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A Brief History of Evil Twins in Soap Operas

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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.

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
Henson Company
Henson Company

More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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10 Wild Facts About Westworld
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

The hit HBO show about an android farm girl finding sentience in a fake version of the old West set in a sci-fi future is back for a second season. So grab your magnifying glass, study up on Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare, and get ready for your brain to turn to scrambled eggs. 

The first season saw Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her robotic compatriots strive to escape bondage as the puppet playthings of a bored society that kills and brutalizes them every day, then repairs them each night to repeat the process for paying customers. The Maze. The Man in Black. The mysteries lurking in cold storage and cantinas. Wood described the first season as a prequel, which means the show can really get on the dusty trail now. 

Before you board the train and head back into the park, here are 10 wild facts about the cerebral, sci-fi hit. (Just beware of season one spoilers!)

1. IT’S NOT THE FIRST TV ADAPTATION OF THE MOVIE.

Though Westworld, the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton, was a hit, its 1976 sequel Futureworld was a flop. Still, the name and concept had enough cachet for CBS to move forward with a television concept in 1980. Beyond Westworld featured Delos head of security John Moore (Jim McMullan) battling against the villainous mad scientist Simon Quaid (James Wainwright), who wants to use the park’s robots to, what else, take over the whole world. It would be a little like if the HBO show focused largely on Luke Hemsworth’s Ashley Stubbs, which just might be the spinoff the world is waiting for.

2. THE ORIGINAL GUNSLINGER HAS A CAMEO.

Ed Harris and Eddie Rouse in 'Westworld'
JOHN P. JOHNSON, HBO

The HBO series pays homage to the original film in a variety of ways, including echoing elements from the score to create that dread-inducing soundscape. It also tipped its ten-gallon hat to Yul Brynner’s relentless gunslinger from the original film by including him in the storage basement with the rest of the creaky old models.

3. QUENTIN TARANTINO, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, AND MANY OTHERS COULD HAVE REBOOTED IT.

Speaking of Brynner’s steely, murderous resolve: His performance as the robo-cowboy was one of the foundations for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as the Terminator. Nearly 20 years later, in 2002, Schwarzenegger signed on to produce and star in a reboot of the sci-fi film from which he took his early acting cues. Schwarzenegger never took over the role from Brynner because he served as Governor of California instead, and the reboot languished in development hell.

Warner Bros. tried to get Quentin Tarantino on board, but he passed. They also signed The Cell director Tarsem Singh (whose old West would have been unbelievably lush and colorful, no doubt), but it fell through. A few years later, J.J. Abrams—who had met with Crichton about a reboot back in 1996—pitched eventual co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy on doing it as a television series. HBO bought it, and the violent delights finally made it to our screens.

4. IT COSTS $40,000 A DAY TO VISIT THE PARK. (AND THAT’S THE CHEAP PACKAGE.)

Thandie Newton and Angela Sarafyan in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, Logan (Ben Barnes) revealed that he’s spending $40,000 a day to experience Westworld. That’s in line with the 1973 movie, where park visitors spent $1000 a day, which lands near $38,000 once adjusted for inflation. Then again, we’re talking about 2052 dollars, so it might still be pricey, but not exorbitant in 2018 terms. But a clever Redditor spotted that $40,000 is the minimum you’d pay; according to the show’s website, the Gold Package will set you back $200,000 a day.

5. BEN BARNES BROKE HIS FOOT AND DIDN’T TELL ANYONE.

Once Upon a Time’s Eion Bailey was originally cast as Logan but had to quit due to a scheduling conflict, so Ben Barnes stepped in … then he broke his foot. The actor hid the injury for fear he’d lose the job, which is why he added a limp as a character detail. “I’m sort of hobbling along with this kind of cowboy-ish limp, which I then tried to maintain for the next year just so I could pretend it was a character choice,” Barnes said. “But really I had a very purple foot … So walking was the hardest part of shooting this for me.”

6. THE CO-CREATORS RICKROLLED FANS OBSESSED WITH UNCOVERING SPOILERS.

Eagle-eyed fans (particularly on Reddit) uncovered just about every major spoiler from the first season early on, which is why Nolan and Joy promised a spoiler video for anyone who wanted to know the entire plot of season two ahead of its premiere. They delivered, but instead of show secrets, the 25-minute video only offered a classy rendition of Rick Astley’s internet-infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up,” sung by Evan Rachel Wood with Angela Sarafyan on piano, followed by 20 minutes of a dog. It was a pitch-perfect response to a fanbase desperate for answers.

7. IT FEATURES AN ANCIENT GREEK EASTER EGG.

Amid the alternative rock tunes hammered out on the player piano and hat tips to classic western films, Westworld also referenced something from 5th century BCE Greece. Westworld, which is run by Delos Incorporated, is designed so that guests cannot die. Delos is also the name of the island where ancient Greeks made it illegal for anyone to die (or be born for that matter) on religious grounds. That’s not the only bit of wordplay with Greek either: Sweetwater’s main ruffian, Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), gets his last name from the Greek eschaton, meaning the final event in the divine design of the world. Fitting for a potentially sentient robot helping to bring about humanity’s destruction.

8. JIMMI SIMPSON FIGURED OUT HIS CHARACTER’S TWIST BECAUSE OF HIS EYEBROWS.

Evan Rachel Wood and Jimmi Simpson in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, the show’s many secrets were kept even from the main cast until the time they absolutely needed to know. Jimmi Simpson, who plays timid theme park neophyte William, had a hunch something was funny with his role because of a cosmetic change.

“I was with an amazing makeup artist, Christian, and he was looking at my face too much,” Simpson told Vanity Fair. “He had me in his chair, and he was just looking at my face, and then he said something about my eyebrows. ‘Would you be cool if we just took a couple hairs out of your eyebrows, made them not quite as arched?’” Guessing that they were making him look more like The Man in Black, Simpson said something to Joy, and she confirmed his hunch. “She looked kind of surprised I’d worked it out,” he said.

9. THE PLAYER PIANO MAY BE AN ALLUSION TO KURT VONNEGUT.

One of the show’s most iconic elements is its soundtrack of alternative rock songs from the likes of Radiohead, The Cure, and Soundgarden redone in a jaunty, old West style. In addition to adding a creepy sonic flavor to the sadistic vacation, they also may wink toward Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, which deals with a dystopia of automation where machines do everything for humans, leading to an entrenched class struggle. The show’s resonant elements are clear, but Westworld also mentions that the world outside the theme park is one where there’s no unemployment and humans have little purpose. Like The Man In Black (Ed Harris), the protagonist of Player Piano also longs for real stakes in the struggle of life.

10. THERE ARE TWO JESSE JAMES CONNECTIONS.

Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright in 'Westworld'
HBO

Anthony Hopkins’s character Dr. Robert Ford is an invention for the new series, and he shares a name with the man who assassinated infamous outlaw Jesse James (a fact you may remember from the aptly named movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). The final episode of the first season flips the allusion when Ford is shot in the back of the head, which is exactly how the real-life Ford killed James.

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