa Barbara, a daytime drama revolving around the eventful lives of the wealthy Capwell family. It aired in over 40 countries around the world, won 24 Daytime Emmy Awards and has the distinction of being the longest-running series on Russian television. With a $30 million budget and unique blend of romance, melodrama, and black comedy, the show truly encapsulated the Golden Age of Soap Opera throughout the 1980’s. Even Ronald and Nancy Reagan were enthusiastic fans! Although Santa Barbara ended in 1993, it still enjoys a strong and passionate international following to this day. So now, for the first time ever, fans may enjoy a reunion cruise setting sail on November 4 – 8 from Miami to the Bahamas on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. Six of the original cast members — Lane Davies (Mason), A Martinez (Cruz), Judith McConnell (Sophia), Nicolas Coster (Lionel), Louise Sorel (Augusta) and Harley Kozak (Mary) — will be on board to mix and mingle with passionate fans. There will be plenty of photo ops, autograph sessions, and face time planned, along with a tribute to veteran actor Jed Allan (C.C. Capwell) who passed away this March. Enjoy this interview as these actors share their thoughts about the upcoming cruise and memories of their time on Santa Barbara. [Editor Note: Due to scheduling conflicts, A Martinez could not participate in this interview.]
OutTakes: Why do you think Santa Barbara has such a loyal fan following and popularity to this day?
Lane Davies: I think because we were different. Besides the strength of the past and the writing, we had a sense of humor about what we were doing. As serious as some of the story lines got, we always had a tongue-in-cheek attitude about the work. We respected the work. But at the same time, we had fun with it. That set us apart from other daytime dramas that can take themselves far too seriously. That would be my opinion why we’ve got sort of a cult following. We appeal to a certain viewer that appreciated our sly sense of humor.
Louise Sorel: Well put. I think that’s absolutely true; and we still have our sense of humor. Even if the world is falling apart, we go on!
Judith McConnell: The writing was terrific. So that I think that had a lot to do with it; and it was a damn good group of actors. Since Jed [Allan] died, I’ve started to look at a lot of the tribute stuff to him; and I’m watching some of our work. I just thought “Wow, we were good!” I don’t remember the specifics of any of those things, so it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time.
Nicolas Coster: Number one is that Santa Barbara was unique. There was nothing like it. I’m probably the expert from the acting standpoint because I have done more soaps than anybody alive or dead (laughs) — a record that will probably stand because there aren’t ten soaps anymore. Santa Barbara was revolutionary.
Harley Jane Kozak: Santa Barbara in particular seems to have a special kind of following and longevity and affection. I’m gonna say, if this doesn’t sound too biased, I think it has to do with the character of Mason. There were, of course, tons of great characters. Soaps are an ensemble medium; but Lane Davies in particular had that perfect blend of bad boy with the conscience and a heart of gold. There’s something about the couple of Cruz and Eden (A Martinez and Marcy Walker) that was so beautiful and compelling. Kelly (Robin Wright) was our own perfect gorgeous soulful teenager. Even though we only had tangentially to do with the town of Santa Barbara, the place has a certain kind of magic about it. It’s a major city, but it’s a small one. There’s so much history and so much culture and beauty. But who can really say? If anybody could figure out the exact appeal of Santa Barbara, then they could bottle it. It’s like any sort of cultural phenomenon. It’s so hard to say why this captures the public imagination.
OutTakes: Lane, what inspired you to produce this Santa Barbara Reunion Cruise?
Lane: A couple of people had told me about these other fan cruises that were happening; and I thought, if nothing else, it gives us a chance to interact with some of our more hardcore fans and for the cast members to spend time with each other again. We’re sort of scattered to the four winds and it can be surprisingly difficult to get together with each other. And it seems so strange since we were all so close at one time.
OutTakes: What do you most look forward to on the Santa Barbara Reunion Cruise?
Louise: Seeing Lane because I have a crush on him! He went away, and we can’t find him anywhere so we have to go find him. And what a perfect place to go to find him! Most of us had a very extraordinary and amazing connection. I still see Nick Coster. Judith McConnell was in my apartment not that long ago. It was just something unspoken that strung us together. And, as Lane said about the humor, we’re all very witty. Bridget and Jerome Dobson (creators of Santa Barbara) were witty in their own mad way. When you find that in someone, you just never forget it. It’s so necessary. There are people I remember from years ago that I don’t see at all but I remember their humor and their spirit. That’s getting harder to find. Just to see those faces. They’re wonderful people.
