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Greatest Soap Actresses of All Time: Who belongs on the list?

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  • Daniel Montgomery
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    Hi all!

    I’ve decided I’m going to embark on a project of ranking the greatest soap actors and greatest soap actresses of all time. I’m creating preliminary lists now and will rank them later, and wanted to get input from everyone here, especially for some of the stars whos pre-date me LOL.

    Since my soap watching history only goes back to the 1990s, I’m trying to come up with clear standards for ranking even the people whose work I’m not as personally familiar with and I’ve decided on three major criteria:

    – QUALITY: How good/acclaimed/awarded their work was

    – QUANTITY: Who has been in the industry the longest

    – IMPACT: Who had the most iconic, influential, and groundbreaking roles/performances/moments.

    Here’s my preliminary list of women in alphabetical order (I’ll give a list of men in a separate forum thread). I haven’t decided what the cutoff will be (whether it’ll be top 20, top 30, maybe even top 40 or more). And I’m sure there are many I’m missing. So chime in with who you think should be on the list, who you think should be the highest ranked, and why. I’ll be taking all your opinions into account when I formulate my list.

    Kristian Alfonso
    Rachel Ames
    Julia Barr
    Sarah Brown
    Crystal Chappell
    Leslie Charleson
    Jeanne Cooper
    Linda Dano
    Eileen Davidson
    Jane Elliot
    Mary Beth Evans
    Jennifer Finnigan
    Susan Flannery
    Genie Francis
    Eileen Fulton
    Helen Gallagher
    Nancy Lee Grahn
    Deidre Hall
    Kathryn Hays
    Elizabeth Hubbard
    Finola Hughes
    Katherine Kelly Lang
    Anna Lee
    Judith Light
    Susan Lucci
    Marie Masters
    Peggy McCay
    Kimberly McCullough
    Beverlee McKinsey
    Debbi Morgan
    Frances Reid
    Suzanne Rogers
    Victoria Rowell
    Susan Seaforth Hayes
    Erika Slezak
    Hillary B. Smith
    Michelle Stafford
    Robin Strasser
    Mary Stuart
    Alison Sweeney
    Melody Thomas Scott
    Gina Tognoni
    Heather Tom
    Helen Wagner
    Marcy Walker
    Jess Walton
    Maura West
    Jacklyn Zeman
    Colleen Zenk
    Kim Zimmer

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    FreemanGriffin
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    Robin Strasser is my all-time favorite. She was on Another World, All My Children, One Life to Live, Passions and is about to do a guest stint on Days Of Our Lives!

    Kathryn Hays is another all-time favorite – one role but played that role from 1972-2010!

    Suzanne Rogers belongs on the list – she has played Maggie since 1974 and is still playing her role!

    Maura West has had two great roles and one where she didn’t quite hit it: Carly on As The World Turns and Ava on General Hospital (the miss was her work on The Young and the Restless).

    Robin Mattson belongs on the list. Hope on Guiding Light, Delia on Ryan’s Hope, Gina on Santa Barbara and her most famous role as Heather on General Hospital (she has also popped up on a few more shows)

    Elizabeth Hubbard was on soaps between 1962 and 2010: she was on Guiding Light, The Edge Of Night, and One Life to Live for short-term roles, and is best known for playing Althea on The Doctors (1964-69, 1970-77, 1981-82) and Lucinda on As The World Turns (1984-2010).

    Alison Sweeney was so iconic in her role as Sami since the early 1990’s – she belongs on the list.

    I love Sharon Gabet but she is really only known for her role as Raven on The Edge of Night (1977-84).

    Marcy Walker had two iconic roles: Liza on All My Children, and Eden on Santa Barbara (:

    Jane Elliot was on a soap called A Time For Us in 1966, but is mostly known for Tracy on General Hospital (and The City) and Anjelica on Days Of Our Lives.

    I adore Hillary B Smith: Kit on The Doctors, Margo on As The World Turns, and Nora on One Life to Live (and guest stints on General Hospital)

    Genie Francis belongs for her long-term role as Laura on General Hospital.

    Julia Barr was my favorite actress on All My Children.

    Your list is a great one! I would also add Ilene Kristen (Delia on Ryan’s Hope and Roxie on One Life To Live), and Victoria Wyndham as Rachel on Another World.

