My Middle Name Is Earl
I recently taped an episode of
Days of our Lives
which included (in a scene with Mary Beth Evans, Kayla) one of my all-time favorite lines of dialogue. I won't give it away but it happens at the end of the show in our final scene of the day, and there's mention of Steve Johnson's middle name. I remember fondly how "Patch" was given a name other than "Patch," and how the character came by the middle name "Earl."
First the story of how the character came to have a name other than "Patch." Well, let's see, we can even go further back than that. How did Patch come about? The story I heard back in the day was that an NBC Daytime executive mentioned something in a story meeting about the need for a "Falcon Eddie"-type character to go up against Bo Brady. Falcon Eddie was a character (with an eye patch) in the hit miniseries,
Rich Man, Poor Man
, starring Nick Nolte.
Doris Sabbah, who was the casting director at Days back then, called me at home and said, "There is a part on
Days of our Lives
a bad guy. He's crazy; he carries a knife and wears an eye patch." I thought, "An eye patch, that is interesting. I can work with that." She also said the part would last only a few months, if that. She said the character had to die.
Cut to maybe four months later. We were taping a scene where my character gets shot. Our director that day, Shelly Curtis, ran out onstage before the taping and said to me, "Oh, by the way, you aren't dying."
I have to admit I was ambivalent about this news. I had recently been offered a lead in a movie,
, and was performing in a hit play,
, in Los Angeles. In those days it was considered "selling out" to be involved in a soap opera for anything other than a short stint. There was much less respect for the genre back then, and when I decided to take the contract my agents fired me.
So, I had a contract, and the character needed a name. I remember Deidre Hall (Marlena), Leanne Hunley (Anna), Drake Hogestyn (John), Kristian Alfonso (Hope) and a few others sitting around in the makeup room waiting for producer Al Rabin to come in and announce the name they had chosen. We were kicking around what we thought would be cool possibilities. It would be interesting to note what those were but, alas, I cannot recall. I can assure you we weren't thinking Bolt or Thorn or even Zeke. Well, maybe Zeke.
Finally, the producer walked in briskly and said, "Your name is Steve." I said, "Steve?" He said, "Yes, Steve. Steve Johnson," and he exited. Deidre, Drake and I looked at each other and said, "Steeeve?"
Cut to maybe a year later: We were riding a bus back from a location shoot in San Pedro, California (standing in for Florida). I had had a very good day. I was thinking of how grateful I was to be working, to have the success that I had and I thought, "I wish my grandpa were alive to see this." My grandpa was a surrogate father to me. (See photos at
.) I had not known my own father - he abandoned us before I was born - so in a way, Grandpa saved my life. I thought about this and how if it were not for him, I might not be sitting on this bus. I might not be able to provide for my kids and be a good father to them, which I learned by his example. I wanted to honor my grandpa, make him a part of my success. I turned to Al Rabin and asked if we could give Steve Johnson a middle name. He said, "Sure, what name?" "Earl," I said. "Earl!!?" "Yes, Earl," I said. "It would mean a lot to me." "Sure," said Al. Steven Earl Johnson. What a perfect name for this one-eyed dude. So I am proud to say, my middle name is Earl.
Last night I watched the documentary on Brando. For me there was never another actor who came close to him in any way. I can't wait now to revisit all of his films. Martin Scorsese said Brando was the marker. There was before Brando and after Brando. Since his passing, I have turned to my wife on several occasions and remarked how I can't believe he's gone. I remember seeing
Last Tango in Paris
in the '70s. I could not get over the depth of reality Brando was able to bring to the screen. He did not "act." He was simply being, and apparently Bertolucci had coerced him to dig into his personal life more than he had ever done before. Another thing I found fascinating was the screen test Brando had done for
Rebel Without a Cause
. It was enlightening to see Brando "bad." He was doing everything wrong! Unmotivated crosses and hand gestures and pushing the emotion rather than letting it be there. Maybe he was not prepared or too nervous on the day of his first big screen test. John Turturro said it inspired him in the same way: To see that someone of Brando's stature could actually be bad gave us all permission to miss once in a while.
I have read all of your comments on the previous blog. What a beautiful, intelligent group of fans Mary Beth and I have. I so appreciate that you take the time to comment and are so specific. It looks like MB and I will be seeing quite a few of you at our Patch and Kayla event in June. Be sure to say hello and remind me of something you said in the comments. That way I will have a reference.
Enjoy the show. Lot's of exciting stuff coming.
Stephen Earl Nichols, aka The Patchman