When she was 5 years old, GH’s Mary Beth Evans was set upon the course she would follow for the rest of her life
By Valerie Davidson
Soap Opera Weekly, April 23, 1996
Mary Beth Evans has a wholesome, girl-next-door quality that isn’t about to quit, even when she’s playing a shady character like General Hospital’s Katherine Bell. Moreover; she’s able to balance a demanding personal and professional life. Recently, however; the stalwart mother of three, an unflappable, take-charge type, was thrown for a loop by, of all people, a 5-year-old—her daughter, Katie.
“My 5-year-old, point-blank, asked me!” Exclaims the still slightly unglued mother, with a good deal more equanimity than some might muster. “She had heard how it was done and asked me point blank if that’s how babies were made! I said, ‘Er…uh…yeah,’ and she said, “Did you and dad do that to make us?” The classic, gulp inducing question. What really puzzled Evans was that Daniel, her 8-year-old son, had asked no questions at all (Evans’ youngest child, Matthew, is 3). She had, in fact, only recently remarked to Jonathan Jackson (GH’s Lucky), “How old were you when you found out? My son is turning 8 and he doesn’t have a clue.” It turned out, of course, that young Daniel had more than a clue. He was the one who told Katie.
How times change. When Evans was 5, maybe the most astounding thing that happened was her mother coming home with the information that an astrologer had predicted young Mary Beth would be an actress, a prophecy she has spent the rest of her life fulfilling. “I don’t remember if I had the bug before that, or if that planned the seed,” she muses, “but in fourth and fifth grade I was ‘Best Actress’ in my class.” Her voice conveys amusement, pride and modesty in equal parts, and she speaks in a clipped, throwaway style that, interestingly, does not turn up when she does dialogue. “I did little plays,” she continues, “and if there was a science project I would always say, ‘Can I write a play or something?’ ” So serious was Evans about all of this that she neither learned to type nor went to college, enrolling instead at the South Coast Repertory Conservatory in Costa Mesa to study drama. “My grandmother tried to pay me to take typing lessons when I was in high school,” she chortles, “so that I would have something to fall back on. But I always said that I didn’t want anything to fall back on. I guess it worked out all right because I’ve been working—but I would really love to be able to type right now!”
As it turns out, Evans’ unblinking determination has a scope much wider than a career path. How else to explain her next move? During her first play, barely four months into the program at South Coast Rep, the 19-year-old Californian met Michael Schwartz, a young medical student who was visiting a college friend for the weekend. “This guy’s girlfriend was in the play with me, and she brought both of them to see the play,” Evans explains. “We fell madly in love, I finished the play and moved to Chicago with him. I really just dropped everything.” Not that she gave up acting, mind you. During the 1 ½ years the two spent in Chicago while he finished medical school, and the subsequent 3 ½ years they spent in California before their marriage in 1986, Evans did a lot of “guest episodic television,” movies and TV. Fortuitously, the role of Kayla Brady on Days of Our Lives came her way just six months after her marriage to Schwartz, who by that time had his M.D. “My husband was doing his residency at U.S.C.,” she explains, “so it gave us a normal life, where we would have been struggling otherwise.”
Evans lucked out on-camera as well. She played Kayla to Stephen Nichols’ “Patch” (a.k.a. Steve Johnson) for six years, and for much of that time they enjoyed super couple status, a concept she believes Days pioneered. “Days” was really known for that in the ‘80s,” she reflects. :They did it with Peter Reckell and Kristian Alfonso (Bo and Hope), Deidre Hall and Wayne Northrop (Marlena and Roman), and an even earlier version with Susan Seaforth Hayes and Bill Hayes (Julie and Doug). They really had it down to a science, sort of a formula of people who hate each other in the beginning, then a year down the road they kiss.” Around 1991, however, serious changes were afoot at Days, on-set and off. A longtime producer departed and Nichols left the show, as did Patsy Pease, the distaff side of another Days super couple, Kim and Shane (Charles Shaughnessy). A subsequent attempt to pair Evans with Shaughnessy bombed. “The put us together right after Steve died on the show,” says Evans, “which neither of us agreed with, and I don’t think that the fans did either.”