Lane: You create a bond when you couple the sense of humor with trying to get 60 pages of dialogue in the can every day, 6 days a week. You have what what’s called a galvanizing crisis. It creates a very special bond among people.
Nicolas: For one thing, my beloved Russian wife will enjoy the heck out of it. She is a real lover of the ocean and boats. We live on a small boat, but we’re not waited on and with all the amenities of a great cruise. That’s really super! I’ve been going to the Bahamas since the 60’s. I love the Caribbean. I had a place on an island called Anguilla when I was doing As The World Turns.
Harley: First of all, meeting with fans, pleased to answer questions. What is it that makes Santa Barbara so appealing that people signed up to do a cruise with us? But the other thing that is really appealing is to spend time with the cast members, some of whom I’ve seen since. Just to have an opportunity to be with those cast members. That’s just magical!
Harley Jane Kozak as Mary
OutTakes: What did you enjoy the most about your character?
Harley: I love that Mary had such a deep-seated sense of ethics and justice and an unconventional kind of courage. I think for a nun to leave the church requires a great deal of courage, losing your religion when it’s that big a deal in your life. That’s something. I could relate to that. I really respected that. She had the most fabulous story line, starting with her family dynamics. Her mother who had issues, her little sister who had issues and her stepfather who really had issues! And then the romance with Mason was just fabulous. It was a dream storyline. And then to be involved with Mark who really was not a good person. That is always exciting because the opportunity to go into that kind of deeply painful, traumatic stuff is very juicy for an actor. Also, my death was really exciting because it was so unusual, and it affected my fellow actors, and I got to be the catalyst and witness for them to do such beautiful acting. That was thrilling. And it was exciting and unexpected that fans reacted so strongly to it. Then, to be asked to come back and get to play an angel. It could not have been more perfect. Sometimes, you get tired of the job if it’s a long running job. At least I do. I think I’m suited for short-term jobs like movies and plays. That’s kind of my favorite thing. One could be on the soap for years and years and years, but to be on for just one perfect year was a gem-like experience in my life as an actor. It left me wanting more. It left them wanting more. But in a good way.
Lane: All the layers followed by Mason’s sense of humor. He was not written as a 2-dimensional character. I think because he was loosely based on Bridget Dobson’s relationship with her own mother. As peculiar and murky as that sounds, I think that’s part of what made Mason’s relationship with C.C. resonate so much.
Louise: I also think that Lionel and Augusta were based on the Dobsons to some extent. I just loved the madness. You wouldn’t believe some of the comedic concepts of taking a supposedly blind woman to the William Randolph Hearst estate and putting her on a hoisted camera. They had cameras showing the the audience that it was all fake, except that she supposedly thought she was going there. They just went against type with everything! It was insane. They took me to what was supposedly the Hearst castle. There was nothing. It was a space. Lionel would say, “Well, there’s a fireplace; and isn’t this beautiful?” But I had already got my sight back. I pretended I didn’t so I said it was lovely, but there was nothing there! It was space. There wasn’t a piece of furniture. It was madness; and I loved that kind of humor – this melodramatic madness of things that people bought. They accepted it because we committed to it. If we had continued on with it, I think Santa Barbara would have just taken over as the best show in daytime because they were exploring things.
Judith: I think it was fun initially that Sophia got to do all the disguises. But the man disguise was pretty awful. There was an Italian contessa; and at least four other characters that she had to do. That was fun for me as an actor. And her absolute love for her children – that she would do anything for them. I have a daughter that I feel the same way about now. That was so clearly written in the character. Jerome and Bridget Dobson felt that way about their kids and wrote it.
Nicolas: The fact that Lionel was a character not easily pinned to a portrait on the wall. What people don’t realize was that Santa Barbara was really the first reality daytime show. A great “for instance” is I got my captain’s license while I was on Santa Barbara. Then I piloted a big boat that we chartered on the show. Then I taught my son on the show – played wonderfully by John Allen Nelson – how to scuba dive. I was and still am a scuba instructor. That part of it was so real that it was really funny. I was not a paleontologist in real life, but I’ve always loved that sort of thing. And again, it was the humor. We had wonderful writers. Just the best I’ve ever worked with. The Dobsons were so enthusiastic about new ideas and new directions to keep on trying.
What was it about your onscreen couple that appealed to the fans?
Lionel and Augusta
Louise: Lionel was a wanderer; and Augusta was on a furious road trying to keep the relationship. Personally, I love and adore Nick Coster and he makes me crazy. Nick is very unique and we always picked up on each other with this relationship that had already been. It was like saber fighting between us. At the same time, you could see the great affection. We fed off of each other.
