Whatever Happened to ...
Robert Duncan McNeill
Emmy nominee Robert Duncan McNeill will never forget one hot August day in 1988 -- his last day as a soap star.
"It was the very last All My Children scene I ever did," recalled McNeill, who had portrayed Charlie Brent for three years. "My character had gone to see Julie (Lauren Holly) to make their final wedding plans - and instead found her passionately kissing Nico (Maurice Bernard)."
Charlie's shock at seeing his sweetheart in the embrace of another man was matched by McNeill's stunned surprise when he learned he was being written out of the show that same day.
"I had already given my notice to leave and get back into theatre work," he explained. "Even though I'd soon be gone, I really thought they'd still keep me in the story at least several more weeks. But when I came in that morning and got my script ... BOOM! ... I saw it was going to be my final day."
While his soap stint ended abruptly, McNeill's acting career continued to flourish, with roles on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods and the Tony Award-winning Six Degrees of Separation.
He also landed numerous guest shots on TV in such series as Quantum Leap and L.A. Law, as well as starring roles in TV movies of the week.
About two years after McNeill left AMC, show execs brought Charlie back -- but it was a new, different harder-edged Charlie played by another actor, Charles Van Eman. Unlike the gentle, innocently boyish character played by Robert, this new Charlie was a womanizing stud.
The new Charlie didn't last long -- less than a year later he was gone. McNeill believes viewers wold have accepted him more readily if he had returned more like the original, naive and soft, then gradually hardened thorugh subsequent plot situations.
"Instead, he had already changed before reappearing, and that might be why the character didn't quite work."
Robert doesn't rule out a return to soaps if a challenging role comes along. Meanwhile, he says he's enjoying a happy, fulfilling life.
He and his wife, Carol, have a 19-month-old daughter, Taylor, and they've recently moved to Los Angeles. They devote much of their free time to an organization they created, Real Play Productions, which conducts improvisational acting workshops for children and teens. It also provides the youngsters with a valuable outlet to express their emotions, said McNeill.
"It's the least we can do," he added. "After all, you've got to help those in need and so many of today's kids have really deep problems. Since we're in the creative arts, we try and reach them the best way we can."