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    soapfandc
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    Great list and fun to think about. I would add Kim Zimmer (Nola on the Doctors and Echo on OLTL but best know for Reva Shayne on Guiding light)

    Beverly McKinsey (Iris on another world and Texas, and Alexandra Spaulding on Guiding Light )

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    alokin
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    Nice idea, Daniel! You’ve already compiled a great list.

    Particularly love that you remembered to include Crystal Chappell, Katherine Kelly Lang, Susan Seaforth Hayes, Melody Thomas Scott, and Jess Walton!

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    DramaKing
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    There are quite a few names I would take off the list. Some of those listed are not great actresses. I would definitely add Ellen Wheeler (won Emmys for both AW and AMC), Anne Heche – iconic as Vicki/Marly on AW and Victoria Wyndham as Rachel on AW. She had the difficult task of replacing Robin Strasser but she make the character of Rachel her own. Her relationship with Mac and her feud with Iris (and the whole Alice/Steve triangle) made AW the gold standard in the late 70s.

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    youngsoapfan
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    I would add Louise Sorel to the list, nobody was as great of a daytime Diva as she, and the best villainess ever. She walked away emmyless from Days of our lives, but fans clearly loved her walking away with at least 5 SOD awards, and the fans are who really count anyways. 😉 She has class, style, wit, humor, and the redeeming quality of what not all other evil characters have. She’s the best.

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    keithw
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    Beverly McKinsey
    Victoria Wyndham
    Robin Strasser
    Erika Slezak
    Mauve Kincaid (spelling?)
    Julia Barr
    Susan Lucci

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    Djoko
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    Eileen Davidson is the greatest. No one comes close.

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    Tony Ruiz
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    I would also add Martha Byrne

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    Boidiva02
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    Some I would add (and I apologize if they are already there, I may have missed a few on your list):

    Robin Mattson: This woman is a soap opera ICON and has appeared on virtually every soap opera there has been. Her most notable roles have been Gina Lockridge on Santa Barbara (for which she earned critical acclaim and three consecutive Daytime Emmy nominations from 1987-1989); Heather Webber on “General Hospital” for which she earned a 1983 Daytime Emmy nomination and that will go down in history as one of the most unhinged characters in soap history; and finally for taking over the role of Janet Green on “All My Children” and bringing Janet from insane to sane to insane again. She also did shorter stints on Guiding Light, As The World Turns, Days of Our Lives, Bold & Beautiful and Ryan’s Hope.

    Helen Gallagher: Best known for her iconic role as Maeve Ryan on “Ryan’s Hope” she was a unique and otherworldly talent that captivated a generation of viewers with her character.

    Denise Alexander: In the 1970’s she was THE soap actress. She is best known for her extremely popular work on “General Hospital” in the 1970’s playing Lesley Webber. Lesley was a definitive character on the show in the 70’s; a rival for Monica and biological mother to Laura. Her popular role on GH only ended during a contract dispute with ABC in 1984. At the time she was offered a massive contract by NBC to steal her away from GH and brought her over to “Another World” as Mary McKinnon, which despite her best efforts failed to become a popular or long-lasting character. She also had soap opera roles on The Clear Horizon in the early 60’s and Days of Our Lives in the late 60’s and early 70’s and did a short stint on Sunset Beach in the 1990’s.

    Anna Stuart: This is an important actress in the genre who is often overlooked or forgotten. Her best known role was on “Another World” as Donna Love Hudson; which she played from 1983 to 1986 and again from 1989 to 1999 when the series ended. She has also had roles on The Doctors, All My Children, General Hospital, As The World Turns, Guiding Light and the web soap Gotham.

    Lisa Peluso: Perhaps best known for her work as Ava Rescott on ABC’s low-rated “Loving” she had a very long career in the soap opera world. her first notable role was on the popular series “Search For Tomorrow” as Wendy Wilkins from 1977 until 1986. Next up was Ava on “Loving” from 1988-1995 when “Loving” ended and she was not asked to join it’s spin-off “The City”. She joined “Another World” in 1997 as Lila Hart Cory Roberts Winthrop; and played that popular role until the series was cancelled in 1999. She also had two different roles on One Life To Live; first as Billie Giordano from 1987-1988 and as Gina Russo in 2001.

