Jennifer Salt: Dutch Would be so Proud

Many thanks to Soap‘s Jennifer Salt for squeezing me into her busy schedule yesterday. Though we all, of course, remember her as Eunice Tate, Jennifer may ultimately be best remembered for her extensive television writing and production work.

Most recently she has co-executive produced the new FX series American Horror Story with Glee creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the same team she worked with on the series that brought her to national attention behind the camera: Nip/Tuck. In addition to co-executive producing American Horror Story, she also wrote its third episode, “Murder House.”

Jennifer was one of the few Soap actors to successfully move from in front of the camera to behind it; Ted Wass, one of her closest friends from those days, has gone on to considerable success directing television, from Two and a Half Men to Spin City.

Before she went into television writing and producing, indeed before she ever set foot on the Soap stage, Jennifer had an interesting movie career as well. Though she had a role in the classic Midnight Cowboy (with a screenplay by her father, Waldo Salt), she also did her fair share of genre flicks. One of the most interesting is another classic, this one of the horror variety: Brian De Palma’s Sisters (from which this photo is taken).

Released in 1973, this is one of those movies that the less you know about the plot, the better your viewing experience will be. Suffice it to say that Jennifer co-stars with friend Margot Kidder, and the last 20 minutes or so make this a must-see for any horror fan. Netflix it or spring for the Criterion edition. (It was remade in 2006 starring Chloe Sevigny and Stephen Rea.)


15 comments on “Jennifer Salt: Dutch Would be so Proud

  1. Fantastic, Aaron. 🙂 So, does that leave anyone?

    I didn’t notice she was involved in American Horror Story (which I quite enjoy). So many of those titles thrown around. hehe What does a co-executive producer’s role, though? Cool that she wrote the third episode.

    • Thank you 🙂 There were so many people involved in the making of that show, so yes, there’s always somebody still to speak with. I won’t give up until the clock runs out, so who knows what we’ll have at the end. For the last book, I spoke with more than 40 people!

      As for a co-executive producer’s role, I’m guessing that she shares the show-runners’ job, though duties actually vary from set to set. I think she probably proved herself quite capable on Nip/Tuck. It also probably didn’t hurt that she wrote the screenplay for Eat Pray Love.

    • Oh Albert — I’m sure there were quite a few crushes over the cast of Soap. Is it just me or were crushes somehow sweeter before the Internet?

  2. Well, yeah, there’s always going to be a number of people left to talk to. Rather, I meant among the biggies/core characters. Between cast members and key behind-the-scenes people, you have some great stuff.

    I know you had mentioned you hoped to speak to Barbara Rhoades. Randee Heller still makes guest appearances on network TV- would be cool to hear her thoughts on Alice (I wish that character had stuck around a bit longer). With so many popping in and out during the four years, you can’t get everyone (for various reasons). But, other living cast members I know I’d be interested in hearing from regarding their “Soap” experience are, among others, Rebecca Balding (Carol), Doris Roberts (Flo Flotsky), Inga Swenson (Ingrid), Lynne Moody (Polly), Candice Azzara (Millie) and Jesse Welles (Gwen).

    Dare I ask of the chances of speaking to Billy Crystal are? 🙂 He was on Letterman a while back plugging the “Soap” complete series, so I’d hope he still has fond memories of his big break.

    • You certainly mention some good ones; Billy Crystal and Rebecca Balding are still top of my list. The mind boggles at what might have been if the network had gone through with its initial plans to spin them off into their own series at the time.

      I’ve contacted Billy Crystal through his production company and a friend of his, but he wasn’t interested in discussing Soap, alas.

      I get the feeling that his experiences on that show were a lot rougher than many of us might appreciate in hind sight. Many of his fellow cast members recall him getting fairly irritated by his role, especially around Season 3. It’s certainly not hard to see why. He’d had three years of being a straight actor playing one of the first regular gay character roles on television, at a time when homosexuality was viewed very negatively indeed. Whatever acting chops he had to display were overshadowed by being “the gay one.” (It still astonishes me that the original installments of Maupin’s Tales of the City were running in the San Francisco Chronicle at the same time Soap was on the air.)

