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‘Santa Barbara’ Soap Opera Secrets: A Look Back at the Juicy ’80s Drama Series

For those of us who were around in the ’80s, watching the Santa Barbara soap opera was a real treat. The show, which centered on the fascinating and tumultuous life of the wealthy Capwell family following the mysterious murder of one of their own, Channing Capwell, Jr., was packed with addictive drama.

The soap also introduced us to the Capwells’ rivals, the similarly wealthy Lockridge family, and the more down-to-earth Andrade and Perkins families, giving us countless memorable characters. Santa Barbara made the perfect daytime follow-up to Another World, which it aired after five days a week.

The splashy California-set drama got us hooked on its romantic entanglements, family sagas and intricate and unexpected plot twists. The writing was outstanding (and often delightfully tongue-in-check) and following the exploits of the charismatic ensemble cast offered a welcome escape from the everyday.

A Martinez and Kristen Meadows kiss on the set of Santa Barbara, 1986
A Martinez and Kristen Meadows kiss in a 1986 episode of Santa BarbaraGetty

While it wasn’t an immediate hit, Santa Barbara‘s following grew steadily and from 1984 to 1993, it garnered a loyal fanbase and aired a whopping 2,137 episodes. Over the course of its nearly 10-year run, it won 18 Soap Opera Digest Awards and 24 Daytime Emmy Awards. More than 30 years after Santa Barbara ended, we still can’t help but miss it. Here’s a look back at some of our favorite fun facts about the fabulous soap.

Santa Barbara soap opera facts

1. A Martinez, who played police detective Cruz Castillo, was already a TV veteran who’d been appearing in various shows since the ’60s. He was said to have turned down the role of Cruz three times because he initially wasn’t a fan of the soap opera genre. Cruz would become his signature character, and he’d play him for 1,493 episodes from 1984 through 1991.

A Martinez as Cruz Castillo, 1986
A Martinez as Cruz Castillo in Santa Barbara (1986)Getty

2. When the power couple of Cruz and Eden (Marcy Walker) were expecting a child, an audience poll was conducted to give the child a name. Two boys’ names and two girls’ names were given. Ultimately, they had a girl and named her Adriana.

Portrait of Marcy Walker and A Martinez for Santa Barbara, 1986
Marcy Walker and A Martinez in Santa Barbara (1986)Getty

3. In the cult favorite film True Romance, there’s a scene where the central character, Alabama (Patricia Arquette), is shown watching Santa Barbara.

4. John O’Hurley, who played Stephen Slade from 1990 to 1991, would become well-known for playing J. Peterman in Seinfeld. In 2005, the beloved character actor competed in the very first season of Dancing With The Stars, coming in as runner-up.

5. Eileen Davidson, who played Kelly Capwell from 1991 to 1993, put her real-life soap opera experience to surprising use and wrote four whodunit novels centered on a fictional crime-solving soap star, Alexis Peterson, in the ’00s.

Eileen Davidson poses for a portrait, 1992
Eileen Davidson in 1992Getty

Related: ‘Y&R’ Star Eileen Davidson Opens Up About Relationships, Self-Care and Thwarting Cancer: “Life Is Not an Easy Journey”

6. As is often the cast in soap operas, many cast changes were made throughout the show. Robin Wright was the first notable departure when she ended her four-year run as the original Kelly Capwell, followed by the departure of Todd McKee as the original Ted Capwell. By 1992, most of the original characters had either been recast a few times or written out of the show.

7. Robin Wright got her start in Santa Barbara, and became an A-lister in 1987, when she played Princess Buttercup in the beloved film The Princess Bride. She also co-starred as Jenny in the 1994 hit Forrest Gump. In 1996 she married fellow actor Sean Penn; they divorced in 2010.

Robin Wright as Kelly Capwell Perkins in Santa Barbara, 1987
Robin Wright as Kelly Capwell Perkins in Santa Barbara (1987)Getty

8. Santa Barbara didn’t shy away from controversy. One much talked-about storyline involved Eden Capwell being brutally raped and later discovering that her assailant was her gynecologist, Zack Kelton, played by former Dallas cast member Leigh McCloskey. McCloskey later admitted he was uncomfortable with the harrowing storyline. After Zack’s “death,” McCloskey returned as a new character, D.A. Ethan Asher.

9. Marcy Walker, now known as Marcy Smith, played the central character, Eden Capwell. In the ’00s the actress, who also appeared in soaps like All My Children and Guiding Light, gave up acting to become a youth pastor in North Carolina.

Marcy Walker as Eden Capwell in Santa Barbara, 1986
Marcy Walker as Eden Capwell in Santa Barbara (1986)Getty

10. Robin Mattson, who played Gina Blake DeMott and also appeared on All My Children and General Hospital, hosted her own cooking show, The Main Ingredient, on Lifetime from 1996 to 1997. She also wrote a cookbook called Soap Opera Café : The Skinny on Food from a Daytime Star in 1997. The book was dedicated to her father, who was a chef and helped her realize her passion for cooking.

Robin Mattson as Gina Capwell in Santa Barbara, 1986
Robin Mattson as Gina Capwell in Santa Barbara (1986)Getty

11. Todd McKee left Santa Barbara and later joined the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful. In the late ’90s, he began a new career as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch.

Related: John McCook Dishes on His Near-Death Experience as Eric Forrester on ‘The Bold & The Beautiful’

Portrait of Todd McKee for Santa Barbara, 1986
Todd McKee as Ted Capwell in Santa Barbara (1986)Getty

12. After Dynasty ended, Gordon Thomson, who played the villainous Adam Carrington, joined Santa Barbara as the third actor to portray the character of Mason Capwell.

13. The final episode of the Santa Barbara soap opera aired in January 1993. The end credits of this episode showed the behind-the-scenes crew, with a final shot featuring executive producer Paul Rauch walking up to the camera and putting out a cigar under his shoe, then walking away.


Read more about classic ’80s TV dramas below!

‘Hill Street Blues’ Cast: Catch Up With The Stars Since They Hung up Their Badges

The ‘Falcon Crest’ Cast: Where Are They Now? Get All The Dramatic Details Here!

The ‘Matlock Cast’: Surprising Facts about Andy Griffith and Crew Beyond the Courtroom

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