Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (TV series)

Love Is a Many Splendored Thing
Created by Irna Phillips
Starring Donna Mills
Leslie Charleson
David Birney
Judson Laire
Andrea Marcovicci
Vincent Baggetta
Beverlee McKinsey
Diana Douglas
Ed Power
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 1,430
Running time 30 minutes
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Original network CBS
Original release September 18, 1967 (1967-09-18) – March 23, 1973 (1973-03-23)

Love Is a Many Splendored Thing is an American daytime soap opera which aired on CBS from September 18, 1967 to March 23, 1973. The series was created by Irna Phillips, who served as the first head writer. She was replaced by Jane Avery and Ira Avery in 1968, who were followed by Don Ettlinger, James Lipton, and finally Ann Marcus. John Conboy was the producer for most of the show's run.

Beginnings and controversy

The serial was a spin-off from the original 1955 20th Century-Fox movie,[1] though the title of the daytime drama omitted the hyphen used in the movie's title. In turn, the film was based on the autobiographical novel A Many-Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin.

Love Is a Many Splendored Thing focused on lives and loves in San Francisco, California. The title sequence of the show, in fact, was the title of the show superimposed over a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, with a slightly reworked rendition of the movie's signature hit theme. In a rare move for daytime serials of that era, live shots of junk boats from Hong Kong were interspersed with pictures of the real San Francisco, set to an orchestral version of the signature theme from the movie. In 1968, the show switched to its more well-known sequence, with just the picture of the Golden Gate, and a retrograded theme moving from costly live orchestral arrangements by Wladimir Selinsky to an in-house organist, Eddie Layton of Yankee Stadium fame. This occurred when CBS became sole producer and distributor of the show; it was previously a co-production of CBS and 20th Century-Fox's television division.

Veteran serial writer–creator Irna Phillips was hired to adapt the movie for television, picking up the story some years after the end of the film. In the beginning, the star of the show was Nancy Hsueh as Mia Elliott, daughter to the characters portrayed by William Holden and Jennifer Jones in the 1955 film. Mia left Hong Kong to study medicine in San Francisco, her late father's hometown, and there she became involved with two men: Vietnam War pilot Paul Bradley, and later Dr. Jim Abbott. However, CBS censors balked at an interracial love story between a white man and an Amerasian woman.[2][3] The network was also uncomfortable with a developing subplot in which Jim Abbott was implicated in the death of a young patient, the result of a botched abortion. Unwilling to compromise her story for CBS executives, Phillips quit the series,[2][3] as the character of Mia Elliott was written out of the series in March 1968, never to be mentioned again. CBS and 20th Century-Fox Television were then the co-producers of the show. Phillips' resignation led to the end of Fox's role as co-producer and distributor.

In February 1968, Irna Phillips was replaced by husband-and-wife writing team Jane and Ira Avery. The Averys quickly refocused the series on two families:[2][3] The Donnellys and the Elliotts. The Donnelly family was headed by widower Dr. Will Donnelly (Judson Laire), who had three adult children: Tom, a police lieutenant, Iris, a troubled college graduate, and Laura, a fragile novitiate nun. The Elliotts consisted of wealthy Phillip and Helen Elliott and their son Mark (Sam Wade), a Vietnam War vet who was engaged to marry Iris but secretly desired her sister Laura. As with the Mia Eliott story, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing courted controversy again as Laura tried unsuccessfully to fight off carnal desires for her sister's boyfriend. A storm of controversy necessitated Laura's sudden departure from the church, and CBS, afraid of "this dangerous habit story of Irna's," dropped the storyline within weeks of Phillip's departure.[2][3] However, the Averys continued to zero in on the conflict between two beautiful sisters who loved the same man, a conflict that would bring the series strong fan devotion, as well as a spike in the Nielsen ratings, and would drive the plotline for the remainder of the serial's network run.

