September 21, 2011
A Fond Farewell to All My Children and to Mary Fickettby Rebecca Paller
This Friday All My Children will end its 41-year run on ABC. But for a lot of New Yorkers (especially the myriad actors who were hired as extras, day players, and guest stars), the fun ended in December 2009 when the show—which had been taped in New York since its debut in January 1970—packed up and moved out to California.
Though I’m not a diehard follower of AMC—here’s where I must ’fess up that in my formative years I was a Young and the Restless groupie—I have always found it comforting to know that Erica Kane and the other denizens of Pine Valley were a mere “channel click” away. And so it was with a twinge of sadness that I learned last week of the passing of Mary Fickett—who created the role of “Ruth Martin” during the show’s first season and continued regularly in the part until 1996 (ultimately returning for a few scattered appearances in 2000). Ruth, who had what was often referred to as “the only good marriage in Pine Valley” (to Dr. Joe Martin, played by Ray MacDonnell—who had a nice and easy chemistry with Fickett), was the nurse and mother we all pine for (apologies for the pun). Kind, level-headed, sincere, and unafraid to speak her mind, she was the antithesis of so many exaggerated, over-the-top soap characters.
In 1973 Ms. Fickett won the first Emmy Award given to an actor for a daytime drama—after her character gave an impassioned speech against the Vietnam War. (Strangely enough, her award was for “Achievement by Individuals in Daytime Drama”—and the other nominees included an actor, three directors, and a scenic designer. It wasn’t until the following year that the “Actor – Daytime Drama” categories were established.)
Nearly a quarter-century later—in 1996, when Ruth returned to Pine Valley for Charlie and Cecily’s wedding—she proved that she still had a way with words, turning a simply written speech about family and life’s special moments into something quite touching. (The subtitles point up the truly international appeal of AMC.) Watch a clip.
Mary Fickett began her career as a stage actress. When I read her obituary in the New York Times (September 13), I was mesmerized by a photograph of her and Ralph Bellamy as Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt in a scene from the 1958 Broadway play Sunrise at Campobello. Even in an old still photo, there was such conviction and optimism in her stare. I only wish she had gotten to play the role in the 1960 film adaptation of the play.
The Paley Center has in its collection many AMC episodes and several of Mary Fickett’s other television appearances from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies—including her moving turn as an empathic teacher at an institution for mentally retarded children in the 1957 Studio One telecast of A Child is Waiting (a role that Judy Garland was to subsequently play in the 1963 film).
Also in the Paley Center archives is an all-but-unknown 1938 CBS radio program, Music for Fun, which features little nine-year-old Mary Fickett, who proudly announces, “I like to sing and dance…and I got two marionettes for Christmas” prior to being asked some rather inane questions about classical music by host William Spier. Throughout the half-hour program (which is interspersed with musical selections by Grainger, Gounod, and Haydn), the budding young actress speaks in a calm, clear voice and remains unflappable—even when asked to pronounce Tchaikovsky’s first name (Pietr) in Russian.
Though Lee Meriwether was to take over the role of Ruth when Fickett (who died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease) retired from the series, if you talk to any AMC fan he or she will tell you that Mary Fickett was—and is—the one and only Ruth Martin.
It is fitting that today’s (September 21) episode is being dedicated to this much-loved actress.
Before joining the Paley Center in 2000, Rebecca Paller was associate editor of Where Magazine in New York and Northern Ohio Live in Cleveland. She has written about the arts for publications including Opera News, American Theatre, Vogue, and Playbill.Interests:
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