By Christopher A. Pape
Meeting Eileen Fulton is emblematic of a time when a star was a star. One knew one’s place; certain rules of decorum were expected and obeyed. Ms. Fulton, of “As the World Turns” fame, adheres to the mantra of always being one’s best.She is the consummate professional. It doesn’t hurt that she is beautiful in person as she is on screen, and had the most charming Southern accent imaginable.
Resident sat down with her to discuss what it means to be a New Yorker, her fame, her life after soaps and what makes her tick. The whole time she was gracious, poised, alluring and, best of all, interesting. I hope you like the piece as much as I loved interviewing her!
New York Resident (NYR):I know you are originally from North Carolina, but you live in New York now. Where in the city do you live?
Eileen Fulton (EF): I live on the Upper East Side; I have a gorgeous apartment with my two Pekingese – Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney – they are seven years old. They are sisters – or so I was told. They probably have different fathers…their mother was a bitch.
NYR: Tell us about your accent; did it affect you getting work?
EF: Oh, it’s terrible! When I first came up here I went to the neighborhood playhouse,and they had a wonderful speech therapist who helped me get rid of my accent. I did very well. I tried to take my time and I was doing very well. My first part that I landed was that of a country girl, go figure. And now it’s gotten so bad…
NYR: It’s gotten worse with age?
EF: Of course. It’s working with musicians because I like to do cabaret, and those damn musicians are mostly from the South. It’s a rhythm.
NYR: I think it’s such a beautiful cadence; it must be so easy to sing with?
EF: Yes, it’s wonderful.
NYR: On another note, how did you get into soaps?
EF: I auditioned for the part. But here’s the full story: My agent was William McCaffrey; when I got out of the playhouse I had a list of agents, and it was in alphabetical order. I approached each agent, starting with the A’s. When I finally got to the M’s, there was William Morris Agency and I walked into their office. I knew to bluff it, and go straight to the top and speak with William himself. And they said that was interesting because William Morris had been dead for thirty years, so they kicked me out. Their office was on the Eastside,and the next one that was on the list was McCaffrey, on the Westside. I had to walk it in high heels, and I finally found his office…you don’t want to hear the rest, do you?
NYR: Of course I do!
EF: Well, ok. I was tired, it was hot because it was July 3, and my feet were killing me because of those damned shoes. I got to his door and I gave it a push, but it wouldn’t open. I could hear him inside; he was laughing and having a great time. And I thought, “Damn it, I’ve got to get in there.” So, I gave the door a real heavy-ho (the door was being repaired), and I fell in, the door flew up, and I slid in on my butt. And he was sitting at his desk with his feet up, smoking a stub of a cigar. He said, “Who the hell are you?” And I said, “I’m one hell of an actress, and my name is Eileen Fulton.” He became my agent because he liked my spunk.
Subsequently, “As the World Turns” called him and wanted his client Lois Smith, who was a wonderful actress, to come in and play the part of Lisa (Lisa Grimaldi, the role for which Eileen became famous for playing).And he said, “Lois is about to have a baby, so she isn’t available.” So, they set me up. I had to audition against two and fifty people.
NYR: Eileen Fulton is not your birth name; may I ask you how you came upon that name?
EF: I made it up. Fulton was a family name. My first husband suggested Eileen and I ran with it.
NYR: Tell us about the show. After fifty years of playing the same character, did you feel like you became her?
EF: No, I did not! I don’t like her. Fifty goddamn years of playing her!
NYR: Did people think you were Lisa?
EF: Yes, they did! And they were very abusive (the character was known as a superbitch and the first vixen of soaps), but I loved it. I was talking to my shrink the other day and I said, “Lisa has been very good to me.” If I go to the hospital or a restaurant, I always get great service!
NYR: The show ended in 2010, so what are you doing now?
EF: I love to sing because I love having an audience. But we are now working on a lecture series, which is similar to having a nightclub act. I’ve done stage, and I’m always on WBGO (88.3), the jazz radio station here in the city.
*Eileen promises me that she’ll be my guest at the upcoming Metropolitan Opera season. I hope we can make that work!