SOAP was a long-running situation comedy that was an unabashed send-up of daytime dramas and their numerous conventions. It was a comedy that used a serial format.
The show starred Katherine Helmond (later of Who's the Boss?) and Cathryn Damon (later of Webster) as two sisters who were the matriarchs of an extended family, who were considered to be completely and utterly crazy.
The series was created by Susan Harris, who would later create the hit series, The Golden Girls; Benson; Empty Nest; and Nurses, and was produced by Paul Junger Witt (whom Susan Harris would marry) and Tony Thomas through their production company, Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions. The series aired on the ABC Television Network from 1977-1981.
The series was slated to take the previous attempt at sending up soap opera conventions, Norman Lear's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, one step further.
When it first premiered, it was criticized by many various groups, both secular and religious, (including two LGBT groups that were worried about the gay characters being played in stereotype) and some stations (mostly in the southern US) either played it late at night or refused to air it at all.
However, when it went into repeats, it was shown and discovered and it was revealed to be very well written and well acted. The show took the various soap opera staples and made them funny without being disrespectful. Because the audience knew the characters and their complicated backstories, they connected with them and that made them even funnier.
The show's announcer was originally slated to be the late Casey Kasem (American Top 40; as well as the voice of Shaggy Rogers of Scooby Doo fame); but after he objected to the content of the show, he was replaced by a then-unknown Rod Roddy, who would later gain fame as the second announcer (after Johnny Olson) of the long-running CBS game show, The Price is Right.
At the beginning recap every week, Roddy would always ask (or used a variation of same), "Confused? You won't be, after you watch this week's episode of......Soap."
Four soap opera veterans played major roles on the series, Robert Mandan (Chester Tate), who had played Sam Reynolds, a beau of Joanne Barron on the show, Search for Tomorrow; Arthur Peterson, Jr. (The Major), who had played Rev. John Ruthledge on the radio version of Guiding Light; Caroline McWilliams (Sally), who had played Janet Mason Norris on Guiding Light in the early 1970s; and Donnelly Rhodes (Dutch Leitner), who had played the role of Katherine Chancellor's husband, Phillip, on the series, The Young and the Restless.
During the first season, creator Susan Harris (who was no stranger to controversy, as she wrote the landmark Maude two-part episode where the title character would have an abortion) would have a bit role as Babette, a prostitute who seemed to know every man in town.
Plot and Premise
Soap was set in the fictional town of Dunn's River, Connecticut and it focused on the lives of wealthy Jessica Tate (Helmond) and her more middle class sister, Mary Campbell (Damon). The sisters' maiden names were Gatling.
The extremely sweet but sheltered (and more than a bit daffy) Jessica (who, as the announcer stated, lived in the neighborhood known as "Rich") was married to wealthy Wall Street stockbroker, Chester Tate, a notoriously pompous and somewhat criminal philanderer; two of his numerous affairs were with his demanding secretary Claire and another woman named Pigeon. Chester was also a very haughty individual and didn't like a lot of people.
Chester and Jessica had three children, one of which was the diffident and social climbing Eunice (Jennifer Salt). Eunice was a journalist who passed herself off as an ice queen, but she was in reality having an affair with a Congressman named Walter McCallum (Edward Winter). That ended when his wife, Marilyn (Judith-Marie Bergan) manipulated him into ending it.
Her sister, Corinne (Diana Canova, later of Throb) was rather promiscuous, having dated many men, when she was introduced. She was later revealed to had been adopted by Jessica and Chester.
Corinne's real parents were Randolph Gatling (Bernard Fox), Jessica and Mary's eccentric brother (who had no liking for Dunns River or his family); and the family's former Swedish housekeeper, Ingrid Svenson (Inga Swenson) who hated the entire family and wanted nothing more than to see them destroyed. She always punctuated her diatribes with a nasty sounding "HA!"
Ingrid nearly drove a wedge between Corinne and Jessica, but Corinne wisely saw Ingrid for the hateful woman she really was and left her, moving back to the Tate residence and embracing Jessica as her mother.
Rounding out the Tate family was Billy (Jimmy Baio, the cousin of Scott Baio), the youngest and the only son of Chester and Jessica.
