Yesterday "The Edge of Night" filmed its 6,000th episode, initiating its 23rd year in soap opera land, an event worthy of some note in a country where millions of people are addicted to a daily dose of celluloid reality-a phenomenon anthropologists of the future will no doubt find amusing.
"Could I have your autograph for my grandmother?" asked Danielle Smith of visiting "Edge" star Denny Albee after his appearance yesterday on a local television talk show. "She's watched it every day since I was born, and I'm 21. I remember we always wanted to watch cartoons, but she had to watch 'Edge of Night' so we never could."
Albee obliged cheerfully, which after all, is his job. As Steve Guthrie, "a young honest, but somewhat militant policeman," Albee has been on the show for 3 1/2 years, making him th "fifth oldest character" on the show. That's contract age. Albee is 30, his character is 25.
Lunchtimes shoppers at Woodward and Lothrop later seemed impervious to Albee's glistening blond good looks and unbuttoned shirt (revealing an appropriately hairy chest), although he normally gets so many fan letters he has a fan club president to deal with them.
Soap opera regulars make between $25,000 to $250,000 a year, he said, with anywhere from six to eight weeks vacation and a three-or four-day work week.
Union wages fro "under fives"-actors hired to spour less than five lines in one eposide (usually something like "Yes, Doctor" or "He's over there, sir," get about $130, which is one reason work in soap operas is sought after.
"Edge" is billed as "the only day time mystery serial." The current web of mysteries includes a murder for which one character is on trial ("She may have done it, but she may not have," Albee revealed. "The actors haven't been told yet.") Then there's the prosecutor, who was caught trying to buy a video tape from the dead man, which showed him making a deal to get back a copy of a porno movie starring his former girlfriend, who's the woman on trial, and another blackmail attempt against his current girlfriend, who's pregnant but was married to anotehr characther . . . .
"Soap operas are an art form because they are uniquely American, like musical comedy, or MacDonald's," Albee said. "It's a form of communication.They reflect real life events, they can loosen up morals and structures. Like in the Midwest, they're very straight. They see us talking about living together and abortion, and they're hit with new ideas. They think maybe that's not so bad, after all."
Sometimes the story line follows reality a little too closely. For example, last year there was an "Edge" character who was a religious cult leader who poisoned his followers with doses of lethal juice. At about that time, a man named Jim Jones mad headlines from Guyana and the soap opera writers decided they'd better change the plot. . . now the cultist is just a sleazy bad guy named Elliot Dorn who is planning to open a night club.
Most of the characters in "Edge" have names that are almost a parody of middle America: Winter Austen, April Scott, Nicole Drake, Logan Swift. There's a black woman character named "Yahee" and a sheriff (the character with the longest longevity on the show) named "Bill Marceau."
"There's a woman in Chicago named Mrs. Spengler who writes people on the show four or five times a week," Albee said. "We named a character after her, Dr. Spengler. We didn't hear from her for six months, but she's back again. She completely confuses the character with the actor, like she'll write me 'Dear Denny,' and then say 'If you want to catch those people, Steve, Here's what you should do.'"
Denny Albee hopes to break into movies, Like soapers Christopher ("Superman") Reeves, Eva Marie Saint, and Martin Sheen sbefore him. He once was husky, 200 pounds, and spent a short time as a minor league ballplayer.
He says acting in "Edge" is not always the challenge the craft can be. For example, those shots that end a scene where the character is looking soulfully into either his soul or the future, portending events to come-all the actor has to do is stand there, the music does the rest, he says.
"It looks like you're really involved because the music is building and building," he said. I'm actually thinking about who I'm going to play on third base in the "Edge" softball team." CAPTION: Picture, Denny Albee, by James A. Parcell