Storyline synopsis

1967: Mia Elliott, daughter of late war correspondent Mark Elliott and physician Han Suyin, arrives in San Francisco to study medicine. Mia meets Phillip and Helen Elliott, her aunt and uncle, cousin Mark Elliott, her father's namesake, and sisters Iris and Laura Donnelly. At first Mia dates pilot Paul Bradley (Nicholas Pryor), but she later develops a serious relationship with Dr. Jim Abbott (Robert Milli). Laura Donnelly, also known as Sister Cecilia, fights her attraction to Mark Elliott as she prepares to take her final vows. Iris, unsure of Mark's feelings for her and sensing Laura's attraction to him, begins to drink heavily and consort with sneering playboy Jock Porter (John Karlen). During an argument with Mark, a drunken Iris crashes their car, but both escape serious injury.[2][3][4]

1968 : When it is revealed that Jock Porter paid Jim Abbott to perform an illegal abortion on girlfriend Terry Andrews, who later died, a disenchanted Mia decides to return to Hong Kong. Iris becomes emotionally involved with Jim, but the scandal surrounding Terry Andrews forces him to leave San Francisco for New York. Laura decides not to take her final vows and leaves the church for Mark, who ends his relationship with Iris and begins a career as an architect. Lt. Tom Donnelly (Robert Burr) helps Helen (Grace Albertson, Gloria Hoye) overcome her grief when husband Phillip (Len Wayland) dies suddenly, and after a short courtship, the two marry. Iris finds herself attracted to Spencer Garrison (Michael Hanrahan, Ed Power) a handsome lawyer/senatorial candidate trapped in an unhappy marriage.[2][3][4]

1969: Laura and Mark (now played by David Birney) marry, and shortly afterward, Laura discovers that she's pregnant. Spence leaves his insidious wife Nancy (Susan Browning) for Iris, who also becomes pregnant. During a flight to Lake Tahoe, Spence and Iris' private plane crashes, resulting in a serious brain injury that leaves Iris blinded. Mark has an extramarital affair with Jean Garrison (Jane Manning), the stepmother of Spence, that is publicly exposed after Jean's ex-husband Steve Hurley (Mark Gordon, Paul Stevens) is murdered. Mark's trial for murder causes Laura to miscarry their baby and have a nervous breakdown. Later, learning that she can never carry another child, Laura instigates divorce proceedings. After Iris learns that her brain injury will cause her death within a year, she and Spence agree that their baby would be better off with childless Laura; however, the court rejects the adoption on the grounds that Laura will be a single mother. Iris persuades Mark and Laura to reconcile for the sake of her baby, and gives birth to William Alex Garrison (Arthur Benoit, Jr.). Andy Hurley (Don Scardino, Rusty/Russ Thacker) works for the 'Garrison for Senator' campaign and falls in love with Nikki Cabbott (Jody Locker), a balerina who later is revealed to be his illegitimate sister. They plan to leave San Francisco, but she drops dead onstage while dancing.[2][3][4]

1970: Tom (now played by Albert Stratton)'s relationship with Helen is strained by the arrival of his ex-wife Martha, an out-of-work actress now calling herself Julie Richards (Beverlee McKinsey). Julie threatens to sue for custody of their son Ricky (Shawn Campbell) if Tom and Helen don't pay her off. After Laura and Mark gain custody of Iris and Spence's son Billy (played by Thomas Beirne III), Iris is cured from experimental laser surgery performed by brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Peter Chernak (Paul Michael Glaser, Michael Zaslow, Vincent Baggetta). Will is smitten with Peter's mother Lily (Diana Douglas), while Peter's independent sister Dr. Betsy Chernak (Andrea Marcovicci) also joins the hospital staff. When Iris demands that Laura give up custody of Billy (Thomas Beirne III), Laura goes insane and kidnaps the child, nearly killing them both in a car crash. Tom is arrested for the murder of Julie's conniving boyfriend Jim Whitman (Berkeley Harris), but eventually Julie confesses that she accidentally killed him during a violent argument, and she leaves town.[2][3][4]

