Everlasting Love: Lifetime Achievement Award Winners Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes
Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes bring the romance, drama, and the fun as daytime’s perfect pair
By Michael Fairman
When TV viewers use the term “Supercouple” no one defines that more completely than Days of our Lives’ Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes. For five decades, they have portrayed lovebirds Doug and Julie Williams on the long-running NBC daytime drama series, while in real-life their enduring romance and relationship is one to be admired. This Hollywood couple have been together since they tied-the-knot back in 1974, and while Doug and Julie have gone through more than their fair share of turbulent times, it was kismet that brought Bill and Susan together. Bill Bell, former Days head writer, saw the spark between them drawing and wrote these two talented performers into each other’s orbit. From there, Bill and Susan ascended to the top as Daytime’s “It” couple in the “70’s”, becoming the first soap opera actors to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine.
This duo’s road to Salem was quite unique. Bill came from a successful musical career in television, theatre, and recording having appeared on: Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Broadway in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet, plus his hit record, The Ballad of Davy Crockett. Bill made his Days debut in 1970. Susan was the fourth Julie cast on Days making her first appearance in 1968, following her two-year-stint on ABC soap, The Young Marrieds, and countless other roles on top TV dramas.
Now at this year’s 45th annual Daytime Emmy Awards, Bill and Susan are the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Here they take a look back at the journey that brought them to this night, and to this honor.
Susan recalls, “When Days was first being put together, I interviewed for the part. They liked me a lot. In an attempt to advance my career, I had a tape made from one of the scenes from The Young Married for $60. I said, ‘I think you would like to see this tape I have.’ The feedback that I got from my furious agent was, ‘You had the job! Then you showed them that goddamn tape!’ They said ‘Your eyelashes were too long, and you were much too sophisticated to play a teenager.’ I lost the job. I didn’t get called back for the second recast, or the third recast. However, the fourth time they were recasting I got to audition. I did a scene with Denise Alexander. (Ex-Susan Martin, Days) where two girls are fighting. Julie is attempting to bring on a heart attack by insulting and raising Denise’s character into a rage. However, rather than starting a heart attack in Denise’s character, Julie brought on her own labor pains. It was quite a scene! I mean, it was dramatic. I got the job.”
“My wife had left me, and I had children at home,” relates Bill. “After a career in theatre and nighttime TV, I had to tell my agents, I need a job where I’m home every night.” My agent said, ‘How about a soap? They’re auditioning this week for a new character on Days of Our Lives.’ I thought, ‘Oh, My!’ I had never watched one, but thought maybe I could last on one. I auditioned, and it went well. Then they said, ‘Would you and Jed Allan (who was also up for the part) stand on the set and just let us look at you on camera?’ They chose me, but they later wrote the role of Don Craig for Jed, and he was wonderful!”
Once Bill was cast, he began on-screen as quite the bad guy. “He was planned to have a story with Sister Marie and get her defrocked. That was what I was there for,” laughs Hayes. “But then, the character of Susan Martin offered Doug $10,000, to go after Julie and break up her marriage to Scott Banning!” We did a scene, when Doug joined Julie and Scott Banning out to dinner. Doug was advising them on security on their stocks and bonds in order to steal Julie’s money! It was there that Bill Bell saw something. He scrapped my story and he scrapped Susan’s story, and he began to write a story for us.”
That led to the behind the scenes romance between Bill and Susan. “Everybody in the room was attracted to Bill,’ recounts Susan. “He was very handsome, sweet, appeared to have no ego and he was excited to be there, which after some years on a soap, some of the cast was a bit jaded. I was coming out of a 5-year relationship which had produced no ring and had required a great deal of attention. Then Billy comes along and we began to have these scenes written in together and it all became very clear to me.”
“There was a point early on I knew there was an attraction between us,” Bill adds. “We spent time together running lines. When my wife ran away I was very angry. I didn’t want to have a relationship. If a girl looked at me with goo-goo in her eyes, I would run the other way. In 1974, my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage, which was an affirmation for me. I turned to Susan and said, ‘How about a week from Saturday?’ She said, ‘Yes.’”
