Regaining Her Smile: When My Mother Met Her Favorite Soap Opera Star After My Father Passed Away

Joel Eisenberg

I had the opportunity to make my mother’s dream come true. I’ll set the scene ...

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The following events took place well before the advent of Covid-19 ...

My mother has been watching the soap opera, Days of our Lives, since I was a child. No joke. Her all-time favorite actor on the series: Thaao Penghlis.

I had never seen the show. I had never heard of the actor. Regardless, approximately 20 years following the viewing of her first episode …

My mom and dad, who has since passed away, visited me in sunny California. They arrived fresh from Brooklyn, and we ate lunch at Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Boulevard, smack-dab in the heart of Hollywood. On the way out, my sweet and usually composed mother veritably lost her mind when she saw Thaao walking near the same restaurant.

My father was as unfamiliar as was his son. We were both laughing and joking at my mother’s expense for the next hour.

My mother’s friends and family, however, would hear about this “Thaao sighting” pretty consistently for the next 20+ years. “When I go to California, I see celebrities all the time,” she would tell them in the beginning. ”My eldest, he works in the business.” Eventually, she’d become cynical, and would change her story to, “I’m going to California again. I don’t like it there. I never see any celebrities anymore.”

I reminded her that during one particular visit she met Carol Burnett, Larry King, and Tony Curtis. “Eh,“ she said. “I only spoke to Carol. I ignored the other two.”

Welcome to my world.

***

Fast-forward to December, 2015. Barnes and Noble in Burbank, CA.

My father, Richard Eisenberg, had passed four years prior of a liver disease. He only drank a single glass of wine once a year during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and otherwise refrained from alcohol. We were never clear on what exactly had caused his illness, though he had his suspicions.

My mother found it difficult to adjust to a now single life, as she had been with my father -- the love of her life -- for nearly 50 years.

On the evening of the Barnes and Noble event, Thaao, along with dozens of other classic TV and classic TV-inspired creatives, including myself, spoke to an appreciative crowd about their personal career experiences. This was an event hosted by Herbie J Pilato and Caryn Richman, star of the 80's sitcom "The New Gidget," as a special Herbie J “Throwback Thursday” Christmas event.

I was surprised to hear the name “Thaao” as one of the guest speakers in attendance, and when it was my turn to speak I told the story from 20 years past so he could hear it. I introduced myself after … and asked him for a favor.

“Can you do me a big favor and call my mom in Florida?”

“Really?” he asked. “Will we wake her?”

"What time do you have?"

"8:30." PM.

“Trust me,” I said. “She’ll want to be woken up for this.”

“Sure,” he said.

I was immediately taken with his kindness. Thaao and I walked to the center of the store, and I called my mother on my cell.

“Hey, did I wake you?” I asked.

“I was just watching TV,” she said.

“I have someone who wants to converse with you.”

“It’s late,” she said. “Who wants to talk to me at this hour?”

I handed the phone to Thaao. My mother had no idea I had put the call on speaker mode. “Hello Nettie,” he said. “Do you know who this is?”

Thaao has an accent that can best be described as a combination of Greek, and proper (British) English. He smiled, and pointed to the phone.

After a momentary pause … “I do,” she said. “This is Andre.”

I’m thinking to myself, Who the hell is Andre? MOM, THIS IS THAAO!!

“It is,” Thaao replied. I found out later she was referring to his character name of Andre DiMera.

They spoke for five minutes or so, and got on famously. He handed the phone back to me. “I’m gonna kill you,” said my mother. I was getting nervous that I did something wrong, and she quickly followed up with — “Oh my God! Oh my God! I gotta tell Janet.”

Janet Musumeci, her best friend. I found out the next day that nearly the entire neighborhood of Del Rey Beach, Florida had heard about “the call.” Days thereafter, the way my mother explained it, the entirety of the state of Florida was aware ... as well as her native Brooklyn.

Which brings us to one year later …

Thaao and I became friends. My mother arrived in California to visit my brother Mike and I, and our respective wives and Mike’s kids … and Thaao quite literally made a dream of my mother’s come true.

I asked. He complied.

Lunch, at Art’s Deli.

I am certain that by now the entire globe has seen the photos included in this article. I attended the lunch with them — my mother dared not go alone — and she had the time of her life.

Six years later, I still cannot thank Thaao enough. He’s solid gold in my book. I wanted to do something special for my mother since my dad passed, and Thaao Penghlis created a memory for her that she will never forget. He’s a “mensch,” and my father would very much have appreciated what he did for the woman he loved for so many years.

The reason for writing about this?

Because my mom taught me how to love, and I just wanted to say, “Mom, I love 'you.'”

Always.

Anything (and anybody) that has brought a smile to your face, if even for a few cherished moments, has been worth every second of the effort to garner that end result.

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P.S. One year later …

It’s almost a regular thing now when my mom is in town.

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And I couldn’t be happier.

And when she’s back in Florida, Thaao always asks how she’s doing.

C’mon now. How could I not share?

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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