Wednesday, November 10, 2010

By Alina Adams

When we talk about diversity on daytime, it's easy to forget that even among the minimum representation of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish and gay characters, one group that's rarely ever seen is the differently-abled.

Sure, there are the periodic attacks of trauma-induced and/or hysterical blindness/deafness/muteness/paralysis. But, hardly anyone stays that way for long. (Unless they are played by a genuinely disabled actor, such as Tom Sullivan on Search for Tomorrow or Mitch Longley on Another World). Guiding Light hired a hearing-impaired actress, Amy Englund, to play Abby, but both the character and performer received a chochlear implant. (For more on that story and deafness on daytime in general, click here.) Even Lily's autism on All My Children seemed to come and go as the storyline called for it. (She's nonverbal! She's hyperverbal! She panics at the color red! No, today, she's fine...)

Brent Collins was an actor who suffered from dwarfism and, ironically, also Marfan's Syndrome, the same disease that killed Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar and vollyball star Flo Hyman.

He made his 1982 debut on As The World Turns in a role that was basically a (rather tasteless, IMHO) short joke, portraying Mr. Big (get it? It's funny, because he's a dwarf!), a mob kingpin who tortured Tom and Margo in his secluded European castle and then through Africa (in my ATWT tie-in novel, The Man From Oakdale, I pay tribute to the storyline and the start of the Hughes' romance; I was 12 when it aired. I thought it was awesome.)

As you can see for yourself in the classic clip below, the part consisted mostly of evil cackling:

But, just like Margo Hughes (not the one in the clip above; but we're soap viewers we know how to roll with these kinds of punches) turned out to have a doppelganger in Springfield (video evidence, here), so did Mr. Big have a (much nicer; for a change) twin in Bay City.

In 1984, Brent Collins assumed the role of Wallingford on AW, Felicia Gallant's confidant, business partner and occasional partner in crime.

And while the role was quite an improvement over Mr. Big (for one thing, there was a lot less cackling... and torture), the fact is, for the duration of his run, Wallingford was primarily used for comic relief, as a supportive shoulder and a "cuteness" factor, that proved soaps still have a long way to go when it comes to those who are different... in any way.

(This piece was in no way intended to be a comprehensive overview of disability portrayals on daytime. If you have a story that you think was handled particularly well over the years... or particularly badly, please let us know in the Comments!)

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