INTERVIEW: Legendary bad girl of soaps Sharon Gabet reminisces about The Edge of Night, Another World, and One Life to Live

Posted Thursday, February 25, 2021 1:32:59 PM

She pretty much laid the foundation for female soap villains as The Edge of Night's Raven Alexander, and now Sharon Gabet (ex-Melinda Cramer, One Life to Live; ex-Brittany Peterson, Another World) is showing her finesse as a writer with an updated version of her fascinating autobiography, From the Raven to the Dove.

It's been several decades since Sharon Gabet starred as the masterfully manipulative, materialistic, and selfish sexpot Raven Alexander on The Edge of Night, but her work on the NBC soap opera is still regarded as some of the most devilishly delicious in daytime villainess history.

For those who might not know, Raven's misdeeds included marrying several men; cheating on said husbands; giving birth to a child from an affair that had caused her first husband to die in a car crash; giving her baby away to a childless heroine; and -- arguably the worst deed ever -- demanding the child back when she realized that she could get a share of his inheritance!

While Raven certainly spun circles around everyone in the fictional town of Monticello, Gabet admits that she was quite the opposite of her evil Edge alter ego, being a young, innocent Indiana farmgirl who was new to New York City when she landed the job in the late 70s. A self-described "nice girl," Gabet had become a registered nurse and had dreams of settling down with a high school sweetheart before life took her in a completely different direction.

The actress' autobiographical novel, From the Raven to the Dove, gives a delightfully entertaining account of her adventures as a soap opera star in the 70s and 80s, but she's back with even more fascinating stories in the recently updated version of the book, now available from Amazon.

In a new interview with Soap Central, Gabet opens up about why she decided to update the book and what fans can look forward to in the new version -- which includes 170 photos and a lengthy section about her relationship with the late Larkin Malloy, who played Raven's true love, Schuyler Whitney, but is also known for his roles as All My Children's Travis Montgomery, Guiding Light's Kyle Sampson, and As the World Turns' Dr. Weston.

In the chat below, Gabet also reveals what it was like for her to go from small town sweetie to big time baddie, how her time on Edge compared to her time as Another World's Brittany Peterson and One Life to Live's Melinda Cramer, and whether or not those rumors about the 1980s soap world being filled with rivalries, backstabbing, cattiness, and divas are true or not. (Hint: The rumors are true! So true.)

Soap Central: I am so honored to be speaking with one of the legendary bad girls of soaps. It's such a pleasure, so thank you for doing this!

Sharon Gabet: Absolutely, it's my pleasure.

Soap Central: Is that a title that you wear pretty comfortably, the bad girl of soaps? Or is it still unbelievable to you that the role of Raven still endures after all this time?

Gabet: I do wear it proudly because... Raven was the best character that I ever played. And yes, that was my job, to make her the most evil, mean, selfish woman -- and you could add on 20 titles to that! [Laughs] She was the girl they love to hate, and that was my job. I was very shy when I first hit New York, having come from a small farm town in Indiana, and Raven gave me confidence. I just wore her shoes, and she was so courageous. I mean, she was undaunted by anything! And I gave Raven heart. So, she took my heart, my soul, and that sort of, eventually, over the seven years I played her, mellowed her edges. So, she was a good combo.

Soap Central: Was it clear to you from the very beginning that Raven was such a selfish and materialistic character?

Gabet: Yes, absolutely! When you get a call for an audition, you get a character description that's usually just a sentence, and hers was something like, "selfish, manipulative, and seductive." That was it! [Laughs] And then, of course, Juanin Clay beautifully played her for a year before I came in, so, I did have a year's worth of pretty mean-spirited things that she did to back that up.

Soap Central: Were you nervous to play such a nasty character as your very first role?

