Days of Our Lives started to break new ground in the 1976-1977 storyline involving David Banning and Valerie Grant (played by Richard Guthrie and Tina Andrews). However, the producers unfortunately backed away from the story after receiving negative feedback. Some reports even said that Andrews received death threats from racist viewers.
David Banning was the son of longtime DOOL chracter, Julie Olsen Williams. Dr. Tom Horton convinced her to put David up for adoption after the death of his biological father, David Martin. David and Valerie fell in love and got engaged after her family took care of him following a car accident. They later broke off their engagement after David had an affair with Trish Clayton.
Excerpt from a May 24, 1977 Los Angeles Times article by by William K. Knoedelseder:
The latest from NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” is that the chaste, year-long engagement of David Banning and Valerie Grant, daytime’s only interracial couple, is kaput. According to the script, the reason for the rift is David’s infidelity. But according to the actors, the reason is real-life racism.
“They’re breaking us up because the storyline is unpopular,” said actor Richard Guthrie (David). “The studio has been getting a lot of hate mail from people threatening to stop watching the show.” “When they get enough of those letters, they respond,” said actress Tina Andrews (Valerie). “One letter said: ‘I hope you’re not going to let that ****** marry that white boy.’ Apparently, they are not. I’m being canned.”
Andrews pointed out that her television parents, Ketty Lester and Lawrence Cook, already have been written out of the script. With both the black storyline and the interracial romance ended, she said, Valerie is expendable.
Spokesmen for NBC in Burbank and the show’s co-executive producer, Wes Kenney, confirmed the couple’s imminent breakup but denied the split was a reaction to unfavorable mail. Kenney said that although mail is read, analyzed, studied for trends in viewer response and discussed with the show’s writers, public reaction has not affected the long-term plans for the romance. “This breakup has been planned from the very beginning. There has been change of direction.”
Kenney said that while “Days” Nielsen ratings have fallen in the last year, from its perennial position in the top three to a current number 7 in a field of 14, the mail reflects a 50/50 split on the subject of David and Valerie.
Guthrie said his personal fan mail ran 50/50 during the “just friends” stage but grew increasingly negative as the relationship warmed up. Currently, he said, his fans are 70% opposed to the romance continuing.
“There’s a logic to the whole thing,” said Kenney. The logic, according to Andrews, is that Salem loses its last black character, daytime TV loses its only major black storyline and interracial romance, and she loses her job. She says she doesn’t need the soap financially. Her main complaint is the way David and Valerie’s story has been presented. What others have called a “delicate and tasteful” handling of the romance, she calls racism, written into the script and practiced on the set.
Six months after the couple became engaged, Andrews asked a writer why David could not kiss Valerie. “I was told it was some kind of policy. I went home that night and thought to myself ‘Kissing can’t be the problem. All the other couples in love on the show kiss. And David had kissed other female characters. What’s wrong with Valerie that would cause such a policy to be put into effect.”
“The problem is that Valerie is black. Well, so is Tina Andrews, black all the time, on screen and off. When you say Davod can’t kiss Valerie because she’s black, you’re saying Richard can’t kiss Tina for the same reason. That’s an insult to everyone concerned.”
“The kissing became a big thing on the set”, Guthrie said. “I remember the day Wes Kenney came back from a meeting with NBC and announced ‘You can kiss!’ It was like the earth shook.” The new permissiveness didn’t last long (three or four kisses over a period of a few months). Both Guthrie and Andrews said the mail was overwhelmingly negative and kissing quickly disappeared from the script.
“After that, we weren’t even allowed to touch,” said Guthrie. “Whenever we inadvertently worked it in, we were told to stop from the control booth. It was ridiculous.” Andrews said: “They would always say ‘Richard, don’t touch her’, never the other way around. Pretty soon we started getting scripts with stage directions like ‘They look at each other warmly, but they do not touch’, underlined five times so we wouldn’t miss it. That offended me as an actress, as a woman, and as a black person.”
Kenney admits the physical aspects of the relationship had been played down in the past, but said the couple had again been allowed to kiss in more recent episodes. Referring to the “no touching” remonstratives, he said if he had seen such directions in the script, he would have taken them out. As co-executive producer, Kenney often edits the scripts before they are given to the actors.
Former head writer Pat Falken Smith, the creator of the interracial romance, disagreed with the young actors’ assessment of the situation. The kissing and touching was played down as a matter of storytelling. “In daytime programming, the drama is much stronger when you don’t show intimate love scenes. If Richard and Tina thought it was unrealistic that a young engaged couple didn’t kiss, that’s tough. It was my story and gratuitous kissing was not part of it. And no actor re-writes me on the set, ever.”
Hopefully, the current producers won’t repeat history by backing away from the 2012-2013 Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis storyline.
( Image from http://www.jason47.com/ The only image I could find of David and Valerie together, if you have images or video of this “controversial” and history making couple, then please share a link in the comments)
EDIT: Soap Opera Historian reader, Jane, shared a link to this footage of David and Valerie- it should be queued to start at approximately the 9:00min mark