    Laura Wright: Although probably most associated with the role of Carly Corinthos on “General Hospital” a role she has played continuously since 2005 (despite being the fourth actress to play the role). She has actually played three iconic soap opera characters since her career began in the early 1990’s. Her earliest role was as ingenue Ally Rescott Bowman on ABC’s “Loving” a role for which she earned three soap opera digest award nominations. She continued the role on “The City” (1995-1997) and then joined the cast of “Guiding Light” in 1997 taking on the role of Cassie Layne Winslow, later revealed to be the sister of Reva Shayne Lewis; the series main female protagonist. The role proved to be a popular one and gave Wright the chance to stretch her acting muscles and grow as a performer. Her character evolved over the years and was a fan favorite. She left “Guiding Light” in 2005 and was cast as Carly in that same year. She has continued in the role ever since becoming the series lead female character and earning six daytime emmy nominations for the role; winning once in 2011.

    Lynn Herring: Already a veteran of episodic work in primetime when she landed her first (and most iconic) soap opera role as Lucy Coe on “General Hospital” in 1986; she quickly became a fan favorite as her character evolved from mousy librarian into a complex and often times misunderstood villain seeking to improve her financial stand in life. As the character evolved she later became a quirky and beloved heroine. She played the role from 1986-1991 and returned in 1992 and continued playing the role 1997 when she joined GH’s spin-off “Port Charles” and continued played Lucy, now a leading character until the series cancellation in 2003. She made a one-off return to GH in 2004 and returned as a recurring character on 2012 and has been there ever since.

    She also played soap roles on “Days Of Our Lives” (1992) and “As the World Turns” in 2009.

    Fiona Hutchison: This outstanding actress has had a storied soap opera career playing fan favorite roles on two iconic soap operas; “Guiding Light” and “One Life To Live”. Gabriella Medina on “OLTL” (1987-1991, 2001-2004) and Jenna Bradshaw on “GL” (1992-1994, 1996-1998). She also briefly appeared on “ATWT” in 2000 and again in 2006 (for like two days).

    Andrea Evans: Best known for her extremely popular role as Tina Clayton Lord (et all) on “One Life To Live” this actress is one of the soap opera genres most beloved performers. as Tina on “OLTL” she was introduced as the troublemaking half-sister of series lead Victoria “Viki” Lord (Erika Slezak) and quickly became fan favorite. She played the role from 1978-1981 and returned in 1985 and left abruptly in 1990 when Evans was being stalked by a psycho fan and her life threatened. She left the show and dropped out of public life for over a decade. She finally returned to public life in 1999 when she joined the cast of “The Bold & the Beautiful” as Tawny Moore; she left that show in 1999 and joined the cast of NBC’s “Passions” in 2000 as Rebecca Hotchkiss, playing that role until 2008. She finally returned to “OLTL” and her iconic role of Tina Lord in 2008; appearing from June through November and then returning again in 2001 for several months.

    She also appeared on “The Young & Restless” from 1983-1984 as Patti Williams; sister of Doug Williams.

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    Boidiva02
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    I would also include the following names I thought of after my original reply:

    Ruth Warrick: All My Children’s original grande dame was Phoebe Tyler Wallingford the eccentric, snobby society queen of Pine Valley and Aunt to Brooke English. Phoebe was a force to be reckoned with and Warrick the original mega-star of AMC. No list of soap actresses would be complete without her.

    Eileen Herlie: By the time she joined the cast of “AMC” in 1976 she was already a shakespearean trained actress with a film career spanning the 1940’s until the 1970’s. She was cast as Myrtle Fargate in 1976 and remained on the series the remainder of her life until her death in 2008. Myrtle was a former carney who ran a boarding house and a boutique in town and served as a motherly figure and mentor to many characters over the years; most notably Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) and Kendall Hart (Sarah Michelle Gellar; Alicia Minshew).