Gabe: I had done theater and trained in the theater for years, and there are villains, and there are heroes and heroines, and I understood the nature of the character. It's true, as they say, that the wicked, bad characters are really a lot more interesting and fun to play. I just did an episode of The Locher Room (below) with my dear, dear friends Terry Davis, who played April Scott, and Frances Fisher, who played Deborah Saxon, and even they said you can only be victimized so many times before it kind of gets boring. Where at least with the villainous characters, you get to ride high for quite a while while you're screwing up everybody's lives! [Laughs] You do have your crashes -- they always get caught eventually, so you'll have a crash -- but you get to ride high and have a lot of fun. The heroines on soaps seem to have a lot of horrible things happen to them... and they would be taken advantage of, and that just isn't quite as much fun to play! It's much more fun playing a bad girl, for sure.

Soap Central: I imagine it would be more difficult to play the bad girl, as well, because being purely evil isn't very interesting. So, how did you give Raven layers and make sure the audience could still relate to her?

Gabet: I think the biggest way that I started to do that was by adding humor. You have to be careful because you don't want to make her a caricature, but because she was so ridiculously selfish, I would push that just to the edge of making it funny. And they always talked about her appetite; she was always worried about her figure, of course, but they would talk about her appetite, so I would suggest things like during this one scene with Geraldine [Lois Kibbee, ex-Elizabeth Sanders, OLTL], Raven had a foot-long sub sandwich that she brought home, and she sat down and said, "I'm just starving," and pulled out this huge, monstrous, Freudian submarine sandwich and started to eat it with Geraldine just aghast in the background. [Laughs] So, I just tried to add humor, and like I said, I gave her heart. But I do believe that [head writer] Henry Slesar was also responsible because, in this new edition of From the Raven to the Dove that I have out, I actually have a letter in there from Henry that he sent me [in which he reveals] that I brought so much to the character that it made him take a 180-degree turn at the typewriter with her, which is just exactly what you want in a relationship with your writer, where you're taking their words and acting them out with your skills and giving depth to the character instead of just making it two-dimensional, and then the writer picks up on that and changes and shifts the character. He said he made a 180-degree turn at the typewriter after watching my work, which I thought was the ultimate compliment.

Soap Central: Oh, for sure!

Gabet: And I think where he really made the change was, for two years, all Raven did was go out on the town, and you were either seduced or she made your life miserable -- or both, together! And that's what she did to all the citizens in Monticello. [Laughs] But at the end of that, when I was really starting to get my wings as Raven and really had added that depth and humor to her, Henry, at a very crucial point [changed direction]. Raven was at her low point -- she had a son with Logan Swift [Joe Lambie/Tom Tammi], and she'd wanted to get him because her mother had left all the money to him, and she was just horrible, having an affair with someone else while she was trying to get her son back and hiring drunk babysitters to take care of him. I mean, she was just the worst. And then, at the very end of that story, after it seemed like Raven had hit rock bottom and you couldn't hate her more, Henry had her save April's life when Molly Sherwood tried to kill her... Raven actually became the heroine of the town for a brief moment, and that redeemed her in a lot of ways and lifted her to a very different place in the eyes of the Monticello community. And then, not long after that, Sky Whitney showed up in town, and from then on, we had a whole other Raven, because she fell in love for the first time in her life. It was a very complex character over the course of seven years.

Soap Central: You mentioned your book, From the Raven to the Dove, which you've recently updated and is why we're talking...

