Melody Thomas Scott Interview: "Y&R" Star Talks Turning Down TV Show with Lucy and Abusive Childhood
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Authors
Image attributed to Melody Thomas Scott
Melody Thomas Scott is best known for her Emmy-nominated work in the iconic role of Nikki Newman, a character she’s played for more than 40 years on currently the highest rated daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. Scott was a child actress and appeared in the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock movie Marnie at the age of eight. She appeared in John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist, and guest starred on television in The Rockford Files, Charlie’s Angels and had a recurring role on The Waltons.
Scott is known for her charitable efforts with ATAS TV Cares and the Save the Earth Foundation. In her memoir, Always Young and Restless: My Life on and Off America’s #1 Daytime Drama, released August 18, 2020, she tells of her troubled, untraditional upbringing for the first time. She lives with her husband, Edward Scott, and beloved rescue terrier, Reilly, in Beverly Hills, California.
"My mother passed two years ago. We never had a relationship. I mean, yes, I’m sure we said, 'Hi, how are you?' But she made it clear very early on that she was not interested in raising a child. I knew that."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Melody, how does it feel to be back at work?
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, my goodness. Well, we’re thrilled to be back at work. Of course, it’s a whole new reality there, you know. We can’t do anything like we used to do. We can’t hug each other. We can’t really sit down and chat with each other. We’ve got our COVID experts on the set making sure we don’t. Everything’s being done to the letter, and we haven’t had any problems so far. So knock on wood!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’ve been in serious withdrawals, so am very glad the show’s back with new episodes.
Melody Thomas Scott: So has everybody else, the whole world. But I enjoyed watching classic episodes, too.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes. It was really nice to relive those memories. I loved your book, just couldn’t put it down.
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, thank you so much.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: But I am so terribly sorry all of that happened to you.
Melody Thomas Scott: Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were you apprehensive about writing about your grandmother’s abuse and the sexual assaults you suffered, one even in your grandmother’s presence?
Melody Thomas Scott: Not really because I’ve always known I’ve had a book in me because so much of what happened to me was very unusual, not what you normally hear about. Without including all of the dark with the light, there really wouldn’t be any point in writing a book. Certainly it’s fun for Y&R fans to read. But the most important part to me was to reveal everything that happened to me between birth and 20.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was it difficult to relive the pain as you were putting those words on paper?
Melody Thomas Scott: It was, and I didn’t anticipate it. I thought I was emotionally healed from it. I thought, “Okay. I can talk about this now.” But for some reason, when I sat down to start writing, my brain wanted to write more darker chapters for whatever reason. Maybe I just wanted to get it out of the way. I don’t know. But I had a few false starts. I would write a chapter, and then sure enough, panic attack, agoraphobic attack. My body let me know that, “Okay. It’s still in there.”
But It’s going to still be in there. It never leaves you. But I’ve learned ways to overcome that. It really took, with all of those false starts, about 10 years to finish it. So, no, I don’t regret it, and I hope what I do include in there can encourage others who might be going through adversities as well and hope there is a way out the other side.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You talk about your grandmother being a hoarder, and she certainly was very cruel to you. Looking back now, do you think she might’ve suffered from a mental illness like bipolar disorder?
Melody Thomas Scott: I’m so glad you asked that. Nobody has asked me that yet, and it is a great question. In my research and reading up on different personality disorders, I think definitely there was Borderline Personality Disorder there and perhaps other things as well. From what I’ve read about Borderline, it’s very similar to how my grandmother was, the sudden rages for no reason, carrying on and screaming. That was our day-to-day life with her. So had it been 2000 or forward and had she been willing to go to a medical doctor, which she would not, she probably would’ve been diagnosed with that, and it perhaps could’ve been controlled with medication. But all of that’s water under the bridge because nobody knew anything about that back in the 50s and 60s.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is your mother still living?
