SOAP OPERA DIGEST, April 27, 1982
THE AMERICANIZATION OF THAAO PENGHLIS
The name is pronounced Ta-o Pen-gless. Say it a few times. Ta-o Pen-gless. Then I'd advise you to remember it--because it's a name you're going to be hearing a lot more of.
In fact, you may have heard of it already. Thaao has worked extensively in the theatre and has appeared in several pivotal roles in a number of good films ("Slow Dancing in the Big City, " "Altered States"). But he hit his stride when he signed ot play the role of Victor Cassidine on "General Hospital." The Cassidine family, as you may recall, made the Macbeths look like charter members in the Moral Majority; after all, they're the family that wanted to freeze the world--starting with Port Charles.
In typical Saturday matinee fashion, the plot was foiled, the heroes triumphed and the villainous Cassidines were exterminated--except for Victor, who was promptly jailed--only to return several months later in the guise of Count DiMera on "Days of Our Lives." Now don't get me wrong; Victor and the Count are two completely different characters--but they're played by the same man, Thaao Penghlis. When I spoke with Thaao recently in his dressing room at NBC, I asked the popular Greek with the smoldering good looks why he decided to make the switch from GH to "Days."
"On my final day of shooting," remembers Thaao, "the GH staff informed me that they'd received over 2500 letters from the fans asking that I remain on the show, so they told me not to take any other work because they were going to bring me back. But because of the changes due to Genie Francis (ex-Laura) and some of the others leaving the show, they kept postponing my return. During this time, I received a call from Pat Falken Smith, who had moved from GH to "Days" as head writer. She indicated that she was bringing a character into "Days" who was really an extension of Victor Cassidine; a man of great wealth and style who'd be involved in an exciting storyline and that she wanted me for the part. I hesitated at first but the character of Count DiMera sounded so fascinating, and I hadn't heard from the people at GH, so I decided to accept her offer."
Upon accepting the role on "Days," however, he did hear from the people at GH and the message was loud and clear. "They were totally opposed to my leaving for 'Days.' But I wasn't under salary--I was waiting, which seems to be the usual position most actors are put in. But I'm not a passive person. I want to get on with my life."
Thaao's defection caused a certain amount of friction. He wasn't invited to the GH Christmas party--but attended anyway as the guest of one who was invited. The celebration served as the proper occasion to make peace with Gloria Monty. "We should all be so blessed as to work with a producer who takes care of her actors the way that woman does. But I knew there'd been some bad feelings over my departure. So when she came in the room, I stepped up behind her and offered to take her coat. She turned and looked at me in complete surprise and then, with a tear in her eye, told me that she was very angry with me for going over to that other show but that she loved me very much--and then she hugged me. And that was that." Thaao pauses, smiling at the memory. "She's a rare creature and I love her, too."
Although Thaao loves Gloria Monty, he wasn't exactly thrilled with some of the aspects of GH, and I asked him to compare his experiences on that show with his current work on "Days." "The actors on 'Days'--and I'll say this outright--are better actors. The "Days" cast is a more serious group of actors, and because they are also an older group of actors, they've been at their craft a longer time. I enjoyed working with Tony Geary on GH because of his spontaneity, and I liked Sharon Wyatt because we enjoyed working together and were able to bring out the best in each other." Anyone else? Thaao pauses for a second. "That's about it, actually. In fact, there were several people on the show I didn't like working with; one actor in particular. We'd shared a similar background and I thought, great, at least we'll have something to talk about. But we didn't. He was too busy trying to play the star instead of sharing with the other actors." Thaao stubs out his cigarette and shrugs. "I'm sorry, but that's how I feel."
