Like so many other aspects of my life (so far), this story is stranger than fiction and demonstrates that a) I couldn’t make this stuff up and b) the hand of God is upon all aspects of our lives.
I began watching One Life to Live, the daytime soap in which Clint starred for 20 years, the very day it premiered on ABC: July 15, 1968. It so happened that my mother had been watching General Hospital for years. From time to time, I watched with her. That day, One Life to Live (OLTL) premiered immediately following General Hospital, so we decided to check it out and ended up liking it so much that we watched it exclusively from then on. When I was in college, all of my classmates and roommates watched one show or the other. In fact, we planned our class schedules around “our soap” (that was before vcr’s). In the early ’80’s, I worked at a mortgage brokerage firm in Los Angeles where the employees planned their lunch hour according to which ABC soap they watched: All My Children, General Hospital, or OLTL. We gathered in shifts in the company lunchroom to watch. And when I moved back to Lodi, I was working full-time during the day and going to school full-time at night. I used to come to my parents’ house and eat lunch with my mother — while we watched OLTL!
Eventually, I purchased my first vcr and got in the habit of taping the show. There were many nights when I got around to watching in the wee hours after rocking one of the kids back to sleep. In time, OLTL became my 10:30 p.m. ritual. That’s what time I got home from my evening classes at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. I would unwind from the evening’s lecture and several cups of coffee by popping in the tape, but I rarely saw an entire episode . . . I would usually wake up to find the tape had stopped long ago, so I would just rewind it for the next day.
September 10, 1979, was the day that Clint’s character was introduced on the show. Dallas was the rage, so the writers created Clint Buchanan, a Texas newspaper editor and son of an oil tycoon. It wasn’t long before Phil Carey joined the show as Clint’s father, Asa, and Bobby Woods was cast as his little brother, Bo. The Buchanan Men, as they came to be known, were an instant hit not just with female viewers, but with men, as well. Clint recounts that he was constantly recognized and interrogated about plot points by male fans such as waiters, airline pilots, taxi drivers, et al. New York City garbage collectors, cops, firefighters, and bartenders would greet him and seek out storyline hints. He and Bobby Woods once transported several horses cross-country, frequenting truck stops all along the way. They were constantly recognized and welcomed.
Clint Buchanan was my favorite character from his first moment on-air. I still remember the first time I saw him and thought, “Well, well, well, this show just got a whole lot more interesting!” Clint jokes, “Yeah, I was a good-looking son-of-a-bitch back in those days, wasn’t I?” After BigBob and I got married, he enjoyed watching the show with me, but only when “Asa and the boys,” as he called the three Buchanan men, were on-screen. Otherwise, he could not have cared less.
I never read the various magazines devoted to soaps and didn’t know the names of most of the actors. There were two occasions on which BigBob brought home copies of Soap Opera Digest from the grocery store, however: Both times Clint was featured in cover stories, one being in May 1993 when he was critically injured at his ranch after his John Deere tractor flipped on him as he was pulling out a tree stump.
I first signed onto America OnLine in 1994. One day, while checking out the various features, I discovered a whole area devoted to daytime television and, more particularly, OLTL. So I cruised around a bit and found a message board where the various characters were being discussed. Just for fun, I checked out the discussion about Clint and eventually worked up the courage to join in. I was befriended by a great group of women with whom I had a lot in common: All were educated professionals who had been watching for a number of years and, like me, kept up via videotape. Some had kids, some did not, but all had careers, in addition to enormous respect for Clint and the integrity he brought to his role. It was then I realized that Clint, along with most daytime celebrities, had a very active fan club. The then-president of the club was among those women with whom I corresponded on the message board.
All of that was fun, but I was quite flabbergasted when the then-president of his club started urging me not only to write him letters at the studio, but also to travel to New York City to attend his annual fan club luncheon.
Frankly, I thought she was a lunatic.
First of all, I couldn’t imagine writing a letter to a person I had never met. “And say what?” I asked her. She encouraged me to simply introduce myself and tell him that I had enjoyed his performances over the years. She explained that the studios actually count the number of pieces of mail that each performer receives and, based upon that count, use some formula to estimate the individual’s popularity with viewers. It’s probably something like, “How many dunderheads in the heartland took the trouble to write a letter to their favorite guy on this insipid soap opera?” from which they extrapolate the number of relatively sane people who enjoy watching, but had the same reaction as I did to the thought of actually writing a letter, i.e., you’d have to be whacked!
Anyway . . . she kept nagging me. Worse, she said that she had recently spoken to Clint — and mentioned me. Oh, swell. She told him I lived not far from his ranch and that he would be hearing from me.
