January 17, 2007

Daytime Star Darlene Conley Dies

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Actress Darlene Conley, best known for the long-running role of tough dame with a heart of gold, Sally Spectra on the CBS daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful, died on January 14, 2007 at age 72. The cause of death was cancer.

“Darlene understood better than anyone that each moment of airtime was precious”, said Bradley P. Bell, executive producer and head writer of The Bold and the Beautiful. “She constantly entertained us with every move, every breath, every inflection of her voice. Whether she was the villain, the damsel, the sexpot or the comedienne, Darlene was brilliant…She was truly one-of-a-kind. We will miss her beyond measure.”

“Darlene was a beloved member of the CBS family for many years,” said Barbara Bloom, senior vice president of daytime, CBS. “Her talent, wit and energy made her a force to be reckoned with and her loss is immeasurable. She’ll be greatly missed but also greatly remembered.”

Born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 18, 1934, Conley was discovered at age 15 by noted Broadway impresario Jed Harris, who cast her as the Irish maid in a touring production of the 19th century melodrama The Heiress, which starred Basil Rathbone. After graduating from high school, she toured the country with classical theater companies before appearing in Shakespearean roles on Broadway with the Helen Hayes Repertory Theater. She later appeared in a Broadway revival of Night of the Iguana, with Richard Chamberlain, and in David Merrick’s musical The Baker’s Wife. Her Los Angeles theater credits included Cyrano de Bergerac and Night of the Iguana (both with Chamberlain), The Time of the Cuckoo with Jean Stapleton and Ring Around the Moon with Michael York.

Alfred Hitchcock cast Conley in her first feature film, The Birds, and she worked with John Cassavetes in Faces and Minnie & Moskowitz. Conley also appeared in The Valley of the Dolls, Play It As It Lays and Lady Sings the Blues, as well as Tough Guys, with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

Conley also appeared in numerous television films, miniseries, including Robert Kennedy & His Times, The Fighter, The Choice, Return Engagement and The President’s Plane is Missing. She also appeared in such prime-time series as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Little House on the Prairie, The Cosby Show, Cagney & Lacey, Highway to Heaven and Murder, She Wrote.

Conley was a daytime television fixture for decades. “It (daytime) is really the best medium today for women of a certain age to do something really flashy,” she said. “It’s where what we do well as actresses matters.”

She portrayed Edith Baker on Days of Our Lives, Louie on Capitol and Trixie Monahan on General Hospital before being given the role of the nefarious Rose de Ville, by the late William J. Bell, on The Young and Restless.

When Bell co-created The Bold and the Beautiful with his wife Lee Phillip-Bell, he envisioned a special role for Conley. Sally Spectra allowed Conley to showcase her dramatic range, and over the years she inhabited an exotic repertoire of offbeat characters within the role. As Sally, Conley was a master of disguises, which included Mae West, a German spy, an Italian gigolo, a nun and even a rendition of another character from the show, Massimo Marone.

For work on The Bold and the Beautiful, Conley was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards and six Soap Opera Digest Awards.

Conley had the distinction of being the only daytime star to be chosen by Madame Tussaud’s to have her character, Sally Spectra, displayed in its gallery of wax figures, in both Amsterdam and Las Vegas.

Conley is survived by her son, Raymond Woodson; ex-husband Bill Woodson; sisters Carol Fontana and Sharon Wilson; several nieces and nephews; longtime friend and caretaker Eva Hansen; and her manager of 24 years, Sandra Siegal. Service arrangements are pending.

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