Nicolas: There was just that electric thing between us that you can’t manufacture plus a super high degree of professional respect. I respect Louise and her acting technique and her ideas. She is very very sharp. Every time I go to New York, I see Louise, and she calls me when she is in California. We’re still bosom buddies.
Mason and Mary
Harley: Opposites attract. Mason was a pretty Machiavellian character. He was very charming, very powerful, wealthy, potentially manipulative with that kind of wicked gleam in his eye which everybody loves. He seems to really enjoy being morally ambiguous. Mary, on the other hand, was about as honest and guileless and sincere as they come. I don’t think Mary had a manipulative bone in her body. It was the oddness of the attraction between them that made them compelling. So many of the viewers could relate to Mary as a very trustworthy and deeply moral person, somebody that they could picture themselves being. Or maybe their mother, or sister, or cousin, or friend was Mary. With no money, and nothing really to recommend her, she manages to attract the most handsome, charismatic, wealthy, powerful man in town. He falls for her and I think that’s a perennially attractive fantasy. It’s just a Cinderella story, honestly. It’s an iconic story.
Mason and Mary vs. Mason and Julia
Lane: I am almost afraid to say anything because my fans are split like Sunni and Shia over it! The thing is that I love both couples equally and working with both women equally. The relationship with Julia went on longer and, therefore, there were more problems that sprang up between me and Nancy. They squashed poor Harley before the relationship really had a chance to fully develop. The primary difference is the romance with Mary was storybook. You’ve got this rascally lawyer paired up with a virgin nun. The relationship, as trying as it was, was more storybook, but then she died before you could have a happy ending; and that always leaves unanswered questions. The relationship with Julia became a much more real relationship and had time to develop more fully. Nancy and I always had great chemistry. Even when Nancy and I weren’t getting along, the audience didn’t care. They could never tell if we were closer to strangulation or copulation, but they accepted it either way.
C.C. and Sophia
Judith: C.C. was such a macho guy; and Sophia would stand up to him. They were so deeply in love. I look at the scenes now that I don’t remember doing; and we really look like we were in love – so I guess that has a lot to do with the appeal.
OutTakes: The cruise will have a special tribute to Jed Allan. Favorite memory of working with Jed?
Lane: Jed was so much fun to work with. As good as other C.C.s were, Jed had two sons. So he was easier to relate to as a father, even though he really was not old enough to be my father at that time (unless he started at a very young age). It made relating to Jed extremely easy. And I think Jed was at a point in his career where he thought “I’ve got to prove myself all over again!” So he really came into the role with guns blazing. He was just great fun to work with because he had a sense of humor about it. He had this wonderful ego that he was totally aware of; and it just made him that much more fun to work with. One of my favorite memories is him sitting up in a coffin arguing with the director over the PA! This disembodied voice coming out of nowhere and Jed sitting up in a coffin furious with the director over something that was going on! And I was standing just off-camera and then started laughing hysterically. And Jed was like “WHAT?! What’s the matter? What are YOU laughing at?” I said, “You’re sitting in a coffin arguing with a disembodied voice; and I’m sorry. The absurdity just got to me.” And then Jed started laughing.
Nicolas: Jed and I go back to The Secret Storm. I left The Secret Storm to do films and plays and Broadway; and in the meantime, Jed played my part! That’s how we first met. He was always a terrific presence and very commanding. We had a great time creating this rivalry onscreen. He was also a very generous and kind man.
Judith: We loved each other. We had to do all those kissing scenes and bedroom scenes; and Jed would have to pick me up and carry me all around. And he was a dear through all of that. Sometimes I would get so mad at him because he kind of upstaged everybody. He would do it to me; and I would finally say “Stop it, Jed! Just hold still. It’s my line.” We’d get snarky with each other and then fall into each other’s arms again. He was an angel. I miss him.
OutTakes: What was the most challenging part about playing your character?
Nicolas: At one point, I had a terrible auto accident and my memory suffered for about a week. I had to struggle and, fortunately, Bridget was very kind about it. Lenore Kasdorf (who was playing my wife at the time) was so patient with me and I will never forget that kindness. But mostly the whole experience on Santa Barbara was glorious. I made so many good friends who are still my friends. I think A Martinez (Cruz) should run for Senator! He is such a great actor, but he is also a great human being.