Gabet: Yes, I wrote that book initially between 2001 and 2002. I had been off the soaps for a little over ten years, so I had some time to marinate in the rinse cycle, as Ernie Townsend [Cliff Nelson] called it. When you go from the soaps, you have to go through a rinse cycle and eventually, you get dried -- and maybe even hung out to dry! [Laughs] So, I had used that time to synthesize my life up to that point, and my life had taken a pretty dramatic turn with three children, one who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, and I had really jumped into the study of alternative healing and energy work and quantum physics and metaphysics; I had taken a really sharp spiritual turn in the direction of my life... so, I wanted to write this book from the perspective of, okay, yes, it's autobiographical -- here's how this small town Indiana girl got to New York, which is a story in itself, and then got [the role of] Raven, and then everything else that happened in New York, because 20 years there was really quite amazing. But then, mostly the book was also chronicling my changes that happened after I left, because I feel like everybody goes through those same questions: "Who am I? What am I doing? Why does this thing always happen to me, over and over and over again?" Everybody has those questions, so in my pursuit of healing work -- alternative healing work, and psychological healing work -- this was a catharsis, the first time I wrote it, of, "We all go through this. Here's what happened to me." I was very proud of that book. I self-published it, and I sold out my first run, which was small, but still, I was happy; it did well. And then [about a year ago] I started noticing the old books are selling now for two or three times [their original price]; people are reselling them for like $40 to $80, which is just ridiculous! And I have changed so much, and I have learned so much in the 20 years since I wrote it, so, I thought, "This needs a makeover, and I need to get a new print version out there." And I didn't want to just put the same print version out there, actually, because I'm a much better writer than I was then!

Soap Central: Why did you decide to do an updated version rather than release something brand new altogether?

Gabet: I had forgotten so many really good stories, and I wanted to catch people up on what happened at the end of From the Raven to the Dove in the last 20 years. Plus, I didn't have any pictures in there, so, I just thought, "Let me expand it, let me update it, let me correct the embarrassing typos in there." I added all these stories that I had forgotten that came back up when I started watching the shows together with a group on Facebook in 2015. We started watching all the shows and really loving and laughing our way through all those shows that are now on YouTube, and I remembered all these stories! So, I put in all these new stories, I added 170 photos, some of them from when I was younger and my background and things I've done, but most of them are from The Edge of Night and promos from all my work on daytime. And then the epilogue, I had returned to nursing since I wrote the book the first time, which was a shock to me, as I'm sure it was to anybody else. I talk about that in the book because people would recognize me. I mean, imagine if you were sitting in your hospital bed, and some nurse walked in, and she was Raven with a syringe in her hand! [Laughs] It would freak people out. It was hilarious.

Soap Central: Hilarious but also terrifying!

Gabet: Right? [Laughs] So, I told some nursing stories, and then, what I'm really happy about, in the course of that 20 years, I had reconnected with Larkin Malloy, the original Sky Whitney and my dear, dear, dear, beloved friend, and had a good couple of years of Skyping and talking with him before he had his heart attack and left us in 2016. I had so much to say about our relationship, and for the first time really, I reveal in the epilogue, a lengthy portion of it is my complex relationship with Larkin, both on the set and off the set, and some stories of what we went through together. Our relationship as Sky and Raven Whitney, that chemistry, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an actor, to find someone that you just connect with so [deeply], someone you can just riff off of on the set and improvise, someone you just trust implicitly and you just adore, and then you have these wonderful characters and fantastic writing. Both of my Emmy nominations came from my work with him, so, I really talk a lot about Larkin. And I was happy because I felt like that needed to happen in the book because Raven wasn't really Raven in the end unless you put Sky in the mix, you know. So, I just felt that I needed to update it, and it's a much, much better book. I'm just so happy with it.

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Soap Central: I feel like you were really lucky in terms of your relationship with Larkin and also with Terry Davis and Frances Fisher. I've always heard stories about the behind-the-scenes of soap operas in the 80s, with the rivalries and the backstabbing and the big diva attitudes. Was that going on, and you just got lucky?! Or are those stories exaggerated?

Gabet: It was because of Edge of Night, that show, the way we shot it, who they cast, because yes, that stuff did go on, definitely. [Laughs] And it goes on in every single aspect of the entertainment business -- or corporate business, or any business, for that matter! This is where all the juicy novels come from. You can find that everywhere. But yes, the 80s in New York City in the soap world were pretty wild -- and very incestuous, I might add! But The Edge of Night was just a very different entity. I worked three soaps, so I have a background of experience of comparing. The Edge of Night was a half an hour show, which made it way more relaxed than the hour shows. And the way we shot it, no one else did it that way. We shot it as if it were live; we had all the sets in a circle, everyone was on the set at the same time, so you'd do your scene, and the cameras would fly to the next scene and then come back to you, and so you were there, watching everybody else's work, so it was like a company of a theater, where you're all there doing the show together, as opposed to the hour shows where they would shoot set-by-set.

