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DAYS: 1977 article details ending of first interracial romance

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Here is an article from the Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1977 edition, written by William K. Knoedelseder. The article describes the ending of the first-ever interracial romance in daytime television history, the break-up of David Banning and Valerie Grant.

The latest from NBC's "Days of Our Lives" is that the chaste, year-long engagement of David Banning and Valerie Grant, daytime's only interracial couple, is kaput. According to the script, the reason for the rift is David's infidelity. But according to the actors, the reason is real-life racism.

"They're breaking us up because the storyline is unpopular," said actor Richard Guthrie (David). "The studio has been getting a lot of hate mail from people threatening to stop watching the show." "When they get enough of those letters, they respond," said actress Tina Andrews (Valerie). "One letter said: 'I hope you're not going to let that ****** marry that white boy.' Apparently, they are not. I'm being canned."

Andrews pointed out that her television parents, Ketty Lester and Lawrence Cook, already have been written out of the script. With both the black storyline and the interracial romance ended, she said, Valerie is expendable.

Spokesmen for NBC in Burbank and the show's co-executive producer, Wes Kenney, confirmed the couple's imminent breakup but denied the split was a reaction to unfavorable mail. Kenney said that although mail is read, analyzed, studied for trends in viewer response and discussed with the show's writers, public reaction has not affected the long-term plans for the romance. "This breakup has been planned from the very beginning. There has been change of direction."

Kenney said that while "Days" Nielsen ratings have fallen in the last year, from its perennial position in the top three to a current number 7 in a field of 14, the mail reflects a 50/50 split on the subject of David and Valerie.

Guthrie said his personal fan mail ran 50/50 during the "just friends" stage but grew increasingly negative as the relationship warmed up. Currently, he said, his fans are 70% opposed to the romance continuing.

"There's a logic to the whole thing," said Kenney. The logic, according to Andrews, is that Salem loses its last black character, daytime TV loses its only major black storyline and interracial romance, and she loses her job. She says she doesn't need the soap financially. Her main complaint is the way David and Valerie's story has been presented. What others have called a "delicate and tasteful" handling of the romance, she calls racism, written into the script and practiced on the set.

Six months after the couple became engaged, Andrews asked a writer why David could not kiss Valerie. "I was told it was some kind of policy. I went home that night and thought to myself 'Kissing can't be the problem. All the other couples in love on the show kiss. And David had kissed other female characters. What's wrong with Valerie that would cause such a policy to be put into effect."

"The problem is that Valerie is black. Well, so is Tina Andrews, black all the time, on screen and off. When you say David can't kiss Valerie because she's black, you're saying Richard can't kiss Tina for the same reason. That's an insult to everyone concerned."

"The kissing became a big thing on the set", Guthrie said. "I remember the day Wes Kenney came back from a meeting with NBC and announced 'You can kiss!' It was like the earth shook." The new permissiveness didn't last long (three or four kisses over a period of a few months). Both Guthrie and Andrews said the mail was overwhelmingly negative and kissing quickly disappeared from the script.

"After that, we weren't even allowed to touch," said Guthrie. "Whenever we inadvertently worked it in, we were told to stop from the control booth. It was ridiculous." Andrews said: "They would always say 'Richard, don't touch her', never the other way around. Pretty soon we started getting scripts with stage directions like 'They look at each other warmly, but they do not touch', underlined five times so we wouldn't miss it. That offended me as an actress, as a woman, and as a black person."

Kenney admits the physical aspects of the relationship had been played down in the past, but said the couple had again been allowed to kiss in more recent episodes. Referring to the "no touching" remonstratives, he said if he had seen such directions in the script, he would have taken them out. As co-executive producer, Kenney often edits the scripts before they are given to the actors.

Former head writer Pat Falken Smith, the creator of the interracial romance, disagreed with the young actors' assessment of the situation. The kissing and touching was played down as a matter of storytelling. "In daytime programming, the drama is much stronger when you don't show intimate love scenes. If Richard and Tina thought it was unrealistic that a young engaged couple didn't kiss, that's tough. It was my story and gratuitous kissing was not part of it. And no actor re-writes me on the set, ever."

"There was never any prejudice against a black story or against black people", she said. "I created the story, I hired and trained a black writer on the show and I had a black assistant. My credentials as a white liberal are impeccable." Falken Smith was fired from "Days" in April and said she is planning a multimillion dollar suit against the network for breach of her $680,000-a-year writing contract.

"David and Valerie's story seems important to tell," Guthrie said. "There may be people who can benefit from its telling. Let the rest of the show entertain. Maybe this one small part could educate. It's too bad the story is being dropped."

Tina Andrews is not surprised her days on "Days" are over. She is, in fact, surprised the role of Valerie Grant lasted as long as it did. "When I joined the show, I knew blacks had never been deeply rooted in daytime television. For that reason, I expected the job to be temporary, maybe only six weeks. All the blacks on the show felt if we were meant to be on long, at least one of us would have been offered a contract. None of us was."

According to Kenney, at least half the actors on "Days" work on an "as needed basis", and without contract. Contracts are normally not offered, he said, until an actor has been on the show for at least a year. Guthrie came to the show in July, 1975 and signed a four-year contract two weeks later. Tina Andrews joined the cast in September, 1975. Without a contract, Andrews is, in essence, not officially fired, just no longer needed.

Ketty Lester, the veteran actress and singer who played Valerie's mother, Helen Grant, said she is not surprised to be out a job either. "I'm not shocked by all this. I'm an old black woman. I have experienced discrimination every day of my life. I think the public didn't want blacks on the show, period. It's not NBC's fault or Corday Productions' fault. It's show business. It's life. It's America. I feel sorry for Tina if she thought things would be any different for her. She should know better."

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Pure, concentrated BS, Pat. Ignorance.

Ketty Lester! She'd go on to four glorious years as Hester-Sue on Little House on the Prairie. Amazing how she was able to be a black woman on a show set in the 1880s and NOT play a stereotypical role for four seasons, yet DAYS couldn't write her as a contemporary 70s woman for more than a year. I call shenanigans, and the pun is definitely intended.

Thank you very much for sharing, Jason!

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This makes me think of how Jesse's daughter on AMC, Natalia, is a beautiful, talented young girl yet they can't write anything for her but suddenly this ugly, barely talented (IMO) young girl who plays David and Krystal's daughter comes on and they can't seem to stop writing for her. It's clear cut racism.

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She comes in at 0:54

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A great thing Days could do, IMHO, is to bring David & valeries son on. I know they never had one that we know of, but hello Nick Fallon and now Nathan Horton, among others. Why not bring in a studly young black man and tie him to the horton's? get SSH fir a few apperances too. He can move in with Bo/Hope. Why not?

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Great article. Thanks for posting. Some things have changed when it comes to people of color on the soaps, but not as much as people think. Ketty Lester is right about it being the public, but racism is also pervasive in the soap industry as it is in real life.

Pretty much. Natalie is gorgeous and talented, but AMC is not open to too many black actresses. They have two main black actresses already (Randi is talentless) and are not interested in another.

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