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Approaching Alzheimer's Realistically On Daytime

January 09, 1994|NANCY M. REICHARDT

When Dan Frazer, who plays Dan "Mac" McCloskey on "As the World Turns," was first asked how he would feel about his character developing Alzheimer's disease, he became worried that the show was letting him know that art might be imitating life.

Not to worry: Frazer does a touching portrayal of a vital man in the early stages of the disease. Still, Frazer's gut reaction to the story line was, "like I got hit in the stomach, because it made me aware of my own mortality. I'm 72, and it hits people in the upper register. Then I thought, 'When is my employment going to end? I'm trying to buy a co-op, and if my part goes down the tubes ..." He trails off, laughing.

The actor did not want the part written as a tear-jerker. He was assured that he could play out the story's inherent complications without overdoing it and there would be no miracle cures; it would be medically accurate.

He believes that the writers "have been true to their word. The only thing I really miss is Mac's active participation in the police department. He is just a consultant now. I know from friends how awful premature retirement can be, but to do so while in the early--and more aware--stages of Alzheimer's is doubly hard.

"What I enjoy is that, since Mac is liked by other characters and other members of the family because of his dynamism and his irony, he never becomes a maudlin, self-pitying creature," says the actor. "Their reaction to his illness is so valid."

Frazer has been on "As the World Turns" since July 30, 1984. His role was originally scripted to last for five days, but halfway through the stint the powers that be offered to make it long-term.

The actor's reaction was: "Wow, I didn't want to go back to the West Coast. New York City is my home."

But "Kojak" (the series he starred in as Detective Captain Frank McNeil from 1973 to 1978) was entering international syndication, and he was leery of what opportunities he might miss by being tied to a soap.

"A lot of people say this, but truly, two jobs in my life were not jobs--working with Telly Savalas on 'Kojak' was pure enjoyment," says Frazer. "It's the same with 'As the World Turns.'

"To give you an idea what 'Kojak' was like, did you know that when we would wrap on a Friday night, Telly would supply two buses for the cast and crew to go to Las Vegas? There would even be a trio on board to entertain them. It's a shame I never got to go, but if I had time off, I always went home to New York."

And of his role on "As the World Turns," he says, "There is no tension, just great maturity here. Everyone is always willing to try things another way without sacrificing another actor's line or laugh."

Frazer recently taped a scene that he feels encapsulates Mac's humor and his heart: At Barbara's house, Mac makes a toast and says, "To all my family and friends, who, through a very difficult year, have given Nancy and me so much love and support that, even with my Alzheimer's, I'll never forget it."

"As the World Turns" airs weekdays at 1 p.m. on CBS.

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