SOAP OPERA DIGEST, January 4, 1983
THAAO PENGHLIS' GREEK CHRISTMAS or "How To Put A Little 'Ya Sou!' Into Your Holidays"
Christmas in Los Angeles. Or better yet, Xmas in L.A. Because for all its sunshine and palm trees and fancy living, Tinseltown just doesn't qualify as the Christmas capital of these United States. In fact, you wouldn't even know it was Christmas if it weren't for the barrage of commercials that pollute the airwaves from Thanksgiving Day on. No wonder most people scamper for cooler weather during the holidays, whether it be Colorado skiing or the traditional rural Connecticut holiday, complete with a sleigh. It doesn't really matter where you go--just so it's cold. At least it feels like Christmas.
In an attempt to alleviate some of those pre-Christmas doldrums, Thaao Penghlis, the hugely popular young actor who plays Tony DiMera on "Days of Our Lives," decided to juice up the holiday season by holding a traditional Greek Christmas dinner in his home. Outside, the Santa Ana winds were caressing the city with 80-degree heat, bare-chested boys were skateboarding down Santa Monica Boulevard, and the Valley Girls were strolling down the streets, their window shopping punctuated only by an occasional, "Puh-leese!" Outside it was typical California. Inside, however, it felt like Christmas.
Maybe it was the company. Thaao had assembled an extremely compatible guest list. From the "Days of Our Lives" cast there were Joe Mascolo (Stefano DiMera) and Gloria Loring (Liz Craig) as well as John de Lancie (Eugene Bradford) and Wayne Northrop (Roman Brady) along with his lovely wife Lynn. Also at the gathering DOOL costume designer Lee Smith (who, if he had a horn in his hand, would be an exact double for Doc Sevrinson), Brioni Farrell, a stunning compatriot of Thaao's, who is a semi-regular on "General Hospital," and Jo de Winter, a fine stage actress who is now a regular on "Gloria." And an extra added attraction: Andrea Hall-Lovell (ex-Samantha, DOOL), who took the pictures for the celebration.
Then again, maybe it was the food. Thaao genuinely outdid himself. The menu ran something like this: roast duck with rose petal jam and fresh raspberries, fruits (including pomegranite, figs, grapes and strawberries), wild rice and mushrooms simmered in a chicken-stock base. There was Greek salad and some of the most delicious desserts--in particular a little item known as Strava--which has to be tasted to be believed. All of this washed down with wine. Granted it was all Greek to me, but it was definitely festive.
Or perhaps it was the conversation. Before the meal the topic was show business. Agents, managers, deals, disappointments, good directors, lousy producers, etc. Gloria Loring flew in from a double-duty weekend: Not only had she taped a "Circus of the Stars" special, but she'd also attended an all-star fete for the Diabetes Foundation with Bob Hope, Henry Kissinger, Kenny Rogers and Gerald Ford among the dias members. (The hit of the evening confided Gloria, was Kissinger. In fact, when Bob Hope took the podium, he chided Kissinger for being "a lot funnier than you were supposed to be.") It's important to note that all this conversation was punctuated by lots of laughter, led by none other than Wayne Northrop, who must have the loudest giggle I've ever heard in my life. A real life-of-the-party guy, Wayne Northrop would've put a lampshade on his head if there'd been one in reach, exhibiting a wonderful sense of raucous humor that doesn't translate over the small screen.
Eventually, the talk turned to Christmas and the plans made for this year's holiday, now mere days away. A few of the guests were undecided, like Brioni, Lee and John de Lancie, who confessed that "I grew up in the kind of home where if Christmas was going to be on Thursday, someone would say, 'Listen, why don't we have Christmas on Sunday!' "
Others had very definite plans. Thaao planned to meet some friends at the Grand Canyon to watch the sunrise on Christmas morning. Joe Mascolo had made arrangements to head home for Connecticut and Gloria Loring admitted, "I'm spending this Christmas on a cruise ship. My husband is producing an Anne Murray special. I'm really looking forward to this because we know Anne well and my kids can't wait--it's going to be like a big week-long party!"
