Ilene Kristen of 'Ryan's
Hope' has discovered she's...
A villain viewers want to hug
TV Guide, February 11, 1978
by Jane Hall
Delia Ryan is the snake
in the shamrocks on Ryan's Hope, the ABC soap opera about an Irish-American
clan in New York. Delia almost killed her husband, Frank Ryan, by pushing
him down a flight of stairs and then went on to wreck Frank's political
career and misplace their baby in the park. Now that she's married to another
Ryan scion, Frank's brother Pat, Delia is feigning a nervous breakdown
so that she can keep Pat away from the hospital where he interns with an
attractive female colleague.
Surprisingly, only half of the people who write in to Ryan's Hope think Delia is terrible - the other half think she's terrific! Actress Ilene Kristen, who plays the villain, explains, "I guess there's a little jealous Delia inside all of us, and we secretly applaud someone who tries to have it her way. When people recognize me on the street, they usually shake their fists and then want to give me a hug."
One reason for the ambivalent response is that, as played by Ilene, Delia is not only sexy but also adorable and childlike when she climbs into her round, red-velvet bed with angels at the headboard. The 26-year-old actress won the role in a memorable audition for Paul Avila Mayer and Claire Labine, co-creators and producers of Ryan's Hope. Mayer recalls, "Ilene brought an appealing, off-beat quality to the role. She wore white, which made the cameras go crazy; and, in the middle of the scene, a button came flying off her blouse. We said to ourselves, 'That's Delia.'"
In her own life, Ilene is involved in an apparently unvillainous relationship with a fellow actor. So where does Delia come from? "From my understanding of Delia's history, "says Ilene, "Delia grew up poor, fatherless and in awe of the close-knit Ryan clan, which is her idea of the American Dream. She has a desperate need for attention and love, and she'll scrap to get it."
Although she is on the Ryan's Hope set three days a week, beginning at 8 A.M., and spends nights memorizing her many lines, Ilene also finds time to be partner in an art-movie house; to produce a 16 mm feature, "After the War," by a group of New York University film-school students; to act with an off-off-Broadway theater company; and to entertain paraplegics at a hospital in the Bronx.
A film buff, Ilene got into the art-movie-house business after meeting Ray Blanco, a 22-year-old film distributor. Ilene backed Ray, and the two converted an old theater into the Jean Renoir Cinema. The fledgling theater - which has the blessing of the great film director after whom it is named - attracted an audience for its independent American films and foreign releases. "It's important that 'small films' have a place to be shown," says Ilene. "Otherwise, it's all 'Star Wars.'"
I'm proud of my work on Ryan's Hope," she says, "but television is limited to what will sell. I'm interested in taking chances. Besides, I <i>enjoy</i> everything that I'm into. It's more fun than having a house in Connecticut."
The child of artistic parents who worked as hair stylists, Brooklyn-born Ilene Schatz (Kristen is her stage name) grew up in Manhattan, a few blocks away from the Brownstone apartment where she now lives surrounded by cloisonné bowls, old post cards and a wallful of her grandmother's beaded purses. She made her professional debut on The Bell Telephone Hour when she was 14, appeared in the Broadway musical, "Henry, Sweet Henry," when she was 15 and finished her senior year in high school by correspondence while touring with a satirical group called "Six New Happenings."
Her big break came when she won the role of cheerleader Patty Simcox in "Grease," the Broadway musical about the 1950s. Ilene sis-boom-bahed through 1000 performances.
The energetic actress plans to sign on for another year of Ryan's Hope but wants it written into her new contract that ABC will give her a leading role in a major nighttime TV-movie. "I'm good enough, and I expect to get it," she says. Ilene is also looking for an art film with a part for her in it; eventually, she wants to concentrate on films.
Ilene has plans for the Renoir, too. She has just closed the Greenwich Village theater ("landlord troubles," she says) but hopes to find larger quarters uptown. "Ray could distribute his movies from the theater; I could have an office. We might do plays as well as show films. I've already got private financial backing," she reported one evening between bites of a dinner of raw vegetables. "Do you think I could get a Federal grant, too?"
Uncle Sam won't know what hit him.