‘One Life to Live’ Expires – On Scene with Bill Wilson

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

When I heard that “One Life To Live” was going off the air it brought tears to my eyes. Okay, maybe that is a bit overly dramatic, but it did bring back a little nostalgia since “One Life To Live” provided .01 seconds of my 15 minutes of fame. In 1992 I appeared as an extra in a segment that dealt with AIDS and homophobia and featured panels from The NAMES Project Aids Memorial Quilt.

Cast of “One Life To Live” pose before panels from The NAMES Project Quilt
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

The director did have to ask The Names Project Board of Directors more than once for permission to use the quilt in their story line. The reluctance came because The NAMES Project didn’t want the quilt to be used as just a prop. So even though the opportunity to be seen on national television was exciting, we went with a serious duty – to assure that the Quilt was treated with the respect and reverence that it deserved.

Since it was a soap opera there were several plotlines going at the same time. One was about a young man played by Ryan Phillippe dealing with his homosexuality. Another one involving the Quilt was a familiar one to those of us who had experience volunteering at The NAMES Project workshops. There were people who didn’t want their family member named on a Quilt panel because that would be publicly acknowledging that their family member was gay and they had died of AIDS. On “One Life To Live” that plot line took the form of a minister whose brother died of AIDS wanting to make a panel for his brother over the strenuous objections of his father.

The location shoot took place in a town called New Vernon, New Jersey west of New York City. The grounds of the Church of Christ the King provided a wonderful back drop for the display of 258 panels. It was carefully planned to be as authentic a display as possible and hence the need for Quilt volunteers as extras.

Location ID Badge
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

After going through this experience I gained a new respect for the actors in daytime dramas. It is demanding and challenging work because there is so little time for script memorizing etc. What I learned as an extra on this location shot was that it is also extremely tedious work. It took hours to film one scene that might have only been several minutes of actual air time.

The climatic scene which involved everyone on the set came when the character played by actor Wortham Krimmer brings a panel for his brother to the Quilt. Even though his father has voiced his objections the father finally comes to realize that he needs to be part of that letting go and joins his living son to deliver the panel.

The first take of the scene provided a little bit of humor for the day. There were several hundred people involved and everyone had been given specific instructions of where they needed to go, where they were to look. It was all supposed to be this beautiful spontaneous action. So the scene begins everyone is moving around the panels. The actor bringing the panel begins walking down the hill from the church to the display. The actor playing his father runs after him yelling, “Stop!”

Suddenly from out of the tent where the director and other people are located watching the filming on monitors, comes this woman who is shouting, “I am the director. No one is allowed to yell stop except me. Just keep going no matters what happens.” She was clearly on a tirade until someone bravely pointed out, “It’s in the script.” She realized that she was mistaken so she rather meekly said, “Oh, well let us start over.”

It was a wonderful experience because you knew that you were reaching so many more people with messages of tolerance and understanding that were so much in need.

See Related: On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past six years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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