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Judith Light Details Her Decision To Depart OLTL, And How Overcoming Fear Led To An Impressive Career In TV, Film, and Theatre!

Photo Credit: JPI Studios

When you put together a list of the Best of the Best Actresses, Judith Light is certainly right at the top of the list.  Her decades of brilliant, emotional, and riveting work stands the test of time whether it be in film roles, television, or in the theatre where she has won two Tony Awards.

And to think, if it wasn’t for her difficult decision to exit her powerhouse role as Karen Wolek on One Life to Live, things may have turned out differently.  This, according to Light herself, in a piece written by her, and published this week in the New York Times.

Judith is currently starring in Amazon’s Transparent with its new season bowing on September 22nd.  This coming Sunday night, September 17th, Light is in the running for the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Shelly Pfefferman at the Primetime Emmys.

In the Times “First Time” section, the article called Judith Light: The First Time I Quit My job, gives insight into what went on behind the scenes that led to Light stepping away from her iconic daytime drama role as Llanview’s prostitute with a heart of gold.  Judith won two Daytime Emmys for her performance, and as we have mentioned countless times, but never too often, Karen’s courtroom confession stands among one of the all-time most memorable moments in television history.

Light recounts how she was at a low point in her acting career, when she landed the role of Karen on One Life: “I took the job, thinking it would give me some time and a cushion of money to think about what I really wanted to do. The writers asked me if I knew the film Belle de Jour starring Catherine Deneuve. ‘I love it!’ I told them. They wanted to create a similar storyline on the soap: A woman married to a very wealthy man is a prostitute on the side. So Karen became the wife of a good doctor, but was forced into selling her body in secret by an old lover.”

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Judith went on to say: “Day after day there were emotional scenes filled with tension and terror as my character tried to escape her double life, navigate a web of lies and deal with brutal johns. The story line went on for a year and a half, culminating in a powerful scene on the witness stand that led to my first Emmy.”

While Light was at One Life to Live, she met her eventual husband, Robert Desiderio, who played Steve Piermont.  Judith recalls, “The producers and writers saw real chemistry between us, and they started writing for it. Robert was only on the show for a short time before leaving to work in Los Angeles, but our relationship had already been cemented on screen and off.  So as my five-year anniversary on the soap approached, Robert said he thought it was a good time for me to leave, that I should move to Los Angeles too.”

Next, Judith relates her fears at making the leap out of the world of soaps saying to Desiderio: “What!” “Why?” I exclaimed, frantic and filled with fear at the thought. He simply said, ‘I think you will work out there.’ So on a gorgeous fall day in September, my hand was shaking as I sat in the producer’s office, terrified that by signing an exit contract I was jumping off a cliff. Voices in my head were saying, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ ‘This is a huge, stupid mistake!”’

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She went on to say that after consulting with her agents and managers at the time, they agreed it was time for her to venture to Los Angeles, where she eventually landed her leading role on Who’s The Boss for eight seasons opposite Tony Danza.

Light concludes her piece: “What followed was a fulfilling theater, television and film career, and a life that I could never have imagined that day I left One Life to Live. I still have to remind myself sometimes that fear never needs to control my choices. Something powerful rises up in me whenever I put the fear aside and move ahead in spite of it.”

So, what did you think of Judith’s real-life story in her decision-making process to exit One Life to Live? Have you overcome fears in your own life that led to something rewarding, and that led you to fulfillment and happiness?  Let us know in the comment section below!

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KansasGuestJamesj75jaybird369Violet Lemmdmr Recent comment authors
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Debra m
Debra m

That scene of Karen on the witness stand admitting she was a prostitute was and still is one of the best, most memorable scene on any soap. Judith is an amazing actress.

PennySoap
PennySoap

That was literally the first time that I watched OLTL! I was working at Prudential Property and Casualty (Oak Brook, IL) and people had it on the TV in our cafeteria . From that day, I was hooked on Judith and OLTL…

Patrick
Patrick

that picture above “captures” her stunning good look

2-3 things right out of the gate

1. she respects this genre
2. she readily speaks about this genre.. with ease
3. her advocacy for LGBT, along with so many other endeavors

this speaks volume about her fan base.