“Thanks,” I muttered under my breath.
Finally, I was addressing Christmas cards since it ’twas the Season, so I decided that was the perfect time to send concise greetings — and get her off my back! So along with the “Merry, Happy, Ho Ho Ho,” and all that, I briefly explained that I was a practicing attorney with two kids, and BigBob enjoyed popping a Budweiser and watching “Asa and the boys.” To attest to my legitimacy, I included a couple of newspaper clippings about the Wendland trial that I had just won — and one of my business cards.
I told the then-president that I had done my best to boost Clint’s popularity statistics and would not be engaging in a repeat effort.
In the meantime, American Airlines and Lucky food stores came up with a rather cool promotion. After making purchases totalling a specific dollar amount, you could purchase a round-trip ticket to any of American’s destinations for $300.00. Since we shopped at Lucky regularly and the then-president had been nagging me to come to NYC for Clint’s luncheon in the spring . . . I decided that it was time for Mama to have a little fun without the hubby and kids for the bargain price of $300.00. The deal was sealed when the then-president offered to pick me up from the Newark airport, invited me to stay with her in her home on Staten Island, and would serve as my Big Apple tour guide.
Not surprisingly, BigBob thought the idea sounded great. After all, I worked my ass off to get through law school — including giving birth to my youngest on Saturday morning and still showing up for my Evidence class little more than 48 hours later. He was delighted to send me off on a “chick” trip so that he and the boys could stay home and bond.
But before I could get to NYC, Clint took matters into his own hands.
I walked into my office one morning to find a sticky note on my desk informing me that he had called the prior evening. He left his home number and asked me to return the call, which I promptly did, convinced, until I heard his distinctive voice on the answering machine, that it was a hoax. Later in the week, he called me back at home. When Bob answered the phone, he about fainted when that unmistakable voice said, “This must be BigBob. I hear you like to pop a brew and watch ol’ Clint Buchanan on the tube.”
A couple of weeks later, we all met in Roseville for a Valentine’s Day dinner. And became fast friends.
What possessed him to call me? He has never told me for sure, but I suspect that it had a lot to do with his fascination about the Wendland case. We discussed it and its impact on me, at length, on many occasions. I think he was intrigued by some commonalities in our heritages and upbringings: I was born in South Dakota, he was raised in North Dakota and calls himself a “North Dakota plowboy.” We are both Norwegian and share a common faith background. Neither of us came from wealthy families — we had to make our own success. He enjoys a beer, a joke, and an occasional cigar with BigBob.
By the time the photo on the left was taken in late April 1998, Clint and I were great buddies. There I am (in the middle) with a few of the friends I made on AOL. We had just finished enjoying lunch with Clint after spending the morning at the ABC studios with him.
The photo on the right was taken the following year at what would be Clint’s last fan club luncheon. He decided to “hang up [his] acting spurs” in December 1998 and permanently come home to his beloved Happy Horse Ranch here in Northern California. He returned to NYC several times for short periods of time to tape guest appearances on OLTL, but made it clear to the producer that he was not interested in a full-time return to acting. We stay in touch, visiting him at the Ranch from time to time, and I continue to maintain the website I created for him, Clint Ritchie. I am regularly contacted by fans who send their best wishes and thanks for his more than twenty years of fine performances on the soap.
I quit watching the day his last episode aired and have no plans to resume viewing. Frankly, I don’t have time for a daily soap and could not be less interested in the show sans Clint. I have a vast collection of videotape upon which some of Clint’s best scenes are preserved. If I feel nostalgic, I pop in a tape and call him to remind him that yes, indeed, he was most certainly a good-looking so-and-so!
Recently, I’ve been working on slowly but surely transferring all of that videotape into my hard drive, editing out the commercials and other superfluous footage, and burning DVD’s. Videotape lasts only 15-20 years, so the first tape I transferred was my 1985 wedding. I’m sorry to say that I did not begin this project soon enough because the colors are faded and the whole thing has a yellow-ish hue. Here is a clip from an episode of OLTL that aired in November 1998, shortly before Clint retired. This is a fine example of the synergism that existed between Clint and his costars, Erika Slezak and Erin Torpey, who had played their daughter since she was just a little girl. In this scene, Clint’s character, Clint Buchanan learns that his 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. Note the production quality in this scene that is sadly absent from the OLTL of today. Directed by Jill Mitwell, pay attention not just to the lighting, but the camera angles employed to help the viewer understand the characters’ emotional struggles. These are inarguably Emmy-quality performances from three veteran performers: