She is irreplaceable and irrepressible and rarely gives interviews, but when Jane Elliot does decide to talk she damn well delivers! On the occasion of General Hospital's 51st anniversary, TV Guide Magazine spoke with the Emmy-winning actress about her legacy as bitch supreme Tracy Quartermaine. Elliot also cut loose on a variety of other topics, from her most famous leading man (Elvis Presley!) to her close, but chemically dangerous, friendship with Days of Our Lives' Deidre Hall. You'll never guess what the two soap queens plan to do when they retire!
TV Guide Magazine: We know you hate compliments and this will probably annoy the crap out of you but we gotta ask: Do you have any idea how beloved you are by the GH fans? They're especially excited about your Emmy pre nom, since you've long been a hold-out when it comes to awards.
Elliot: I don't tweet or do any other social media so I don't know what's being said out there. I certainly appreciate what you're telling me and I'm grateful for it but, whenever anybody tells me something like that, it just slides right off me like scrambled eggs off Teflon. I just don't let my mind go there.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, let's go here instead: What's behind Tracy's enduring appeal, considering she's pretty much of a disaster as a human being?
Elliot: I think a lot of it has to do with loyalty. The audience has seen her through a million mistakes and a million marriages. They've seen her lose her parents and her brother. She's a familiar face, one they have a lot of history with, so it's almost like the story doesn't matter. And I finally get that! My guilty pleasure is Revenge. I've watched it from the very first episode. I don't like the story this season at all but it doesn't matter because I'm completely bonded to the people. I now understand what it's like to be hooked on soap-opera characters.
TV Guide Magazine: Would you want Tracy as a friend? Would you go to lunch with her?
Elliot: [Long pause] No. Not at all. But, having said that, I do think she has softened and evolved a little as a woman. You see it in her hopeless addiction to Luke Spencer and her tolerance for all his comings and goings. She has learned to be forgiving and patient, and that has helped develop her in a way nothing in her life prior to this ever did. She makes bad choices but she's never been stuck on a bad guy the way she's stuck on Luke.
TV Guide Magazine: What about all those oily mobsters she fell for?
Elliot: There was always manipulation involved with those guys. But, with Luke, she's actually showing signs of true love and understanding — qualities that are new to Tracy. Plus, Luke has fallen head over heels in love with her and that just doesn't happen. Nobody falls for Tracy! And there's nobody else left in her life. Her family is decimated. Well, Monica is still around but she's annoying. With Luke, Tracy also gets Dante and Lulu and the baby. She wants family. She wants to belong.
TV Guide Magazine: Your character is hilarious now, but she certainly wasn't during your first stint on GH back in the '70s.
Elliot: That's because [then executive producer] Gloria Monty was humorless. She was all about the drama — the melodrama — and so everything had to be very, very arch and dark. She was extremely specific about what she wanted and you played it her way, not your way. It wasn't until later, when I worked with Hugo Napier [Larry] and Gerald Anthony [Marco], that Tracy started lightening up. Loved those actors! You know, it's so interesting to now be the oldest actor under contract at my show. How the hell did that happen?
TV Guide Magazine: How did that happen? It seems like only yesterday you were the brat child refusing to give Edward Quartermaine his heart meds.
Elliot: And I am now the Charita Bauer of GH! And, by the way, Charita was and remains my all-time favorite actor on any of the soap operas I've worked on, because she had such grace and humility. Every day at Guiding Light was like her first day on the job. She was so filled with gratitude for the work and she had such kindness and generosity toward everyone. She was the first to learn your name, the first to welcome you. The same went for Frances Reid and Eileen Herlie and that whack job Ruth Warrick. I loved all those women! [Laughs] And now I'm one of them and can't figure that out! It's especially weird because I'm friends with so many of the young ones. Emme Rylan [Lulu] and I bring our crafts to the studio and we knit and crochet together. We go shopping for beads together. She's absolutely darling. And I adore Jason Thompson [Patrick]. I was in Oregon texting him and he was texting me from Australia. We're great friends but I haven't actually seen him in months — months! — because our schedules at the show never coincide anymore.
TV Guide Magazine: Will Tracy be on stage at the Nurses' Ball again? Last time you were singing and dancing and shaking your boo-tay. Certainly a Jane Elliot first.
Elliot: No, they decided that Monica and Tracy didn't have to be a part of it this year because the Nurses' Ball takes place, like, the day after A.J.'s funeral. [Laughs] It would be tasteless! So we're off the hook.
TV Guide Magazine: I just watched you again in Change of Habit, the movie you made with Elvis at the end of the '60s. You were — dare I say it? — absolutely adorable!
Elliot: Do you know that I didn't want to do that movie? I actually turned it down because I didn't want to be in a film with Elvis. Who does that?
TV Guide Magazine: How could you pass it up? It was his last film, right?
