Ilene Kristen: the woman
you love to hate
New York Post, June 15, 1977
by Jeff Weingrab
can you say about a woman who, in the past two years, has twice tried to
commit suicide, crippled her husband by pushing him down the stairs, almost
killed her husband's lover the same way, seduced her former husband's brother
on the day the doctor told her would be the best time for her to become
pregnant, married the brother without telling him she had miscarried and,
in broad daylight, lost her two-year-old son in the park?
What you can say is that she is one of the most talked-about of the myriad of problem-plagued characters who populate TV's daytime dramas, better known as soaps.
She is Delia Reid Ryan Ryan (remember, she married brothers), the love-starved thorn in everyone's side on the very popular, 2-year-old ABC serial, "Ryan's Hope (2 p.m., Ch. 7).
It is actress Ilene Kristen who gives life to poor Delia, the latest in a long line of femmes fatales who keep the daytime viewers' eyes bulging and tongues wagging. Last week, dressed in dark blue slacks a 50-year-old silk pongee blouse and open-toed shoes, she sat in a wicker rocking chair in her antique-strewn apartment in the West 70s and talked, scattershot style, about the serial, her role in it, and her life away from the studio.
fascinates me," says Ilene. "Sometimes you don't really like the character
you're playing, but I like her. She's real dichotomy. She can be a real
villain, but she gets sympathy too."
Speak to most anyone who watches the show - you won't have to go very far, the series seems to have addicts everywhere - and they'll probably talk about Delia in the same terms. As one "Ryan's Hope" freak puts it, "she's a real sick chick, but I love her."
The show, which a few weeks back copped four daytime Emmy awards, the most for any program, is considered one of the more sexually oriented of all the soaps. Delia and her dalliances are the biggest reasons for this assessment.
So, Miss Kristen, just what gives with Delia? Is she sick? Is she merely immature? Is she a nymphomaniac: Just what is it that drives her?
"Well," says Ilene with a toothsome grin, "within her immaturity there's a certain maturity. She's a mother, she believes in the family set-up; basically a conservative woman. She's overwhelmingly insecure, but that's because of her growing up in a family that wasn't a family. She didn't see her mother. Her father was mentally sick and away in a hospital. Her brother had to take care of her."
Is Delia a nymphomaniac? "She needs love, but she's not a nymphomaniac at all. She has a lot of love inside of her and it is expressed physically, a lot, and that is part of her problem. She doesn't like to be alone. I think she just wants to be happy, like we all do."
What about Delia's two attempts to kill herself? All show?
"Definitely. Delia is not suicidal. She doesn't have a death wish. It's just an attention-getting device. She wants people to feel she's desperate enough to do it."
Wouldn't you say that Delia is just a little bit sick?
"She has an illness of sorts, but I don't think she's crazy. She's just neurotic and the whole thing stems from her background."
Born in Brooklyn
Kristen's background is quite a bit more stable. She was born and raised
in Brooklyn, "a normal, middle-class family." She started dancing as a
child and made her professional debut, dancing on a TV show, at 14. When
she was 16, she moved with her family, into Manhattan, directly across
the street from her present apartment. She left home and started working
full time at 18.
Two years later she was a member of the original cast of the Broadway hit, "Grease." "It's nice to be a part of history." She stayed in the show for two-and-a-half years, well over 1000 performances.
The five-foot-two, blue-eyed, 25-year-old Miss Kristen - "You can say 19" - says she won't grow old in her soap opera role, like some daytime performers who have spent 25 years on the same show. "No way," she says with a nod of her head for emphasis. "The soaps are a great experience, but they're a steppingstone."
Well, what's in the future for her?
"I'd like to do films and I want to do more stage work. I like small theaters because people work there because they want to. I might be producing a film soon, a low-budget, 20-minute fiction. I want to get involved with as many things as possible, though I don't want to spread myself too thin. Acting is what I want to do for a long time. It gives me energy for the other things."
Some of the "other things" include photography, music, (singing, songwriting, guitar and piano playing), swimming, horseback riding and certainly not least of all, managing her own movie theater. That's right, she'll have a place to show her 20-minute short, if and when. She and her partner, Ray Blanco, operate the Jean Renoir Theater, which has recently relocated, because of some trouble with the landlords, to Seventh Avenue South between Grove and Bleecker.
"I could, if I allowed myself, get involved there on a full time basis," she says. "But acting is my primary function. And acting in a soap opera is extremely hard work." Even Delia could appreciate that.