In the 70’s Days of our Lives introduced musical performances into their plots, which offered Bill a perfect platform. Susan remembers: “It seemed self-evident if we have someone that can do this, and we have a restaurant as a set, let’s add another element. It was the first time that anyone had sung in soap operas. It went gangbusters. At the time when the show went from a half-hour to an hour, though they doubled the cast, they began using more music to fill time. They eventually made the restaurant, Doug’s Place. The point of the music was to illustrate the subtext of the story, and what the characters can’t say out loud, or what they’re thinking. There was a scene when Doug sang, The Way We Were. Doug and Julie are separated and she’s on the other side of the wall. He’s rehearsing. He’s dying inside, and she has this longing and unfulfilled regret. It was very powerful. We were given back Doug’s Place in 2017 as a set and a venue for the characters on the show.”
Before Doug and Julie could be together though, the writers threw plenty of trouble their way including: having Doug marry Julie’s mother, Addie (Patricia Barry)! “Doug and Julie were going to get married. I bought two tickets to Portofino for ‘Mr. and Mrs. Doug Williams,’ says Bill. “Julie said, ‘I’m taking my son, David too.’ We had a fight about that, and then Addie proposed to Doug, and Addie had 5 million dollars. Doug didn’t want to not use the plane tickets, and said ‘Okay, kid. It’s you and me!’ (Laughs) Later, they killed off Addie.”
Susan remembers the reaction to this storyline: “This redeemed Doug, because he learned to love Addie dearly. Billy would be stopped in the grocery store by ladies of a certain age, who would say “You’ll never regret it!” God bless you, for marrying Addie!”’ (Laughs)
Eventually, word got out that Doug and Julie were an item in real-life too! “People found out about it, and were asking for the characters to be married after we were married,” recounts Susan. “We got married on a Sunday. The next day we were working. I remember asking, ‘Can my name on the ending credits be changed to ‘Mrs. Bill Hayes’?’ The show said, ‘No’. I wanted to be ‘Mrs. Bill Hayes’. It was the most wonderful name I could imagine.” Bill shares, “We were married in October of 1974. In October of 1976, Doug and Julie married. We had 16 million people watching the episode, and we used the same words as our vows. They were so powerful. Susan could barely speak when we performed the scenes. If you listen to our vows, you’ll hear the sound being cranked up!”
That same year, 1976, Bill and Susan made the cover of Time in a story entitled: Sex and Suffering in the Afternoon which became a publication classic. “They interviewed all the shows, the producers, the writers, etc for the feature,” shares Susan. “When they came to shoot us, I went out and bought a red negligee that matched the format of Time Magazine, which has a red band around the cover. I said, ‘Let’s use the powder room at Doug’s Place to shoot the photo, and I think I ought to have tears. Give me the glycerin.’ There was a lot of cleavage.” (Laughs) Bill recalls, “They did not say to us. ‘You’re going to be on the cover.’ One day in January of 1976 we walked into the NBC commissary and there it was on the cover! How cool was that!”
To this day, fans from all around the world adore Bill and Susan, because whenever they are on-screen they provide the thread and comfort one has with their own family. This is a responsibility the Hayes’ do not take lightly. “We have had an effect on people’s lives all over the country,” shares Bill. “Susan and I have travelled a lot together. We were doing a telethon and some lady came up and said, ‘My daughter could not face getting a surgery to have a birthmark removed, but because Julie was able to have surgery taking her scar off in the storyline where she was burned, my daughter could do it.’ We have people all over the country who have said, ‘I have more faith in marriage because of yours.’ That’s a responsibility, eh?”
“The fans have been incredible,” expressed Susan. “We still can make a contribution to the show. Over the years, I would be written out, and then would come back to the show. Bill came back to the show without me once, and was written out again, and then he was back. This is why it’s so delightful to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. You don’t have to always be the center of the story; you can also be an observer of it. I’m particularly happy to still be at Days, because it’s my life.”