Judith Light as Karen Wolek
|One Life to Live character|
|First appearance||May 1976|
|Last appearance||February 1, 1983|
|Created by||Gordon Russell|
|Introduced by||Doris Quinlan|
Julia Duffy, the first recast of Karen
The character appeared in episodes from May 1976 until February 1983, and was most notably played by actress Judith Light. Light was offered and later accepted the role after auditioning as an understudy, first appearing on-screen in November 1977. Karen departs for an off-screen life in Canada when Light left the series in 1983.
Newcomer Kathryn Breech originated the role of Karen from May 1976 until July 1977. Julia Duffy assumed the role from July through November 1977, when the character was permanently recast with theater actress Judith Light.
Background and storylines
The sister of Jenny (Katherine Glass) and distant cousin to the Woleks, Karen (Kathryn Breech) first appears on-screen a year after her sister's arrival in 1976. Where Jenny was created as a confident, kind-hearted heroine, Karen was presented as a scheming, two-dimensional gold digger. She sought an easy life as the fiancée of wealthy doctor and distant cousin Larry Wolek (Michael Storm). As Karen and Larry's wedding day approached, Karen entangled herself with recently arrived former lover and con artist Marco Dane (Gerald Anthony), who threatened to reveal the dealings of their past relationship with Larry. As fiscally-responsible breadwinner Larry refused to dole out exorbitant allowances to pay for his fiancée's expensive tastes, Karen soon engaged in afternoon trysts with wealthy businessmen such as Talbot Huddleston (Byron Sanders) in order to afford luxuries. When Marco discovered Karen's dalliances, he forced her (Julia Duffy) to become a "housewife hooker," prostituting in order for Karen to prevent Larry from uncovering the truth.
By late 1977, Karen's leading storyline ramped up when actress Judith Light notably assumed the role of Karen. Early on, the character tended to be a typical soap opera gold-digging vixen, Light brought the character and the show to critical-acclaim. Light's extensive theater experience added multidimensional facets to the character. Light's Karen grew to suffer from low self-esteem, driven by an obsessive desire for love and acceptance. As she steps into the role, in soon becomes apparent Karen's afternoon affairs become less about money and more about her dissatisfaction with being a stay-at-home housewife.
In 1978, Karen (Light, onward) at last confided in her friend and media tycoon Victoria "Viki" Lord Riley (Erika Slezak) as to the details of the life she was led. Viki promised to keep Karen's lurid secret, and soon waged a public campaign of her resources as publisher of The Banner newspaper and other outlets against Marco's brothel, which masqueraded as a modeling agency. Amid the turmoil, Marco was apparently murdered. Viki was then charged with and tried for his apparent murder. With guilt festering in her conscious, Karen testified midway through Viki's trial in 1979. Coming to Viki's defense, Karen broke down at the witness stand, unable to corroborate a timeline of her whereabouts without admitting to her dealings with Marco. Light's Karen lashed out on the stand at Llanview District Attorney Herb Callison (Anthony Call), revealing her secret life of prostitution to jurors and, for the first time, to her now-husband Larry. Upon hearing of the revelation, Larry requested an immediate divorce from Karen, to which she conceded.
Karen found refuge while living in the boarding house of Ina Hopkins (Sally Gracie). There, she discovered that Marco Dane was still alive and living under an assumed identity. During this time, Karen is raped by Brad Vernon (Steve Fletcher) and pulled into a stolen-baby debacle with her sister Jenny (Brynn Thayer). Karen is then troubled by menacing Llanview Hospital doctor, Ivan Kipling (Jack Betts). Dr. Kipling, a prominent surgeon and one her former clients, feared she would expose him. Ivan unsuccessfully attempts to kill Karen who, upon escaping, is taken to the hospital where an unknowing Dr. Kipling receives Karen as his trauma victim. After treating her, Ivan develops an unhealthy infatuation with Karen, for which his is unable to attempt to murder her again, instead leaving Llanview with the looming threat. Ivan later returns to menace Karen again, brainwashing Larry to undermine the integrity of his extended family and namely Karen.
It was during this odd caper that Karen met government agent Steve Piermont (Robert Desiderio). Upon their meeting in 1983, the character of Karen said a final goodbye to rehabilitated former husband Larry and enemy-turned-friend Marco, leaving Llanview to enter witness protection and a romantic relationship with Steve in Canada. Judith Light soon appeared in the title role on the ABC sitcom, Who's the Boss? opposite actor Tony Danza.
Judith Light's portrayal of Karen in the Viki Lord Riley (Slezak)–Marco Dane (Anthony) murder caper brought the show critical acclaim and is credited with garnering One Life to Live ratings successes from the late 1970s into the early 1980s. Light's dramatic, confessional courtroom performance of a housewife-turned-prostitute on the witness stand is regarded as one of the most memorable moments in television by TV Guide, and her work on the series earned Light two consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards for Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1980 and 1981, in addition to other acting awards and nominations.
- "Big Think Interview With Judith Light". BigThink.com. May 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
- "Llanview Timeline: 1977". Llanview Labyrinth. 2003-2011. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
- "One Life to Live recap (1976)". ABC. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- "One Life to Live recap (1979)". ABC. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- "One Life to Live recap (1979, Part 2)". ABC. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- "One Life to Live recap (1980, Part 3)". ABC. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- Denis, Paul (1985). Inside the Soaps. New York City: Citadel Press. p. 103. ISBN 0-8065-0940-6.
- Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 589. ISBN 9780879728212. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
- "Professional Highlights". Judith Light official website. Retrieved 28 October 2011.