Now, this is a survivor. It was 40 years ago July 13 that an ex-Radio City Rockette with no TV experience auditioned for the role of disabled farm gal Maggie Simmons on NBC's Days of Our Lives. Today that character, wed to Salem badass Victor Kiriakis (John Aniston), is still going gangbusters. And so is Suzanne Rogers, who is now the longest-running contract player currently working in soaps. TV Guide Magazine spoke with the Emmy-winning beauty to reminisce about her remarkable, landmark run.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you as shocked as we were when Days was chosen as best soap at the recent Daytime Emmys? You guys haven't won since disco was hot! |
Rogers: I know — 1978! We were all stunned, including the people who put on the Emmy show. They had their cameras pointed at the casts of The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless — not on us! People stopped thinking of us in terms of awards a long time ago. [Laughs] So did we! But, hey, the fact we haven't won in all these years isn't for lack of trying. We work our butts off.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you remember about your audition for Days?
Rogers: When I was doing my screen test, Susan Flannery [then playing Laura] walked through the control booth and said to the producers, "Well, if you don't pick her for the part, y'all are crazy!" And then she walked out the other door. [Laughs] Don't you love it? Maggie was such a wonderful character and really different for daytime. Her parents were killed in an auto accident and she was in the back seat and suffered a really severe back injury. They didn't want me in a wheelchair because everyone would have to sit down to do scenes with me, so I spent my first two and a half years of the show on crutches, until Maggie had miracle surgery. They had me running a household, cooking meals, setting the table, cleaning house — all on crutches. Physically, it was very tricky. Thank God they hired a dancer!
TV Guide Magazine: And you soon made TV history. In 1979, you won the first supporting actress trophy ever awarded at the Daytime Emmys. Must have been sweet.
Rogers: That was a very moving and memorable night. Funny thing is, after I won the award, I didn't exist. For the next three or four years I didn't have much to do on the show. Instead of capitalizing on the Emmy, they did the reverse. I never understood what happened there. [Laughs] But that award is mine! They can't take that away from me!
TV Guide Magazine: And, like all great stars, you bounced back, only to overcome something much worse. Both you and Maggie have beaten Myasthenia Gravis. Talk about that.
Rogers: When I was diagnosed in 1984, my doctor told me I'd never be in front of the cameras again and it scared me to death. But Days kept me, thank God, and wrote it into my storyline. I've been in remission since 1995 but it was really heartbreaking for awhile. It looked like I'd had a stroke. One side of my face had fallen, my eyes were drooping, my vocal chords weren't working. I didn't eat solid food for nearly six months and went from 121 pounds down to 92. I was very sick and there was a good chance it was all going to fall apart for me, but I was very lucky. Lanna Saunders, who played Marie Horton on Days, had been diagnosed with MS around the same time and she and I were a blubbering mess — two peas in a pod, madly trying to keep our conditions from the media, because you couldn't get work in Hollywood if they knew you were sick. It was a long road back. [Laughs] I've been through so much nothing phases me now.
TV Guide Magazine: You even survived Maggie's death! What was it like to be part of the notorious Marlena Massacre?
Rogers: [Laughs] The worst! The audience was horrified and so were we when they started firing us, one by one, and killing off our characters. At least I was in fabulous company — James Reynolds, Peggy McCay, Bill Hayes, Thaao Penghlis, Matthew Ashford. We didn't know that we weren't really dead, so I was in a panic, thinking I'd have to sell my house and maybe move back to Virginia. John Clarke [Mickey] begged to be killed off in my place. He was fine about going, but I wasn't. I love this job! And then when they killed off Frances Reid's character — sweet, dear Alice Horton — well, it was unbelievable!
TV Guide Magazine: When you found out the "massacre" was all a ruse to pump up the ratings, didn't you want to kick [exec producer] Ken Corday's ass?
Rogers: Well, I did say, "Ken, I was about to put my house on the market! What are you doing to us?" Oh, Lord, may we never have to go through that again! It's still all so vivid in our minds. I was off the show in September or October of that year and they didn't call me to return until the following March. It really destroyed me. You know us actors. We think we're only as good as the last episode we did. It was all so bizarre.
TV Guide Magazine: More bizarre than when Maggie was buried alive in that sarcophagus?
Rogers: Well, nothing was as bizarre as that! [Laughs] People kept asking me, "What is she eating in there? How is she peeing?" That was just so crazy.
TV Guide Magazine: And now Maggie, the pillar of the community, is married to that cutthroat curmudgeon Victor Kiriakis! Go figure.
Rogers: Who would have ever seen that coming? Not me! But this match has afforded me the chance to be the little spitfire Maggie always could have been. That red hair oughta tell you something! She's always willing to go toe-to-toe with Victor and I think that's what he likes about her. Maggie never wanted anything from him, unlike all his other women. She has her own life, her own money. She doesn't need him, and he liked that. It made him want her even more.
TV Guide Magazine: So now that you've hit the 40-year mark, are you ready to take on the mantle of Salem's matriarch?
Rogers: Oh, no, no, no. That was and always will be Frances Reid. I walk onto the Horton family set and still see her sitting in that chair. I don't ever want to sit there. I have too much reverence for that. I don't like to see anyone in that chair! [Laughs] The other day we did a scene where JJ [Casey Moss] was sitting in Alice's chair with his leg straddled over the arm. That's his bad-boy character, of course, but I wanted to slap him silly! So, no, I'm not primed to become matriarch of Salem. Frances earned that title. It's still her show. As I hit my 40th anniversary, I just want to keep doing my best and do her proud!