Long before TV schemers Susan Lucci (“All My Children”), Joan Collins (“Dynasty”), Heather Locklear (“Melrose Place”) and Omarosa (“The Apprentice”) plotted their way to stardom, Eileen Fulton was making a name for herself as TV’s first bitch — steel magnolia Lisa on “As the World Turns.”
Fulton’s May 1960 debut was inauspicious. “Lisa was described to me as just a little summer part, to be the girlfriend of the son of the soap’s core couple,” the actress says. “I learned my lines and thought, ‘I don’t want to be a sweet girl. I’m going to think rotten thoughts,’ and it came across!”
Misdeeds such as lying about doing housework and trying to kick her husband’s grandfather out of the house seem quaint by today’s standards, but the TV landscape — and the country’s political climate — were markedly different in the JFK era.
“The women who watched the show hated me,” Fulton recalls. “Lisa was just so spunky and some people just hated spunk on their soaps. You just don’t lie to the Hughes family or have a mad affair with another doctor under Bob’s nose.”
As soap historian and Soap Opera Weekly columnist Mimi Torchin says, “Back then, viewers couldn’t believe that Lisa didn’t want to be a typical doctor’s wife. That was outrageous!”
However, Lisa wasn’t a one-note villainess, which was a rarity for the soaps of the day.
“She wheedled, lied and schemed and yet she was vulnerable,” Fulton says. “That made people love her and hate her at the same time. That was a potent combination back then.”
Lisa would go on to marry eight times and, eventually, mellow. The character is still a gossip and busybody, but after 46 years in the fictional town of Oakdale, Lisa is no longer inciting viewers’ wrath.
“People have to change, even on a soap,” Fulton says. “They grow up. Otherwise, they become obnoxious!”