Billy was often left out of serious family discussions due to his age, and this continually irritated him, as he usually had to find out about what was going on in his family second-hand.
To his mind, if he had been in his fifties, they would have still thought him as too young! Their servant, Benson, clearly favored Billy, as according to him, he was "the only one in the family worth a damn."
Although Chester did the lion's share of the philandering, neither he nor Jessica could really be considered models of fidelity, as Jessica had indulged in several affairs herself, mainly as revenge, in order to get back at Chester.
Also living with the Tates was Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume), their insolent black cook/butler, who despised and had nothing but contempt for Chester; about Chester's philandering, he would state, "The man jumps on anything that breeds!" Chester, who had little liking for Benson, would often put him in his place by yelling at him, "Shut up, Benson!".
Although he clearly hated Chester, Benson, on the other hand, had a compassionate heart and a very obvious soft spot for Jessica, who considered him her best friend. He also had a best friendship with Corinne and clearly favored and protected Billy, while he pointedly ignored Eunice, although that changed, in the second season (This was due to Benson's knowing that Eunice was sleeping with Congressman McCallum).
Benson gets his own spin-off!
Benson, due to his cutting remarks and put-downs (mainly towards his arch-enemy Chester), became such a popular character that he was made the lead role on the spin-off television series, Benson.
Benson did not use the serial format, but was more of a straightforward situation comedy, unlike its parent show. Benson premiered in 1979 and outlasted Soap by five years. The show ran until 1986.
After leaving the Tate family's employ, he began working as the head of household affairs, then later he became state Budget Director and even later on, as lieutenant governor of an unnamed state, which was run by Jessica and Mary's widowed cousin, Eugene Gatling (the late James Noble).
Gatling was a bit goofy, but as a Governor, he was very capable.
Two of Guillaume's fellow Soap alumna, Inga Swenson and Caroline McWilliams, were also cast in the new series, due to their strong performances (as Ingrid and Sally) on Soap.
Swenson played Gretchen Kraus, the cook/head housekeeper at the Governor's Mansion, and Benson's arch-foil. Kraus, having been a part of the Governor's Mansion staff for many years, knew where all the bodies were buried. She and Benson were always at one another's throats over something or other (when she was off-stage, he would slip in a nasty remark; and she would yell out from off-stage, "I HEAR YOU!!!!!") .
As time grew, she and Benson would put aside their animosity and they became close friends and trusted allies (in fact, Kraus would become his valuable chief aide, closest confidante, and his most ardent supporter when he ran for Governor).
McWilliams would play the Governor's secretary, Marcy Hill, until the second season, when she got married (her husband was played by a pre-Cheers Ted Danson).
The show also featured, over the seven season run, Rene Auberjonois and Lewis J. Stadlen as the Governor's aides, Clayton Endicott and John Taylor, respectively (both of whom clashed with Benson often; and as such he would put them down frequently); Ethan Phillips as the press secretary, Pete Downey, who got along well with Benson; Didi Conn as secretary Denise Stevens, who worked for Benson when he was Budget director (she and Pete would marry, have a baby and she would get a job at NASA); Billie Bird as the later head housekeeper, Mrs. Rose Cassidy; and Missy Gold as Katie Gatling, the governor's daughter, of whom Benson got along with (Kraus would always call her Liebchen). (The show also featured Jerry Seinfeld, early in his career, as a messenger, but didn't last long.)
It was during the show's run that Benson's last name was finally revealed. His name was Benson DuBois.
Saunders takes over
After Benson left during the third season, Jessica (by this time, she had thrown Chester out of the house) had to hire a new cook/butler called Saunders (Roscoe Lee Browne). Saunders was more polished and articulate than Benson was, but was just as insolent and rude as his predecessor, especially towards Chester. Yet, like Benson, he had quite the soft spot for Jessica.
Benson would make a couple of returns to Soap, mainly to sit with Jessica when it was thought that she would die of a rare illness.
Jessica finds out about Chester and his infidelity!
During the series' first season, the naïve Jessica would constantly deny that Chester was cheating on her, although everyone in her family, including Benson, tried to tell her that he wasn't to be trusted. That all changed one day while at lunch with Mary, she caught Chester in a romantic clinch with his secretary, Claire (Kathryn Reynolds).
