SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kim Zimmer’s life reads like … well, a soap opera. With good reason: The former stage actress began working in daytime drama in 1978, taking roles in soap series including “One Life To Live,” “The Doctors” and “Santa Barbara.” She also played opposite Kathleen Turner in the 1981 noir thriller “Body Heat.”
Still, Zimmer is best-known to millions of fans for her 27 cumulative years as the notorious Reva Shayne on “Guiding Light,” which ended in 2009. For that role, she earned 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and four statuettes.
Zimmer tells her wild behind-the-scenes soap saga in a new memoir, “I’m Just Sayin': Three Deaths, Seven Husbands and a Clone! My Life as a Daytime Diva” (NAL, $26.95, 320 pages). Among her many juicy anecdotes is one about how she almost walked out on Oprah Winfrey during a taping of the “Oprah” show (“I was not a happy camper”).
Last October, Zimmer reprised her role of Echo DiSavoy on “One Life To Live.” It was a part she initially played from March to October 1983 — brief, but intense.
However, ABC announced it will soon “sunset” “OLTL” and another classic soap, “All My Children,” replacing them with “programming that centers on personal transformation, food and lifestyle.”
Zimmer, 56, and her husband, actor-director A.C. Weary, live in Montclair, N.J. They have three adult children. Visit her at kimzimmer.net.
I caught up with her by phone in Pittsburgh, one of many stops on her national book tour. Our conversation was often punctuated by her hearty laughter.
Q. Describe your personality, please.
A. You never know what may come out of my mouth.
Q. You don’t pull any punches in the book. It opens with a description of how you got busted for drunk driving.
A. I got stopped for making a stupid mistake — having too much wine at dinner with a friend. My number was up and I’m grateful it was, because I learned a very valuable lesson. I will never again get behind the wheel of a car after having too much to drink.
Q. Will you lose any friends over this book?
A. If this is something I lose friends over, then they weren’t friends to begin with.
Q. What are some things fans don’t know about soap operas?
A. That they’re not real. That the love scenes aren’t romantic, they’re very technical and the guys do wear underwear under the sheets. That it’s hard work, not just fun and games. I’ve watched theater-trained actors and movie people do guest spots, and by the end of the day they were bowing to us.
Q. What do soaps offer that prime-time dramas don’t?
A. We’re in our fans’ living rooms five days a week, every week of the year. We don’t go on hiatus. The other shows are there only once a week.
Q. Why are the soaps going away?
A. The bottom line is literally the bottom line: They’re too expensive to produce. [The networks] can make talk shows, game shows, cooking shows and reality TV a lot cheaper.
Q. But those shows will never have as devoted a following.
A. I’ve been at appearances where I’ve had five generations of “Guiding Light” viewers standing in front of me. I think [soaps] could have a future on the Internet or on cable TV, so maybe fans will be able to follow the stories in those formats. Of course, production budgets would have to be slashed and I don’t know if they could hold on to the same cast members.
Q. How much of the Reva character was you?
A. We shared a sense of humor and a zest for life. She loved people and so do I. I’m not afraid of people, I like them to hug me and touch me. The biggest difference between Reva and me is that I wasn’t married to every male member of one family. I’ve been married to the same man for 30 years.
Q. Given your work schedule, that’s a feat.
A. It was successful because I got to have “affairs” on television and kiss some really handsome men, and get paid for it. Then I got to go home to a stable, secure love life.
Q. Did your on-air life ever overlap your real life?
A. The closest the lines came to crossing was when I was pregnant for real, both in my life and on the show. And then I was really pregnant in life [a second time] but having to hide the pregnancy on the show. That was really weird.
Q. You write that the hair-styling and makeup rooms on the “Guiding Light” set were like confessionals, and conversations were like therapy.
A. Those were the rooms where we found out things, like if someone was pregnant or someone was being fired or a former character was coming back to the show. The people in makeup and wardrobe knew everything before we [actors] knew, and they’d tell us. And the crew guys always knew what was coming because they built the new sets. They’d say, “They’re killing your set and putting up a different one,” and we’d be like, “Oh, God, they are?”
Q. So the “Guiding Light” community was a family?
A. Oh, yes. We knew everything about each other. I left the show [and returned five years later] because I was spending more time with my TV family than with my real family. I had to re-evaluate what was important.
Q. “Guiding Light” was retired after a 72-year presence, first on radio and then TV. It was the longest-running drama in history, and you weren’t happy with the way it went out.
A. Not at all. My screams could be heard around the world. There was a problem with me being too much of a fan. Ultimately, that was what caused all my hurt and anger and frustration toward the end of the show, when I started self-medicating with wine in the dressing room. I was too close to [the show] and it was like watching a train wreck.
Q. What’s next?
A. I start rehearsals as Norma Desmond in [a Michigan stage production of] “Sunset Boulevard.” I’ll do that for a month and then go back to New York, where I’ll hopefully continue to work on “One Life To Live” for as long as they need me.
Q. And after “OLTL” ends in January?
A. Then I’m an unemployed actor again, unless something else comes along. I’ve worked a lot in my life and I don’t have any fear that I’ll never work again. I’m in a really good place right now and I’m taking it day by day.