Besides having one of the most melodramatic soap opera titles ever, The Secret Storm was exceptionally dark and gloomy, beginning with the death of a main character in the very first episode. In its 20-year run from 1954 to 1974, the show constantly revealed astonishing family secrets, explored forbidden passions, and delved into the disheveled lives of the residents of the imaginary town of Woodbridge, New York. The family with apparently endless woes was the Ames family, whose siblings and in-laws faced personal and professional challenges on a daily basis. To find out more about the characters and actors who played them, read on.
Behind The Scenes
The Secret Storm had some great talent on board and behind the scenes from day one. The soap opera was created by Roy Winsor, who also conceived and produced two other long-running daytime dramas, Search for Tomorrow and Love of Life. At the time that The Secret Storm had come out, there were no other serials like it. Winsor had created a show that explored “the secret storms” raging inside all of us, which is what had viewers hooked in the first place. But the popularity wouldn’t last forever as plot lines were getting more and more ridiculous…
Third Time’s The Charm
Peter, the Ames family patriarch, is widowed in the premiere episode. After his wife Ellen dies, his daughter and sister-in-law plot together to keep him unmarried. However, Peter married Myra, his daughter Amy’s teacher. When that union ended in divorce, he married Valerie, whom he was with until his death.
After Marla Adams was finished playing the villainous Belle Clemens from 1968 to 1974, she simply moved to another soap to spread her evil. Adams played Dina Abbott on The Young and the Restless from 1983 to 1986, in 1991 and again in 1996, stirring up nefarious plots and causing major commotion in the lives of her three children, ex-husband John Abbott and his wife Jill.
It’s rare that a character on a soap is allowed to grow up on screen, but Jada Rowland played the character of Amy on The Secret Storm, except for a few breaks, for the duration of the show. She quit acting for good in 1983 and devoted her time to becoming a professional artist and writer.
Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of film icon Joan Crawford, portrayed the character of Joan Borman Kane on The Secret Storm from 1968 to 1969. In 1968, Christina developed an ovarian tumor that required hospitalization and she couldn’t film work for several weeks. As producers scrambled to find an actress to replace her in the interim, suddenly a famous movie star volunteered…
Even though Joan Crawford was 63 years old and the character her daughter played was 28, producers and directors of The Secret Storm couldn’t say no to Crawford’s offer based on what her presence would do for the ratings. Sure enough, the soap operas ratings soared beyond belief. But not everyone was happy with the choice…
In her scathing tell-all book Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford openly admitted she was very upset with her mother taking over her part. According to her book, her discontent was heightened by the fact that she claims she could tell her mother had been drinking alcohol during the taping of the show. Christina also believed that her mother’s taking over her role is what contributed to her being let go from the cast of The Secret Storm.
The Inevitable End
Although The Secret Storm kept viewers tuning in the beginning, by the late ’60s the show was starting to decline. But rather than cancel early, producers insisted on trying out different writers to see who could make the viewers tune back in. Eventually, by 1974, CBS decided to pull the show and replace it with the game show Tattletales, after CBS bought the rights to the show from its sponsor American Home Products. Advertising revenue from the show was not impressive and the writing and producing changes they made to fix that problem weren’t working out.
When the script called for Belle’s daughter Robin to die, she was originally doomed to succumb to kidney disease. The writers decided to have her drown in an accident instead, giving town villainess Belle a chance to wreak havoc on Amy, whom she blamed for the demise of her dear daughter.
Acting in soap operas back in the 50s was like performing in a live play: no do-overs. Like most soap operas of the era such as Guiding Light and As The World Turns, The Secret Storm was broadcast live and taped later at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in New York City.
Soap stars rarely get the respect granted to other actors. Haila Stoddard, who played Pauline Rysdale on The Secret Storm for 16 years, broke that mold when she appeared in over 100 dramatic teleplays in the 50s including Playhouse 90, Studio One, The United States Steel Hour, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Goodyear Playhouse, and Kraft Theatre.
Actress/writer Stephanie Braxton and actor Dan Hamilton met while performing on The Secret Storm. They later married in real life. Lori March, who played Valerie Hill Ames for many years, later played the wife of her real-life husband Alexander Scourby. Actress Diana Muldaur married her co-star, James Vickery, in real life.
Robert Morse was the first actor to star as Jerry Ames on The Secret Storm. It was also his first TV role. Morse, now 87 years old, currently has over 70 film and TV credits on his resume. Most recently he played author Dominick Dunne in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and Bertram Cooper on Mad Men.
Although Troy Donahue was 64 years old when he played R.B. Keefer on The Secret Storm in 1970, his biggest claim to fame was as a teen idol. The handsome blond rocketed to the top of young women’s favorite star list in 1959 playing Johnny Hunter opposite Sandra Dee in the movie, A Summer Place.
It’s A Ladd World
Diane Ladd, who has appeared in over 120 film and television roles, was the second actress to play the role of Kitty Styles on The Secret Storm. She later had a supporting role in Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role as Flo in the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Furthermore…
Robin Strasser has starred in six daytime soaps during her career. The Secret Storm was her first, where she played Iris Ocasek from 1964 to 1966. Following that, she had major roles on Somerset, Another World, All My Children, One Life To Live, and Passions. Strasser also played Dianne Kirkwood on Knots Landing.
For the last few years of the show, the theme song was the theme from the second movement of the Concerto for Violin and Violoncello by Johannes Brahms. The in-house organist was Charles Paul, later replaced (as Paul was in Love of Life) by Eddie Layton. Carey Gold created a more modern sound using a synthesizer and piano during the show’s later years. Paul returned to Love of Life as its final musical director.
CBS first aired The Secret Storm at 4:15 pm (3:15 Central) as a 15-minute show, squeezed in between The Brighter Day and On Your Account (later The Edge of Night).The Secret Storm switched from black and white to color broadcasts on September 11, 1967 to keep in step with other daytime dramas.
Wet And Wild
The series had two distinctive opening visuals. The first was an illustration of a tree with windblown branches, shown from the first episode until around 1960. The second opening for The Secret Storm was a more dramatic live-action film clip of ocean surf at high tide, crashing against craggy rocks.
The Secret Storm faced many challenges to stay on the air. Beginning in 1957, it competed against American Bandstand, then a weekday show later shown only on Saturdays. On June 18, 1962, CBS extended The Secret Storm to 30 minutes, and The Brighter Day was moved to an early-morning time slot.