Guiding Light was a beloved soap opera that began as a fifteen-minute radio show in 1937. The soap's 72-year tenure makes it the longest-running soap opera in United States history, with its run ending in 2009 and over 15,000 combined radio and television episodes being presented.
During its time, actors who would later become big names in the industry appeared in the soap opera before making a name for themselves in other roles. The growing popularity of television in the '50s kicked off this trend as the regularity of available work proved enticing.
During this time on Guiding Light, Christopher Walken--who would later go on to win the Oscar for The Deer Hunter--played Mike Bauer. His brother, Glenn Walken, embodied the same role during that decade. James Lipton, who hosted the Actors Studio, and appeared on many television shows, was Dr. Dick Grant. He was also one of the soap's head writers in the '50s.
Guiding Light in the '60s-'80s and its Star Wars connection
Several prominent young actors were on the soap in the '60s, including Billy Dee Williams (Brian's Song and a series of Star Wars movies as Lando) played Doctor Jim Frasier. James Earl Jones also portrayed Doctor Frasier before becoming the iconic voice of Darth Vader and starring in The Hunt for Red October.
Cicely Tyson (Fried Green Tomatoes and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman) played registered nurse Martha Frasier. Ruby Dee (Do the Right Thing and American Gangster) also portrayed Martha Frasier. The Frasiers were married and worked at Cedars Hospital in Springfield.
In the '70s, Poltergeist star Jo Beth Williams played Brandy Shelloe. Peter Gallagher, best known as for his roles in American Beauty and The O.C. played Chuck Haskel. Christina Pickles began playing Linell Conway before appearing in St. Elsewhere and Friends.
In the '80s, Kevin Bacon, most famous for the eponymous trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the movie Footloose, and television's Murder in the First, played Timothy John Werner. Calista Flockhart played Elsie before becoming the title character in Ally McBeal. Sherry Stringfield (NYPD Blue and ER) was Blake Thorpe Spaulding.
Also in the '80s, Ian Ziering (Beverly Hills, 90210, and the Sharnado series) played Cameron Stewart. Giancarlo Esposito (Sesame Street and Breaking Bad) was Clay Tynan. Paige Turco (Person of Interest and The 100) portrayed Dinah Morgan Marler.
Through more modern times
In the '90s, Mia Sorvino briefly played Julie Camaletti before winning an Oscar for her role in Mighty Aphrodite. Taye Diggs portrayed Adrian Sugar Hill before appearing in Chicago and Rent.
Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect and Hairspray) was a child when she played Susan Daisy Lemay. And Hayden Panettiere (Heroes and Remember the Titans) played Lizzie Spaulding.
Also, during the '90s, Melina Kanakaredes (Providence and CSI: Miami) played Eleni Andros. Wendy Moniz (The Guardian and Yellowstone) portrayed Dinah Marler. Paul Wesley (The Vampire Diaries and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds) played Max Nickerson-Jacobs. Before winning an Emmy for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, Tammy Blanchard embodied Drew Jacobs.
Nia Long was Kathryn Speakes (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and NCIS: Los Angeles). Bethany Joy Lenz played Michelle Bauer Santos in the late '90s through 2000 before appearing in One Tree Hill and Dexter.
In the 2000s, Tom Pelphrey (Ozark and Mank) was Jonathan Randall. Matt Bomer (White Collar and American Horror Story) played Ben Reade. Joan Collins briefly portrayed Alexandra Spaulding after appearing starring in her most famous role on Dynasty.
All hail the queen of soap operas, Irna Phillips
If Irna Phillips had only created Guiding Light, her place in the pantheon of greats would be secure. But incredibly, this prolific talent also made radio soaps Today's Children (1933-38, 1943-50), and the first hospital-based soap, Women in White (1938-42, a break for WWII, and then 1944-48), and televised soaps Another World (1964-99), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1967-73), and, along with co-creators, Allan Chase and Ted Corday, Days of Our Lives (1965-present day).
Phillips is arguably the greatest soap star ever connected to this beloved steamer.