Judith: The damn beard! All the hours we had to put on that makeup. When everyone had gone home, I’d still be standing in the makeup room, trying to get the glue off my face and not tear my skin up. It was just awful! I did everything I could do as an actor to convincingly be a male, but I just couldn’t do it. I looked ridiculous! I’d try to sit like a guy and walk like a guy. It just never worked. But it created a lot of mail, so they extended that character for a lot longer than originally planned before he was revealed to be Sophia.
Harley: It was challenging for my personal life because I’ve been living in New York for the preceding nine years, then I came out to LA for the job. So I came out on very short notice. Maybe 24 to 48 hours. Stuffing things in storage, calling up friends and saying I’m going to LA and I don’t know when I’ll be back. I expected to go back to New York to live, but I never did. I had to get used to life on a different coast. I never lived in LA or anywhere close to it. I had to learn how to drive. I started walking to work because they put me at an apartment complex near NBC studios. After I’d been there a couple of weeks, crew members would recognize me, slow down, stop, and pick me up to give me a ride. I didn’t realize that people don’t typically walk places in LA. So I had to go to driving school and get a car. Then my very best friend in the world who was back in New York discovered he had AIDS and was dying. He died in September 1986, which was just after the character of Mary died on Santa Barbara. So it was a pretty rocky year emotionally. Santa Barbara was really a refuge and haven for me. The people there were so generous and wonderful and kind. I was between apartments at one point and I slept in my dressing room (which is something I don’t really recommend although we had lovely dressing rooms!). That really was my home in so many ways during a very tumultuous time. There was nothing challenging really at work that was nearly as challenging life outside of work. So I think that’s probably why the experience on Santa Barbara holds such a deep place in my heart.
OutTakes: What was your favorite storyline or scene?
Nicolas: When Augusta was blind and we were doing a parody of Cyrano de Bergerac. I pretended that I wasn’t there and I had the milkman pretend that he was a paramour coming in to make her feel better in any way possible. I would feed him the lines. So with Augusta being blind, she couldn’t see me doing it. But Louise, of course, could see everything and would break up. Ronny Schell (stand-up comedian known for Gomer Pyle) who played the milkman was so funny.
Louise: The whole storyline where I was supposed to be blind was pretty darn funny and fun. It was just madness. That always comes to mind when I think of the show. There were just these wonderful mad moments. I love comedy. I love doing the mad stuff. It was incredibly insane!
Judith: The storyline about Channing when it finally came out that Sophia had accidentally killed him. It was really hard to do, and it was one of my favorite storylines because it had such depth of emotion and grief. And I loved working with Robin Wright and Marcy Walker.
OutTakes: How are you most like your character?
Judith: Sophia’s dedication to her children. I started very late at personally being a mom. There was such a change in my head and heart when I had a baby. How you would do anything for your kids. And that’s how they wrote Sophia. That’s a pretty strong connection. Also, she was an actress so I got to have a little of that going on.
Harley: I came from a very devout Catholic family, so I grew up with Catholicism being an integral and daily part of my life until one day when I was about 12 or 13. I kind of left and walked away from it. So I really understood both the beauty and Mary’s reverence. I have cousins who were nuns. I understood what would make somebody want to be a nun and I understood why somebody would leave. Also, Mary was a nurse. I kind of loved that too. I could never be a nurse; I’m not really good at science. But the beauty of that profession was something that was really fun to play. Taking care of C.C. Capwell – and he went into a coma as one actor and came out of the coma as another actor! And also, my connection to my little sister, who was played by Tricia Cast, and my mother, played by Grace Zabriski. I come from a big Catholic family and we’re all very close. So I could relate to that as well, although I didn’t have any evil stepbrothers! Mary was also sort of on the wrong side of the tracks visiting the big Capwell house. I understood that that kind of wide-eyed wonder at how the other half lives. That was really fun to play.
Nicolas: The writers of Santa Barbara recognized the best of what you were and then built the character around that. Acting is selective schizophrenia. When you play Hamlet, it is your Hamlet and nobody else’s. When you play a character and are given all of these hints by the author, it is your responsibility to make valid those character elements and bringing as much of yourself into that, which fine actors do naturally. On Santa Barbara, every one of us brought ourselves to those characters; and it wasn’t difficult because those characters were so well written. I love dramatic acting, and God knows I had quite a bit of that, but I also adore comedy. And boy, did I have a lot of that! That was unique for soap operas.
OutTakes: What is your favorite memory of being on Santa Barbara from an acting standpoint?
