I solved a childhood mystery of mine the other night thanks to one more internet search about what turned out to be an obscure soap opera.
It was such an obscure soap opera that I’d never heard of it.
When I was a kid, I spent the day with my maternal grandmother while both parents worked. She kept the television on during the day, so I grew up watching daytime TV. I quickly developed a passion for game shows, from The Price is Right to Match Game to Hollywood Squares.
When afternoons rolled around, the soap operas began. Before I started kindergarten, my grandmother watched Days of Our Lives on NBC. Eventually, she’d switch to The Young and The Restless on CBS. (Or maybe, for a while, she watched both. They may have aired at different times back then.)
For years, I remembered a specific scene from a soap, but could never figure out what soap it aired in.
The scene involved a woman whose character was named Fran. I remembered her husband was standing on a chair or stepladder reaching for something — possibly changing a lightbulb — when he fell. She called 911 to report her husband was having a heart attack.
It was a really dramatic scene for daytime TV. I was young enough that it really left an impression on me. (Let’s face it: It had to leave an impression for me to remember it decades later.)
But I couldn’t remember which show aired it.
One more Google search solved the mystery.
Over the years, I tried different kinds of Google searches. I believed, for whatever reason, that it had to have aired on NBC. But I don’t know exactly why I knew that, but I knew.
I ran into a problem, though, when I searched for keywords, including the name Fran, and titles like Days of Our Lives, Another World and The Doctors. I remembered those soaps from the time. Other soaps aired, too, of course, but I searched the titles I remembered.
For some reason, I searched one more time. But this time, I left off the title and searched keywords based on the scene.
And I finally found a hit.
It aired on an obscure soap opera called How to Survive a Marriage. I had no memory of the soap. In fact, I never even heard of that soap. Most of what I know about it comes from its Wikipedia entry.
NBC aired the show from January, 1974, to April, 1975. That means I’d have been 4 or 5 years old, depending on when the scene aired.
Another major story centered on Fran Bachman (Fran Brill) coping with sudden widowhood.
It also adds that the character received more than a thousand letters of condolence from viewers. Obviously, the scene had an impact on those older than 4 or 5 years old, too.
But could I be sure this was the right “Fran?” I received my answer from the message board at the Soap Opera Network.
A viewer pointed out that “David,” “Fran’s” husband, suffered the attack during the first week of July 1974. (I would have been four years old.)
The viewer pointed out the couple’s daughter, Rachel, wanted a lavish birthday party for her Sweet 16. David knew he couldn’t afford it because his business was failing and he was bankrupt.
“He was ashamed, distraught, and felt less than a man because he could not provide even simple things like a birthday party for his daughter,” the viewer wrote.
Then, I saw the real confirmation.
“Under tremendous stress, he finally consented to the party, but while hanging decorations, fell from a chair and suffered a heart attack,” the viewer wrote.
He suffered a second, fatal heart attack in the hospital in what was described as another shocking scene. He told his wife before he died that he’d signed up for organ donation, which would have been a surprising detail for that time.
But viewers who recalled the show remembered vivid, compelling sequences.
I doubt any episodes of the show still exist at this point. Back then, it was still common practice to reuse videotape after a show aired since no one expected there could be any interest after the fact in rewatching those episodes.
Beyond that, no one would expect anyone would want to watch a show 45 years after it ended.
But for some of us, certain bits and pieces made an impression.