Thursday, February 8, 2018

What a Hunley!

Today we're finally getting around to one of our favorite TV actresses of the 1980s, Miss Leann Hunley. Poised, articulate, elegant and amusing, she lent her talents to countless programs, though her biggest mark came with key roles in two soap operas, one daytime and one nighttime. Hunley was born on February 12th, 1955 in Washington state in a small town called Forks. The fourth and last child of a commercial fisherman and a beautician, she grew up balancing the nitty gritty of cleaning fish with the splendor of styling hair on a life-size doll head. One of Hunley's life-long attributes has been a mane of incredible hair.

An unambitious teen, she attended college for a while in Seattle, but couldn't set her heart on a particular goal. She dabbled in some school plays, worked as an answering service operator as well as a secretary and posed for a few modeling photos. Eventually moving to Hawaii with a girlfriend on a lark, she began to model a bit, then was entered into the Miss Hawaii contest where she finished second runner-up (but was voted the Best Smile Award!) This led to her very first acting gig, the familiar role of a secretary on a 1977 episode of Hawaii 5-O.
The simple part, consisting of two brief scenes, placed her opposite veteran actress and featured guest star Jean Simmons. Already, though, Hunley's distinct speaking voice and innate poise were in evidence. She did well enough in this part to warrant being brought back later that same season (by now 1978) to play a different character, this time with the exacting series star Jack Lord (shown below.) She also worked in a Hawaiian filmed TV-movie pilot called The Islander with Dennis Weaver that didn't result in a series.
Now with some career direction and the encouragement of a Los Angeles producer, Hunley came back to the continental U.S. and began landing guest roles on show such as Battlestar Galactica (as shown here with Dirk Benedict), BJ and the Bear (seen below with Greg Evigan), Mrs. Columbo and a recurring role on The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.
There was also this oddity:
The pilot for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was released prior to the series debut on television as a theatrical movie. The opening credits were vastly different from what was eventually shown on the series. For the movie, a sleeping Gil Gerard was shown lying on brightly lit Lucite while buxom babes (including his costars Erin Grey and Pamela Hensley) languidly wallered around seductively. One of the babes was Leann Hunley, though she never appears in the movie otherwise. (The theme song also is performed with lyrics - this has to be seen and heard to be believed! I literally pig-snorted when Tim O'Connor's credit came up.)
Hunley married in 1980 to a Montana real estate developer and was off-screen for a little while afterwards. By 1982, she was ready to get her feet wet again in the acting world and accepted a small role on Fantasy Island (opposite Pamela Hensley.) Get a load of the hairdo she's sporting here, which could only have happened in the 1980s.
More TV guest roles were to follow including Hart to Hart, Airwolf (as seen here with Alex Cord) and Amazing Stories. But Hunley had already begun what would be a signature role for her. In 1983, she joined the cast of the hit daytime soap Days of Our Lives, playing the long-lost wife of Roman Brady (played by Wayne Northrup) and mother of his young daughter Carrie.

Initially a rather put-upon, downtrodden sort (her character had been sold into white slavery!), she soon rewed into the ultra-wealthy DiMera family and from that point on was forever decked out to the nines in jewels, furs, tailored suits and always an ornate head of hair.
The characters of Tony DiMera (Thaao Penghlis) and Anna DiMera enjoyed a turbulent, complicated relationship filled with intrigue, humor and glamour. Hunley might have been acting her scenes from underneath a landslide of 1980s fashion trappings, but it was always with a liberal dose of humor.
She was, in fact, nominated by Soap Opera Digest for "Outstanding Comic Relief" in 1986, losing to her cohort on the show, wacky Arleen Sorkin. More importantly, however, that same year she won an Emmy for "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series." You might find it interesting to know that her work was deemed by the Emmy voting panel to be superior to Kathleen Widdoes, Eileen Herlie, Dame Judith Anderson and Uta Hagen!!
By this point, however, Hunley had departed the series. She was guest-starring on Hotel and about to embark on another attention-getting role, this time in prime-time. During her run on Days of Our Lives, Hunley had been chosen to appear on the game show Super Password. One of the games had as its answer "Alexis" of Dynasty. Little did Hunley know that before long she would be working right alongside Joan Collins and all the other Carringtons and Colbys on Dynasty.
Hunley had previously auditioned for the spin-off series Dynasty II: The Colbys, but wasn't deemed right for the role in question. However, the producers made room for her on the parent series as John Forsythe's efficient secretary. She soon was discovered to have come to Denver in order to be near Forythe's son Gordon Thomson, her character having been in love with him long before in Montana.
The story arc wasn't initially meant to be a very lengthy one, but Hunley impressed everyone associated with the show and viewers immediately grew very fond of her. It wasn't long before she was made a regular cast member and inserted into the show's opening credits, now part of the power couple of Adam and Dana, the characters Thomson and she portrayed.
She was promoted as part of a new generation of characters who were taking the forefront while the stalwarts of Blake, Alexis and Krystle remained on-hand and integral to the storylines.

Hunley possessed an open, empathetic quality and also one of tremendous expression, which really separated her from some of the very staid, controlled actresses and actors on the show. Everything showed in her face and she was never afraid to make some really twisted ones if it was deemed necessary by her.
The show's most pointed hey-day was already past by the time she joined in, but the public had not completely abandoned it. During her tenure, the show won two of its four People's Choice Awards as "Favorite TV Dramatic Program/Serial." (Do take note of '80s fashion victim Heather Locklear - Teri Garber, too - in this backstage shot from the awards ceremony!)

After a sumptuous wedding, the characters  of Adam and Dana faced an infertility situation which led to a somewhat groundbreaking surrogate pregnancy storyline. In the end (by the very beginning of Dynasty's last season in 1988) the couple was split up and Hunley went on her way to new prospects.

