Love of Life

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Love of Life title card from 1957.
Missing image
Love of Life title card from 1960.

Love of Life was an American soap opera which aired on CBS from September 24, 1951 until October 25, 1979, when it was taken off the air abruptly for emergency retooling. The show returned for a limited run very early the next year, with the final episode of the serial airing on February 1, 1980.



Unlike other soap operas, Love of Life was originally not split up into segments dictated by commercial breaks. The only way a sponsor could purchase time for Love of Life was to buy time either before or after the show. In the 1960s, one commercial break was allotted around the middle of the program, but this was mostly to allow affiliates to reconnect with the feed after airing local commercials.

In 1958 the show moved from 15 minutes to 25 minutes, a departure from the norm in a world where most soap operas were expanding to a half-hour. The last five minutes in the timeslot were dedicated to the CBS News.

Titles and theme tunes

B/W years

In the early 1950s, a typical episode began with announcer Don Hancock saying, "Good afternoon. Don Hancock speaking. Welcome to Love of Life," over a shot of the fountain outside New York's Plaza Hotel with the show's title appearing diagonally across the screen in elegant sweeping calligraphy. After a brief commercial was the main title sequence, where Charles Mountain said over this visual, "Love of Life, the exciting story of Vanessa Dale and her search for human dignity." This was followed by some credits. The theme song was done by organist John Gart.

In 1957, the show changed visuals twice. The show briefly used a time-lapse shot of a flower (, with announcer Herbert Duncan saying "To live each day for whatever life may bring . . . this is Love of Life" over it. This was changed to a shot of a starry sky, as seen in the accompanying picture.

And Then It Happened

In spring 1967, the show switched to color, and a picture of sunlit flowers by a window ( for its titles. This visual lasted about ten years, and was accompanied with two different themes: "And Then It Happened" by Charles Paul (1967-1973) and "The Life That You Live" by Carey Gold (1973-1977).

The final years

In 1977 (at the latest), the show used as its theme a pop-style ballad composed by Hagood Hardy. The main title visuals were set against a black background and had the show's new logo, designed by Lou Dorfsman, on at the bottom and a series of head shot profiles of the main characters on the top.


While the show drifted from this focus in the later years, the original story was a morality play of good versus evil, illustrated by the interactions between two sisters, Vanessa (originally Peggy McCay) and Meg Dale (originally Jean McBride). Vanessa (often referred to as "Van" for short) was "the good girl." She stood up for what was right in life and in her community. Meg was the schemer and all-around "bad" girl. While Van disapproved of Meg's actions, she still loved her and taught the audience the value of forgiveness. The show was painted black-and-white in this regard, which was evident in the tagline recited at the beginning of each of the earlier episodes: "Love of Life: The exciting story of Vanessa Dale and her courageous struggle for human dignity."

Eventually, Meg was phased out and the show changed locales (first set in the fictional town of Barrowsville, it moved to Rosehill, where it would remain for the rest of the show's run).

During this time, the actress who played Van quit the show and was replaced (with actress Bonnie Bartlett). Subsequently, the actress who replaced her was replaced herself. The second recast, Audrey Peters, played Van for the rest of the run, from 1959 until 1980. Peters had one of the more unusual recast debuts. Bartlett played the role all the way up to Vanessa's wedding day. The next day, Vanessa walked down the aisle, Bruce Sterling lowered her veil, and there was Audrey Peters.

In the 1960s, most of the drama was focused on Van and her new marriage to Bruce Sterling (played by Ron Tomme). The late 60's involved attempts to shake up the somewhat staid atmosphere through campus unrest and a return of Vanessa's first husband, who had been killed off in the mid 50's. Vanessa divorced Bruce to reunite with her first husband, outraging many in the audience who could not accept their heroine getting a divorce. As ratings began to slide in the 1970s, Meg (now played by Tudi Wiggins) and her son Ben were brought back to the show (Ben, now an adult, was most notably played by Christopher Reeve). Under the reins of new writers Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer the show returned to the original "good Vanessa, bad Meg" theme. Meg broke new ground for daytime when she called her son a "bastard", the first time profanity was spoken on daytime TV.

The final years

However, after Labine and Mayer left, the show lost focus and the grittier storylines (in which it was implied that Ben was sodomized while in prison) did not please the viewers, and the ratings sank lower. Partly, this was due to its fringe timeslot: since the beginning, Love of Life had aired in the very late morning, and few soaps have had success airing before noon. The show's ratings had been middling in the 1950s and 1960s, but had dropped sharply as the show entered the 1970s.

On April 23, 1979, Love of Life switched timeslots (the show was moved from its traditional 11:30 AM slot to 4 PM). On October 25, the show was taken off the air altogether for emergency retooling. Love of Life was brought back early the next year and ended its run abruptly in February, with a cliffhanger: after testifying in a trial, heroine Betsy Crawford (Elizabeth Kemp) collapsed as she was leaving the stand. No one knew what happened to her as the show was not picked up by another network. The final scene of the series was longtime director Larry Auerbach walking through the empty sets, as Tony Bennett's "We'll Be Together Again" played in the background.


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