Troublemaking Claire had been both Chester's secretary for 12 years and his mistress for nearly as long, and she had constantly demanded that he finally dump Jessica and marry her or else he would be arrested for stock fraud, due to his mishandling of a trust fund he was working on.
To achieve her aims, she resorted to blackmailing him out of a new car, and a new condominium, in order to get her way. Besides Claire, he was also cheating with a woman called Pigeon. When the two women confronted one another, they BOTH slapped Chester in the face, one right after another, with Claire winning!
Shocked at the sight, Jessica breaks down crying in her sister's arms, realizing that everyone had been right about him all along. That all the while Jessica had thought he was faithful, Chester was cheating on her brazenly. The next evening, Jessica confronted Chester on his infidelity and then walked out of the house, but she would come back the next morning, after being at an all-night x-rated movie theater.
Chester, having tired of Claire's foolishness; not to mention her blackmailing and wanting to support Jessica through her court issues (she was charged with murder), finally fired the blackmailing secretary, who made a terrible scene in the restaurant (to the point that she would scream and pull the tablecloth off the table and smash the meal), and she called the Securities and Exchange Commission and exposed Chester's Stock Market fraud! Chester was arrested soon after Jessica was.
Jessica and Chester would separate in the third season and would inevitably divorce in the final season. In the third season, Chester continued his philandering, by bedding another of his secretaries and having gone to a hotel and Jessica caught him red handed in the act! She would finally get brave and throw him out of the house!
When he made a pass at the daughter of a minister, Jessica finally had had enough of him and his lies. She then told Chester exactly what she thought of him and his antics, telling him he had no soul and that he could not be hurt. She then forcefully threw Chester out of the house for good. He would move to the pool house where Jessica charged him room and board by cleaning the pool! A dismal come down for the former high-and-mighty Chester Tate!
Jessica would remain single to the end of the series and she never remarried, although she would date others; but Chester would later marry his daughter, Eunice's ex-friend, Annie Selig (played by Nancy Doland, the real life wife of Martin Short).
On the other side of the social spectrum, Jessica's sister, Mary was on her second marriage to overly macho, yet extremely nervous building foreman, Burt Campbell (Richard Mulligan later of Empty Nest).
She was raising her two sons from her first marriage to mobster Johnny Dallas, Danny Dallas (Ted Wass, later of Blossom) and Jodie Dallas (a then unknown Billy Crystal).
Burt initially did not like his stepsons, having fought with both of them, on several occasions, especially in the earlier episodes. He also did not get along with his brother in-law, Chester, because of their differing economic stations, and the two of them would fight continually.
Even during the show's opening titles, Burt and Chester would inevitably get into a fist fight, with everyone in the families trying to separate the two combatants!
Burt would also have an affair with a woman named Sally (the aforementioned Caroline McWilliams) and, in one of the more bizarre stories of the entire series (in fact, in all of Soap Opera), was kidnapped by aliens and a replacement (also played by Mulligan) was sent to Earth. The alien would be persuaded to return to his home planet and the real Burt would come back to earth.
Jodie and his trials
Jodie, Mary's younger son by Johnny Dallas, was famous as he was one of the first openly gay characters on television in the 1970s who wasn't played in a stereotype. Burt and Jodie clashed over the latter's being gay, he never felt comfortable with it.
Jodie was first dating a football player, Dennis Phillips (Bob Seagren), whom he was willing to have a sex-change operation for. Dennis, however, throws him over for a pseudo-marriage to a woman, which nearly leads Jodie to commit suicide.
Thanks to a hospital roommate, Barney Gerber (Harold Gould), he recovers and cancels the surgery and drops any idea of changing his sex. Much later on, he fathers a baby with attorney Carol David (Rebecca Balding).
The selfish and conniving Carol fell in love with Jodie during his aunt's murder trial, and plotted to have him bed her, despite his being gay.
She succeeded and she was pregnant. Carol and Jodie had planned to marry, but she selfishly left him at the altar before the marriage. After his jilting, he met a woman named Alice (Randee Heller), who was a lesbian, and they became good friends. Carol would later sue him for custody of the baby.
He eventually fought for (with the aide of E. Ronald Mallu, Carol's former employer) and won custody of the baby named Wendy, despite the vindictive Carol and her daffy mother, Mrs. Lurleen David, (Peggy Pope) lying about him.
