11 Strange Soap Opera Cameos
Soap operas have always embraced incredulity. At various points in its history, the genre has welcomed stars that were not believed by the public to ever want or need to show their faces on daytime television, whether it was perceived to be beneath them, or because they weren't universally popular enough for a ratings-grabbing gambit. But as these 11 cameos prove, you can never count on soaps to be predictable.
1. YOGI BERRA // GENERAL HOSPITAL (AUGUST 16, 1963)
As his All-Star playing days were winding down, Berra was already well known for his affable public persona and his tendency to utter malapropisms. In 1963, the Yankee- and Yogi-supporting General Hospital producers approached the catcher about making a cameo appearance as a brain surgeon. Despite the paltry $150 paycheck, Berra agreed, because he liked the idea of his family seeing him act.
The producers helped convince him to take the trip to Los Angeles by insisting it was easy and that he wouldn't have to say anything. Once Yogi arrived, though, he was given some lines to read. Berra had no trouble with them and got a speaking part as Dr. Lawrence P. Berra. Recounting the experience in his book, When You Come To The Fork In The Road, Take It!, Berra was typically self-effacing: "And I once was a brain surgeon—no kidding—in a General Hospital episode, in the early '60s. Those were the days before the soaps got sexy."
2. ELIZABETH TAYLOR // GENERAL HOSPITAL (NOVEMBER 10-19, 1981)
General Hospital was earning more than $50 million a year in profits in 1981 and was watched by over 14 million people every day. The marriage of popular characters Luke and Laura on November 16, 1981 would net a viewership of 30 million people—the highest rated soap opera episode ever. Even though the show didn't need her services, producers gladly accepted "superfan" Elizabeth Taylor's request to appear on the show, and involved her in a big plot.
Taylor played Helena Cassadine, super-villain Mikkos Cassadine's widow. Months earlier, Luke, Laura, and Robert Scorpio stopped Mikkos' plot to freeze the world by way of a weather machine. Helena arrived in Port Charles with, initially, good intentions, donating millions to make up for her late husband's evil ways. Eventually, though, she cursed Luke and Laura on their wedding day.
Taylor's stint as Helena ended three days later, but it wouldn't be the end of Cassadine shenanigans. The family would later kidnap Laura and force her to marry Helena's son Stavros. Helena would reappear in front of the camera in 1996, played by Dimitra Arliss, and periodically since 1997 by Constance Towers. Taylor's work took two filming days, and she was paid $2000, which she donated to a Virginia hospital. Tony Geary, the actor who played Luke, claimed to Katie Couric that he and Taylor carried on a two-year affair after her taping.
3. WAYNE GRETZKY // THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS (NOVEMBER 12, 1981)
Starting his third year in the NHL, then 20-year-old Gretzky was already a hockey legend, having won the league's MVP award his first two seasons. After admitting to a love of soap operas—Gretzky needed something to do between morning practice and his night games—"The Great One" was cast as a mafia goon, appearing on the November 12, 1981 episode of The Young and the Restless (on the same day as one of Elizabeth Taylor's General Hospital episodes!). The casting was purposely as odd as Yogi Berra's, because Wayne was not and never would be known as one of the rougher NHL players. He only had to remember the following six words: "I'm Wayne from the Edmonton operation."
4. THE B-52s // GUIDING LIGHT (1982)
Throughout an entire 1982 episode of Guiding Light, The B-52s (then the B-52's) hung out in Springfield, where the band performed two songs—"Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can" and "Private Idaho"—at the fictitious dance club Wired For Sound and chatted intermittently (and awkwardly) with the residents. Frontman Fred Schneider remarked in an interview that "Garbage Can" was an odd request by the producers because it was never released as a single. Schneider also claimed that he was the "worst actor," even though he was playing himself.
5. MORRISSEY // SOUTH (MARCH 21, 1988)
As a young man, the former lead singer and lyricist for The Smiths wrote a letter to Granada TV, seeking employment as a writer on the popular British soap opera Coronation Street. He never landed that gig, but as he achieved fame with the band, Steven Morrissey was offered roles on Emmerdale and EastEnders. He turned those offers down, writing in his recent autobiography that "the most fascinating aspect of both offers is that somebody somewhere thought it a good idea."
It would only be one year after The Smiths' breakup that Morrissey chose to make a soap opera cameo, possibly to help promote his debut solo album Viva Hate, and thanks to South writer and Morrissey friend Shaun Duggan. Years later, Morrissey would turn down an apparently impromptu offer to appear on Friends, singing along with Phoebe. "Within seconds of the proposal, I wind down the fire-escape like a serpent, and it's goodbye to Hollywood yet again," he wrote of that experience.
