Marland Special: Tell Nola She Has It

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
5 min readNov 27, 2021

This past year has been hard. One of the reasons why I started Marland Monday was I needed something to look forward to, something fun. Today I have to do something hard: Pay tribute to one of the best actresses in the genre, a woman who followed Douglas Marland to As the World Turns, someone who, quite frankly, should’ve had a bigger career. I’ve written about her several times here, indulge me writing about her again.

The way Marland discovered her felt like an old time MGM/RKO movie: Brown was appearing in The Best Little Whorehouse of Texas when she heard a new role was coming up on Guiding Light of Morgan, the ingenue, the good girl. She auditioned for the casting director Betty Rea. Rea showed the tape to Marland, but he knew right away she wasn’t right for Morgan. But this girl was a spitfire. He couldn’t let her get away. Then he thought Oh God, she’s Nola.

Lisa Brown has long brown hair and is wearing a striped shirt.
Lisa Brown’s head shot photo 1980

Nola of course, would be the first Marland created character to enter Springfield’s canvas. While Roger (Michael Zaslow) was hiding out spying on his estranged wife (who shot him, oh that’s another story) he needed a place to stay. Marland had him in a boarding house. Anytime he was trying to figure out another evil plan, there would be a knock on the door. “It’s Nola Reardon! Sir, would you like breakfast?” She always wore a flower under her ear, trying to be different, cultured.

Nola wanted the better things in life. She hated living in the drafty boarding house, serving people. She wanted to live up on The Hill, where all the rich citizens of Springfield lived. “I think Nola is a very complex character,” she told columnist Doris Worsham. “Everyone knows someone like Nola, who wants something better out of life. It’s just the way she goes about getting it that’s not altogether acceptable.” Like um, pretending to be someone’s best friend then trying to get their boyfriend. Brown was also someone who wanted better things. Growing up in Kansas City, her grandmother was an influence on her, working with several regional stock companies. Brown was a member of the dance and drill team of the Kansas City Chiefs team, then moved to New York when she was nineteen, staying at the Y. She tried to get to something better the old fashioned way: earning it.

I wrote here last summer about Kelly and Nola’s famous confrontation, then a couple of weeks later how one wedding went perfectly, one didn’t. How she transformed from a bad girl to a heroine, then found herself in love with Quinton McCord (Michael Tylo) Bette Davis wrote a fan letter, saying at the end “Tell Nola she has it!”

The same summer Nola and Quint’s love was blossoming, Brown had an amazing opportunity: to be in 42nd Street as Peggy Sawyer, the lead. Brown had appeared on Broadway before as a dancer in Hello Dolly and in Pal Joey as Swing. But this was big. The lead. But could she do both shows? Marland told her to do it. It would be great publicity for Guiding Light, great for her. He was right. She was wonderful.

Lisa Brown and Wanda RIckert are both wearing black, their hair pinned up.
Lisa Brown with Wanda Rickert, the orignal Peggy Sawyer
Lee Roy Reams and Lisa Brown appearing on Merry Griffin, 1982

When Marland landed on As the World Turns three years later, Brown had finished up her run as Nola. She had a baby boy with her husband Tom Nielsen (who played Floyd) It was perfect timing; Marland had a role for her on ATWT. This time she wouldn’t be the bad girl. She was Iva Snyder, the prodigal daughter who came home after running away sixteen years before, and she had a secret. Hint: Marland told Martha Byrne: “Guess what? You have another mother!” Indeed, the secret was what everyone talked about, but not directly to Lily. She found out the worst way possible (see below) Martha Byrne always credited Marland and Brown as mentors; in 2011 Byrne and Brown wrote and produced the web soap Gotham.

Brown played Iva for eight years. In real life, she had another baby, Victoria. On the show Iva was dumped several times. She adopted a baby who was really a nephew (yes, a soap opera) but gave him back to his biological father. She had a baby as a single mother. Soap Opera Digest once called her “Oakdale’s spinster.” When Marland died, it was a shock. Several months later, Iva was written out of the show. That was the first sign showing he was really gone.

Brown went back on Guiding Light as Nola. It was just bad. I don’t even want to revisit what happened; it was just so badly written and awful. The powers that be wasted her on the show. She did come back the last week the show was on the air.

I heard about Brown’s death right after I heard about Stephen Sondheim dying. I knew she was retired and had two grandchildren. As writer Patrick Mulcahey said, it’s everyone’s loss. I so wanted to someday talk to her and tell her how much I loved Nola when I was a kid, how I loved the movie fantasies. How thankful I was to see someone transform into something better, reinvent herself. I was also angry. Why didn’t she have a bigger career? She was so good. Why is life unfair? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, what does it matter? As Sondheim said himself: The choice may have been mistaken/The choosing was not/You have to move on/Look at what you want/Not at where you are/Not at what you’ll be.

So I’m choosing to picture this: Somewhere Not Here, Lisa Brown is reunited with her loved ones. Soon she walks to a table. Douglas Marland is there, along with Michael Tylo. Tylo kisses her on the cheeks. Marland says Oh Lisa. How I’ve missed you. But let’s start working on a new story. She sits down with them, then says tell me about the new story. I can’t wait.

Here’s looking at you, lady. You had it.