Kim Zimmer: "I've always been un-politically correct"
I have never watched a soap opera that Kim Zimmer was a part of. But I have always been a fan. How is that possible?
So I knew that her new book, “I’m Just Sayin’” would be a joy to read and it was. And it was not without its revelations, as we talked about in a recent phone conversation.
In today’s “Stay Tuned” column, you can read my thoughts on the book. But what follows here is the transcript of our conversation as we discussed the controversy the book has created, those final years of “Guiding Light,” the future of soap operas and the perils of being honest. She laughed a lot, but she also cried as she talked about the character she spent 28 years bringing to life…
I have to admit I read the book in a two-day marathon session.
Oh my God.
I loved it.
Oh good. Thank you.
Well I didn’t get it until Monday [two days before the interview] and I thought, if she asks me if I read the book, I am not going to lie to her.
Oh, you’re sweet. Thank you.
Very early in the book you’re very clear about why you wrote the book now. But for people who are thinking about reading the book, talk a little about why you wrote it now after all these years in daytime.
I think because the obvious, especially now having to tag on the end of the book, which included the announcement that ABC was pulling the plug on “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” I think the future of daytime is very precarious and I wanted to capture moments in time that I had in my 28 years of experience—actually more than that. Closer to 32 years—of experience that I had. The joys and sorrows, the highs and lows, the ups and downs of a career in soap opera. Because I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to be entertained by them on a daily, you know five days a week on major networks.
Does the thought of daytime drama ceasing to exist make you want to cry as much as it does the rest of us?
I don’t know if it’s going to cease to exist. It’s going to cease to exist on network television. You know they’re attempting to move these shows to the Internet—not of course, “Guiding Light” or “As the World Turns. I think we’ve seen the end of those—but at least they’re trying to rescue “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” It reminds me—well, it doesn’t remind me—but I parallel it to when soaps moved from being radio shows to television. Now we’re exploring the new frontier of the Internet and I do think the Internet is the future of television. On a much bigger scale than just moving these soaps to be web series. I think this is what we’re going to start seeing more and more of. Now, they’ve already linked computers into your television where you can watch whatever you’re watching on the Internet on your big screen television. So, you know, I think it’s an exciting…it’s the new frontier. I hope that they’re successful, that Prospect Park is successful getting these two shows started and up and rolling and then it becomes successful for them.
The thing that I think people love about you, not just that you’re a fantastic actress, is that you are as truthful as it gets.
Was there some moment in your career where you said, I’m not going to worry about all this politically correct stuff? I’m going to tell the truth.
More so there were moments when I went, “Oh man, I’ve got to start being more politically correct.” [Laughs] Because I’ve always been un-politically correct. I mean, as far back as I can remember I’ve always spoke my mind. It’s always gone hand in hand with protecting my commodity, which happens to be me. I am my product. So, I have to protect that product and keep it safe. I mean, people go to war over this kind of thing and I have on many levels. I think more so like I said there have been times where I’ve read interviews and I’ve thought maybe I went a little too far. But still I’ve never changed. I mean, I can’t. You know, I’m getting a lot of controversy surrounding my talking about my drinking and going to work at “Guiding Light” and having a liquid lunch. It’s being turned into on message boards as being the fact that I showed up drunk at work everyday, which was not the case. I mean, that’s the problem with being truthful and honest. Out of context it spins out of control and it becomes something derogatory and ugly and people take it to the max and just make assumptions because they haven’t read the book. They don’t see what the context is which I’ve talked about that. Here I am defending myself again! I’ve spent a lot of years doing that. [Laughs]
Well count me in the category of people who really appreciated your honesty.
Aw, thank you.
I think a lot of people can relate to going to work and loving what you do, but it’s not exactly what you signed on for anymore.
Well, yeah. I mean, you’re in the newspaper business, right? So you can draw a fine line between what we’re going through in daytime with what you’re doing trying to preserve newspapers. That they’re not all going to be going to the Internet. People are reading newspapers on websites now. It’s all changing. [Laughs]
Well, because when you write a memoir…I’ve read a lot of memoirs because I’m a fan of this industry and I have favorite actors and actresses and I’ve read their memoirs. I love it when people tell the truth and don’t gloss over things. It’s the way I’ve lived my life. It’s the way, like you mentioned, that people have interviewed me in the past. I don’t pull punches. And I figured if I’m going to write a book and I’m going to write it about my take on how the show ended and what that did to me personally, it’s going to include the fact that I had to numb myself in order to not blow on the set when things were changing so terribly. Like I said, I wasn’t showing up drunk, I’d go and have a glass or two of wine at lunch and just kind of take the edge off. That’s what it was for me. It was better than popping pills. I’m not a pill popper. [Laughs] I just felt that it was something that…as with soap opera stories, people learn so much from the stories people went through on the soaps. From being able to relate to characters on the soaps. I thought that if I could get the message across, you know, with the DUI, if I could get the message across to one out of a hundred people, do not get behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been drinking, then I’ve accomplished something by being honest in my memoir. You know, I mean, it’s not fun. It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life and if I can get that message across. Even though I take it to a bit of tongue in cheek at the beginning of the book, I would like to think I come around to the seriousness of it by the end.
Not that I didn’t respect you before, but I have tremendous respect for you for sharing that story because I think it will affect people and change some minds.