From the talk of Christmas present, came memories of Christmas past. In particular, favorite Christmases. Wayne and Lynn recalled 1980 as their favorite because that was the Christmas Wayne proposed and she accepted. Brioni remembered her favorite Christmas as the one she spent in Switzerland with her family. Gloria had two: first, when she toured Vietnam with Bob Hope ("It was exciting and depressing and exhilirating and deeply emotional--an experience I wouldn't have traded for the world") and her second, a Christmas Eve flight to Toronto only one week after having given birth to her son, Brennan. John de Lancie dryly remarked that his favorite Christmases were the ones when "we actually celebrated Christmas on Christmas Day."
The most surprising memory came from Joe Mascolo who, as the ruthless Stefano DiMera, wouldn't strike one as a "Joy to the World" kind of guy. "My favorite Christmas," he confided, "was the year I made my mother make an entire breakfast for Santa Claus because I knew he'd be hungry after a long night." (Oohs and aahs at this point from the more sentimental. Wayne giggles and his wife tells him to cool it.) "I never realized till some years later," continues Joe, "that my father ate the breakfast and went up on the roof and made noise, so that I actually thought I heard Santa Claus on the roof."
"Joe that's lovely," says Gloria. "How old were you?"
Joe thinks for a moment. "Twenty-seven." The room breaks into laughter. Wayne falls off the couch.
"No, no," says Joe. "I was about seven or eight, but that is something I will never forget."
Another charming memory belongs to Jo de Winter, who experienced her most memorable Christmas in a small village outside of Paris. "The child in the village who is judged to have been the 'best' gets to carry a life-sized statue of the Christ child through the streets to the church, surrounded by live sheep and donkeys. Then all come into the church. When the baby is put in the manger, Christmas has arrived."
But the most personal memory belongs to our host. His Christmas was last Christmas, because he was reunited with his family. "Christmas is a time of introspection. People look at their lives and use it as a moment to determine whether they've been successful or not. Oftentimes they feel they've failed, and for all the trappings of holiday, Christmas can be a very intense time. I was never happy with my family situation; I'd never resolved it. So I went home to try. Before I left my country, I had a good job with the diplomatic corps. To leave that to come to America to become an actor...well, it was almost as if I'd told my family I was going to become a prostitute. So when I came back after many years, I was able to prove to them that I'd accomplished what I set out to do. One night I arranged a screening of moments from the various films and television programs I'd appeared in and I was surprised that it didn't seem to matter to many of my relatives. They took it for granted. My father didn't. We were alone in the room afterwards and he turned to me and said, 'For the first time in my life, I have something to be proud of and they won't give it to me.' And I took his hand and said, 'You know and I know and that's all that matters.' We embraced." Thaao leans back in his chair. The room is quiet. Even Wayne has stopped giggling. "That was a very fine Christmas indeed."
So what was it? The people? The food? The conversation? The memories? Perhaps all of them. And something more. The spirit of Christmas. Because the time and the place really don't matter. It's the feeling that's important. And that fact can be no better expressed than by, oddly enough, an old "Twilight Zone" episode entitled "The Night of the Meek." In the story, Art Carney plays a department store Santa Claus who is fired because he's a drunk. And why does he drink? Because he lives in the ghetto and all his life he has seen people and children who have desperately needed Christmas in their lives and never received it. That night, staggering home in his Santa Claus suit, he makes a wish that he could be Santa Claus. He comes across a magic bag which contains anyone's heart's desire. He comes to the aid of his friends and the neighborhood children and as dawn is beginning to break, he discovers the bag is empty. Satisfied, he tries to pull off his whiskers--and he finds that he can't. Suddenly confronted by two elves and a reindeer-pulled sleigh, he is informed that the whiskers won't come off. He is Santa Claus. And he has been all along. Because it's not what's in the magic bag that counts, it's what's in the heart.
DAYTIME TV, February 1983
INSIDE HOLLYWOOD mention: Thaao Penghlis (Tony) holidayed in Mexico, where he hadn't been for ten years. The highlight of the trip was touring the archaeological excavations in Tula with "a wonderful guide." But Thaao was very upset by the poverty he saw throughout Mexico. "You have to leave America to realize how fortunate we are."
DISHING IT...HOLLYWOOD STYLE
Richard Simmons might howl, but calories definitely didn't count at Thaao Penghlis' chic Greek feast!