For the moment, though, Thaao is all smiles over his environment at "Days." Pat Falken Smith (whom Thaao terms "a wonder") has beefed his storyline up to four to five episodes a week, he's excited over the multi-faceted role of the Count ("The character has great energy and mystery") and he's thoroughly enjoying his on-screen relationship with his primary leading lady, Gloria Loring. ("She's the most exciting person I've ever worked with on a soap opera.") In addition, Count DiMera is getting a family. Joseph Mascolo was recently brought aboard as the Count's father, and eventually three more DiMera brothers and a DiMera sister will be added to the cast, although contrary to a long-standing rumor, it appears that Thaao's ex-GH castmate Andre Landzaat will not be making the switch to "Days." Thaao acknowledges that the influx of DiMeras is going to bring a European flair to the show. "It's going to have a lot of suspense, combining some new characters with several returning regulars, like Robert Clary. It's going to be the DiMeras against the Hortons, but my character will become much more of a humanitarian and my primary conflict will be with my father."
Aside from the hectic pace, Thaao was recently given a two-week breather, when he requested a short leave from the show to visit his family in Australia. His father had not been well and he felt that after a four-and-a-half-year absence, the time had come to go home. According to Thaao, it was an emotionally necessary, but very positive trip.
"My family goes back 300 years. We came from an island that was off the Turkish coast and now is a prime archeological site. We left the island when I was very young and moved to Australia. It was difficult because Australians didn't want foreigners on their land. In fact, the prejudice was so great that we Anglicized our family name in an attempt to fit in. Ironically, one of my first jobs was with the Immigration Service. I saw, on a daily basis, people who had left their country with nothing but pride, to make their stake in a new land. Or families who had saved every penny to bring over a relative. That experience taught me a great lesson and that is to always bring out the human side in my work. Every time I find the Count becoming too hard, I look for the humility; because no matter how thoroughly rotten a character is, you've got to be able to show his warmth or his weakness.
"When I arrived at the airport," Thaao continued, "there were forty relatives for me...some of the children I didn't even recognize--it had been so long since I'd seem them. And there was crying and laughing and we all went back to the house. There was this feast--this celebration of life--and within two hours it was as if I'd never left home.
"Later that evening, I screened a tape of some bits from GH and several of the movies I had appeared in, for the family. It was fascinating because I didn't watch the screen, I watched their reactions. There were several comments and a few open mouths but when it was over they went back to the party and my father and I were left alone in the room. After awhile he turned to me and said, 'You have accomplished something and they didn't even recognize it.' I turned to him and replied, 'Well, Father, it's just the beginning but we recognize it and that's what's important.' That was a very satisfying moment for me. My father had not been well and that was my primary reason for making the trip because I had some things to work out with him. I had never linked with my father, in expressing love for each other. It was always a battle. I don't know if it was because he didn't want to see the weaknesses in me or if he didn't want to expose his own. But fo the first time we were able to come to an understanding and I thought to myself, how fortunate that I was able to have this in my life, because a lot of people don't."
"However, one small incident did mar Thaao's visit home. "There is a thing about arriving and leaving. It kind of polishes the ends of an experience. It leaves a taste in your mouth--and I'm sorry to say the taste in my mouth was disgusting. I was confronted by a customs officer in a Fascist manner. Upon seeing that America had been my home for the last few years, he became unbelievably resentful--all because I'd chosen to find my future in the United States! He didn't understand. He didn't see all the years of torment and hardships I'd spent trying to make it in this country; he didn't see all the years I'd spent as an ambassador for Australia, telling Americans what a wonderful country it was. I used to hear Helen Ready and Olivia Newton John speak negatively about Australia on talk shows and I'd think, 'How awful.' But here I was being yelled at and pushed and humiliated, and it's strange, but in that moment I realized that America has become my country. America is built on change. And Australia is built on waiting to see how the change will affect them."
So Thaao is back home in America. Working hard, busy planning, building on his foundations. Between takes on "Days," he's trying to arrange a series of possible film roles and theatrical experiences. ("I've told myself that I will do a play in Los Angeles this year--even if I have to produce it myself.") Personal life? Romantic life? Thaao admits that at the present, his work takes precedence. But he does still have time for the one true love of his life: cooking. An experienced gourmet, Thaao harbors an international collection of recipes in addition to being a dedicated nutritionist.