    Dorothy Lyman: This amazing actress appeared on numerous soaps from 1972-1983. Her first soap opera role was “A World Apart” in 1971 as Julie Stark, followed by, “The Edge of Night” from 1972-1973 as Elly Jo Jameson. from 1978-1980 she appeared on “Another World” as Gwen Parrish, and landed her most iconic role as Opal Sue Gardner on “All My Children” in 1981 (staying until 1983). The role of Opal was unique in soaps; she wasn’t rich, she wasn’t glamarous and she wasn’t motherly. She was a bad mother with a bad relationship with her son and bad men in her life. She was basically white trash. But Lyman made her entertaining and likeable. She won back-to-back Emmy’s for her work on the show in 1982 and 1983. After leaving AMC in 1983, she developed a successful career in primetime television as an actress and later director. She landed further soap opera roles on “Generations” (1990-1991) as Rebecca Whitmore #2, “The Bold & Beautiful” (1991-1992) as Bonnie Roberts, “Days of Our Lives” (2001) as Contessa Dorothea DiLyman, and finally “As the World Turns” (2004) as Naomi The Maid,

    Sharon Case: Case has been acting on soaps since the late 1980’s; starting with a role as Dawn Winthrop on “General Hospital” which she played from 1989-1990. From 1992-1993 she played Debbie Simon on “As The World Turns” She joined “The Young & Restless” as Sharon Newman in 1994 and has remained there since. She won a Daytime Emmy in 1999 and has been nominated five times in total. Though her character can be rather irritating and controversial among fans, Case has proven to be a reliable performer and a stalwart of the industry.

    Cady McClain: An industry (and at times fan) favorite since she began her career in the early 1980’s, McClain has more than made her mark on daytime soaps. She has had roles on three iconic soap operas and a web soap and played two of the industry’s most compelling characters. Her first role of note was Dixie Cooney Martin on “All My Children”; starting as an ingenue in 1988 she played that role on and off until 2013. Following her exit from “AMC” in 2002, she joined the cast of “As The World Turns” as Rosanna Cabot, taking over a role that had long been neglected by the writers and ushering the show into a new golden era. Her transformative work two back-to-back Emmy nominations (2003-2004) and a win in 2004. She had previously lost three previous nominations for “AMC.” She played Rosanna from 2002-2005 and again from 2007-2010. From 2014-2015 she appeared on “Young & Restless” as Kelly Andrews. She has appeared on the web soap “Venice: The Series” as well.

    Tonya Lee Williams: A fan favorite on “Y&R” as Dr. Olivia Barber she played that role originally from 1990-2005 and again in 2007 and again from 2008-2012. She has also appeared on “Generations” (1989-1990) as Linda Dukes.

    Tonja Walker Davidson: Her first notable soap opera role was on “Capitol” in 1982 and lasted until 1984; she played Lizbeth Bachman. In 1988, she joined the cast of “General Hospital” as Olivia St. John (Jerome). She played this villain until 1990 and at that point she joined the cast of “One Life To Live” her perhaps her most well known role, as psychotic social climber Alex Olanov Buchanan. This role allowed Walker to display a range of comedy, melodrama, villainy and hysteria. She became a fan favorite and remained on the series until 1997 when she departed. She made return appearances from 2001-2002, 2007, 2009 and in 2011. Following her stint on “OLTL” she had brief roles on “Guiding Light” and “Passions”.

    Susan Haskell: She has had only one notable soap opera role, and a doozy at that. She played Margaret “Marty” Saybrooke on “One Life To Live” and earned critical acclaim and two daytime emmy’s for her efforts. Her character was everything an actress could dream of, a party girl turned good girl who grows up after becoming the victim of a horrible crime. In this case, her character is raped and brings her attackers to justice. After her original run on the series ended in 1997, she returned for numerous short stints in 2004 and 2005 before returning in 2008 full-time. She remained on the show until 2011. For her work she won Daytime Emmy’s in 1994 and 2009.

    Rebecca Budig: Rebecca Budig is one of the defining actresses on soaps in the late 1990’s. Best known as Greenlee Smythe on “All My Children”; a role she played continuously from 1999-2005 and again from 2008-2011.) Perhaps the most extraordinary part about her work on “AMC” is the fact that she wasn’t even intended to become a long-term character. Greenlee was introduced as a romantic rival to another character Becca Tyree (Abigail Spencer) and Scott Chandler (Forbes March), but soon became such a scene stealer that she outlasted that storyline as those other characters left the show and faded into obscurity. It was her pairing with Josh Duhamel as Leo DuPress that sent fans into a tizzy as they became a supercouple and Greenlee became a big fan favorite. Later AMC struck gold again when Greenlee was paired with Ryan Lavery (Cameron Mathison) a con-man who eventually turned legit.