Soap Central: That sounds like a dream, really. I think most soap actors would kill for that kind of situation.

Gabet: On the other shows, I would barely see anybody else other than the people that I worked with, so there's not that sense of company. And then the other thing about The Edge of Night was, because it was a half an hour show and it was just really well structured, we had more time to goof around and play and laugh, where on the other shows, it was serious business. [Filming] 50 minutes of a show every single day is a lot of work. That's a 12- to 15-hour day! But at Edge of Night, we'd go in at 7:30 and be out by 3:00, and even then, it was just a relaxed atmosphere where jokes were welcome. I believe Larkin Malloy was quoted in a soap magazine once, he said, "On The Edge of Night, we go in at 7:30 and we start laughing." That was totally true! We'd laugh until tape time, and then we'd stop laughing for a half an hour and do the show, and then, when the show was over, we'd laugh until we'd leave. And that was exactly it. And it wasn't just the actors; it was the crew -- they were our buddies, and they threw in jokes and laughs -- and it was the production staff. We all knew each other and loved each other... It was just a family. So, that is where it was unusual. It was easy to just become really good friends with the people there. And Frances, Terry, and I would carry that off into our personal lives and party together and do things together, and that made it very special.

Soap Central: After you left Edge, you were on Another World and One Life to Live. Did you make any friendships with any of those shows' cast members, or was your time too short?

Gabet: You know, I did, but it just wasn't the same. The friendships were who you worked with. I worked with Thomas Ian Griffith [Catlin Ewing, AW], and yes, we became friends. There would be times when we would rehearse our scene and then know it was five or six hours before we would get called to tape, and because it was in Brooklyn and there is nothing to do, we would play cards or goof around. And once, I even remember we jumped on the subway and went to the World Trade towers and went up to the top and then jumped on the subway and came back in time for taping -- just to get out and do something! But I loved everybody that I worked with there, a very nice group. Actors on soaps are generally very happy people because they're working constantly in a career where that just doesn't happen that often! So, they're generally a pretty joyful bunch of kids. But the one I really made friends with was Linda Dano [ex-Felicia Gallant; ex-Rae Cummings, OLTL; ex-Vivian Alamain, Days of our Lives]. She was like the elder, the wise one. If there were any riffs or fights going on between people, Linda would be the one to smooth it out. She was the negotiator, the diplomat. She was and is a remarkably wonderful, kind person. So, I do remember her specifically.

Soap Central: And how about on One Life to Live?

Gabet: It was a little more difficult to make friends then because by the time I got to One Life to Live, I had two babies, a toddler and a newborn... and I lived just two or three blocks away from the studio, so if there was a long break or during the lunch break, I would go home to spend a little time with the kids and then run back to the studio. So, I just wasn't as involved as much. And also, I worked four or five days a week on Another World; they worked me, for sure. But on One Life to Live, Melinda was more of a secondary character, so I basically just averaged two days a week, which was fine with me, with my kids and everything. So, I definitely did not spend as much time there, hanging around. I loved everybody there, though. While I was on One Life to Live, I did a cabaret act, and everybody from the show came to see me. I have a picture in the book of Jimmy DePaiva [ex-Max Holden; ex-David Bensch, General Hospital] and Fiona Hutchison [ex-Gabrielle Medina; ex-Jenna Bradshaw, Guiding Light], who came, and we took a shot. A lot of people came. So, they were friendly and everything, but I had a family, and I was close by, so I spent more time with the family.

Soap Central: After you left, Melinda did come back to the canvas, something like nine years later. Did the show approach you to reprise the role at that point?