Mrs. David, after realizing what a wicked woman her daughter really was, eventually rescinded her perjured testimony, which set the stage for Jodie to win custody, and earned Carol a harsh scolding by the presiding judge, Betty Small (Rae Allen), who was disgusted with Carol's conniving and scheming.
Carol hired F. Peter Haversham, Mallu's arch-rival, to represent her at the custody hearing.
Thoroughly livid after losing her case, Carol wasn't through with making Jodie pay for making a fool of her! She would then spitefully kidnap the baby, with the aid of her new boyfriend, a rodeo cowboy (played by a pre-Dallas and Knots Landing Ted Shackelford) and Jodie enlisted the help of Private Investigator, Maggie Chandler (Barbara Rhodes) to help locate her.
With the aid of several others in the families, they succeeded in finding the child and Jodie proposed to Maggie. Yet, his bad luck continued! After a failed hypnotherapy session, with a scheming psychiatrist Dr. Rudolph (George Wyner) in order to see if his relationship with Maggie was real, Jodie thought he was an 90 year old man named Julius Kassendorf.
Danny and his woes
Danny was a mobster, like Johnny Dallas was, and had to contend with the Godfather (Richard Libertini), who wanted him to kill Burt because he was the one who had (supposedly) killed Johnny Dallas.
It was later revealed that Johnny Dallas had been killed in self-defense, because he was aiming to kill Burt, and Burt accidentally pushed him off a high-rise building under construction. Danny eventually forgave him, as did Mary. He would later marry a mobster's daughter, Elaine Lefkowitz (Dinah Manoff).
At first Danny and the Campbells were totally annoyed by Elaine and her crass ways (one of her arguments with Mary earned her a pie in the face!), but in time, Danny grew to really love her. Sadly, at that same time, she was eventually killed by kidnappers, which angered Danny and he planned revenge.
Danny would later become a policeman, and would later date a woman named Millie (Candace Azzara), a former girlfriend of one of Elaine's kidnappers; then when she left after being exposed and not liking his crazy family,
The hapless Danny would start dating an African American woman named Polly Dawson (Lynne Moody, later of Knots Landing); which met with disfavor from her overprotective brother, Eddie (Kene Holliday) and, then later, a former prostitute named Gwen (Jesse Wells). He would also later discover that his father was not Johnny Dallas, as had long been thought to be believed.
Elaine's widowed father, mob boss Charles Lefkowitz, who had disowned her after she married and showed that he really did not love her by refusing to pay her ransom leading to her death (which he no doubt celebrated), was played by actor Sorrell Booke, who would later become better known as Boss Hogg on the long-running adventure comedy, The Dukes of Hazzard.
It was later revealed in the final season that Danny was really the son of Chester Tate (when he had a brief affair with Mary, before he married Jessica). This information came to light after Danny was shot and had to have a kidney transplant. Upon finding out about Chester having an affair with Mary, Jessica would not speak with her sister for a time.
It was revealed that Jessica had married Chester to satisfy blackmail conditions that the sisters' mother had over Chester's father. Had Jessica not married Chester, the elder Mr. Tate would have been jailed for embezzlement, as the elder Mr. Tate had stolen a fortune from Mrs. Gatling!. Like Father, Like Son!
Jessica would later forgive her sister, as Mary would've had no idea of what happened between their mother and Mr. Tate the elder; but on the other hand, she never forgave Chester for this final deceit!
She had divorced him, prior to this, but after that, she never spoke to him again and threw him out of the house for good!
Mary gave birth to her third son, Scott Campbell, her first with Burt, but it was revealed that the pregnancy was from the Alien Burt, and when Scott began to manifest the powers that he gained from his father, Mary slowly became an alcoholic.
Burt also had two sons from his first marriage (his first wife left him, fifteen years prior to the series beginning, moving herself and her children to Hawaii). He had a son named Peter (Robert Urich), a local tennis pro (after he was killed off, Urich would later headline the long-running detective series, Vega$, playing Dan Tanna) and Chuck (Jay Johnson) who also had a ventriloquist's dummy named Bob who was quite outspoken, to the point of being belligerent and obnoxious.
Chuck was meek and polite, but Bob was the outlet for Chuck's belligerence. Bob's nasty comments and his general obnoxiousness have caused nearly everyone in both families to want to destroy it, making some caustic remarks referring to him being made into sawdust, Lincoln Logs, made into a pepper mill, among other threats.
Who killed Peter?!
Peter was notorious for his continual womanizing at the Tennis Club he worked at, and had several relationships with various women from Dunn's River, including Jessica and Corrine Tate, which nearly drove a wedge between mother and daughter. He also had an affair with a Mrs. Sheila Fine (Nita Talbot), whose testimony in court nearly sent Jessica to prison!
However, the randy tennis pro would only last the first season, as he was murdered in his shower.
Everyone in both families were suspected in the murder, as was gleefully stated by the idiotic Chief of Police of Dunn's River (or "Piece of Cholief") Tinkler (Gordon Jump, later of WKRP in Cincinnati).
Jump would be reunited with Howard Hesseman, who played Prosecutor Franklin (as well as his identical twin brother, who was a defense attorney), on WKRP, where they would play Arthur Carlson and Dr. Johnny Fever, respectively.
At first, it was thought that Corrine was the murderer (as she had been living with him, and had threatened to kill him for his infidelity), and she was arrested and jailed.
However, it was Jessica (she had also threatened Peter with death) who was arrested. She was also tried, convicted and sentenced for the murder, despite the able help of famed and highly powerful attorney E. Ronald Mallu (Eugene Roche, who would later join Cathryn Damon on Webster as her on-screen husband), who fell in love with her.
However, it was later revealed that Chester had killed him and had set her up to take the fall for his crimes, which infuriated Jessica (not to mention that Eunice, Billy and Corrine came down to the kitchen and cooked food, to Benson's dismay).
For Jessica, the charges were dropped and the conviction was overturned. Chester, meanwhile, was sent to prison for this (his stock fraud charges were forgotten, but was presumed that would be considered in his sentencing). She would deal with a lot of other things, including near death and being in a coma. Benson arrived and revealed that Jessica was and always would be his best friend.
His cellmate, Dutch Leitner (Rhodes), would eventually manipulate Chester to escape prison, and then he would begin to date, and eventually marry Chester's daughter, Eunice. He would later have a fling with Corrine, but he would later return to Eunice, whom he married soon after.
Corrine, on the other hand, would forget Peter and she married the man she was really in love with, former priest Tim Flotsky (Sal Viscuso). This angered his mother, Flo Flotsky (Doris Roberts, later of Everybody Loves Raymond) so much, that she died after cursing them both and making a fool of herself at the wedding. Flo died on their wedding night.
They eventually had a child named Timmy, who was demon possessed, perhaps due to Flo's curse. After exorcising the baby, who had some able help from Jessica, Tim couldn't forget his life as a priest and left Corrine, annulled the marriage; and then went back to the Church, devastating her.
After her affair with Dutch (which led him to return to Eunice whom he would eventually marry), Corrine moved to California to raise Timmy away from the families and the insanity of Dunn's River.
Not to be outdone, Billy had his own share of issues. He had been kidnapped and brainwashed by a group called the Sunnies (a take off on the Unification Church), having to be rescued by his friend, Benson; then later becoming a member of a communist country's military; and having dated one of his former teachers, Leslie Walker (Marla Pennington, later of Small Wonder), who after being rejected by him, went crazy and tried (but hilariously failed) to kill Billy and/or members of his family. One of her attempts wounded Saunders.
Living with Jessica was her and Mary's widowed father, Major Gatling (Peterson), The Major, as he was commonly called, was a senile old man, suffering from dementia, who thought he was still fighting World War II! He thought of everyone in his family as being soldiers or being back in the World War II era.
Much of the series' stories dealt with all the typical soap staples. Infidelity, romance, unwanted pregnancies, kidnapping, murder, and also talked frankly about homosexuality and gender reassignment surgery. The topics were very daring for the time (which explained a lot of the animus towards the show) but the series would become so popular, that it lasted for four seasons, and then had a healthy run in Syndication.
The series finale featured cliffhangers all across the board. Chester caught Danny and Annie in bed (so angry was he at them he was ready to kill them both!); Burt was to be ambushed by some political enemies, which placed his life in danger; and Jessica faced a firing squad in Malaguay, the former home of her lover, El Puerco.
