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Posted: 1:27 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011

When soap star's life fell apart what did Kim Zimmer do?



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When soap star's life fell apart what did Kim Zimmer do? photo
When soap star's life fell apart what did Kim Zimmer do?

By Emily J. Minor

Previously: TV’s ‘Guiding Light’ switching off after 72 years | ABC cancels 2 longtime soaps from daytime lineup | 3:57 p.m. Saying goodbye to “Guiding Light” live If nothing else, she's down-to-earth . Never mind the three resurrections or the seven husbands or the four Daytime Emmy Awards that have been sitting, for years, in her Montclair, N.J., home.

Kim Zimmer’s new book \'I’m Just sayin!’ details her life as a daytime diva. (Photos courtesy of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)

Kim Zimmer paints herself as a regular 56-year-old broad, pampering her 30-year marriage and trying to redesign a midlife career just like everyone else.

Except she's not like the rest of us.

She's Reva Shayne, a woman who for almost three decades was center stage on Guiding Light, one of America's most beloved soap operas until it was pulled - some think, callously - in 2009.

The early soap opera began as mommy's little coping mechanism, a 15-minute snippet of fantasy, dreams and drama that rescued many a housewife from the daily, man-drives-the-car-to-work doldrums, and Zimmer was a big part of that world since 1983.

Many a lonely woman, night-shift beat cop and procrastinating college student followed Reva Shayne's shenanigans.

"I honestly never believed that Guiding Light would ever be gone," Zimmer said during a phone interview this week to promote her new book, I'm Just Sayin!

"I really believed the networks would keep that block of time from noon to 3 for daytime soaps."

But she believed wrong. And when joblessness, menopause, kids flying the coop and a 40-pound weight gain all hit at once, it wasn't the story line she'd hoped for.

"I was blind-sided," she said. "I was devastated."

And this time, gutsy and unpredictable Reva Shayne wasn't there to bail her out. Kim Zimmer had to do that all by herself.

A Midwestern Michigan girl with down-home roots, Zimmer fell firmly in love with theater as a college girl, met A.C. Weary, the only husband she's ever had, and moved to New York City to begin a serious acting career in 1979.

Their daughter was born in 1982, about the same time she appeared on - this will take you down memory lane - The Doctors, a steamy but short-lived soap opera that once starred, in addition to Zimmer, Alec Baldwin and Kathleen Turner. In 1983, Zimmer got a three-year contract to play Reva on Guiding Light and she was there, except for a short respite in the 1990s, until the show closed.

It was the heyday of the American soap opera, when "the stories," as they were called then, were capturing longer time slots, not shorter.

Sure, women were the backbone of the viewing audience, but Zimmer said she's always been surprised at the number of men who watched.

Those night-shift guys had to do something during the day.

The show was top-notch back then, with what she still considers to have been the best writing, lighting, casting and prep time in the business.

And she flourished, always having a hand in the story lines, or at least that's what she writes in her book.

And there were some pretty crazy story lines.

She was a slut, a Civil War belle, a cancer survivor, a time traveler.

She was an Amish woman, only to return (from the 1990s respite) wearing a bonnet and nursing a bad case of amnesia.

She was a talk show host, a real (fake) princess, a manic depressive and a menopausal maniac.

But her favorite role, in all those years?

"I think it has to be the whole seven-husband thing," she said.

Two of them, she married twice.

Zimmer said she loved the family atmosphere on the show, the way they'd take certain dressing rooms and turn the space into a cozy nest for game-playing and cocktails. Zimmer and her husband moved to New Jersey once their kids started getting older - they have three, one daughter and two sons - and, for many years, Zimmer took the bus from Jersey to Manhattan.

In 1990, her husband, also a successful actor and producer, had a professional opportunity in Southern California, so Zimmer took a sabbatical from Guiding Light and they moved the whole family west. In the end, she hated the constant worrying about earthquakes, so she made a call to her old bosses.

Would they take her back?

Would they!

Before you knew it, Reva Shayne was waking up in Pennsylvania Amish country, presumedly with a lulu of a headache from having driven a car off a bridge in the Florida Keys.

The pitter-patter of the Guiding Light continued through the 1990s, with great story lines, good product-backing and plenty of audience growth. But something else was happening.

Viewers started using the VCR to tape their stories, which was fabulous, except they could now fast-forward through all the commercials. Zimmer really thinks this was the beginning of the end.

At least, that's what hindsight has taught her.

It was April 1, 2009, when they announced the demise of Guiding Light. The network money at CBS had been drying up for years, and Zimmer writes that she hated the chintzy-looking shows of those final years. But she understands the dynamics of today's daytime TV.

Reality shows. Cooking shows. "Those shows are much cheaper to produce than our soap opera dramas," she said.

The months that followed the last show in the fall of 2009 - she got to speak the very last line, thank you very much - were perhaps the toughest of her life, she says. Menopause, on top of heartache, on top of professional uncertainty, sent her flying off (what she felt was) the deep end. She gained 40 pounds. Got pulled over for a DUI. She felt manic without hormones, but decided against any treatment.

"At one point, my husband said, 'You know, there are things you can take to make you feel better,'" she said, laughing. Instead, Zimmer crawled back, Reva style, eventually landing a small, recurring role on One Life to Live, which was canceled by ABC in April, and going back to her first love, live theater. And, of course, she's written the book.

But she's a learned a thing or two. When the folks at One Life gave her a dressing room, she thanked them profusely. (They're going to try to continue the show online.)

"They did that out of respect," she said. "It was really so kind they didn't have to."

But Zimmer never dressed up the room. Not one pretty lamp. Not one family picture.

"I did not make it a home," she said. "I don't want to get stung like that again.

"I'm just more careful now."

~emilyjminor@aol.com

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