6. JESSE VENTURA // THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS (JULY 10, 2000)
A fan of The Young and the Restless since his wrestling days, Jesse Ventura made an appearance on his favorite soap opera while he was the governor of Minnesota. Knowledgeable fan that he was, Ventura insisted that if he was playing himself as the governor, he would only meet with the powerful character Victor Newman—so the writers were forced to scrap their original plan, which had Ventura sharing a scene with the lawyer character Cricket. In the episode, Gov. Ventura asked international businessman Newman to become his running mate in a bid for the U.S. presidency. Things didn't work out between the two, because they couldn't decide on who would take the vice president position.
7. MEREDITH VIEIRA // GENERAL HOSPITAL (MARCH 2003 AND DECEMBER 14, 2012)
In March 2003, while she was firmly entrenched as the host of The View and starting her 11-year stint on the syndicated Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Meredith Vieira appeared on General Hospital as Bree Flanders, the madam of an upscale prostitution ring, who had her eye on Luke's girlfriend at the time. Soap Opera Digest editor Carolyn Hinsey gave Vieira a glowing review, writing that "She could actually act. And she was a very convincing hooker, which I know she would take as a compliment." Vieira was good enough to reprise her role as Bree in late 2012, but this time as a senior vice president of marketing at a cosmetics company.
8. SMOKEY ROBINSON // DAYS OF OUR LIVES (NOVEMBER 14-15, 2006)
Music legend Smokey Robinson appearing on a soap opera wasn't unusual in and of itself; in 2004, he had a cameo on The Young and the Restless and gave a character advice on the music business. The nature of the storyline on his two-episode appearance on Days of Our Lives, though, was a bit stranger.
While flying to Canada to find an antidote for the poisoned Steve and Kayla, Marlena and John's plane crashed. Marlena Black got lost in the snowy wilderness after parachuting out, and was startled when a mysterious man approached her carrying an axe. That man turned out to be Smokey Robinson, in the middle of his vacation. Robinson brought Marlena to his secluded cabin and called the proper authorities. To ensure his status as the World's Greatest Host, Robinson serenaded the reunited Marlena and John the next day with his 1991 song "I Love Your Face."
9. JERRY SPRINGER // DAYS OF OUR LIVES (JULY 27, 2007)
Since serving as the mayor of Cincinnati, Jerry Springer has put together a diverse television portfolio over the years, credited as a political pundit, newscaster, movie star, reality show ballroom dancer, and most notably as the titular host of his own controversial daytime talk show. His strangest appearance, though, was his one-episode appearance on Days of Our Lives as Pete, a Las Vegas high roller. Nick Fallon, down on his luck after losing most of his money, receives tutelage from Pete, who seems to win every hand of Blackjack. Spoiler: Pete helps Nick win $50,000 and impress Chelsea Brady, the girl of Nick's dreams.
10. SNOOP DOGG/SNOOP LION // ONE LIFE TO LIVE (2008, 2010, 2013)
Calvin Broadus has made various trips to the town of Llanview over the past few years as himself, initially as Snoop Dogg but later as Snoop Lion. A fan of One Life to Live since he was "a baby," Snoop particularly enjoys character Bo Buchanan's antics. In his 2010 appearance, Snoop talked Bo and Nora Buchanan into letting their son go to his concert, surprising mother and son in a meta moment with his knowledge of their lives. That time, Broadus performed the theme song to the episode, and when he returned in 2013 to promote a new film, he brought a new theme along with him called "Brand New Start" featuring IZA Lach. By then, One Life to Live had been canceled by ABC and resurrected on the internet.
11. JAMES FRANCO // GENERAL HOSPITAL (NOVEMBER 19, 2009 - JANUARY 2012)
James Franco intermittently portrayed a conceptual artist/sociopath/serial killer named Franco from 2009 to 2012, after a friend and artist collaborator suggested that he take a soap opera role and play an artist. The Franco character was obsessed with the killer Jason Morgan, believing that his work in organized crime was art. Morgan upset "Franco" by disagreeing, and kidnapped Morgan's girlfriend and best friend. Jason saved them but "Franco" got away.
The next year, Franco and "Franco" re-appeared running an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles titled "Francophrenia: Dissolving the Boundary Between Illusion and Reality," itself an actual exhibit at MOCA at the time. The blurring of fiction and non-fiction continued with the casting of James Franco's actual mother as "Franco"'s mom. After being presumed dead following his 2012 cameos, the character of "Franco" returned to General Hospital, this time portrayed by Roger Howarth.
The whole experience was described by The Los Angeles Times as "the ultimate extension of Andy Warhol guest starring in The Love Boat."