Melody Thomas Scott: My mother passed two years ago. We never had a relationship. I mean, yes, I’m sure we said, “Hi, how are you?” But she made it clear very early on that she was not interested in raising a child. I knew that. I felt that immediately, and she just wasn’t into it even as I grew older and she grew older. We never saw each other. And oddly enough, when she did pass, I was her only child, so the County was trying to find me to even let me know because that’s how I found out she had passed.
I had to go down to her house. Come to find out, she turned out to be an extreme hoarder as well. So I guess it could’ve certainly passed down from my grandmother to my mother. So now, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh! I have to be very careful.” (laughs) But I’m fine. Of course, I’m very mindful of that possibility, so I’m very careful.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You retweeted Eric Braeden’s tweet that said he was reading your book, and he said, “Just wish I could have protected her then and knocked everyone on their ass!!!”
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, my goodness. He is so all over this book. It’s funny. Men and women respond differently to my book in that the men get very angry, and they say, “I wish I’d been there to protect you! I would’ve just beaten them up!” They get very physical about it. They’re so angry. Women are more introspective about it and say all of the right things, but the men want to go after these people who hurt me (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Eric did sound just a little protective of you (laughs).
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, yes. I gave him the book about 10:00 in the morning, and by 1:00, he called me and said, “Oh, my God!” Now, I’m not saying exactly the words he said, but he was like, “Oh, I wish I had been around. I would’ve beat those guys up.” And it was expletive, expletive (laughs). He said, “I’m supposed to be learning my lines, but I can’t put the book down.” I said, “Well, put the book down. We’ve got a lot of scenes to do. Read it over the weekend.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve said Jeanne Cooper was your close friend and acting mentor. In the book, you say that you two had a “complicated relationship fueled by paranoia.” What does that mean?
Melody Thomas Scott: Well, we were very, very close until it was revealed to everyone that Edward and I were seeing each other. You know, actors are a funny breed. I suppose that I can understand that they would become resentful if they felt that another one of their peers had an unfair advantage in dating the producer, and then of course, marrying the producer.
I, of course, never looked at it that way. I was completely naïve to that possibility, and some actors did suddenly pull away from me, suddenly become very cold, and unfortunately, Jeanne was one. She was probably the last person I expected that to happen with. And it changed our relationship a great deal. It never really thrived the way it had before that. So, yeah. It became a complicated relationship with all of that backstory. I still loved her desperately, and I know that she did me, too. It just put some stumbling blocks between us.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You did a couple of episodes of The Waltons before joining The Young and the Restless. How was that experience?
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, I just loved it! I would’ve stayed here forever had I not gotten Y&R. It was a great company. I loved everybody. We had so much fun. But that was a recurring role not a contract role, so to do Y&R, which was a contract, I had to walk away from The Waltons. In retrospect, it was probably the right decision (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Absolutely no doubt about that. I loved the Bette Davis encounter you write about in the book. Were you surprised that she knew you?
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, my goodness, yes! That was so shocking to me, and I was young still. I didn’t know how to respond to her, and I don’t think the Aretha Franklin episode had happened yet for me. So I really didn’t consider that very influential and famous people watched out show. So when Bette Davis, of all people, told me that, I was absolutely stunned. It was a wonderful moment. I’m so upset that I can’t find the photo that was taken of us at that time. But she said it, and that’s good enough for me.
You know what? A couple of years ago, there was a miniseries about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and there was a scene toward the end of the miniseries where they’re talking about how they watched The Young and the Restless every day. I thought, “Bam! They got that so correct because I can verify that was true.” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It’s easy to imagine that at eight years old, you were scared of Alfred Hitchcock. Were you ever around Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren, the stars of Marnie?
Melody Thomas Scott: I didn’t really have social interactions with them. It was a very professional thing. They will only bring a child in when they’re ready to go. You don’t have the benefit of running lines with other actors because usually the child is in the schoolroom, so you kind of miss out on the interactions with the adult actors when you’re a kid.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did your love of Lucille Ball begin?