The closest thing to any of the scenarios being resolved was in the series, Benson, when Benson was visited by Jessica's ghost, implying that she had been in a coma and had been declared legally dead by the rest of the family.
In later years, the series had achieved classic cult status for its well-written stories and the excellent cast. The topics that were considered so daring back in the 1970's would be considered commonplace today.
Because the audience knew about the characters' complicated histories and also because of the show's well timed use of the serial format, the situations and dialogue were made sharper and became even funnier.
After the series ended
The entire cast, principal as well as secondary, had their careers expanded as a result of this series and they went on to even greater success after Soap ended. The most notable alumna of the cast was Billy Crystal (Jodie), who would later became a major movie star, primarily in comedies and would also help fund (along with fellow comedians, Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg) Comic Relief.
After Soap ended, Dinah Manoff (Elaine) would be later reunited with Richard Mulligan (Burt) on the comedy series Empty Nest (which was spun off from the successful series, The Golden Girls, both were also Susan Harris creations).
Mulligan would play Dr. Harry Weston, a witty and wisecracking widowed pediatrician in Miami, who was friends with (and a nearby neighbor of) the Golden Girls. The eligible Harry was always a target of the constantly man-hungry Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan).
Manoff would play Harry's older daughter, Carol Weston, a neurotic divorcee, who moved in with her father, after her marriage foundered. She would also have to contend with her two sisters, who would move into their family home at various times during the series run. First there was sensible police officer, Barbara (Kristy McNichol, of Family fame); and then when Barbara went undercover, along would come her youngest sister, college student Emily (Lisa Rieffel).
Other actors on the show were David Leisure (best known as the sleazy and always lying car salesman, Joe Isuzu in the Isuzu car commercials) who played the troublesome cruise worker Charley Dietz (who would continuously argue with Carol, whom he couldn't stand) and Park Overall, who played Harry's faithful nurse, Laverne Todd.
Also starring in the series final season was Marsha Warfield (of Night Court fame) as Harry and Laverne's new boss, Dr. Maxine Douglas, whom they worked for when they were transferred to a neighborhood clinic; and Estelle Getty, reprising her Golden Girls role of Sophia Petrillo, as she moved back to Shady Pines.
Just as Empty Nest was spun-off from The Golden Girls, so too would it spin-off its own show, called Nurses, which took place at the same hospital that Harry Weston worked at.
This series starred during its run: Stephanie Hodge, Arnetia Walker; Ada Maris; Markus Flanagan; Florence Stanley; Mary Jo Keenen; Kip Gilman, Carlos Lacamara; Jeff Altman, David Rasche and Loni Anderson. The show focused on the interactions between the doctors, nurses and administrators (in the case of Loni Anderson) at the hospital.
Those no longer with us
As of 2019, Cathryn Damon (Mary Campbell); Sorrell Booke (Charles Lefkowitz); John Byner (Detective George Donohue); Richard Libertini (The Godfather); Bernard Fox (Randolph Gatling); Robert Guillaume (Benson DuBois); Katherine Helmond (Jessica Tate); Richard Mulligan (Burt Campbell); Arthur Peterson (Major "the Major" Gatling); Eugene Roche (E. Ronald Mallu); Roscoe Lee Brown (Saunders); Robert Mandan (Chester Tate); Robert Urich (Peter Campbell, "The Tennis Pro"); Donnelly Rhodes (Dutch Leitner); Gordon Jump ("Piece of Cholief" Tinkler); Harold Gould (Barney Gerber); Nancy Doland (Annie Selig Tate); Edward Winter (Congressman Walter McCallum); Doris Roberts (Flo Flotsky); Charles Lane (Judge Anthony Petrillo); Jack Gilford (Saul) and Caroline McWilliams (Sally) are all deceased.
- RAE ALLEN -- Judge Betty Small, the presiding judge at Jodie Dallas' custody hearing for his daughter, Wendy; long-time rival of lawyer E. Ronald Mallu.
- CANDACE AZZARA -- Millie, a former gun moll who was interested in Danny. Left him after being exposed to his crazy family.