1971: A contrite Laura (now played by Veleka Gray) submits to psychiatric therapy and agrees to adopt a baby with husband Mark (now played by Michael Hawkins). Iris (now played by Bibi Besch) and Laura are delighted when their father Will marries Lily Chernak (Diana Douglas). Peter Chernak romances sweet Angel Allison (Suzie Kay Stone) and marries her, but has an extramarital fling with Jean Garrison. During their separation Angel is dating Dr. Doug Preston (Gene Lindsey). Visiting an orphanage, Laura and Mark decide to adopt a young girl named Maria (Judy Safran), unaware that she has a very troubled past. Laura then miracuously gets pregnant again. Jealous of Mark, Maria subtly manipulates tension into the Elliott marriage, and when she's unsuccessful at separating the couple, she locks Mark in the garage and sets it on fire, but Mark is ultimately saved. Maria is quickly turned in by her best friend Tommy Hale (Chris Pape). When Laura confronts Maria about trying to kill Mark in the fire, she chases her down the steps and falls. As a result of the fall, Laura suffers her second miscarriage. She is committed to a sanitarium. Tom decides to leave the police force and pursue a law degree.[2][3][4]

1972: Betsy Chernak begins a stormy romance with Joe Taylor (Leon Russom) who runs a children's daycare but also works for Senator Al Preston, Spence's opponent in the Senatorial primary campaign and older brother of Dr. Doug Preston. Laura (now played by Barbara Stanger)is now out of the sanitarium and despondent over being childless. She drives Mark(now played by Tom Fuccello) to drink heavily. One night in a drunken stupor, he mistakes Iris for Laura and rapes her, resulting in a pregnancy. Fearing that the scandal will harm his chances for election in the 1972 Senatorial election, Iris agrees to keep the rape a secret and pass off the baby as Spence's child. However, blackmailer Walter Travis (John Carpenter) forces Joe Taylor into recording a meeting at Spence and Iris's apartment that ends up being cancelled when instead it turns out to be a conversation between Iris and Betsy, revealing Mark as a rapist and father of Iris' baby she is carrying. Travis plans to use the tape to get Spence to drop out of the race but the plan backfires when Senator Al Preston dies in a car crash. Peter reconciles with Angel, and they settle down in wedded bliss with their baby daughter, Nicole. Joe confides to Betsy that Walter Travis is blackmailing him over the murder of Travis' wife, Joe's lover, seven years ago. Iris gives birth to a baby girl she names Maggie. Spence finally wins the election to become San Francisco, California's next state senator.[2][3][4]

1973  : While under Betsy's care in the hospital for minor surgery, Walter Travis is murdered with an overdose of Demerol. Fearing that Joe's possible involvement in Travis' wife's murder will surface, Betsy confesses to the crime. Tom agrees to represent Betsy, who confesses the truth to him. Tom and Joe discover that Travis actually murdered his wife, not Joe, and later prove that Al Preston's secretary Celia Winters (Abigail Kellogg) killed Travis. Joe promises Iris and Mark that Laura and Spence (now played by Brett Halsey) will never hear the truth about Maggie's parentage, but before she's committed to a sanitarium, a deranged Celia reveals the truth to Laura. Iris's ex-flame Dr. Jim Abbott (Ron Hale) returns to San Francisco nearly five years later along with his fiancee Holly McCallister (Joan McMonagle) yet he never forgot Iris and pursues her even though she's married to Spence, who is now a state senator. Joe leaves the daycare to become Spence's administrative assistant while Holly becomes his secretary. Desperate for a baby, Laura schemes with Jim to get custody of Maggie after he figures out through a medical record that Mark is her biological father; however, Tom arranges a private adoption for Laura and Mark, and Laura reconciles her differences with Iris. Laura and Mark adopt a baby boy they name Philip Elliot. Peter learns that Angel has incurable cancer and vows to make her last days the happiest of her life.[2][3][4]

In the final telecast on March 23, 1973, Joe and Betsy, surrounded by all of their friends and family, are married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony. Judson Laire, as Dr. Will Donnelly, steps out of character and addresses the audience, "There go Betsy and Joe, off to a new life. I think this is probably the happiest moment for the Donnellys and the Chernaks, the Garrisons, and the Elliotts, and the Taylors. But, it's a very sad moment for those of us actors who played those characters. I think by now most of you must know that Love is a Many Splendored Thing is going off the air with this episode. On behalf of my fellow actors, I would like to tell you how much we enjoyed the privilege of coming into your home for these five and half years. It's not going to be easy for us; it's hard to say goodbye. But, maybe we'll live on in your memories. It now becomes my sad duty to say goodbye to you on behalf of the entire company: the cast, the crew, the production staff, the writers and the directors...all of us. Goodbye, and God bless you."[2][3][4]

Broadcast history

Love is a Many Splendored Thing owed its existence to CBS daytime head Fred Silverman, who openly favored serials over game shows. Its predecessor at 2:00 PM Eastern/1 Central was the original run of Password, which had run aground against NBC's serial Days of Our Lives and ABC's The Newlywed Game. Despite high hopes on the network's part, Love is a Many Splendored Thing struggled against that competition as well as it could not keep the viewers from its lead in, the #1 serial As the World Turns.