We never left her

Steve
Steve

A superb actress who excels at both drama and comedy. The trial scenes still resonate today.

I did wish that she would have put in a cameo in the last months the show was on ABC, but accepted it as she has always spoke well of OLTL.

InTheLigt
InTheLigt

Judith is a force of nature, I remember the day the One Life announcer said, “The part of Karen Wolek will now be played by Judith Light…” and instantly, I could not get my eyes off this enigmatic young woman. To follow her choices over the years–from how she plays a part so uniquely to what roles she takes on, has been a continued revelation. She follows her heart…but backs it with great talent, discipline and ultimate joy. And yes, this article just gave me the courage to make a move, thank you Ms. Light and kudos to this column!

nancy dillingham
nancy dillingham

An exemplar of true professionalism and dedication to her craft. Her scenes as Karen on OLTL were indelible, gut-wrenching, and simply wonderful.

Charday
Charday

Would love to see her on GH–Monica Q’s long lost sister?

brian
brian

great call ! 2 thumbs up !!

Llanviewer717
Llanviewer717

I have loved Judith Light since the first day I saw her on One Life to Live. She is absolutely brilliant. I am always impressed how proudly, and rightfully so, she discusses her time on One Life to Live. She truly respects the genre. I am very proud to be a fan who truly loves and respects her.

jeffrie
jeffrie

Amazing actress …..i will never forget those courtroom scenes to this day that holds the bar as the most powerful moment i ever watched on that great show!!!!!Beyond brilliant and she continues to act the hell out of every part she plays!!!

Iakovos
Iakovos

Many of us of a certain age do recall the strong emotion and power of those OLTL courtroom scenes with Miss Light at the center. AMAZING! Younger folk should check them out on YouTube just to appreciate this woman who has gone on to excel in so many roles (even weaker vehicles), not to mention her real-life role in advocacy of social issues. I am inspired by her NYTimes piece. Sometimes you have to take a step into the unknown to discover what life has in store for you.

dmr
dmr

Daytime television was so different in the late 70’s and 80’s. I miss that era of daytime television. I was not alive to “witness” the courtroom scenes when they first played out; however, I do remember watching the episode on ABC’s “A Daytime to Remember,” and I have watched it on YouTube. I remember watching beautiful love stories unfold, friendships prevail, the build-up of important stories-social economic issues, and cliff-hanger Fridays. We are left with bare bones nothing, today. It’s just so sad.

Maureen
Maureen

Count me in- loved her since OLTL- those were the days on the soaps- the acting, writing-and they had bigger budgets and the courtrooms were always packed. Just adore Judith Light- Who’s the Boss, Ugly Betty-love love love the Lifetime movie where she plays Audrey Hilley- Wife, mother, murderer- it is on youtube. Also love her on Law and Order SVU. I started watching the reboot Dallas when I saw she was on the show. Love Judith Light.

dmr
dmr

YES! I remember watching that movie when it was a “Made for TV Movie!” She was incredible as Audrey Hilley-and INCREDIBLE on Dallas!

fginaspy
fginaspy

My feeling previously has been that JL has hasn’t always been favorable to daytime serials. I can’t recall her touting the genre while on Who’s The Boss or Ugly Betty. I noticed her positive responses on The View for OLTL’s farewell and this was the first ever I had seen her speek of OLTL up to that date. She had won her first Tony and what did she have to lose at that point. I even thought her appearance on The View then was really about her promoting her stage work.