Eventually, Evans left, too, and Kayla simply moved away. “It shook up my life a little bit,” the actress admits. “When you get into a show like that, it’s like you’re family. It’s easy to stay there forever.” Kayla had one child during her time in Salem; Mary Beth had two. “They wrote the second one in,” she says, “and showed my daughter’s real ultrasound, we heard her first, real heartbeat on the show, and saw my real big belly! I was just saying the other day that I should try to find these shows. I think it would be sweet for my daughter to see them.” Of course, the realism got a little out of hand when the producer suggested, “How about we have a camera crew ready, and when you go in to have the baby, we’ll come in and shoot it. We’ll have Steve there and your husband can be dressed like a doctor, and….!” Evans’ husband, by this time a plastic surgeon who tries to distance himself from her show biz world, was less than bowled over by the idea. “I had gotten swept up in the whole thing,” she laughs, enjoying the memory, “but when I brought it home to him he just said, ‘That whole crew in there? Are you crazy? Now you really have lost your mind!’ “
Leaving Days gave the Schwartzes an opportunity to have the third child they wanted, and for Mrs. Schwartz to incubate entirely at home. “I got pregnant the month after I left,” she says, “and it was really nice to be able to stay home and enjoy a pregnancy. I think it was great for my other two kids too.” What also was different was that they knew they were having a boy. “The first time I didn’t know [the sex of the baby],” she continues. “The second time we thought it was a girl, but just by ultrasound. The third time I actually had an amnio and knew it was a boy. I think [we did it] because my husband and I were getting nervous. We’d already had two kids and all was well and they were great. But I was a little bit older and, you know, he’s a doctor—he thinks everything’s going to happen. He gets a cold and it’s like he’s got spinal meningitis. He gets a sore throat and it’s like he’s got throat cancer.” When the baby was three months old, Evans joined GH.
While her character started out as a steely no-good named Katherine Crawford, who played fast and loose with the truth, she is beginning to soften. The only certain thing about her is that her first name is Katherine. “When I came to town I was Katherine Crawford,” the actress attempts to explain, “but it was a made-up name. Then I became Katherine Ashton, but that wasn’t really legal, so I had to go back to Katherine Bell. Even my call sheet always has a different name on it!” And what about all the fun she was having, playing a bad girl? “Well, I really like playing good people, too,” she capitulates, “and I feel more comfortable with that. I think Katherine’s feelings for Mac are genuine, and even when she was with Scotty (Baldwin), she wanted a picket fence and a real life. She just never knew how to go about it.”
Evans is plainly very happy with her show and her role. She even likes the widespread bed-hopping in Port Charles. “Even the best characters here will go off and have an affair,” she observes approvingly, “and I think that’s fabulous. It makes them a little more human. I spent my first two years on Days having scenes with only one person.” She is especially appreciative of the working environment on GH, giving most of the credit to the all-woman production staff. “I think the way that affects the show is that they’re very nurturing to the cast,” she concludes. “It’s important to them to make it like a family, to make people happy. That all comes through on the screen.”
While she may have wanted to be an actress since she was 5, and has had steady success, it is apparent that Evans’ family has the edge, however slight, over her career. She makes the career fit into her family, not vice versa. She does as much work as she can on the next day’s script before she goes home, because she won’t be able to look at it again until her children are all in bed, around 8:30. “On this show it’s better,” she says, “because, like today, I came in at 7a.m., and I’m done already [at 1p.m.]! So if I can get out of here, I can be home before the kids get home from school. It’s better anyway if I break [the script] down early and then think about it, mull on it.” Her attitude toward the whole subject clearly reflects her priorities. “At the time of that super couple thing,” she comments, “we won awards every year from the daytime magazines. We were the best ‘whatever’ for three or four years, and they would always ask the same thing: ‘How does it feel to be the super couple?’ I always said, ‘I don’t feel it and I don’t notice it. We’re just in our little warehouse doing our little job, trotting home to our families.’ You hope you’re pleasing people, but that’s as far as it goes.”
Photos by John McKee