Irna Phillips produces "The Guiding Light" on TV
June 30, 1952
The Guiding Light debuted on CBS television on June 30, 1952. Its creator was Irna Phillips, who also created the soap operas As the World Turns and Days of Our Lives. Born in Chicago in 1901, Phillips was educated at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin. Although she aspired to become an actress, the young Phillips earned degrees in education and taught English, public speaking, and drama at colleges in Missouri and Ohio.
After volunteering at Chicago radio station WGN during summer vacations, Phillips turned to scriptwriting in 1930. Her first program, Painted Dreams, was one of the earliest radio soap operas, for which Phillips and a colleague played all six parts and also provided the sound effects. A second program, Today's Children, debuted on NBC radio in 1932. In 1937, The Guiding Light debuted as a 15-minute radio program featuring a fictional minister giving solace to his parishioners. The advent of television spelled the end of many radio dramas, but Guiding Light (which dropped the "The" in 1977) was among the few to move successfully to the new format. For a few years, the show aired on both radio and television, with the cast performing live twice a day, once for each medium. The show was expanded to 30 minutes in 1968, and to a full hour in 1977.
While writing Guiding Light, Phillips also produced such other popular radio serials as Woman in White, The Right to Happiness, and Lonely Women. These programs focused on realistic families coping with socially significant issues such as adoption, divorce, juvenile delinquency, and the return of war veterans. At the same time, however, Phillips was among the first writers to use what became such soap opera standards as the amnesia victim and the murder trial in her plots. She was also well known for her use of organ music to create moods, suspenseful cliff-hangers, and for having characters from one show appear on another.
After the shift to television, Phillips wrote for such shows as The Brighter Day, The Road to Life, and Another World, and served as a consultant for the prime-time series Peyton Place. Phillips died of a heart attack in 1973. Although the issues confronting characters on Guiding Light had changed considerably since its television debut more than 50 years ago, the show remained successful. Guiding Light was canceled in 2009 by CBS and the last episode aired September 18, 2009. At the time of its cancellation, Guiding Light held the Guiness World Record for Longest Running TV Drama.
To learn more about Irna Phillips, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: "Irna Phillips: the woman behind TV's longest running soap opera", Jewesses with Attitude.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1055-1056; New York Times, December 30, 1973, June 30, 1987; http://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/guiding-light/201811 ; New York Times, April 1, 2009 CBS Turns Out ‘Guiding Light’; Guiness World Records.