A Brief History of Evil Twins in Soap Operas


Seemingly since the dawn of television, evil twins and soap operas have been inextricably linked. And it’s easy to see why. The evil twin trope encapsulates all the wild drama essential to any soap script. It comes out of nowhere, operates way outside the realm of reality, and gives long-time cast members the chance to wear a ridiculous goatee.

But soap operas didn’t invent the evil twin. It actually took daytime TV quite a while to embrace this storyline, which already had roots in books, movies, and other television genres. Once soap operas hopped on the bandwagon, though, evil twins would come to rival amnesia and fake deaths as the genre’s favorite plot twist.

The first ever soap opera was the radio serial Painted Dreams, which premiered on October 20, 1930. The show centered on a widow and her unmarried daughter who were mostly just trying to survive the Great Depression, so there wasn’t much room for surprise scheming twins. But while radio soaps stuck to more conventional plot threads, movies were already getting in on the evil twin action. Audiences saw Boris Karloff as both the murderous tyrant Baron Gregor de Berghman and his sweet, crippled twin brother Anton in 1935’s The Black Room. Just a few years later, in 1939, Louis Hayward took on the saga of King Louis XIV and his twin in the Alexander Dumas adaptation, The Man in the Iron Mask. The twin trope would continue into the 1940s with westerns like Wagons Westward (1940) and Olivia de Havilland thrillers like The Dark Mirror (1946). It would also appear in comic books such as Kid Eternity. But soap operas still weren’t really biting, even as they made the move over to television.

The initial wave of TV soap operas followed much the same pattern as its radio predecessors. Faraway Hill was the first to premiere, in 1946, and followed a beautiful widow from the city as she fell in love with her cousin’s farmer son. (It ran for just 10 episodes.) These Are My Children, which debuted in 1949, quite literally echoed Painted Dreams since it came from the same creator, Irma Phillips. (It lasted a month.) The soap opera was still in the incubation period as far as showrunners were concerned, and the only tropes they had really established were “family conflict” and “widows.” But they’d get a push toward twisted sibling territory from the sitcoms and sci-fi shows of the 1960s.

In the 1960s, evil twins were what time jumps are today: the hot thing to do on TV. People were doing it on Bonanza (Jud vs. Rube), I Dream of Jeannie (Jeannie vs. Jeannie II), Star Trek (Spock vs. Goatee Spock), and even Gilligan’s Island (Castaways vs. Crafty Doppelgängers). Clearly it made an impression, because in 1969, a soap opera called The Secret Storm introduced us to Dr. Ian Northcoate, whose identical twin Owen would later murder guest star Troy Donahue. Actor Gordon Rigsby played both men through the use of split-screen, a bold TV technique for the time.

Over the next decade, the soap opera evil twin or double would become such a recognizable type that the ‘70s comedy Soap spoofed it in a season three arc involving Burt’s alien clone. But these characters really took off in the ‘80s, when daytime TV started pushing the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic all over the place.

In 1983, Brian Patrick Clarke began his run as nice married guy Grant Andrews and his Russian spy doppelgänger Grant Putnam on General Hospital. Ellen Wheeler picked up the dual roles of Marley and Vicky on Another World in 1984, eventually leaving the part to Anne Heche. David Canary would also start his decades-spanning work as ruthless businessman Adam Chandler and his gentle, artistic brother Stuart on All My Children that year. But perhaps most interesting was the case of Frannie and Sabrina Hughes; the half-sisters appeared on As the World Turns between 1985 and 1987, and the dual role was originated by a not-yet-famous Julianne Moore.

The mayhem wasn’t limited to biological twins. In addition to toying with evil doppelgängers who just happened to resemble the main characters, soaps also introduced evil twin cousins. Beginning in 1984, Thaao Penghlis memorably played both Tony and his murderous mastermind cousin Andre DiMera on Days of Our Lives. If you were wondering how this could work, well, Andre got plastic surgery to look like his better-adjusted cousin, and used this resemblance to ruin Tony’s life. Joel Crothers also played cousins Jack Lee and Jerry Cooper on Santa Barbara around the same time, and his dual roles were likewise chalked up to a hyper-realistic plastic surgery job. This plastic surgery excuse would eventually become an accepted explanation for all sorts of “evil twins,” whether they were cousins or no relation at all.

