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1976 interviews with Michael Nouri and Meg Bennett


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Michael Nouri Seeks Peace and Love Through Meditation

At an out-of-the-way CBS television studio on 26th Street - where both Search for Tomorrow and The Guiding Light are taped - an interesting phenomenon has occurred. Both shows, following the recent trend toward employing heavy Young Love story lines, now suddenly have a high percentage of young actors in their casts. Since both of these shows are products of the fifties, their human ambiance has been, until now, like Helen Trent's: "thirty-five or more." So, with all of these new young actors running around, filled with the ideas and problems of the generation that grew up in the sixties, the other actors are somewhat awed by these dazzling, bright, unique, often exotic young talents in their midsts. Behind-the-scenes between young and not-so-young has been an exciting experience for all.

On the set of Search for Tomorrow, for instance, the show's blazing, kinky-haired, strangely-handsome newcomer Michael Nouri, who plays Steve Kaslo, is often seen drifting off in a complicated trance, loosely labeled these days as "meditation." In the middle of a busy production day, Michael sits quietly, eyes either open or closed, and turns out the world as well as any random thinking. Michael is obviously doing something that a lot of young people are doing today. Among the Search regulars there are no jokes about it; more than anything else, there's vicarious interest. People want to know about what Michael is doing, and Michael tells them. Michael's talents and his personal habits around the studio are well-regarded by the veterans.

Michael explains to us what he explains to fellow actors and friends.

"The immediate result of meditation is that it relaxes. I'm an extremely tense person and meditation helps me become more peaceful during working hours. A lot of people have heard something about it but I don't think they really understand. Meditation isn't simply making your mind a total blank. You push away the world and your thoughts so that you can see into yourself. Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when God talks to you. You're perfectly still and in so doing you realize that what you want is already there. Then once you realize that truth, you have to live that, and by living it you become a living example to other people. Your job becomes an act of the ideal. I'm moving in that direction in my work - although often I find myself sliding away from it. In the act of meditation you learn that ambition is single-mindedness - an obsession with getting someplace for inherent material gain and that once you get there it's something else you should have wanted. You should perform all actions with awareness of what the ideal is - in the consciousness of love. Consciousness is love."

If some of the above sounds like proselytizing jargon, Michael will be the first to agree with you. He's not nearly as serious about all the "awareness" argot - although he knows it by heart - as with the practical results of meditation, which for him have been quite good. Four years ago, when he was 26, he was far more involved with the cult aspects of Guru-taught meditation.

"I got into meditation through my younger brother, Guy, who was very involved. Then meditation really became my life for about two and a half years. I was with a teacher called Guru Marharaj Ji, and I worked for his organization called the Divine Light Mission. (Later they became controversial and began to have overtones of the Reverend Moon's people.) I was extremely serious in my work for them, and I gave up more than I've ever given up before. I sold everything to give money to the Divine Light Mission. I started singing professionally in order to make money while I traveled with the Guru Maharaj Ji's people around the country. It wasn't much. When I started, I was only making $10 a night singing in an Italian restaurant in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, before I went on the road with the Divine Light mission."

It sounds intriguing. How did a wholesome half-Arab, half-Irish/Scottish young man from Palisades, New York, become a Guru-follower?

Michael had gone to fine schools: Rollins College in Florida and Emerson College in Boston, where he majored in drama. Talent sometimes breeds good luck and that's what happened to Michael. After college he found himself playing the lead opposite Julie Harris in Broadway's Forty Carats, for a good two years.

"After Forty Carats I just wanted to find something more for my life. I found what I was looking for through meditation - traveling around the country with the Guru Maharaj Ji. Please don't misunderstand what I was like in those days. I was a dedicated follower, but I wasn't a fanatic. I never chased people down the street trying to convert them. That just isn't possible with the way I'm constructed. But I was certainly different from the way I am today. I was much younger, emotionally, and I like to think of my years with the Divine Light Mission as a thing of the past. I couldn't become a follower today."

Michael was 27 when he left the Divine Light Mission and came back to New York. He went on Somerset, his first daytime serial, for three months, playing lawyer Tom Chaney. Since he wasn't given a contract on Somerset, he left the show for a choice role on nighttime's Beacon Hill (he played Giorgio Bellonci), and then, a little over a year ago, he signed to play Steve Kaslo on Search for Tomorrow.