No doubt her courtroom confession is a top daytime scene. Ms. Light is a powerful actress and her success and accolades attest to her talent. I am always happy to see past daytime actors positively express their appreciation for the daytime genre. Good luck to Ms. Light this weekend at the Emmys.

dmr
dmr

I remember watching Lifetime’s “Intimate Portrait” and Ms. Light speaking fondly of her time in daytime. Also, I recall reading a “soap buzz” (somewhat) recently on this site with Ms. Light, talking about her time on Dallas, and her time on OLTL. You are right, she is a powerhouse actress and has quite the resume-daytime television, sitcoms, evening programs, stage work, etc., and has been recognized for her tremendous talent. She is truly a gem!

dramafan
dramafan

I am afraid that this interview plays to the cliche that an actor has to leave daytime in order to have a respectable career. I don’t believe this is correct. Just look at the countless actors and actresses that have made their career in daytime.

Yes, she does seem to speak favorably about OLTL but it’s all in the context about how quitting the show was the best and most empowered thing she has done and that if she had stayed there she would’nt have the career that she has.

Lisa Z
Lisa Z

I totally agree with your comment. What she routinely says in interviews is how smart a decision it was to leave OLTL. This is a little offensive to long time viewers and the other actors and workers on the show. It seems like a major put down to the genre of soaps. “Who Is The Boss” was not exactly high brow tv. I have not seen her other work. I think Erika Slezak was a better actress and more likeable and sympathetic on screen ,and I am glad that she stayed until the end.

KansasGuest
KansasGuest

Well, that’s true – Light would not have hit the heights of acting success that she’s had if she had remained on OLTL. That’s not spin. That’s a fact. She’s starred on Broadway, won Tony Awards, starred on TV, won Emmy Awards – that won’t happen unless an actor takes a risk and walks away from a steady job. Daytime is a respectable gig. Some actors don’t want more. But, if an actor wants to play a variety of roles, sticking with the same character for 20 years is not going to fulfill that desire – no matter how many times they play twins, triplets or dopplegangers. They have to work with different writers, directors and a cast to make the most of their abilities. It’s like exercising different muscle groups. The same routine every day won’t bring out your best or challenge you to do better.

Chaz
Chaz

I was fortunate enough to see her live in a play “All the Ways to Say I Love You” at a small theater in NYC – the Lucille Lortel – last year. It was a one woman play and we had second row seats. She was powerful and amazing. A great talent I have followed since her first appearance on OLTL.

Jamesj75
Jamesj75

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: Judith Light is the gold standard of acting. I don’t feel any daytime actor or actress has exceeded the performances of Ms. Light while on OLTL, especially the infamous courtroom scenes.

I lament the fact that, as of this writing, there are not many posts related to this feature, but I realize that most of the posters at this site might not be directly familiar with her daytime work. Many weren’t even alive then. But I was… And I can tell you: Light was riveting and formidable. The fact that this versatile actress has gone on to a great, enduring career in other roles is no surprise.

And by all accounts, she is a class act. What a feather in the cap of daytime TV that she was once such an integral part of the soaps, and she speaks so fondly and appreciably of her time here. 🙂

jaybird369
jaybird369

James…oh, I agree…Judith Light is DEFINITELY the gold standard of acting!!!!! To me, here’s why…

1. She has ALWAYS RESPECTED the soap industry.
2. She is A WONDERFULLY AND BRUTALLY HONEST human being.
3. As an actress, the woman can do ANYTHING!!!!!
4. She makes acting look so EASY AND EFFORTLESS.
5. Most of all, soaps…the stage…TV movies…TV series…the woman knows how to do it ALL!!!!!

To me, that’s why Judith Light WILL ALWAYS BE AN A+ CLASS ACT in my book!!!!!

Later, Brother.

Jamesj75
Jamesj75

Glad we’re on the same page, Jay! You have outlined Light’s accomplishments and attributes perfectly! Take care, Brother.

Charday
Charday

She was great on DALLAS!

Violet Lemm
Violet Lemm

Judith Light, is an has always been one of the best actresses on TV. Not only the Soaps, but all her nighttime accomplishments. Loved her in Who’ s The Boss, and a number of dramas, banging that gavel as a judge. The role I loved the most was her time spent on Dallas, giving the ‘ole boys a run for their money, especially the one who played her son, and his daughter. Can’t remember the names now, but am sure anyone that watched the last Dallas series, will know who I am talking about.

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