- JIMMY BAIO -- Billy Tate, Chester and Jessica's son, who was always kept out of conversations because of his age! Was also easily led by people.
- REBECCA BALDING -- Carol David, conniving attorney who was the mother of Jodie's daughter, Wendy. Kidnapped Wendy after losing the custody hearing.
- JUDITH-MARIE BERGAN -- Marilyn McCallum, the wife of the congressman who was having an affair with Eunice. Forced the end of the affair by means of blackmailing.
- SORRELL BOOKE -- Charles Lefkowitz, a mob boss who cut off his daughter after she married Danny Dallas. Didn't even care enough about her to pay her ransom when she was kidnapped, and probably celebrated her death.
- ROSCOE LEE BROWNE -- Saunders, Benson's replacement as the Tate's servant. More polished and formal than Benson, but just as rude and insolent as him. Also, like Benson, he adored Jessica and loathed Chester.
- JOHN BYNER -- Detective George Donohue; Jessica's second paramour, he later married another woman.
- DIANA CANOVA -- Corinne Tate Flotsky; Chester and Jessica's adopted daughter. Her real parents were Randolph Gatling and Ingrid Svenson. Married Father Tim Flotsky, making an enemy of his mother; mother of Timmy.
- BILLY CRYSTAL -- Jodie Dallas; son of Mary, a gay man who has a daughter named Wendy.
- CATHRYN DAMON -- Mary Gatling Dallas Campbell; Jessica's sister, mother of Danny and Jodie Dallas and Scott Campbell; wife of Burt; stepmother of Chuck and the late Peter. The more sane of the two sisters; later became an alcoholic.
- WILLIAM DANIELS -- Heinrich Himmel, a detective that Ingrid hired to harass the Tate and Campbell families. He got humiliated when Benson dumped his derriere into the Strawberry Shortcake!
- NANCY DOLMAN -- Annie Selig Tate; Chester's second wife, hated by her ex-friend, Eunice. Had an affair with Danny which put them on the hate list of Chester!
- MICHAEL DURRELL -- F. Peter Haversham; scheming lawyer of Carol during the custody hearing. Defeated by Mallu at the custody hearing.
- BERNARD FOX -- Randolph Gatling; Jessica and Mary's eccentric brother. Real father of Corinne, who remained in Quito, Ecuador and wanted nothing to do with Dunn's River.
- JACK GILFORD -- Saul; a friend of Burt's while on the spaceship.
- HAROLD GOULD -- Barney Gerber; Jodie's hospital roommate when he went in for a sex-change operation. Barney became Jodie's supportive friend after helping him through a suicide attempt.
- ROBERT GUILLAUME -- Benson (last name later revealed to be DuBois), the Tate's original cook-butler. Loved Jessica, Corinne and Billy, but despised Chester and was indifferent to Eunice, although he later unbent around her.
- SUSAN HARRIS -- Babette the Prostitute. A street-walker who knew almost the entire male population of Dunn's River.
- RANDEE HELLER -- Alice, Jodie's lesbian friend and former roommate. She moved out when he gained custody of Wendy.
- KATHERINE HELMOND -- Jessica Gatling Tate, the wealthy sister of Mary, married to the notoriously unfaithful (and quite criminal) Chester; Mother of Eunice, Corinne and Billy. Sweet and lovable but incredibly daffy, due to her being quite sheltered.
- HOWARD HESSEMAN -- Mr. Franklin; the prosecutor at Jessica's murder trial, (Hesseman also played his identical twin brother, a defense attorney.)
- JOHN HILLERMAN -- Episcopal Minister, whose daughter Chester cheated on Jessica with!
- KENE HOLLIDAY -- Eddie Coleman. Polly's brother, who despised Danny.
- JAY JOHNSON -- Chuck and Bob Campbell, Burt's son from a previous marriage, has a dummy (Bob) who aggravates everyone and has been threatened with various means of destruction.
- GORDON JUMP -- "Piece of Cholief" (Chief of Police) Tinkler, the idiotic chief lawman of Dunn's River; also served as bailiff at Jessica's murder trial. Had an annoying habit of showing up at the Tates at dinnertime!
- CHARLES LANE -- Judge Anthony Petrillo, the judge at Jessica's murder trial. His impartiality (of which he had none, thanks to a grudge he held against Chester) was seriously questioned when he slept with the families' hated enemy, Ingrid Svenson.