Michael has taken his restaurant-singing, which he began during the Divine Light Mission travels, and brought it to his character on Search. Michael writes the songs that he sings as Steve, who, incidentally, is also supposed to be writing his own songs as part of the plot. Many viewers write to Michael to ask where they can buy a record of Steve's songs. They can't - at least they can't as we go to press, but Michael has made a demo tape that has interested several big record companies (one of them even came down to the Search studio to listen to Michael sing as Steve, backed up by other musicians who were to be shown on air.) Chances are that Michael Nouri will have his first album of songs out in a mere matter of months.

"I'd like to use my singing and acting as a way of learning more about myself in relation to other people. But I think I could achieve that doing anything else that I liked. I don't think of myself as an actor actor, as if I were doing something special - I'm just working. I used to sell office equipment over the telephone for the Divine Light Mission in California. That was fine. I was aware. I was happy. If I'm at the studio and not fully aware, not fully conscious, it wouldn't matter that I'm 'acting' and making a certain salary. I'd rather be a happy bricklayer. Work that isn't good is like being in a relationship with someone that isn't really working. I couldn't do it. Integrity is making my decisions based just on what I feel is good for me - not the money or the career. I know that when I feel I've gone about as far as I should go with the soaps, when the work starts becoming repetitious and I begin to lose the exhilaration of complete consciousness in what I'm doing, that I'll be facing the real test. Everything in me tells me that the right thing to do, then, would be to leave - and not worry about the salary and the steady work. Naturally, I hope that by that point something else would be offered to me. But if it isn't...well, that will be the test of my integrity.

"What I"m interested in is pure experience. In order to come to any meaningful experience you have to have a commitment, a goal. If someone is committed to merging with God, that's O.K. Or making millions of dollars. That's O.K. too. But if a guy had as his goal making millions of dollars, but that goal wasn't really what he deeply wanted, then that would be a bad thing. My goals happen not to include becoming a star.

"I am very emotionally oriented - but I balance my emotions with discrimination. In a relationship with a woman I am loyal - I am not fickle. The relationships I've had have each lasted for long periods of time, although I don't know if I'll ever be married. When I see someone I get very involved in the work she does. I want her to talk with me about it, about her interests."

Michael's tense emotional make-up is one of the reasons he meditates so often. "I'm I'm experiencing a lot of tension and pain, I'm constructed in such a way that I would rather not kill the pain through booze or grass or drugs. I meditate. And when I need escape, it is through my music, or just going to a movie."

When Michael is at the Search for Tomorrow studio he is sometimes asked to explain what exactly it is that he does when he meditates. He answers: "Some meditation teachers have you concentrate on something - like a mantra, a special sound that is given to you by the Guru. The method I was taught does not involve a mantra It is a completely internal, self-contained thing. I concentrate on the life-force within me. But, you know, meditation is only one of the many ways in which you can achieve connection with yourself. Other ways could be self-hypnosis, therapy, or even playing the piano. I wouldn't like anyone to think that I believe that meditation is the way."

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Insecure and Shy

Meg Bennett - "I'd like to find a love as deep as Liza's!"

"I find it all just amazing," says Meg Bennett, referring to her last year and a half as Liza Walton Kaslo on Search for Tomorrow. "It's an honor to have so many people from the press want to talk to me. When I first came on the show I never imagined that it would turn out to be like this."

Almost overnight Meg Bennett found herself at the center of Search for Tomorrow's most important storylines, and one of the more important human symbols of the preoccupation with Young Love that most daytime dramas employ these days.

For instance, after Michael Nouri recently gained the attention of not only Search viewers - who have gotten deeply involved with the moving Steve and Liza story - but all daytime viewers, when he became the first young newcomer to be nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award as Best Actor, Michael and Meg were asked to go to Chicago to represent all CBS' soaps in a weekend of hectic network promotion. It was an incredible honor for Meg to suddenly find herself on a round of talk shows and at the center of a large news conference. She and Michael have become to Search what William Gray Espy and Trish Stewart had once been to The Young & The Restless.

Meg had been in New York for five years, after graduating Chicago's Northwestern University, appearing mostly on the stage, before she auditioned for the part of Liza. Teenager Kathy Beller had played the part previously, and now that the writers had decided that it was time for Liza literally to grow up overnight and have a mature love involvement, the part had to be recast. Meg won the part over a number of other beautiful and talented young actresses - including Pat Conwell, who later became Tracey Dallas on The Edge of Night. Obviously Bob Nigro, Search's brilliant casting director, took into account Meg's strikingly photogenic face in making his decision. But he must surely have been swayed, too, by a certain real-life wholesome shyness about Meg, which quickly became part of the character's great appeal.