      As Edward Herrmann told me for the last book I wrote, actors very seldom like the role for which they first become famous. I suspect that still holds true for Billy Crystal. Of course to Soap fans this is a great shame, especially considering how much his acting talent developed throughout that series.

      As for the rest of the cast you mention, I’m in total agreement about Randee Heller. She was a real breath of fresh air when she arrived on the series, and her departure was so sudden. It was only recently that I realized why she looked so familiar — she was “The Karate Kid’s” mom!

  3. How about behind-the-scenes people from the latter part of the series? J.D. Lobue? Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon? Vigon and Jacobson?

    • Unfortunately, Dick Clair passed away in 1988. A couple of the other people you mention I hope to speak with soon. (Don’t want to jinx it 😉

  4. That’s odd that Billy Crystal wasn’t interested in discussing “Soap.” It was such a celebrated series, you’d think he’d be fine with it, even if it was a tough role and whatnot. Aaron, did you see when he plugged the “Soap” DVDs on Letterman? If not, check it out here (hope it’s OK to post a YouTube link):

    Back to Jennifer Salt- one of her last acting gigs was on “Empty Nest” in 1990- i caught that episode when Hallmark was showed the series for a brief time. Was fun to see which “Soap” actors popped up on “Golden Girls” and “Empty Nest”- aside from Richard Mulligan and Dinah Manhoff, there was Robert Mandan, Donnelly Rhodes, Inga Swenson, Gordon Jump and Peggy Pope (in the same episode), and Jack Gilford, among, others.

  5. Well as they say, it’s not over till it’s over. Perhaps the stars will align on the Billy Crystal front. One certainly doesn’t want to push the fellow where he doesn’t want to go — he gave us four years on Soap: that alone is quite a gift.

    Yes, it’s always great seeing those faces pop up on other Witt Thomas Harris shows. And even the famous Maude abortion two-parter that Susan wrote features a pre-Soap Robert Mandan for a couple of minutes. Also don’t forget to look behind the scenes, too. Costume designer Judy Evans was a regular on several of those series, most notably The Golden Girls.

  6. Billy’s back to the Oscars-hosting gig (which is a great thing)- so now his he and his people will use that as a “much-too-busy” excuse. hehehehe

    Yeah, the Witt-Thomas-Harris “family”- those in front of the camera and behind it- looks like they had great solidarity, that continued in the post-“Soap” years.

    • I think the people who were comfortable working a certain way loved W-T-H, whereas others were uncomfortable with the degree of supervision. (Rod Parker and Hal Cooper, for example, left Empty Nest after a year for that reason.) As for actors, there seem to have been two camps there, as well. The stars were generally happy, but I heard an interview with Jay Johnson in which he claimed the producers could be high-handed sometimes. Of course, I cannot think of many TV producers who are loved by everyone they have ever met.

  7. It’s true that the producers were extremely hands-on and regimented, particularly during the Soap days. But the other side of that was the fact that this was one of the few shows at the time that employed mostly New York stage actors, who required a different type of handling than your typical television actor. This is far from a bad thing — I believe all of that stage experience in that cast is what led to all of those wonderful performances on the show.

    However, it has to be said that occasionally stage actors who were working in front of the camera at the time required a little more prodding to keep them from straying too far from the script. I’ve been told on several occasions that the attitude by some was that television was a step down from stage work, which led to the occasional disagreeable attitude. And the reason these producers managed to create such high-quality television was because they made sure that instructions were followed to the letter, for the most part. Of course dueling egos and opinions are nothing new in television, and ultimately led to the creation of some wonderful television. The fact remains that neither the actors nor the producers could have created these shows without each other.

  8. I should also add that Jay Johnson is arguably one of the most under appreciated talents in American entertainment, and should be granted, at the very least, the state of his choosing at the earliest possible opportunity.

    • That makes a lot of sense. And also, in fairness to WTH, Hal Cooper admitted that he and Parker were used to the Norman Lear style of production which was very hands-off, and they just came in with a different expectation. (I just feel sad about it because I feel like the first year of Empty Nest was a terrific achievement and that te quality dropped a lot after they did go.)

      I saw Jay Johnson’s one man show and after two hours, I wished that it would go on for another 12! Amazing talent.

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