I was interested today to see an article in the Advocate about actor Ryan Phillippe. He describes in the article how his religious parents shunned him back in 1992 when he played a struggling gay teenager, Billy Douglas, on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live (“OLTL”). I remember it well! It was a groundbreaking role, the first gay character on a daytime soap opera — and a teenager no less.
In an interview with KFC Radio (linked in the Advocate article), Phillippe explains that OLTL was his first acting job which he took while still a senior in a Baptist high school. If his parents disapproved so strenuously I’m not sure why they couldn’t stop him at that age, but thankfully they didn’t. He delivered a powerful performance almost 30 years ago that’s still relevant today.
Phillippe talked recently about the role. He says that looking back he’s proud of the work.
Scenes from One Life to Live
I haven’t heard mention of OLTL and this gay storyline in ages. I figured it was long forgotten. But not by me! I recorded each episode on my VCR to watch after work. Phillippe’s performance was riveting — no more so than this scene where young Billy comes out to Rev. Andrew Carpenter, an Episcopal priest, his main source of emotional support and guidance.
The quality of this clip is disappointing, but well worth enduring. Portraying Billy, Phillippe nails it when describing what it’s like to be young, gay, closeted and scared to death.
As soap operas require, the storyline around Billy is complicated. He faces a huge struggle. Although his mother is eventually supportive, his father’s reaction is horrid. He blames Rev. Carpenter for his son’s homosexuality. A young girl in Billy’s school has started rumors that Rev. Carpenter molested Billy and turned him gay. It’s all a huge twisted mess, of course!
The main thing is that, through it all, Phillippe is magnificent as we watch Billy struggle against everything — and eventually prevail.
In these next to clips, Billy comes out to his parents.
Later Rev. Carpenter organizes the AIDS Quilt to come to Llanview, the fictional Pennsylvania town where all this transpires. Billy’s father is enraged and organizes the vestry to physically block Rev. Carpenter from entering the church. Billy shows up, confronts his father and literally parts the crowd so Rev. Carpenter can go inside. The confrontation continues inside as Billy’s father persists with his accusations and innuendos against Rev. Carpenter. Finally Billy can’t take any more and he comes out publicly in order to defend Rev. Carpenter.
Back home after the brouhaha at church, Billy’s father declares he no longer loves Billy and throws him out — except it doesn’t quite go according to plan!
The struggle goes on a bit longer but ultimately things work out for Billy. He finds a boyfriend and is accepted at Yale.
This final clip recaps the story which includes much more than what I can cover here.
Title image is screen grab from ABC’s One Life to Live.
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