Elliot: I thought it was beneath me. Yes, it was the last movie on his contract and he hated making movies and never did another one. He wanted to get back to his music, which he did right after that. But it was not the kind of work I'd come to Hollywood to do. [Laughs] I was a snob raised on the upper east side of Manhattan, who went to private schools and only listened to real music. My favorite aunt started the legal department at the William Morris Agency back in the '50s and she knew Elvis's manager, the Colonel, and he would give her all kinds of great Elvis memorabilia — autographed photos, scripts, movie posters, you name it — and she would give it all to me and I would throw it all in the garbage because Elvis was not my genre.
TVG: That sound you hear is millions of diehard Presley fans collapsing in a dead faint.
Elliot: I was an idiot! And I now understand why those millions are still devoted to him, why their hearts broke for him, why they cried for him. It was my stupid blindness! I wound up doing the movie anyway because it came as part of a multi-film deal, which never amounted to anything, but on my first day on the set I did a complete 180. Elvis was a lovely, lovely man, a real gentleman and so sweet and fun and funny. I had the best time working with him and everyone else. Mary Tyler Moore and Barbara McNair were also in the movie, and they were fantastic and the ultimate professionals! I was just 21 at the time and learned so much from that experience. It was a real privilege, a thrill. I am so glad the universe saw fit to make me get over myself.
TV Guide Magazine: Did Elvis make a pass at you?
Elliot: [Laughs] He made a pass at everybody!
TV Guide Magazine: Last time we did an interview, you dropped a little mention that Deidre Hall does your roots, and the fans went nuts! You must tell us more.
Elliot: Well, here is the more! Deidre has been coloring my hair and doing my roots since I moved back to L.A. 11 years ago. I don't even remember how or why this started but it's okay by me because there are two things I absolutely hate paying for in this world — parking tickets and getting my roots done. It irritates the crap out of me! Well, Dee just loves to do roots. For her, it's like medication. It's like therapy. All the cares of her life melt away and she's there with the color and the brushes and the mixing and she's in absolute heaven! I call her up and say, "I need my roots done," and she says, "I'll be right there!"
TV Guide Magazine: So the Queen of Daytime drops everything and comes to you?
Elliot: Yes! [Laughs] That's the best part. I don't have to leave the house. She jumps in the car and drives to me! But first she stops at Veggie Grill to get us salads, and then she stops at See's to pick up some candy. She even brings me magazines to read while she's doing my hair. It's full-service Deidre! She's got it down! Lately, my skin has become really sensitive to the ammonia in the hair dye and my head is getting rashy, so now she's on the hunt for a different product, and there is nothing like Deidre on the hunt. Oh, my God! The last thing at night she emails me about it. The first thing in the morning she's texting me about it. She says, "I've talked to the hair-care professionals. I know exactly what we need. I'm going to the beauty-supply store right now! We've got to get this right. It is all I can think about!" [Laughs] It is her obsession! She's terrified that someday I'm going to stop dyeing my hair and let it go natural.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you two ever had a hair tragedy?
Elliot: At one point a few years ago, when my hair was much longer, Dee decided to give me a cellophane treatment. It's something that brings out the shine and gives your hair great body, and it's a two-bottle process. You buy one bottle of this and one bottle of that and mix them together and put it on your hair for 10 minutes. So she mixes the s--t up and she's putting it on my head when my eyes start to water. She says, "Don't worry about it. You're gonna be thrilled!" I'm, like, "Dee have you tried this stuff before?" She says, "No, but it's gonna be great!" I say, "Dee, my head is on f--king fire!" She looks at the two bottles and realizes they are both the same product! She has put 100 percent developer chemical on my head and she has fried my hair! Now, why has Deidre Hall done this? Because Deidre Hall, being a woman of a certain age, doesn't like to put on her damn eyeglasses and she didn't read the stinking labels at the beauty-supply place when they sold it to her! It took months for my hair to recover.
TV Guide Magazine: Yet still you're a loyal customer.
Elliot: Well, yes, but that's because I'm a cheap son of a bitch, so I stick with her! I should have made her buy me a $7000 wig. But I keep going back. You know why? We both hate getting our hair done in a salon. Dee and I always get our hair cut at the same time. On a Sunday we'll go to the home of this great lady, Sasha, a fabulous haircutter, and we sit there like backseat drivers telling Sasha how to cut the other one's hair. Dee hates my short hair and I hate her long hair, so we sit there griping. Dee is going, "No, no, no! You're cutting too much! Don't go shorter! Leave it fuller in the back!" And I'm yelling, "You've got to cut a couple of inches off Dee's hair. She's too old to be wearing it that long!" And poor Sasha is stuck in the middle while the two of us bitch and moan about each other.
TV Guide Magazine: Now that's the reality show we wanna see!
Elliot: It amuses the s--t out of us! And we never run out of things to talk about. Dee and I have this dream that some day, when we're no longer on the soaps, we're going to open up an old-fashioned beauty salon in some small town somewhere. She will do the color and, because I have no hair talent, I'll man the front desk, making the appointments and taking the money.
TV Guide Magazines: It's like Steel Magnolias only with unemployed soap divas!
Elliot: Exactly! [Laughs] It's our retirement fantasy. We're going to live happily ever after turning little old ladies' hair blue!