Kathryn Hays, Soap Star for Nearly 40 Years, Dies at 87

on Apr19
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Kathryn Hays, an actress who had a brief yet memorable turn in the “Star Trek” television series of the 1960s but who found enduring appeal as a stalwart soap opera star on “As the World Turns” for almost four decades, died on March 25 in Fairfield, Conn. She was 87.

Her daughter, Sherri Mancusi, confirmed her death, in an assisted living facility.

Ms. Hays was originally cast by the daytime drama writer and creator Irna Phillips for a six-month contract, but wound up as an integral part of “As the World Turns,” which ran on CBS from 1956 to 2010.

By the end of Ms. Hays’s long run on the show, her character, Kim Hughes, had become the de facto matriarch of the drama’s fictional town, Oakdale. The character was known for her catchphrases, often calling people “kiddo” or “toots.”

Ms. Hays balanced the demands of taping an episode a day with humor and close relationships on set, her daughter said, recalling that her co-stars gave her the nickname “One Take Kathy.”

Ms. Hays was known to fans of the original “Star Trek” television series for the episode “The Empath” (1968), in which she played Gem, a mute alien with healing powers who rescues a grievously injured Captain Kirk (William Shatner). Her extensive screen credits included “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Road West” and “Law and Order.”

Ms. Hays often spoke about her love for the character Kim Hughes and the soap opera format in general.

“I think if you look beyond soap operas, you’ll see that people like to have an ongoing story,” she told Entertainment Weekly on the occasion of the show’s finale. “They love to read sequels of books. They like to see sequels of movies.”

Kim Hughes experienced standard soap opera fare on “As the World Turns,” from extramarital affairs to memory loss. But she also figured in more topical story lines. One episode, in the 1970s, touched on marital rape, an issue not often publicly discussed then.

In a 2010 interview with the website “We Love Soaps,” Ms. Hays said that at the time, “I didn’t even realize that was controversial. But it was.”

As Ms. Hays aged, her character matured. Kim Hughes started out in 1972 as a stereotypical “home wrecker.” But after several marriages and countless twists and turns over the years, she and her husband, Bob Hughes, played by Don Hastings, exited the show’s 2010 finale happily married.

The character, Ms. Hays said in the 2010 interview, “started one way and then turned into someone else.”

“She turned into a deeper character, and that was wonderful,” she said of Kim. “She made the choice to be thoughtful of others. You saw her grow through those years.”

But even the maturing of her character did not fully quell the occasional catfight that can energize a soap opera. “The thing that was great for me was knowing that if Kim got pushed too far, or too hard, she could turn around and deck you,” Ms. Hays said. “Verbally, not physically. The audience loved it.”

Kay Piper was born on July 26, 1934, in Princeton, Ill., the only child of Roger and Daisy (Hays) Piper. They divorced shortly after her birth, and Kay was raised by her mother, who was a bookkeeper and a banker, and her stepfather, Arnold Gottlieb, a salesman.

Kay graduated from Joliet Township High School and then went on to take classes at Northwestern University. After changing her name to Kathryn Hays in 1962, she modeled in New York and Chicago before finding work as an actress.

She was married three times, to Sidney Steinberg, a salesman; the actor Glenn Ford, known for films like “The Blackboard Jungle” (1955) and a string of Westerns in the 1960s; and Wolfgang Lieschke, who worked in advertising.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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