The girl next door? Could be. That flippant waitress at the café down the street, the one who serves such good coffee? Could be. The rich lady in the newspaper society column who just held a party attended by so many celebrities? Could be.
Or is she the funny woman on that soap opera, Guiding Light, the one who plays Wanda—the ornery, meddlesome, air-headed, man-loving, do-all secretary to the rich and powerful Lewis clan?
If you have watched Guiding Light regularly over the years, you have seen Carey Cromelin, alias Wanda Hyatt. You must have noticed her hilarious presence. Maybe you’ve even wished you had a friend like her, one who could turn the most somber, even sad, moment into a giggle-and-a-half.
Yes, this is Wanda Hyatt. This is also Carey Cromelin.
I first spoke to Carey over the phone, the same way I make initial contact with most of my interviewees. But this time, it was different. When Carey returned my call, she asked if she knew me. I was confused because, of course, there was no way she could know me. She was in New York, on a soap opera, and I was here in the Washington area . . . in front of my computer.
She went on to say that she was from the Washington suburbs and, when she saw the message with my Maryland area code, she was sure the call was from someone with whom she’d gone to school. That odd conversation began our friendship. We certainly could have been old school friends. Besides our shared home state, we were of a similar age group and had compatible personalities.
Carey’s road to comedic soapdom was not intentional, though the road to steady work in New York City had been intentionally trod. As a child summering in Cape May, New Jersey, she discovered an old playhouse where they did everything from Shakespeare to Mary, Mary. Even then, “I’d take my birthday parties to the theater,” she laughed, improvising the voice of a high-brow snob. “As a five-year old!”
In high school in Washington, DC, she began to appreciate the theater with a growing actor’s eye. Yet even upon leaving college, she hadn’t definitely decided on acting as her life’s mission. “It was one of my favorite hobbies,” she conceded. Graduating as an English major, she nonetheless attempted it. “I wanted to work at Washington’s Arena Stage. I grew up on all those plays.”
Instead, her star seemed headed straight for New York, though original intentions were only to stay for a little while before returning to the Washington scene. “I told a friend that there was so much work in New York but if I had no job in two weeks, I’d be back and would teach school.” She laughed. “Ten years later, here I still am.”
But soaps are a different venue than the theater. “I was waitressing and a woman at one of my tables said she’d seen me in a D.C. play and asked if I’d do soaps,” Carey remembered with a giggle. “I said I was really here for theater, but I guess I’d do a soap. That was extra work on One Life to Live. I thought it was easy then, little I knew. But when you come to town and know nothing, you think anything’s possible. Now when people ask advice on New York, I tell them to hold on to the novelty as long as they can. It keeps you going longer.”
As Wanda, with her off-the-wall, innate sense of humor, Carey offers a buoyancy that, before her, was subdued on Guiding Light. The secretary’s characterization is the melding of a real secretary to one of the show’s executives, with Carey’s own feel for Wanda’s persona. “The real Wanda called me one day,” Carey related, “and she said [doing a South Carolina drawl], ‘Ah feel lahke I’m talking to mahself in the mirrah!’”
A higher compliment is hard to find. Originally an uncontracted “day player,” Carey has since been slowly worked into the plot. Wonder as to whether or not Wanda will get an expanded storyline has long been ongoing, both for Carey and for her dedicated fans who, she said, “Write if Wanda’s given storyline leeway. For example, once, when she went on a date with Frank Cooper, I received maybe 50 letters the next day, mostly from secretaries.
“Who knows what’s in store?” she continued. “During the writer’s strike, Wanda was given more to do. I lose myself in her, laugh over her clothes and hairdos. She must own a VCR, watch old movies and freeze-frame them, getting ideas on what to wear and how her hair’ll look the next day. She lives in a Ted Turner repeat.”
No she doesn’t. She lives on Guiding Light as the epitome of Ms. Efficient-and-Entertaining secretary. If you enjoy Wanda and would like to see more of her, write to the show and demand more air time for Wanda Hyatt, Lewis Oil secretary . . . and the show’s resident Airhead.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I ultimately did local press work for Carey, in the Washington/Baltimore metro area. At the time, I lived closer in to Washington, and knew of this cute, historical town, Frederick, MD, only to occasionally visit. It so happened that I set up a radio interview for Carey with the Frederick pop radio station, and an in-person event at a local Roy Rogers restaurant—all during the Halloween season. It was a successful event but the real “fun” of this for me, now, is that I now live in Frederick. My husband is a pilot and we own a small plane, kept at the local Frederick airport.
And guess what’s just outside the airport? That very same Roy Rogers. We sometimes stop in there for lunch . . . and each time, it reminds me of Carey.