Michael Levin of Ryan’s Hope Soap, dead at 90

(courtesy ABC TV)
Michael Levin with Kate Mulgrew on Ryan’s Hope (courtesy ABC TV)

Michael Levin, an actor best known for portraying reporter Jack Fenelli during the entire 13-year run of the ABC TV daytime soap opera Ryan’s Hope, died of natural causes on Jan. 6. He was 90 years old. His son, Jason Levin shared the news via social media.

He was born in Minneapolis, Minn. He married and had two children.

Ryan’s Hope aired on ABC from 1975-1989. Levin was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Actor three years in a row for his work in the drama series from 1978-80.

The show, which aired Monday-Friday in the 12;30-1:00 time slot, featured several top actors and actresses: Nancy Addison, Yasmine Bleeth, Judith Chapman, John Gabriel, Ilene Kristin, Kelli Maroney, Robin Mattson, Kate Mulgrew, Will Patton, Christian Slater, Cali Timmons, Louise Shaffer and Karen Morris-Gowdy.

Levin appeared in two other daytime soaps, as John Eldridge on As the World Turns and as Dr. Tim Gould on All My Children. He also appeared in episodes of N.Y.P.D.The EqualizerLaw & Order and New York News.



In late 1974, ABC Daytime approached Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer, the head writers of CBS‘ Love of Life, about creating a new soap opera similar to General Hospital. Labine and Mayer added a large Irish-American family — the Ryans — to what ABC was calling City Hospital. Another of the show’s working titles was A Rage to Love, but that was soon changed.

Patriarch Johnny Ryan (Bernard Barrow) owned a bar, Ryan’s, across from fictional Riverside Hospital in New York City. His wife, Maeve (Helen Gallagher), assisted him in his duties, as did their children: Frank, the seldom-seen Kathleen, Patrick, Mary, and Siobhan (the younger daughter being introduced in the series in 1978, having spent the first three years of the series away from New York City). The Ryans and the wealthy Coleridges were the original core families of the show. The soap took the then-unusual approach of situating itself in an actual community—the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. Maeve’s parish sat in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, on 178th St. References were often made to Central Park (Delia’s Crystal Palace restaurant), Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn (mob-owned fishing boats), and other localities to provide a sense of place. “We wanted to show how New York has communities,” Labine said.

Labine and Mayer also served as the executive producers of the show at this point, with George Lefferts as the producer. Lefferts was soon replaced by Robert Costello, who remained with the show until 1978. Nancy Ford co-wrote the first episode with Labine and Mayer.

The original cast consisted of Nancy Addison AltmanBernard Barrow, Faith Catlin, Justin DeasMichael FairmanJohn GabrielHelen Gallagher, Michael Levin, Malcolm Groome, Rosalinda Guerra, Justin Dees, Ron HaleMichael HawkinsEarl HindmanIlene KristenFrank LatimoreKate MulgrewHannibal Penney, Jr., and Diana van der Vlis.

The premise of the show for its first two years involved the blue-collar, immigrant, Catholic Ryans and the three of their five upwardly mobile adult children still residing in New York: Frank, lawyer and aspiring local politician; Pat, physician at local Riverside Hospital; and Mary, aspiring journalist. The show contrasted the cultures of tradition-minded parents with their more liberated, 1970s culture-drenched children. Older morals about lifetime marriages, church-proscribed divorce, and chastity outside of wedlock were constantly being tested by “New-World,” “New-Era” urban values. Frank’s political campaign for city council was challenged by a chain of events surrounding his paying off the Coleridge son who knew of the affair Frank was having with Jillian Coleridge, while Frank was married to needy, frantic Delia. The political-scandal angle was soon reiterated with Frank’s short tenure in the state senate. Delia became involved with all three of Johnny Ryan’s sons: Frank, Pat, and Dakota. The quasi-incestuous focus was echoed in coming years by Frank’s involvement with both Coleridge sisters, Jillian and Faith, and with Faith’s involvement with Ryan brothers Pat and Frank, and again with Jillian’s involvement with half-brothers Frank and Dakota, and by gangster Michael Pavel’s involvement with New York publisher/Frank’s ex-fiancee Rae Woodward (Louise Shaffer) and her teen daughter, Kim (Kelli Maroney). Mary became irresistibly attracted to a reporter exposing Frank’s blackmailing scandal, the fiery Jack Fenelli, and eventually moved in with him without benefit of marriage.

These extramarital and premarital affairs, the attendant children out of wedlock, the career-oriented women, the assertion of abortion rights: the clash of generational values in the Ryan clan was interesting to viewers (akin in some respects to the “ArchieMeathead” conflicts in the famed primetime show All in the Family), and there developed a passionate following for Kate Mulgrew’s portrayal of Mary Ryan. Mary’s career and personal goals were given neurotic counterpoint in Delia’s machinations with Mary’s brothers.