In addition to all the above, Thaao, with the help of Diane Fields, has launched a fan club, with her as president. "We've answered all the fan letters, explaining why I left for 'Days,' and after only three weeks of existence, we've already got 200 members. Imagine! 200 members," exclaims Thaao. "You're lucky if you've got five." But Thaao Penghlis is not a man easily impressed with numbers. Not in 2500 letters, not even so much in 200 fans, as in one fan in particular. "I have a special fan. She is a girl who is not going to live through next Christmas. I can't tell you...I've had five letters from her and the last one I actually broke down. Not because this girl is feeling sorry for herself but because her interpretation of life is so positive. She's so bright...and...to think that I could have an effect on someone I've never known, someone so far away--that's what makes everything worthwhile. That's what gives you the feeling that you've got to do your best; that you've got to go on.
"That," he adds as the tape recorder snaps off, "is what it's all about."
DAYTIME TV, September 1982
Has This Man Been Seduced By Hollywood?
Thaao Penghlis may look comfortable sprawled on his elegant bachelor bed (it's an 18th-century antique), but actually he feels rather out of place in Hollywood. "Mystique is what keeps relationships going," says Thaao, bemoaning the fact that in Hollywood, seduction has become a lost art. People fall in and out of love so fast, there's no mystery to the mating game.
This Greek-born actor (who plays Count Antony DiMera on Days of Our Lives) has lived in Europe, Australia and New York--and sampled love in some of the world's most romantic cities.
Thaao's closest friends are women. "I have an Australian friend, Ellie McClure, whom I care for deeply," he says. "We're very close and date a lot. She's an actress and very special, because she's down-to-earth.
"I like feminine women, who are strong, not tough," he adds. "Women who will pay the check on occasion."
Despite his obvious sex appeal, which is coupled with a keen intellect and rapier wit, Thaao is without a serious romance now. "I don't have time for myself, so how can I have time for anybody else?" But he misses being in love. "We all need someone to love and to love us," he sighs. "Sometimes you just need to hold someone or be held."
He admits to being a perfectionist as a cook, an art collector and a lover. "When I offer food to a lady, it's a presentation of my sexual powers," he smiles. "It's like nibbling a part of me. People who eat very noisily must be terrible in bed," he laughs. "People don't have to be dignified and hold a fork in a special way, but if you can taste something that reaches down to the very fathoms of you, then your sexual performance must be of high quality.
"The food I cook can be a seduction, because it's an expression of my soul. If you're going to taste my soul," he winks slyly, "I'd like to hope it's going to be memorable."
DAYTIMERS, October 1982
THAAO'S FINE ART OF LOVING
"It's a wonderful setting for a seduction," says Thaao Penghlis ("Count Anthony Di Mera," Days of Our Lives) with a sensuous smile as he surveys the eclectic art collection that graces his two-story apartment in West Hollywood.
The debonair actor, born in Greece but reared in Australia, was himself seduced by art at the age of 8. "At that point," he explains, "the Greeks were after their children as to what kind of careers they were going to have. I had chosen to be either a chemist or a doctor. I had a great passion--I don't know why--for archaeology. I was doing history in school then, just touching it really, plus the influence of my family as far as Greek history.
"I've kept on with the idea that one of these days I'll go on an archaeological dig. Probably in China or Egypt--those are my preferences. They retain a greater mystery for me. They both have a certain mystery that even today we can't understand."