Gabet: They did! It was in 1997, and they called up and said, "Do you want to come back?" I wanted to. I really wanted to, because I had never intended to leave the soap business. I just thought I'd take some time off, and also, before I left New York, Procter & Gamble were looking for a place for me on their remaining soaps. But, in 1993, my husband then, Larry Joshua, was doing fairly well, and the work was shifting to L.A., so he really wanted to move to California. And I had my hands full with the three kids, so I thought, "Okay, well, let's do this, and we'll let him have a chance to fly." So, I moved to California in '93, and like a year after that, my daughter was diagnosed with autism. So, by '97, I had her in a special school, I had my other kids in a school, I was divorced from my husband by '97, and when [OLTL] called, they wanted me like, now. They wanted me to be there in like two or three weeks to start, and I said, "Can you just push this back maybe a month or two? Because I don't know how I'm going to do this!" So, I had to decline because what, was I just going to run off to New York with three kids? [Laughs] So, I had to decline, unfortunately. And I'm sorry, because I would have loved to have gone back and done it.

Soap Central: I'm not sure if you're currently doing any acting, but would you be open to returning to soaps if the opportunity arose?

Gabet: You know what they say: Never say never! I do live about 70 miles out of L.A. right now, so if it were something short-term and fun, I wouldn't negate the possibility -- it could really be fun. Other than writing From the Raven to the Dove, I wrote another book on metaphysics called Spiritual Magic, and I'm working on a third book. So, I enjoy writing. And I have also been working for quite a while on a one-woman cabaret show thing with lots of music in it, and the cabaret would put me back on the stage. I love singing -- absolutely love singing -- and I would tell stories and sing. So, those are projects I have, but if something came up and it was really fun, probably! [Laughs]

Soap Central: Soap opera fans are really ecstatic about the news that All My Children is getting a primetime reboot. Do you think Edge of Night would also be a good candidate for a reboot?

Gabet: I do, actually. It's so unique in that it's a murder mystery melodrama, and people like genre shows. You could really have some fun with that as a reboot. There is so much potential there, and if you think about it, on nighttime, the murder mystery shows were fantastic hits. Like Colombo and Murder, She Wrote -- there were quite a few, and they always do well, because you can always come up with a good story. The thing about the reboot, All My Children probably has more original cast members that are available to do it, whereas the [cast of] The Edge of Night is pretty much decimated. So many people have passed away. I have a "Rest in Peace" page in my book, and there are like a dozen photos in there, I'm sad to say. But there are a few of us left. I would even love to see something with Frances, Terry, and I. We could go to town! We would work so well together and have so much fun. Like Golden Girls does Edge of Night!

Soap Central: You've got the marketing down pat. That would be a definite hit! Is there anything else that you'd like to add before I let you go?

Gabet: One of the biggest things about the book that I love, especially about the stories that I added, are the blooper stories. We didn't cut tape on Edge of Night. They didn't like you to cut tape -- they wanted you to keep going -- so, I have a lot of stories about how we saved scenes, which are absolutely hysterical. The show must go on, and you have to just keep going. Things like Larkin giving me a line and falling off our bed and then the camera cuts to me, and he's continuing to give lines while he's crawling back up on the bed, and me still continuing -- tons of stories like that. And we actually did it! He was back up on the bed by the time they put the camera back on him, it was a tag shot, and we were out. We just roared! It was like, "Yes, that's how you do it!"

Soap Central: You recently told a story about how you knocked over a lamp as you entered the set and had to keep going, right?

Gabet: Oh, that happened all the time! [Laughs] When I was first starting, stumbling around the set, I was so nervous. I'm almost grateful that there aren't any tapes of my first year on the show. They've all been erased, I'm pretty sure. And as much as I would love to see my first year again, part of me is going, "That's probably good!" Because I was knocking lamps over and tripping, and words would come out of my mouth that made no sense, and they would not cut. So, in a way, I'm glad that that is now burnt.

Soap Central: It was probably really charming though, at the same time.

Gabet: We can all laugh now, I'm sure. Everybody has to start somewhere!

What do you think about our interview with Sharon Gabet? What are your favorite memories from her time as The Edge of Night's Raven, OLTL's Melinda, and AW's Brittany? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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