Soap operas have been a constant for viewers looking to escape into other worlds since serials began on radio back in the 1920s, so it’s somewhat odd that so few of the people who bring those shows to life have been honored with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
That’s changing on May 15 when Ken Corday, executive producer of “Days of Our Lives,” will receive his.
Corday has soap operas in his blood, and grew up learning the trade. His parents, Ted and Betty Corday, had thriving careers dating back to the 1940s and into the early ’60s working in New York serials. Then, they moved to Los Angeles to launch two NBC soaps, the short-lived “Morning Star” and the long-running “Days of Our Lives,” both of which debuted in 1965.
Ted Corday passed away less than a year later when Ken was just 16 years old. “I hardly felt like the man of the house,” Corday tells Variety. “I was more of a sounding board for my mother who took up the running of the show after my father’s passing.”
Corday says his mother was a trailblazer for women in television. “She was a peerless example to women in the ’60s of the possibility and reality of becoming equal in an occupation which, then, was a role and job only for men.”
Corday’s role at “Days” progressed gradually, much like a good daytime storyline. His passion for music brought him closer to the show. “I was a composer in graduate school when I was asked by the ‘Days’ music director to write background music for the show,” says Corday, who has won four Daytime Emmys for composing. “That led to my taking a title as assistant to the producers, which meant answering fan mail, getting them coffee, and generally watching and learning all the aspects of producing the show.”
In 1981, NBC and Sony Pictures Television tapped Corday to co-produce the show. He credits late showrunners Wes Kenney and Al Rabin for providing him with invaluable lessons that still serve him today.
His parents also gave him the tools needed to guide “Days” through the decades and keep those sands flowing through the hourglass. “I learned character, ethics and an overall education of arts from my father,” Corday says. “My mother taught me her people skills and what women related to in daytime drama to fulfill their lives. Her three most important lessons to me were: 1) you’re only as good as your last show; 2) you have to love the medium of daytime to work in it, and; 3) you have love the people who work with you 260 days out of the year.”
Under Corday’s leadership, “Days,” which is NBC’s sole remaining soap, continues to be a survivor. He credits the show’s evergreen success to the ongoing generations of characters and families. “In the end, it’s all about families and family values coupled with high romance, mystery, intrigue and adventure.”
And when creative regimes happen to kill off a legacy character, Corday employs an adage he learned from his mother (who learned it from soap legend Irna Phillips): “never let temporary people make permanent decisions,” hence the number of times fan favorites have come back from the dead.
“Producing the show today is very different from the ’80s and ’90s in that we are still producing 260 shows a year, but for less than half the money we were getting five to 10 years ago, and in 40 weeks, as opposed to 52,” notes Corday. “That being said, I believe the show still looks as good now, if not better, and has the same impact it did back in the ’80s and ’90s.”
Appropriately, Corday’s star will be located on Hollywood Boulevard, around the corner from his second workplace, Capitol Records, where he has written much of the music for “Days.”
“I am overwhelmed,” Corday says. “Usually, this kind of honor is received by celebrities, of which I am not one. I would have really preferred that the star be for my mother and father, so it is in their memory that I will accept this great honor as their representative and custodian of their legacy.”