Talent can be hired on a soap, but no one can predict how important a specific performer will become in future story lines. It's all a matter of touch and go. For Meg's first six months on the show, much of her story was submerged into a larger experiment with love stories involving a group of young actors. Through Liza the writers brought in the character of Jennifer (eventually played by Morgan Fairchild). At the same time, Liza thought she was in love with Jo's ward, Bruce Carson (Joel Higgins). Meg's story was not static, but not hot either. Then, a year ago, Steve Kaslo (Michael Nouri) and his sister Amy Kaslo (Anne Wyndham) - of Polish origin - were introduced, and the writers decided to try out Meg and Michael as a couple. The story of Liza and Steve's living together "in sin" worked so well, that the writers quickly launched the young couple into a year's worth of suffering, in which Steve nearly died from leukemia. The writing of that story, and the fact that the actors clicked so well, and the related subplot of Bruce and Amy, were obviously greatly responsible for Search's upsurge in ratings over the past year. (All My Children, programmed on most stations opposite Search, has a 7.5, which means Children is a full two million viewers behind - according to the latest Nielsen poll).

Meg, around the set, tends to spend most of her time with the new young actors. Morgan Fairchild, Joel Higgins, Anne Wyndham, and, of course, Michael Nouri. "It isn't that I like these actors more," explains Meg, "but most of my scenes are with them, so we tend to form a natural societal group." Meg sees some of them outside the studio as well. She and Anne Wyndham go to the ballet together.

But it is Michael Nouri with whom Meg has most of her scenes, and her personal relationship with him becomes crucial. Says Meg, "Michael and I get along extremely well. He's outgoing and I'm kind of quiet, so we're complements as opposed to mirror images of each other. I'm Libra and he's Sagittarius, so we're natural as friends!"

Meg has gotten to know all of the other actors on the show - besides the ones who play young - but it took a little longer. For instance, meg wanted to get to know Millee Taggart (Meg's on-screen mom, Janet Collins) but at first it was hard because Millee was involved with a different group of actors. "The funny thing is that Millee and I are almost the same age. But because I player younger than I really am and she plays older, I got involved with the so-called 'young' group. Eventually she and I became good friends. I went out to visit her and her family in their country home."

Also, Meg has formed an extremely strong relationship with Mary Stuart. These days, because Mary often has her mind of her music-writing, she doesn't spend as much time with her fellow actors as she had in the past. But Mary is still a good deal like Jo - warm and understanding - and when Mary saw that Meg needed her, Meg was "adopted."

"I think Mary could see how insecure I was about my work, and she began coming over to me a lot just to reassure me. I don't ever feel secure about anything I do, really. I always feel, well, maybe it could be better - maybe I'm just not good enough in that scene I'm in today. When people tell me that my insecurities don't show in my scenes, I'm always surprised and grateful. Having someone as experienced as Mary take an interest in me gives me more confidence."

Why any girl as stunningly beautiful as Meg should feel insecure about "everything," as she puts it, is a mystery. Most of Meg's romantic relationships have been with actors - a matter of convenience, says Meg; but i can also be another sign of insecurity, since, as any actress will admit, a non-actor romance is more of a challenge.

Meg is not now involved, but she's had good relationships - although nothing compared to the intensity of her on-screen romance. Playing the Steve-and-Liza story for more than a year has affected her emotionally - to a degree where she says, "I'd like to find a love as deep as Liza's." Meg would like to marry.

"I was glad when the writings didn't punish Steve and Liza for living out of wedlock at first. I mean, we didn't have a baby that died or something like that. I think the way our story was handled proves that the values of some serials are changing. Some of my friends in New York have lived out of wedlock with men and I didn't judge them. I understood why they did it and I knew it wasn't a bad thing. Of course, not all of Search's stories are that liberal. Amy and Bruce, you know, are paying for having a child out of wedlock, in the sense that they're unhappy. But I was glad that I was able to play out a story with values that I thought were right."

Viewers are very fond of Meg. She receives voluminous mail from young girls who admire her very natural appearance. Meg does not use a great deal of make-up. Her lipstick is flesh-toned. Not many actresses have the face for this kind of with-it natural look. (Lately, Meg has been wearing more conventional make-up on the show because Liza is becoming a model.) Meg answers all of her fan mail. When her fans ask her for beauty tips, instead of going into all the details of what creams and lotions she uses, she prefers to state the essential: "If you're healthy and take care of yourself, you'll look good."