- RICHARD LIBERTINI -- The Godfather, Danny's connection with the mob.
- ROBERT MANDAN -- Chester Tate, the pompous, troublemaking and philandering husband of Jessica. In the words of everyone, he "jumped on anything that breeds". He killed Peter Campbell and went to prison for it. His infidelity finally caused Jessica to throw him out of her life.
- DINAH MANOFF -- Elaine Lefkowitz Dallas, Danny's wife. At first an annoying prima donna, but later became quite nice and then was killed.
- CAROLINE McWILLIAMS -- Sally, a secretary for Burt and Danny. She was blackmailed by Ingrid.
- LYNNE MOODY -- Polly Coleman Dawson, a widow whom Danny falls for and almost marries.
- RICHARD MULLIGAN -- Burt Campbell, macho but very nervous building contractor, married to Mary. Had been kidnapped by aliens in one of the show's most bizarre storylines. His doppelganger, Alien Burt, fathered his son, Scott.
- MARLA PENNINGTON -- Leslie Walker, Billy's unhinged former school teacher whom he had an affair with. Known for her hilarious failures at trying to kill Billy.
- ARTHUR PETERSON -- Major Gatling "The Major", a dementia-ridden man who still thinks he is in WWII!
- PEGGY POPE -- Lurleen David, Carol's mother who lies for her daughter at her granddaughter's custody hearing, but rescinds that testimony after realizing just how troublemaking her daughter really was.
- UDANA POWER -- Nurse Nancy Darwin, the overly sexed nurse when Jodie was in the hospital. Gained a crush on him.
- KATHRYN REYNOLDS -- Claire, Chester's high-maintenance and blackmailing secretary. After getting dumped by the hated Chester, she calls the SEC and reports him!
- EUGENE ROCHE -- E. Ronald Mallu, a pompous lawyer who handled legal affairs for both Jessica and Jodie.
- BARBARA RHODES -- Maggie Chandler, a private investigator who helps Jodie find his daughter, Wendy, and falls in love with him.
- DONNELLY RHODES -- Dutch Leitner, former murderer who falls for Eunice (who cheats on him), and has an affair with Corinne, before returning to and marrying Eunice.
- DORIS ROBERTS -- Flo Flotsky, Father Tim Flotsky's domineering and out of her mind mother. Hates Corinne on sight, tries to kill her and then curses her and Tim. She died on their wedding night, after making a fool of herself at the wedding!
- JENNIFER SALT -- Eunice Tate Leitner, daughter of Jessica and Chester. An ice-queen journalist who had once had an affair with a married Congressman. Married to Dutch, but, like her father, cheated on him.
- BOB SEAGREN -- Dennis Phillips, the football quarterback who was dating Jodie.
- GREGORY SIERRA -- Carlos "El Puerco" Valdez, the revolutionary who falls for Jessica.
- INGA SWENSON -- Ingrid Svenson, the hated former housekeeper for the Gatlings who is Corinne's real mother. Slept with Judge Petrillo, just to stick it to the Tates and Campbells. Always punctuated her speeches with a loud "HA!"
- NITA TALBOT -- Mrs. Sheila Fein, another woman who was sleeping with Peter Campbell, whose testimony nearly sent Jessica to prison.
- ROBERT URICH -- Peter Campbell "The Tennis Pro", a randy tennis player who was as promiscuous as Corinne Tate was. Slept with both Corinne, Mrs. Fein and Jessica as well as most of the FEMALE population of Dunn's River (except Mary Campbell, his stepmother). Killed by Chester Tate.
- SAL VISCUSO -- Father Timothy Flotsky, married Corinne Tate, and had a son by her, named Timmy, who was possessed due to his mother's curse. After exorcising him, with Jessica's help, he annulled the marriage and went back to the Priesthood.
- TED WASS -- Danny Dallas, a former mob member, who had many jobs and was always unlucky in love.
- JESSE WELLS -- Gwen, a former prostitute who also dated Danny.
- EDWARD WINTER -- Congressman Walter McCallum, a married congressman who was having an affair with Eunice until his malicious wife blackmailed him into breaking off the affair.