On September 11, 1972, CBS moved LIAMST to 3:00 Eastern/2:00 Central. Procter & Gamble, which produced four of the network's serials, wanted their shows aired consecutively. CBS moved Guiding Light, which had been airing at 2:30/1:30 since its expansion to thirty minutes in 1968, into the old LIAMST slot and moved The Edge of Night from its longtime 3:30/2:30 slot to complete the request (the schedules of As the World Turns and Search for Tomorrow, which aired at 12:30/11:30, were unaffected and the network did not program the thirty minutes in between). Shortly before the time change, the show had changed its emphasis from a love story to one of political intrigue and blackmail. Despite having actually maintained fairly strong ratings throughout its run, averaging an 8.5 rating and 29% share, LIAMST struggled against its new competition, NBC's Another World, one of daytime's most popular programs. On February 12, 1973, CBS announced that Love is a Many Splendored Thing would end its run on March 23.

As has usually happened to network soaps, the lead characters on Love is a Many Splendored Thing were recast multiple times. Within a few years, star players Charleson, Birney, and Mills all departed, which led to a revolving door of cast replacements. Not even the most talented replacements, such as Bibi Besch, could make up for a sense of fatigue that the show's constant casting changes wrought. The show focused upon other characters, such as the strong-willed Betsy Chernak Taylor (Andrea Marcovicci), and complex storylines involving the aforementioned issues of politics and blackmail as well, but its ratings failed to recover quickly enough to avoid cancellation.

Immediately after the cancellation of Love is a Many Splendored Thing, CBS moved The Price Is Right into its time slot and its place on the schedule was given to the debuting The $10,000 Pyramid. In an unusual coincidence, both the show's predecessor and successor were word association games created by the same man, Bob Stewart.


The show's greatest legacy is not from its storytelling or cast, but from the strong focus on young, fresh faces. Few soaps had ever made attempts to aggressively focus on attractive young people, and those that did had not fared well with the traditional daytime audience, which at the time mainly consisted of stay-at-home mothers/housewives. Dark Shadows, which aired on ABC, was another soap opera which attracted a young audience, and was the beginning of the movement of attracting young viewers along with soap opera's traditional audience. The show pre-dated the premieres of One Life to Live (1968) and All My Children (1970), two other soap operas which also attracted young audiences. However, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing lacked the guidance of creator/executive producer Agnes Nixon (creator of those two shows). The network kept hiring new head writers and executive producers for its soap operas, creating a lack of continuity in the storytelling.

Also a legacy of the show was the music style of Eddie Layton, being more jazz and pop flavored, as opposed to the heavy symphonic/theatre organ style of more established soap operas. Eddie's style was transitional between the earlier soap opera styles, and the more contemporary light orchestral/synthesizer pop flavored music of soap operas that were later used.

Surviving episodes

All 1,430 episodes of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing were recorded on videotape at the CBS Broadcast Center Studio #41 in New York City. Like most soap operas of the late 1960s/early 1970s, it fell victim to the industry practice of wiping tapes for reuse. Although the master tapes of the serial were erased, some rare kinescopes of episodes remain in the possession of private collectors. Only seven videotapes of the series are confirmed to exist. These are non-circulating copies stored at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The archived episodes were telecast: March 8, 16, and 24, 1971, April 1 and 9, 1971, and March 12 and 20, 1973.

A public domain episode from 1967 can be seen on the Internet Archive.[5] (kinescoped in Black and white).

Awards and nominations

Prior to its cancellation, this show was nominated for four Emmy Awards:



Donna Mills as Laura Donnelly Elliott in 1967


Further reading

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