Irna Phillips was often called the “Queen of the Soaps,” but earning that title was anything but easy for her.
Phillips had a clear idea of who she wanted to be and always knew it was an actress. In college, she dreamed of beginning her acting career, but some of her school administrators doubted that her looks would get her very far in the industry. This caused her to turn to teaching. She taught in Dayton, Ohio for five years teaching drama and theater history. All the while, she never forgot about her dream of acting. Phillips performed several acting roles for radio productions at WGN in Chicago. While teaching, she realized she could never be happy being a teacher for the rest of her life, so she quit.
Irna pursued her dream and landed a job at WGN as a voice-over artist and actress. Soon after she was hired, the station asked her to create a daily program that was “about a family.” That’s when she came up with Painted Dreams, which premiered on October 20, 1930. This show is recognized today as radio’s first soap opera.
In the years to come, Phillips wrote several successful radio soap operas, including The Guiding Light. By this time, she had given up acting all together to devote all her time to writing. In 1943, just over ten years from her start, she had five programs on the air and she was putting out over two million words a year. Irna pioneered many of the clichéd devices used today, such as organ music to blend one scene to the next, and cliff-hanger endings. She was also the first to address social concerns in her storylines.
In 1952, she reluctantly brought her creations to television with the premiere of The Guiding Light. Then on April 2, 1956 As the World Turns had its first show and would eventually become her most successful show. Although those are some of the most noted shows, she wrote other popular shows like, Another World and Days of Our Lives.
All of these shows were Irna’s heart and soul. Some people say that she even tried to live out the life of some of her characters. She led the way for many writers who dream of one day being as successful and as innovative as she once was.
“None of us is different, except in degree. None of us is a stranger to success and failure, life and death, the need to be loved, the struggle to communicate.” – Irna Phillips