Thaao had been a member of the diplomatic corps in Australia and decided to try America, arriving with $180 in his pocket. After a stint with the United Nations, he was employed by antique dealers Robert Ellsworth and James Goldie. "Bob Ellsworth, probably this country's leading connoisseur of Chinese art, put me to work. I read for the first six months. I studied 19th century English art. I would study a certain motif. That's what stimulated me, kept me going. I'd study jade for awhile, then porcelain, Japanese screens or scrolls or whatever. So I got this amalgamation of tastes. Then, shipments would come in, and Bob would say, 'Okay, I want you to give me an appraisal.' It was difficult at first, but after a certain amount of time, I would argue with him about a period.
"Bob gave me my first piece of art, which was a modern Japanese work by Fujita. He said, 'Here, start.' From there, I went to some scrolls and from the scrolls to 18th century Georgian furniture. I went to Egypt and brought out with me a head from a sarcophagus and a model of a mummy.
"I have always felt that if you were going to look at anything as monumental as the Egyptian or Greek art that it's best to have it at your feet. I was taken to the Cheops pyramid at 1:00 in the morning--which is dangerous--I would never suggest anybody doing that--but I was pointed in the direction, and I ran looking down at the ground. I didn't want to see the other buildings taking away from it, from what it looked like in its original surroundings. There was a moon directly over the pyramid. It was a beautiful sight. And there was a mystery about it. That's the phenomenon about pyramids. Egyptians seem to hold on to their secrets, because they still can't find out what they're really about.
"Another time, at the Steppe pyramid, I found a mummified cloth with the jaw of a cat--it was so extraordinary. I brought it back to share with a friend. The reaction was: 'Oh, sure. That was there, just waiting for you to find it.' Well, it was. I still have it. It reminds me of so many aspects that I'll involve myself with."
Now, in the present, Thaao takes you on a tour of his apartment. He points to a chair made of horns in the corner of the living room.
"That's an American piece, turn of the century. Incredibly comfortable chair. Interesting how some people are drawn to it, usually people of authority. There's a throne look about it. I like to sit in it because it helps me to keep in character with 'Di Mera' when I study lines. That's my study corner." Below the chair, on a cushioned foot stool, snoozes Hamlet, a grey-and-white manx cat.
Nearby, fronting a large window, is a black, lacquered desk. "It's an identical copy of a Louis the XIV desk. The original would probably go for $1 million today. It is rather refined, aesthetic--I like black lacquer--it comes from my Chinese interest."
On the desk is a lamp, its candelabra base is also from the Louis the XIV period. There's an art deco silver-and-glass inkwell. There's an 19th century lacquer box. And there's the head from the Egyptian sarcophagus, second century, B.C.
"My art's always been eclectic," says Thaao, "meaning it incorporates a lot of different styles of art."
Even the apartment building the actor has chosen to harbor his collection is eclectic. "Let's say it's a bastardization of many styles--I mean that in the best sense. The ceilings are very Spanish. The archways, more English. French in it as well, the windows especially. There's a cathedral feeling about it too, because of the high ceilings, the long, tall windows."
In the dining room, Thaao indicates a huge armoire made of pine. "It's Scottish from the Georgian period--it's around 1760. It came from the Laurence Harvey estate. I got it from a dealer who was closing a sale. I remember I quoted him a price. He thought I was being a crook, but I explained to him that I was Greek." Thaao smiles. "He let me have it because, I suppose, I so obviously loved that piece.
"I also admired Laurence Harvey. He was a man of great taste and had a wonderful collection of antiques. It's kind of nice when you think about it. The piece was passed on to me, and I'll pass it on to someone else, who'll have a passion for it in a different way.
"As an actor, as an artist, I feel a responsibility to take care of these things, so that we can pass them on. On occasion, I've had some things broken, and it's a very painful thing to have happen. I feel as if I've stopped something from going on. The Chinese and the Egyptians believe the spirit of the person who made the work is carried with it. That's part of the reason they take such good care of their art."
Thaao gestures toward the dining table that matches the armoire behind it. "I love natural pine. It's English, 19th century. I like that period. There's a roughness to it. Then, I like to add color, like this Tiffany lamp." He points to the lamp hanging over the table. "The red really comes through when it's lit."