Melody Thomas Scott: I Love Lucy is my show. Lucy Ricardo is the character that I’m so fascinated with. I was never interested in the later shows like Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show, and I think part of that is I still maintain to this day that that was a magical grouping. When they started doing I Love Lucy in 1951, those four actors and those writers and the brilliance of Desi Arnaz who created the three-camera system on that show was a special almost-from-the-heavens creation of an acting troupe. They played so well off of each other. Boy, there are some great comedies that have come since then, but I don’t think any of them are as brilliant as the I Love Lucy original cast.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you ever meet Lucille Ball?
Melody Thomas Scott: I didn’t, although I have a funny story that is not in the book. Gosh, I should’ve put it in there. I didn’t think of it. When I was maybe six years old, my grandmother and I were at this hot dog stand in Los Angeles, and a talent scout from Desilu approached me. I had noticed he had been talking to my grandmother off to the side a little bit. I had no idea who he was, but after speaking to her, he came up to me, and the most important question that he asked was, “How would you like to be on a television show with Lucille Ball?” And out of the mouths of babes, even though I was a working kid, I said, “No, thank you.” And that was the end of that. He very graciously said, “Nice to meet you,” and he walked away.
I’m sure my grandmother wanted to kill me, but what else is new. I later realized that they were casting the Danny Thomas show Make Room for Daddy, which was a Desilu production, and I think they were looking at me to possibly play his little girl. Angela Cartwright ended up getting that job, so you know, it’s possibly one of the ones that got away. I don’t know why I said what I said because I was a Lucy fan even then. But as I got older, I still watched Lucy any chance I could. I started to meet people like Lucy authors, and people came into my life that had a connection to Lucy. That continued, and I ended up being on the board of directors of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, which is in Jamestown, New York, her hometown. So I really have enjoyed my connection to her through all of the events and people. I would’ve met her had I said to the talent scout, “Sure. Yes, I would.” That’s all I had to say. But did I say it? Nope.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, Nikki has had her share of crazy Lucyesque escapades over the last 41 years. Is there something she hasn’t done that you’d like for her to do?
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh, gosh. As a selfish actor, I’ve always wanted to go absolutely mad and taken to a rubber room and just play insane. Of course, if that happened to Nikki, that would come to an end. She would see her way out of it. But that hasn’t happened, and I have told the writers this many times, and they’re just not giving it to me (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were your three daughters ever interested in the entertainment industry?
Melody Thomas Scott: No. No. Not at all. When the kids were little, and they would be in the room when I was watching I Love Lucy, they would get so mad because (I realized much later) Lucy was the only thing that could take mommy’s attention away from them. Then when I was on Y&R, I remember my youngest one, Elizabeth, when she was maybe five or six years old, and we’d have Y&R on. If Nikki was on the screen crying, she would get so mad and huff out of the room. She’d say, “I hate this show!” I found out much later it was because she didn’t like to see mommy upset. She didn’t like to see her crying. So I was not a big hit when they were kids (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So what’s next for Nikki and Victor?
Melody Thomas Scott: Well, we truly don’t know. I think the writers keep it under wraps because they probably don’t trust us. If they told us, we’d blab. So we don’t know. We only know the show a week in advance when we get our scripts for the following week. I hear there’s good stuff coming, but I don’t know precisely what it is.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: We only know for sure there won’t be any kissing or hugging (laughs).
Melody Thomas Scott: Not in any storyline because we can’t. But just after not seeing each other for four months during this COVID quarantine, the only thing we wanted to do when we went back to work a few weeks ago was hug each other, and we couldn’t even do that. We can’t even sit and chat because that’s not allowed either on our set. Our production is being very, very careful. We can’t even go into each other’s dressing rooms and run lines. It’s a very strange twilight zone kind of environment right now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And one that we all wish would be over with soon. Melody, what do you want your readers and fans to understand from your words in Always Young and Restless: My Life on and Off America’s #1 Daytime Drama?
Melody Thomas Scott: That I’m only human (laughs). Perhaps if they’re going though adversity, they can see what I went through, and if they can get some hope and encouragement from my story, that will be worth it all.
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