Occasionally, evil twins got tangled in some meatier, even poignant plotlines. In 1987, Ellen Wheeler (the same actress from Another World) moved over to All My Children, where she portrayed Cindy Chandler. Cindy contracts AIDS, and her subsequent battle with the disease marked one of first times soap operas, or even television, addressed the HIV/AIDS crisis. As Cindy ails in the hospital, her estranged identical sister Karen Parker is called to her side. The reunion was much hyped, but after Cindy’s passing, the people of Pine Valley discover that Karen isn’t nearly as kind-hearted as her dearly departed sister.

Good citizen and wicked criminal twins with increasingly ridiculous names continued to appear in the 1990s (see: Mortimer Bern and Carlo Hesser on One Life to Live, Kevin Collins and Ryan Chamberlain on General Hospital, or Rick and Blade Bladeson on The Young and the Restless). You could also catch them abroad in telenovelas like La Usurpadora. As soaps moved into the aughts and 2010s, the mirrored characters were often spun as a redemption story. The evil twin would arrive first, terrorize the town, then die. Upon that death, the good twin would enter, ready to atone for the crimes of his or her sibling. General Hospital did this most explicitly with Manny and Mateo Ruiz; one was a Miami mobster and the other was an actual priest—although in true soap fashion, even Father Mateo had some mystery about him.

Since their heyday in the ‘80s, evil twins may have lost a bit of their novelty. Even diehard soap viewers mock and groan at the sight of them. But recent years have made it clear: They aren’t going anywhere. In perhaps the surest sign of the evil twin’s enduring strength, All My Children saddled the most famous soap opera character of all time, Erica Kane, with a heinous double mere months before the series ended in 2011. Although she wasn’t a blood relation, Jane Campbell bore a striking resemblance to Erica (plastic surgery again!)—and considering she kidnapped Ms. Kane on her wedding day, she definitely qualified as evil. This was all clearly written as one last big twist for Susan Lucci’s enduring diva, but for anyone who’s seen a soap opera, the sudden appearance of Jane wasn’t surprising. It was only shocking it took her this long to show up.

Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.


Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”


Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.


In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”


Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”


More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”


The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”


The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.


Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.


During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”


In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Star Trek Theme Song Has Lyrics
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Star Trek theme song is familiar to pretty much anyone who lived in the free world (and probably elsewhere, too) in the late 20th century. The tune is played during the show's opening credits; a slightly longer version is played, accompanied by stills from various episodes, during the closing credits. The opening song is preceded by William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) doing his now-legendary monologue recitation, which begins: "Space, the final frontier ..."

The show's familiar melody was written by respected film and TV composer Alexander Courage, who said the Star Trek theme's main inspiration was the Richard Whiting song "Beyond the Blue Horizon." In Courage's contract it was stipulated that, as the composer, he would receive royalties every time the show was aired and the theme song played. If, somehow, Star Trek made it into syndication—which, of course, it ultimately did—Courage stood to make a lot of money. And so did the person who wrote the lyrics.


Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, wrote lyrics to the theme song.

"Beyond the rim of the star-light,
my love is wand'ring in star-flight!"

Why would Roddenberry even bother?

The lyrics were never even meant to be heard on the show, but not because the network (NBC) nixed them. Roddenberry nixed them himself. Roddenberry wanted a piece of the composing profits, so he wrote the hokey lyrics solely to receive a "co-writer" credit.

"I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches."

As one of the composers, Roddenberry received 50 percent of the royalties ... cutting Alexander Courage's share in half. Not surprisingly, Courage was furious about the deal. Though it was legal, he admitted, it was unethical because Roddenberry had contributed nothing to why the music was successful.

Roddenberry was unapologetic. According to Snopes, he once declared, "I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not gonna get it out of the profits of Star Trek."

In 1969, after Star Trek officially got the ax, no one (Courage and Roddenberry included) could possibly have imagined the show's great popularity and staying power.

Courage, who only worked on two shows in Star Trek's opening season because he was busy working on the 1967 Dr. Doolittle movie, vowed he would never return to Star Trek.

He never did.


If you're looking for an offbeat karaoke number, here are Roddenberry's lyrics, as provided by Snopes:

The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.


More from mental floss studios