Flashback: Did Racism End the Romance of Valerie and David on 'Days of our Lives'

Valerie and David
Valerie Grant and David Banning were daytime TV's, and Days of our lives' first interracial couple. Were the couple broken up because of real-life racism?

Below is an excerpt from a May 31, 1977 Washington Post article by by William K. Knoedelseder:

The latest from NBC's Days of our Lives is that the chaste, year-long engagement of David Banning and Valerie Grant, daytime’s only interracial couple, is kaput. According to the script, the reason for the rift is David’s infidelity. But according to the actors, the reason is real-life racism.

"They're breaking us up because the storyline is unpopular,” said actor Richard Guthrie (David). "The studio has been getting a lot of hate mail from people threatening to stop watching the show."

"When they get enough of those letters, they respond," said actress Tina Andrews (Valerie). "One letter said: 'I hope you’re not going to let that ****** marry that white boy.' Apparently, they are not. I’m being canned."

Andrews pointed out that her television parents, Ketty Lester and Lawrence Cook, already have been written out of the script. With both the black storyline and the interracial romance ended, she said, Valerie is expendable.

Spokesmen for NBC in Burbank and the show’s co-executive producer, Wes Kenney, confirmed the couple's imminent breakup but denied the split was a reaction to unfavorable mail. Kenney said that although mail is read, analyzed, studied for trends in viewer response and discussed with the show’s writers, public reaction has not affected the long-term plans for the romance.

"This breakup has been planned from the very beginning. There has been change of direction."

Kenney said that while Days Nielsen ratings have fallen in the last year, from its perennial position in the top 3 to a current number 7 in a field of 14, the mail reflects a 50/50 split on the subject of David and Valerie.

Both Guthrie and Andrews said the mail was overwhelmingly negative and kissing quickly disappeared from the script.
“After that, we weren’t even allowed to touch,” said Guthrie. "Whenever we inadvertently worked it in, we were told to stop from the control booth. It was ridiculous."

Andrews said: "They would always say 'Richard, don’t touch her,' never the other way around. Pretty soon we started getting scripts with stage directions like 'They look at each other warmly, but they do not touch,' underlined five times so we wouldn’t miss it. That offended me as an actress, as a woman, and as a black person."

Kenney admits the physical aspects of the relationship had been played down in the past, but said the couple had again been allowed to kiss in more recent episodes. Referring to the “no touching” remonstratives, he said if he had seen such directions in the script, he would have taken them out. As co-executive producer, Kenney often edits the scripts before they are given to the actors.

Former head writer Pat Falken Smith, the creator of the interracial romance, disagreed with the young actors’ assessment of the situation. The kissing and touching was played down as a matter of storytelling. “In daytime programming, the drama is much stronger when you don't show intimate love scenes. If Richard and Tina thought it was unrealistic that a young engaged couple didn't kiss, that's tough. It was my story and gratuitous kissing was not part of it. And no actor re-writes me on the set, ever."

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