Susan Dansby: What was the process when you got the role of Maureen [Reardon] on Guiding Light? Did you have to audition?
Ellen Dolan: Yeah, of course I auditioned for that. That came up just out of the blue. I was only in New York for about a year, and I had tested for one other role on Another World. And I think I tested for something on Ryan’s Hope.
So this came up, and I was learning pretty early on: You go, you do, you drop it at the door.
Susan Dansby: Right.
Ellen Dolan: But you never do. You say that to yourself, but you never do. And I remember it was like the tenth day. They had ten days to let the people know. And it was the tenth day. And it was also back when they had answering services, where you call up every ten minutes, and they say, “Nothing again, Ellen.”
So I quit calling, because it was the last day.
And I got home that night, and the agent had stayed late in the office – because I lived way, way up in the very top of Manhattan – and finally, they called and got hold of me and said, “You booked it.”
And I burst into tears, just because – it wasn’t like it was a relief. My very next thought was, “Well, that was easy. What else do I have to do before I become a movie star?” It was that sort of young thinking.
And then it was just, ‘come and sign the contracts’, and ‘come and get your measurements taken’, and ‘let’s take you shopping.’
Now, granted, I hadn’t even traveled above ground in Manhattan, yet. I lived way up in Inwood [north of Manhattan], and I was down to about my last five dollars. And this came in the nick of time. In fact, as it began, I had to borrow money from the casting director, Betty Rea.
Susan Dansby: Oh, I loved Betty Rea!
Ellen Dolan: I loved Betty Rea so much. And this is a nice segue. You now, there were the grand old dames.
The other person who helped me tremendously when I first moved to New York was Shirley Rich. And she just passed away, I think, just this last year. She was a casting director who did Kramer vs. Kramer – things of that ilk.
She was an alumni – Iowa alumni. And she used to come back and do workshops with us. And she said, “When you get to New York, this is how you do it. You read across a desk. And blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.” And so I was kind of prepared for all of that. And she said, “And when you get here, call me, and I’ll tell you what you should do.”
Well, I got to New York; and like 15 minutes after I got to New York, I got a phone call from Milwaukee Rep asking me if I would come and do Katrin in Mother Courage. And I told them, “Oh, I can’t afford to come back to the Midwest. I just moved here.”
They had to call me back, and said, “Okay, you….”
It was so stupid. I’ve had stupid, dumb luck my whole life. I really have. And getting started in daytime was a big part of that. Big, wonderful, stupid, dumb luck.
I’d prepared for it. I wanted to do – not only daytime, but I wanted to do Guiding Light. And I wanted to be a Reardon.
Susan Dansby: Wow.
Ellen Dolan: Because I thought that would probably be a pretty good place for me, and good training ground. And within a year, I got it.
So when I quit, I quit because I thought, ‘You know, I did come here to do theater. So I really should stop doing television, and start doing some theater.’