Louise: On Santa Barbara, we were given such liberty. We rehearsed on lunch hours. We created things and the directors would say “Show me what you want to do.” They listened to us. People working together as opposed to just people working for an end result on camera. We were creating.
Judith: The camaraderie that was created. We had great respect for one another. There were monitors all over the stage and in the makeup room and down the hall. You could look up and watch your fellow actor working. And I was just amazed watching Lane, watching Louise and Nick do their outrageous comedy, and they were just so good! We really had a great deal of respect for one another. And that doesn’t always happen on the set. Also, we had good directors and excellent writing.
OutTakes: What are you up to now?
Lane: I just finished directing my son Nathan as Henry V in the production here in my hometown and in Nashville. That was fun. It looks I’m going to do some more of The Bay in September and I’ve been approached about doing another movie in Azerbaijan of all places with a wonderful producer I’ve worked with over there before.
Judith: As Lane said, we’re going to go back and do some of The Bay. That’s coming up in a month or two. I’ve got a couple of commercials running and I’m trying to get more because that’s more bread and butter which I always need. And I’ve got a writing project about being in the Miss America pageant, going into some very interesting experiences that I had, which are not talked about.
Louise: I’m writing a book that hopefully people will like about my little dog that I used to have. It’s called Madison on 5th.
Nicolas: I’ve got three screenplays going on in various stages. One is finished; one is thirty pages from being finished; and the other one is where story is laid out with patches of dialogue. Being a screenwriter is tough but it’s fun. I’m also working on a memoir. I have over a hundred pages written on that.
Harley: I’ve written five books. I’m working on the sixth one. Four of the books were a series of contemporary murder mysteries. The fifth one was a contemporary paranormal romance. And the one I’m working on now is literary fiction, not a murder mystery. Also, I’ve written a ton of short stories. I came to my writing career probably about 10 years after Santa Barbara. Writing has always been a lifelong passion. I started taking some classes while I was still acting a lot. Slowly, the balance shifted so that I enjoyed writing as much as, if not more than, acting. Then I got married and had three kids in my 40’s – boom boom boom – as a result of donor eggs. So then I stopped acting altogether and devoted myself to them. I started acting probably five years ago with my kids all in middle school, and now I’ve got one in college and two are finishing high school this year. I’ve done about five indie films since. I really loved it and it’s been wonderful to return to it. Of course, I’m far older than I was, and the whole landscape has changed. But the pressure is off. It’s just one of the beauties of growing older. I no longer have to be beautiful and young and carry the show. It’s kind of a big relief. It just feels like acting is so much deeper and more fun. I just came from in an acting class. I’ve been taking classes and I teach classes. If I had to choose between writing and acting, it would be a hard one, so I’m glad I don’t have to choose! They are both storytelling, and one is very solitary and one is very communal — so there are a perfect complement to one another.
OutTakes: What message do you have for the fans who have followed your career from the days of Santa Barbara up until now?
Lane: Thank you for being so loyal and for still being interested in this all these many years later. And I look forward to meeting and spending more time with you.
Judith: I’m so grateful for the support. It’s wonderful. I’m not active on social media, but I just can’t wait to meet people. I want to meet the fans and shake hands and say thank you and have a drink together.
Nicolas: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. It goes back to when I was in the army as a summer guard in Washington and Arlington. In those days, we had dress summer uniforms. I was a guest on Fire Island in New York. Unfortunately, I had my full dress summer uniform on and I got off at the wrong train stop. So I had to walk several miles to where I was supposed to be. On the way, there was a young girl who waves at me and said, “You look hot. Would you like a lemonade?” I said I’d love one. She invited me in and her home was most welcoming. And she gave me a lemonade. That woman is E.J. McDowell. She has seen every single show I ever did in New York. She’s my number one fan and a dear friend. There are so many I cannot tell you. I am aware of the devotion that I’ve been given all these years. A bunch of terrific women started a fan club when I was on Santa Barbara called “Nick’s Chicks”. They were wonderful and had a great sense of humor. I’ve heard from people all over the world. I went to Europe recently; and people remember. People in France. People in Russia. I am greatly appreciative.
Harley: Come on the cruise with us because, if you loved us on the show, you would love us even more in person! The people that are going to be on this cruise are so interesting and have lived such fascinating lives and are such great actors. I think it would be thrilling for anyone who likes the show to spend some time with us. What better way is there to celebrate that little that moment in time?
Click here to find more information for the 2019 Santa Barbara Reunion Cruise. Act quickly because the deadline is August 9, 2019! Get ready to set sail!