When Susan Hayes jokingly told her Days of Our Lives castmate Thaao Penghlis to stuff it, that's just what he did! The gourmet guru of West Hollywood went and stuffed a few grape leaves (not to mention a few chicken breasts with ham and cheese!) and invited the Days gang over for a chic Greek feast. The menu included moussaka, endive salad with honey-vinegar dressing, Greek shortbread and poached pears in caramel sauce. In other words, it was enough to make Richard Simmons demand a warrant for their arrest!
Helping Thaao "dish it" were Susan and Bill Hayes, Suzanne Rogers and boyfriend Lane Davies, Josh Taylor, Deidre Hall, Gloria Loring, Joe Mascolo, Philece Sampler, and Lanna Saunders and her hubby Larry Pressman. Larry--who nearly climbed onto the dessert table--threatened to fight Josh Taylor for the last piece of karidopita (a Greek nut cake made with honey, rose water and lemon juice) and announced, "I want to put my face in every dish!"
Thaao first learned how to poach his pears when he worked at the United Nations. "So many of the secretaries were wonderful cooks," he says, "that just by listening I learned many fabulous recipes."
Now that he knows his whisk from his wok, Thaao never worries about his endive wilting or his souffle caving in. "If all else fails, I just add more cognac to the recipe," he winks slyly.
And you thought international playboys only did their best work in the boudoir.
AFTERNOON TV, June 1983
THAAO PENGHLIS: THE CARY GRANT OF SOAPS? WELL, SOMETIMES!
There's no doubt about it--Thaao is a class act--but when the cameras are off, he likes to give his debonair image a boot!
Ha! So you think Thaao Penghlis (and his alter-ego, Tony DiMera on Days of Our Lives) is suave, sophisticated and totally charming. Well, not all of the time!
Just visualize this continental charmer tripping through scenes, clumsily getting caught on doorknobs, accidentally crashing to the floor with his on-screen love. And imagine an unlikely eaves dropper popping out of Marlena and Roman's bedroom closet, or from under the Shenanigan's bar. Yep. These are some aspects of Thaao's zany side people would never guess exists!
Thaao has a gleeful smile and mischievous glint in his eyes when he talks about his antics. "I'm as wacky and crazy as I can be behind the scenes even when I'm about to go into a love scene with Renee. I've got to bring some madness into Tony or he's just too serious, too self-centered."
But not all his actions are premeditated. "I don't mean to," Thaao laughs, "but I have a tremendous habit of tripping. I just can't help it! Of course, I always pretend someone else did it to me.
"Once Renee and I were doing a great love scene and I slipped and took her down with me, under the cameras and out of sight. It was as if I had enveloped her completely. The cameraman, the control room suddenly couldn't see us and started murmuring, 'Where are they?' and 'Where did they go?' which, of course, just cracked me up!
"And there have been times when, as I've come through the door in my robe, I've gotten caught on the door handle, closed the door on myself, and have had to deliver my lines from across the room because I couldn't move! I've stood there trying to act while still trying to get myself unstuck, and everyone is wondering what's wrong with me."
Thaao isn't alone in his madness. His TV-dad, Joe Mascolo--the other very serious DiMera--can be just as silly. Says Thaao: "Joe's the person I have the most fun with. He can bring such great strength and seriousness to his character because he has the zany side too.
"Sometimes Joe will suddenly go from his Italian accent into a Southern drawl. I try to roll with it and go into a Southern accent too, or come up with something else foreign. We often have the booth laughing so hard we can't tape for some time!
"It's a fine line," Thaao smiles. "To see Joe as Stefano, so serious, with his chest all puffed up in a heated scene. So many times Joe and I have been ready to break up. If the scene had gone just ten seconds longer, we would've lost it."
What about Thaao's "spying"?
Still looking impish, Thaao explains: "I'm not in the actual scene at all, but I like to sit under the bar at Shenanigan's drinking a soda or something while the rest of Salem is carrying on. It's so wonderfully opposite what a DiMera is supposed to do!
"Or sometimes, during a love scene between Marlena and Roman, I'm in the closet having a hoot. Only after the scene is completely over will I come out, cross the set, and tell them how wonderful the scene was.
"It's wonderful to spy like that," Thaao laughs hitting on a fantasy most people share. "It's like leaving a room full of people and wondering what they're saying about you. As you leave, you want to linger outside the door, but you know if you do, they're going to open that door and see you standing there! It's human nature."