Meg's family lives in Pasadena, California, and they visit her small, neat, and chic duplex apartment on the West Side once a year. Besides a mother who is a psychologist and a father who is an executive for a printing firm, Meg has two brothers, Stewart and Bert, and a sister, Barbara, four years younger than Meg. "I've always been close to my family. One of the advantages of working on Search is that my salary made it possible for me to fly home five times last year. My sister Barbara is really my best friend. In high-school, we double-dated, we shared boyfriends. She's a singer. She used to sing with a band called The Silver Dollar, and she's just finished demo records for single release."

Meg sings too. She had major singing roles in Broadway's Grease, in which she played a blonde bombshell, and Godspell, in which she played one of the clowns. She's taking opera singing lessons right now to extend her range, although she'll probably always sing musical comedy exclusively.

The Bennett family is very proud of Meg's great success. Meg's father is so intent on catching her on Search during his working day, that when he visits clients he makes them sit down and watch Meg on his show. "That's my daughter!" he says, beaming.

Watching Meg on television as Liza is not quite like meeting Meg in person - therefore, the clients of Mr. Bennett are seeing and not seeing his daughter when he sits them down in front of the TV. "Most people," says Meg, "think Liza is more shy than me, although I think that I'm shier than she is." Meg did seem much shier than Liza, at least during the interview for Daytime TV Stars. It was quite a charming quality, especially in one so beautiful. Meg, however, isn't satisfied with the demure personality that Liza gets from the actress, as well as from the writers, who work partly from the actress' personality. "I want Liza to grow and not remain as sweet and naive as she's been. But I'd also like her to stay the positive, optimistic person she is."

That about sums up Meg Bennett's emerging future too. She's charmingly insecure, but only on the surface. Underneath she's positive and ambitious. It really hasn't been just luck that has gotten her this far.

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Thank you Carl,great stuff!

SFT really hit on something with Steve/Liza/Gary/Jennifer/Bruce etc.

It's interesting that the characters of Gary,Liza and Bruce were around for a while before they took off.It was the casting and the storylines that made it click.

And Gary/Liz/Bruce were part of core families so the generational aspect could be played. Older viewers were interested because they were related to Jo,Janet and Stu.

Pity later writers/producers weren't as careful with their young characters.

I wonder what Michael Nouri would think oh his comments today...

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Thanks for reading, I wasn't sure if it was right here, but since Michael and Meg went on to so much else, I thought why not. I'm glad someone read.

I agree with you about the care they seemed to take in figuring out what to do with these characters, and writing for what suited the actors. I haven't seen a lot of SFT but it seems like some of the younger characters they cast by the end of the decade or the NBC run were more generic or rushed.

I wonder if this casting director went on to bigger things -- of the "young" group in this article, Morgan Fairchild, Joel Higgins, Nouri, and Bennett all went on to a lot of work, and Anne Wyndham as well, to a lesser degree.

Kathy Beller, that's the one who later played Kirby on Dynasty, right?

Wasn't Robby Benson also one of the Bruces or am I thinking of someone else?

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Yes you are right about Kathleen Beller and Robbie Benson.

It was foolish for later writers not to draw on history when plotting. I can understand the need to rest characters like Bruce and Gary (particularly if a popular actor chooses to leave) but to ignore them forever is ridiculous.

Patti should have come back earlier (say 1980) and her 2 kids could have been slightly aged, and grown into the next teens.

Gary and Bruce should also have returned,maybe divorced or widowed and mixed it up with new characters to integrate everything.When Kathy came back,why not her stepson Eric?

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I wonder if later writers didn't know the history of the show, or weren't interested. I wonder why there was a need to recast Kathy yet not bring back a lot of other characters.

Sometimes I think people assume that all soaps did to become more youth-oriented was just hire random young people, but the soaps which truly succeeded on this front seemed to try their best to cast charismatic actors who could grow in time and work well together. A lot of soaps seemed to just stop making the effort as they began assuming the audience was stupid. It's also about writing "young" stories older viewers can also care about, instead of trying to alienate them.

I know that some talented younger people were on the show in later years, like Michael Corbett, Lisa Peluso, Jane Krakowski, but they don't seem to have made as much of an impact as this group did.

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I wonder if later writers didn't know the history of the show, or weren't interested. I wonder why there was a need to recast Kathy yet not bring back a lot of other characters.