Earlier in 1988, she had guest-starred on Highway to Heaven with Michael Landon in a two-part episode that had her helping his angel character regain his faith and sense of duty after having walked away from both.

She proceeded to work on Simon & Simon, Who's the Boss, Designing Women, Matlock and L.A. Law. Then there was the 1990 miniseries Lucky Chances, based upon a Jackie Collins page-turner. The program starred Nicollette Sheridan and also featured Hunley's previous cohort on Dynasty, Michael Nader.
Most of Hunley's work in the miniseries was with young actor Tim Ryan. It was 1990 and glamour was slowly dying in the wake of Seattle grunge and the general downplaying of glitz that came after the Reagan era, but no one told Jackie Collins (nor Leann Hunley) that!

Apart from a couple of TV movies, there was a supporting role in the big-screen redo of The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), with Ms. Hunley in typically tailored, vividly colored attire. Other guest roles around this time included:
Three installments of Murder, She Wrote.
The Nanny, as a snooty, wealthy mother.
And a four-episode turn on Models, Inc. as a wife whose husband has been cheating on her with a younger woman, a model. (How and why? She's gorgeous!)
Then came parts on shows as diverse as Heaven Help Us, Murphy Brown, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Burke's Law and, as seen here, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. This particular episode was the wedding of the show's leading characters and also featured Harve Presnell, Beverly Garland, David Doyle and Delta Burke. Next came a 1997 appearance on 7th Heaven, as shown below.
1998 brought what turned out to be another rather notable role. She played an attractive English teacher in the pilot for the teen-oriented series Dawson's Creek. Over an arc of about six or so episodes, her character becomes inappropriately involved with one of her students, played by Joshua Jackson. She proved popular enough to stage a two-episode return in the second season of the fledgling series.
Just as her 1980 marriage led to a brief interruption of her career, her 2001 divorce led to the same. It was 2003 before she worked on-screen again in shows like Strong Medicine and Just Shoot Me! In 2005, she made two appearances on Gilmore Girls (as seen below.)
Days of Our Lives fans got quite a shock (and quite a shot in the arm) when, after a 21-year absence from the show, Hunley returned to portray Anna DiMera once more. This time she stayed until 2010, working in the occasional primetime appearance on series like Law & Order: SVU and NCIS.

In 2012, she starred in a low-budget independent film called Blissful Lies. The movie had her playing a university chancellor becoming involved with a young male student, recalling the notorious part she'd played a dozen or so years prior on Dawson's Creek.

Just when it seemed that she was done with her iconic character of Anna on Days, she returned to it a third time in 2017 and is still portraying the role as of this writing. Even though I, personally, have not watched any daytime drama since the cancellation of As the World Turns in 2010 (and, in fact, had abandoned it for the most part prior to that), a few of the old shows still hang in, including Days.

Ms. Hunley is now sixty-two. Still rocking a great head of hair and still serving up spontaneous, effervescent performances, admittedly a little fuller in the figure than she once was (but who cares?!)

One thing I always loved about her was that she, in manner, speech and sense of style, reminded me of my best friend of thirty-four years. (One of the classic lines delivered to my bestie once in the late-'80s, when being picked up for a night out with hair much like this at left, was, "God! Do you need some help carrying your hair out to the car?!" Ha ha!) Because my best friend was so similar to Leann, I always felt I knew her even though I don't, but this was also due to her immediate, accessible performances in so many roles.
I hope this stint on Days isn't the last we see of her on-screen. I'd like to think there's even more in store for this dynamic actress as she gets older and even better. She's too likeable and luminous not to be front and center in something great.


Gingerguy said...

Poseidon I totally remember her, distinctive name and even more distinctive hair. The first picture also reminded me that panty hose made your legs shiny. Alexis=Mature Siren is hilarious. I think Joan Collins made people realize you could be totally hot after 40.
Leann really kept her looks, and looked great in the most over the top glitzy outfits, really a gorgeous actress. This was a fun career retrospective.

Percy said...

I had never heard of this actress before. Much like Joan Collins, Leann really does give those of us over 50 inspiration that life - and our looks - are hardly over! Thanks for sharing her biography and lovely photographs!

edwardr42000 said...

Thanks for this info. Great blog as always. I think that blue dress photo (3rd from bottom) must be a publicity shot from when she did her title sequence shoot for "Dynasty". Any info on why she left "Dynasty"? I'm sure she went of her own accord, which was unusual for Dynasty in those days. Could you do something on Karen Cellini? She's still active and had a very raw deal on "Dynasty"

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, at long last I respond... (Part of my hideous weekend included smashing my phone to the pavement and now I don't like to use it very much!) I wonder just how much panty hose sales have dropped in recent years. There used to be a huge aisle devoted to them in their many forms. Maybe tights are still "in" in some areas. Leann's hair just made me drool back in the day. I'm still not 100% on board with today's dreary styles (and it seems like ladies spend HOURS coming up with droopy, lax curls...)

Percy, glad you enjoyed this enough to comment on it. I turned 50 last August, so I'm all for trying to stay valid in a youth-oriented world! LOL

edwardr42000, that is indeed the day she shot her kittenish opening credit sequence! I don't know why she left the show, though it seems to have been of her own choosing. I do know that she made one episode in the final season, just to give closure to her story, and then was OUT. That season was filled with change: budget cuts, producer switches, etc... maybe she saw the writing on the wall with Linda Evans leaving? Don't know. I'm afraid I am not going to be profiling Ms. Cellini. I agree that she got a raw deal at the show, but she also shouldn't have ever been placed in that particular role. No clue what they were thinking! Thanks.