Well thank you. That makes me feel good because there has been backlash from people already that have lost respect for me in regards—who have not read the book—in regards to the fact that in a “TV Guide” interview I did I said I was going and drinking at lunch because I couldn’t stand my job. That was not the case. Again, you open your mouth and you don’t back it up with…you can’t ramble on and on like I’m doing right now about certain situations and have it all go into print. I just hope the people who are not showing me the love right now will indeed read the book so that they can understand a little bit more about what I went through with those last two years on the show which was very difficult for me. And writing the book was great therapy and it was cathartic and I’m so glad that I worked through it. And I have to admit that the DUI helped me, going to AA meetings helped me face a lot of inner turmoil that I was not handling well, you know? And it had a great impact on me. It also showed me that I’m not an alcoholic. But it also had a wonderful impact as far as what the human character can sustain and how far you can go to survive and get to the other side. I mean, that was what my co-writer kept saying to me while I was writing, regurgitating these stories of hate. She listened for about three months and then she finally said look, this is all great, but we have to come around and find the light again. We have to find the joy of what this job meant to you. And you know, that wasn’t difficult for me either. There was so much joy in playing Reva Shayne for 28 years. I wouldn’t have played her that long if I didn’t find it.
Do you think there will be anything else surprising for your longtime fans when they pick up the book?
I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I’ve stayed married to the same man. We’re celebrating 30 years of marriage in August. I know a lot of people also wonder…you know, I had the wonderful fortune of kissing on a lot of really handsome hunky guys and I always went home to the greatest man in the world and that’s the honesty in that is that I don’t know. I joke in the book that maybe the reason for the longevity in my marriage is because I got paid to have affairs. [Laughs] You know, my husband was more than happy to allow that to happen. It provided us with a wonderful life. [Laughs] That’s the funny side of that. The other side is that I happen to be married to the greatest man in the world.
Are you having any last minute regrets about what’s in the book?
You know what’s funny is that I hadn’t told my in-laws or my father about the DUI. And it came out and it was on the cover of “Soap Opera Weekly” magazine. And I don’t know why I thought nobody was going to find out. [Laughs] That was a little ignorant on my part. And I was just in Michigan visiting my father and he said—because I told my sister early on that it had happened—and we were sitting around playing poker and my sister said by the way, dad knows that you had this DUI and I said well is he going to say anything and she was like in good time. And finally before I was leaving he said by the way I just want you to know I’m sorry that happened to you but I’m also very glad that no one was hurt in the process—just like what I talk about in the book—because you know it’s serious and I hope you learned a lesson from it. But he was not, he didn’t think any less of me because of it. A lot of people in my family were like, it could have happened to me just as easily. That is basically what I’ve heard from a lot of people. You go to a party, you think you’re fine, you get behind the wheel of a car, you start driving and you realize wow, I probably shouldn’t be driving. That’s when you pull over in a parking lot somewhere and you call a cab. [Laughs] Because we all think we’re infallible. We think it’s not going to happen to me. You know? Ding, ding, ding! It does. [Laughs]
Those last couple years of “Guiding Light.” Can you look back on them now and say, wow, I’m so glad I came out of that?
Those last two years—well, last four years really, because I’m just now on the other side of menopause—but I lived in front of the screen going through menopause. I had that, I had the fact that the quality of the show was changing on a daily basis. I had contract problems. We were losing actors because they couldn’t deal with it anymore. There was a lot of stuff emotionally and physically in the way my body changed because I chose to deal with menopause head on. I faced it and I don’t…Like I said, I’m not a pill popper. I couldn’t even take the birth control pill because I couldn’t remember to take the fricking thing. So, you know, I didn’t take any hormones because I have a history of breast cancer in my family. So I just struggled through it on my own and it was difficult. I am glad I survived it and got through to the other side. And I tell you something. That last week of filming “Guiding Light” was probably the greatest, most special week of my life. Saying goodbye to all these people that I had worked with for so many years. [Choking up] Now I’m choking myself up. Just, you know, there was a lot of joy in that last week. And awful as it was to be shooting in 95, 100 degree temperatures on a daily basis, we had a great time shooting the last week of those episodes. And, after the last party at Peapack, I felt a huge weight that was lifted off my shoulders. I have to admit that. I didn’t have to, she was asleep. I didn’t have to worry about her anymore. She was, the great lady was gone. [Laughs as she starts to choke up again]
Do you have any idea what’s next for you?
I’ve been doing a lot of theater, which is, of course, where I started. Being back working in front of a live audience is something I’ve always wanted to have the time to do but doing a soap you really can’t do it. And raising a family there’s just no time for it. I’m just getting ready to go to Michigan and do Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” which is a huge undertaking for me. And I’m now officially a character actress. [Laughs] Which is wonderful after being a leading lady for so many years. I now get to play these wonderful character parts because I’m 56 years old now. I’m overweight and it’s great. I’m lovin’ every minute of it! [Laughs] Life is good.
Are you done with daytime? Can you see yourself moving online?
I have no problems with that. I’m still hanging on at “One Life to Live.” They’re throwing me a bone every now and then. If they ask me to go...I’m not under contract to them which is why I’m able to do all this theater because I can say I’m not available for the month of August, I’ll be in Michigan. So it’s really the greatest situation to be in. And if they want to continue writing for me, I have no problem going—at this point in my life?—I have no problem going to the Internet. It’s all, for me, it’s all about acting. As long as I can keep paying my mortgage and my taxes, then I’m fine. [Laughs] And as long as Social Security’s still there by the time I get that age, whatever it is, I’ll be a happy camper.
Unfortunately that is the big question these days.
I know. It’s freaking me out. [Laughs]
"I'm Just Sayin'" is available now...
Photo Credits: John Pasquel/Penguin Books & Penguin Books