Longtime soap opera fans are mourning the loss of Abby Dalton, who died last week at the age of 88 after a long illness. The actress starred as Falcon Crest character Julia Cumson in the early 80s.
Dalton was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1932, and started her career as a teen magazine cover model. Thanks to her striking looks and perky presence, she quickly went on to find roles in television series, thus launching her acting career. James Garner and Clint Eastwood fought over her character in an episode of Maverick; she played the love interest of a gunfighter on Have Gun Will Travel in 1958; she appeared as Eloise Barton in the Western series Jefferson Drum; and in 1959, she was cast as Elizabeth Bingham for an episode of Sugarfoot. Her lucky break came in 1959, when she was cast in Jackie Cooper's Hennesey series. Her role in the military comedy-drama earned her an Emmy nomination in 1961 in the Supporting Actress category.
In 1981, Dalton landed her best-known role: Julia Cumson on Falcon Crest, a primetime soap about the family politics behind a successful vineyard. Julia was the daughter of Angela Channing (Jane Wyman), with whom she frequently quarreled, and the mother of Lance Cumson (Lorenzo Lamas). For the show's first two seasons, Julia was portrayed as a troubled but decent woman. However, in the second-season finale, the character was revealed to be a murderess. Much of the third season focused on Julia dealing with life both in prison and a mental institution, and toward the end of the season, she escaped from the mental institution to try to kill her mother. Julia was believed to have been killed in the second to last episode, but soon into the fourth season, she was revealed to be alive. She returned sporadically during the fifth and sixth seasons, but did not reappear after 1986.
Dalton dipped her toe into the soap opera genre one more time in 1995, when she made a brief appearance on The Young and the Restless as Lydia Callahan Summers -- the mother of popular character Phyllis Summers (Michelle Stafford). As fans may recall, Phyllis had had no contact with her mother and father since leaving home in her late teens, and Lydia and George's (Duke Stroud) sudden visit to Genoa City wasn't a happy one. Phyllis realized that she was still a major disappointment to her family and that they still wanted her to be something other than herself, so she got them to leave town without anyone knowing of their existence.
In addition to her successful television career, Dalton starred in a variety of films, including Roger Corman's "cheap-jack cult" films Rock All Night, Teenage Doll, Stakeout on Dope Street very early on in her career; the Gary Cooper film The Plainsman; and 1989's Rollerblade Warrior: Taken by Force. She was also a game-show staple, appearing on Hollywood Squares for several years in the late 60s, and frequently appeared on sketch comedy series like The Joey Bishop Show and The Jonathan Winters Show.
Dalton's most recent project came not in film or TV, but as a voice in the recent book "Deconstructing the Rat Pack: Joey, the Mob, and the Summit" by Richard Lertzman. It follows the life of Joey Bishop, with whom Dalton worked on The Joey Bishop Show. She recounts her time playing his wife on the series and claims that though he was known as a selfish man, he stood up for her when another actor on the set subjected her to covert, unrelenting verbal abuse -- and saw to it that the actor was fired.
Dalton is survived by her ex-husband, Jack D. Smith, and their children Matthew, Kathleen, and John, as well as her grandchildren and great-grandson.
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