    Prior to her career defining role on “AMC” she played good girl Michelle Bauer on “Guiding Light” (1995-1998) and following “AMC” she appeared on “General Hospital” as a con-woman named Hayden Barnes (2015-2017; 2019-Present).

    Robin Christopher: Robin Christopher is an often overlooked but vitally important soap opera performer. She has appeared as two important characters and appeared on four important soap operas. Her career started on “All My Children” in 1987 when she started the role of Skye Chandler, the daughter of series patriarch Adam Chandler. She continued on the series until 1991 and returned briefly in 2000. Following her exit from “AMC” she took on another iconic role, Lorna Devon on “Another World” (1994-1997) playing the daughter of Linda Dano’s Felicia Gallant. She was absent from soaps until 1999 when she reprised the role of Skye Chandler on another ABC soap opera “One Life To Live” and was once again paired with Linda Dano as her mother (Dano played Rae Cummings on all four of ABC’s soaps at the time). Skye lasted on “OLTL” until 2001 and then moved over to “General Hospital” where she stayed until 2008. She returned for brief stints in 2010, 2011 and 2012. For her incredible work Robin has two daytime emmy nominations (2003, 2005).

    Vanessa Marcil: She has only 1 soap opera credit to her name and that credit is Brenda Barrett on “General Hospital” (1992-1998; 2002-2003; 2010-2011; 2013). Brenda was introduced in 1992 as a rival of Karen Wexler (Carrie Shayne) for the romantic attention of Jagger Cates (Antonio Sabato Jr); but it was her romances with two other men, mobster Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) and Jasper Jax (Ingo Rademacher) that catapulted her into soap opera superstardom. Brenda quickly became THE character on “GH” that people tuned in for and an absolute fan favorite. She she returned to the show in 2002 ratings went through the roof. For her work she earned three daytime emmy nominations (1997, 1998 and 2003) winning in 2003.

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    gatorman
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    Sharon Case: I only know her from Y&R, but she’s amazing. While I don’t always agree with what Sharon does (Case always delivers).

    Tonya Lee Williams: one of the reasons I got hooked on Y&R. When she had story, she delivered big time. When she didn’t have story, I didn’t understand why she wasn’t on.

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    alokin
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    A couple more that I’m surprised haven’t yet been mentioned; all are magnificent actresses who have transcended the screen with a type of grace, vulnerability, and authenticity that has rightfully earned them a place among the greats. A few in this group (such as Tamara Braun, Kassie DePaiva, Melissa Claire Egan, Cynthia Watros or Arianne Zucker) have also proven themselves to be such versatile actors as when tackling villainess roles, so for that reason, I’d probably rank them a bit higher than others on the list.

    Tamara Braun

    Tracey E. Bregman

    Kimberlin Brown

    Jensen Buchanan

    Tricia Cast

    Kassie DePaiva

    Melissa Claire Egan

    Beth Ehlers

    Judi Evans

    Camryn Grimes

    Amelia Heinle

    Elizabeth Hendrickson

    Anna Holbrook

    Lesli Kay

    Jacqueline MacInnes Wood

    Beth Maitland

    Julie Pinson

    Melissa Reeves

    Hunter Tylo

    Cynthia Watros

    Kathleen Widdoes

    Arianne Zucker

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    EmmyLoser
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    Most of the people I would have thought of are either already on the list or already suggested by others. But I’ll list a few I think deserve consideration:

    Victoria Wyndham — others have already talked about her, but her portrayal of Rachel on AW is extremely iconic

    Sarah Michelle Gellar — yes, she was only on AMC for a couple of years, so low on quantity, but the work was highly praised and really impactful

    Rebecca Budig — her Greenlee Smythe was THE reason I was watching AMC in the early 2000s, and her pairing with Josh Duhamel’s Leo was incredibly popular and really transcendent for both their characters

    Judi Evans — she won an Emmy on GL and has been fantastic on DAYS when given really any material, but truly her work as Paulina on AW is what puts her on the list. Incredibly memorable and probably for me the most iconic actress on that show in the mid-to-late 90s

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    FreemanGriffin
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    ^Yes! Judi Evans! She was also great as Beth Raines on Guiding Light, but it was her work as Paulina that was her best of her career, and that’s saying something because she has been great on Days too! (:

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