Back in the living room, along one wall is a Queen Anne desk (circa 1714), flanked by two Venetian obelisks with an Egyptian influence from the late 18th century. Above the desk is a framed piece of papyrus paper. "This is what I love," says Thaao. "I went into this antique shop. I saw this corner cabinet, very early 1710, and I opened it up. Inside was this piece of papyrus. It was an indenture. It's a statement that's written out by a person who has bought a slave. It's the entire story of buying a slave, all handwritten, dated 1772. It's a reflection of that time. It's our history. It's part of our learning process.
"If you look at history, the only thing that's ever left is its art, and through the art, we try to recapture--or decipher--some period of time. Man has left his art as a reflection of what he truly believes."
Resting on the outside of the lower steps of a staircase is a sculptured head from New Guinea, bought while Thaao was visiting his home in Australia. Close by is a new acquisition, a gilt mirror. "It's French," he says. "I'm really not crazy about the French things. They're too ornate for me. But there's just something beautiful about this piece. It has a decadence to it. Wonderful lines.
"I do like a clean line. It's much more a complete picture. I don't like confusion, because there are too many other things going on."
Thaao laments the loss of style and glamor in actors today, personified in the past by Tyrone Power, Louis Jourdan, the young Laurence Olivier. "I love that look, where one has sophistication and also has the masculinity intact as well--it's a great combination. If you asked what the perfect man was, I would say that. A man who has his machismo intact and is sophisticated about life. A contemporary man who is not thereatened by anybody else's existence but is trying to enhance whatever it may be. I don't know if man is going forward in his idea of who he is, but it was beautiful in a way then. Maybe because it had a mystery about it. And there's so little mystery now."
Of his peers, Thaao makes a special point to praise his DOOL co-star, Joe Mascolo ("Stefano Di Mera"). "He has such machismo, yet he's in touch with his aesthetics. He's not afraid of expressing his male-female instincts. I feel women like that more and more. They're bored with that primitive, swaggering crap. Simplicity is what we're finally going for in life. It's going to be simple--that's what knowledge is.
"Warren Burton ("Jason Dunlap," Another World) is also a man who loves art. He has great taste. He paints, cooks. Isn't it wonderful that he has that freedom, as a human being, to do those things without someone worrying about who he is? He is a marvelously aesthetic actor. He is a man with style.
"That's what I love about the black people, their style. When you see a black man who's made it, you can't find greater style. You look at that line, and it's so extraordinary, the way they dress, they speak. There's a shine in the eyes of a black person who has arrived. Because the black man has learned about struggle much more than the white man. He has struggled, discovering his existence, and he has tasted his roots.
Now, here in this living room surrounded by art, Thaao admits with charming candor, "These things are very sexual as well to me. When I look at them, I get very excited. My atmosphere deals with my sexuality. I'll create an evening of seduction here. I mean, if you can't seduce, why do it at all? If you're just going to jump into bed, it's boring. You've already got the picture.
"For that special evening, I'll play some Greek music just to make it exotic. I love cooking. I'll cook a dinner that may take two days to prepare. Then I'll bring out some Greek desserts. I'll dim the lights and light some candles. The room takes on a whole different atmosphere. You're surrounded by the art and you talk about the art and it leads naturally to...
"It's not the most difficult seduction in the world, because I have so much energy behind me with all these artists surrounding me, saying, 'Do it. Do it.'
"To me, it's almost like seducing somebody on a museum floor. It has to be the most unusual climax...to an evening.
"A director once asked me, 'What is your (sexual) fantasy?' I said, 'I would like to go to a museum and just do it right there in the middle of the floor in front of all these artists. Seduce my partner, my woman, right there in front of all the art.' Can you imagine the attention--especially from the Rembrandts and all that? Because there's something sexual about art to me. Maybe because it stirs my passion so much. No wonder I have this on-going love affair with art."