It's also human nature for fans who bump unexpectedly into Thaao to relate to him as Tony DiMera. Sometimes they expect Thaao to behave in character--either kiss their hand, or be somewhat severe. How does Thaao react?
"It depends. Sometimes I'll easily be myself, or more of Tony, or there's a momentary embarrassment on all our parts. That's the moment we're brought back to earth and can bring some wonderfuly, truly human contact."
It's clear by now that Thaao Penghlis--that suave, sophisticated and charming fellow--has sides and dimensions that are sometimes overlooked by many who simply choose to define life, people, situations in one-dimensional terms.
Thaao himself prefers to look into the mystery of things and people, motivations and expression. That's why art is so very important to him.
"Everything is art," Thaao explains. "The way we live, the food we eat, the work we do. I just happen to like the art we put on the wall."
But his motivation isn't merely to collect beautiful things for the sake of impressing his guests. He believes: "Art, if you look at history, is what helps us understand, and further impel the changes in society. I have a sense of responsibility towards art--to preserving it and passing it on. Art enhances our culture, our loves, our family and our children. In a world where everything is becoming a fast-food chain it's important to educate people to value more than hamburger!"
Thaao has recently obtained several new pieces of art. One, a Tiffany lamp, initialed by Louis Tiffany himself was given to a famous, turn-of-the-century Broadway actress, Marie Dressler. She kept it with her until she died at age 86. Thaao has it today through money raised by fans who wanted to buy him a very special gift.
There's also a Schneider painting from the American film classic, Gone With The Wind. And a huge, five-by-five painting by Jane Goldman, a contemporary feminist artist responsible for many public murals throughout Los Angeles.
"Some people who come to my home and see Jane's painting called "Modern Times" think it's terribly hostile and dismiss it, wondering why I would keep such a work in my bedroom. They made such judgements so fast!
"The artist took months to paint the work. We can take the time to understand it as we do any situation or relationship in our lives. The painting has strength and movement. I can see the artist striving for change, for better things. I don't see the hostility. I've taken the time to understand it further. It gets me out and beyond myself. An artist is unveiling his or her soul to me. It stimulates and unveils something within me. That's how I learn my self expression."
Even the Punk movement stimulates Thaao to ask "Why?" rather than to simply dismiss it as grotesque and unattractive. "What really shocks me," Thaao admits, "is that part of the movement refuses to acknowledge their parents any more. It's probably the most extreme movement I have seen in my time--or even in the last century of social movement--and I don't know where it's going.
"It's frightening because it's bizarre, angry and protesting. We protested in the '60s with long hair, drugs, and being untidy. But Punkers are practically cutting their heads off! It's the movement of the grotesque. You can't tell me a woman with half her hair cut off and the other half tinted orange, wearing jeans with holes in the knees is beautiful! But I can't simply dismiss it. I want to understand it."
Perhaps a part of that rebellion againt heritage is familiar to Thaao. "While being raised in Australia I was totally immersed in Greek tradition. It became one of the main things from which I ran away, yet it's allowed me to do so much. Like a great love affair, it's something you don't always appreciate until you're away from it and have some objectivity. I realize now that the emotions I bring to my love affairs, my work, my life, are an expression of the range of passion I was allowed to feel as I was growing up
That's one of the reasons Thaao loves the Women's Movement. "We have a lot to learn from women, but until now men in this country have been unable to allow that. Perhaps we were frightened we'd lose control of a situation or relationship. Yet what's happened is that men are allowed to be more free and expressive. As Dustin Hoffman said in Tootsie when he played a woman: 'I got to understand the female part of me.'
"For me, that's nothing new. In other countries it's not a matter of being silly or less of a man to be able to express your tender moments. It allows the feminine aspect of human nature to express itself, just as women are now allowed to express their assertive, masculine side. Men and women are both becoming whole, allowed to express the full range and not merely half of our total essence."
Thaao can be sophisticated, comic, clumsy, philosophic, and certainly stimulating. He can make a person look at things from a new perspective, and is not hesitant to expose unfamiliar dimensions of himself.
"Life is a learning situation," Thaao muses. "Whether it's expressed through a love affair, art or culture, it's a passing on. In our interviews for magazines we pass on our joys, our philosophies. Hopefully, people who read them will be inspired, motivated to think about new ideas or interests, and about what motivates them, makes them change, adds to their life and makes them grow. At least that's what I hope I'm doing!"