They were not interested. Beginning in the 70's, a concentrated effort to eradicate the series' history began. Search was the oldest soap opera on television, and I believe TPTB considered its history as an albatross. Chris Schemering was correct in his assertion that in 1982, CBS deemed SFT a "dinosaur". The Corringtons did a marvelous job contemporising the series, but in order to do that, some characters had to be absorbed into new families. I said previously that I did not care for the Jo/Martin union, but the point of that was to make Jo a member of the Sentell family. It was the same thing with Liza. When Liza met Travis, she essentially ceased being a Walton/Bergman. I believe this is the reason that Gary was never brought back. He was a Walton/Bergman. Dan Walton was long dead, Janet had been written out, and Stu was part of the Liza/Travis crowd. Even Stu's son Tom Bergman did not fit in. The writers tried, but Tom really only interacted with Stu, and other than John James, none of the actors worked.

I do not have to tell anyone that the true problem with Search was Jo's lack of a son. Paul Raven mentioned Bruce Carson. I never had a particular fondness for Bruce, and part of that was the shaky "ward" status. It always seemed ridiculous to me that soap matriarchs of the 60's and 70's had no children of their own, so writers would create a ward to come into the home and act as a family member. It was not just Search. Bruce and Van did not have children together on Love of Life and neither did Mike and Nancy Karr on Edge of Night. The writers should not have killed off Jo's infant son in the 50's, and after they did, Jo should have had another male child with Arthur -or better yet, Sam Reynolds.

The decision to keep Patti off the canvas for a decade was regrettable. I rolled my eyes when Jacquie Schultz took over as Patti. Good heavens, the character had endured so much drama at that point, Patti seemed so much older in my mind. In watching all those episodes again, however, I saw the value of a younger Patti who should have returned in the CBS years.

Michael Nouri and Meg Bennett were sublime together. They reminded me of Gene Bua and Toni Bull from Love of Life. There was a similar quality, especially with Michael's music incorporated into the drama. Nouri and Bennett were the perfect actors to play that story. I have met Michael, and I should tell you that he is a terrific fellow. The essence of the article is the real Michael. He has an amazing connection to people. When he speaks to you, you feel as if you are the only person in the world with him. Meg was a good actress for Liza's character at the time, but I do think it was a good thing that she was gone by the time Travis rolled into Henderson. Sherry Mathis was the perfect actress to play a mature Liza. Mathis had such warmth and grace. I am not sure Bennett could have played that as well. There was another actress between them, Hope Busby, who was completely forgettable and part of that disastrous 1977 year.

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Did they write Janet out between the CBS and NBC runs? She was fired, right?

Was Liza there to the end?

It's hard to believe Nancy Pinkerton and Jacqueline Schultz played the same role.

They killed off Jo's son as a stunt, basically. I remember Mary Stuart saying how angry she was over this and how she played the pain of Jo's loss so that the show couldn't get anything out of the stunt, because viewers couldn't bear to see how much Jo was suffering. I guess even back in the 60s this type of thing was becoming common.

When I read about SFT so much seems more contemporary than I would have expected. If CBS had just been more patient and supportive then things might have been very different.

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There was another actress between them, Hope Busby, who was completely forgettable and part of that disastrous 1977 year.

IIRC, she married one of "the Garys," Stephen Burleigh, IRL.

Was Liza there to the end?

Yes, although by then, Louan Gideon was Liza, and she was involved on the show w/ Lloyd Kendall.

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I too thought that Sherry joined after Steve died. How good to see a character remembering a past love and fighting those memories. Nowadays dead spouses and lovers are quickly forgotten or ignored altogether.

In today's soap world Liza might look at a Photo of Steve and say,"I have to move on" and that would be it.

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Yeah, most soaps stopped remembering that if you acknowledge the partner of an existing character you are more likely to have viewers who will accept this person with a new partner. Like Robin on GH. What a comparison to stuff today like Natalie on OLTL forgetting Jared after a month.

Here's another good scene. The setting is a bit cheap but Sherry's performance and the background music and the restrained emotions of the moment still move you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGnv6QEudjA

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^^^Albioni's Adagio is the music playing in that clip.

What I love about both these interviews was how committed and heartfelt both these actors were about their job. And their life. It's like they were trying to bring in the scope of their RL experiences into their performances. Also how romantic and open they sound about emotions and whatnot.

It's funny to think now that Meg Bennett is A. married to Robert Guza and B. a breakdown writer on GH.

And Nouri has impressed me on AMC as well as in his supporting roles in shows like The OC and, especially, Damages.

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