Well-formed, intricate bones hold a solid body in place. Take one away and that body will never have the same strength. One such very active bone integral to the CBS soap, Guiding Light, is Jay Hammer, better known as “Fletcher Reade.”
Hammer was hired as a day player. But as he shaped Fletcher into an integral part of the storyline, viewers grew comfortable with him and couldn’t imagine him not being there. Fletcher became a backbone upon which few characters actually revolved yet from which many storylines took their cue. Fletcher was a springboard that upheld front-line players. Jay’s part has added flavor, a sense of time and place, a spot to start, and sometimes end.
But what of the man behind Fletcher? How many of his dedicated followers know of Jay Hammers’ extensive, impressive resume in both primetime and daytime TV? And how many know how honest-to-gosh handsome he really is?
“I was on Texas,” he related as we sat in his cold-looking dressing room, waiting for him to go on set. He was Fletcher, yet he wasn’t. He wore Fletcher’s clothes: pants, shirt, tie, jacket. The thin streaks in his hair which, from the other side of the TV screen, appear gray were actually silver. “Years ago I did a soap called A World Apart with Susan Sarandon. That was brief.”
Jay moved a lot. The source of the energy which Fletcher always emanated was evident as Hammer sat on a metal chair contemplating his words. “I’ve done commercials, industrial films, a Hallmark Hall of Fame Easter special. Years ago in Los Angeles, I did episodic TV—Mannix, Kojak, Adam 12, Emergency—and two series. Gerald McRaney, of Simon & Simon, and I were on The Blue Knight. I was Alan Willis, son of the upstairs mixed race couple on The Jeffersons for one season. I’ve done TV movies, Broadway. I’ve acted professionally since 1969.”
His voice was animated yet soft, refined, as he scooted around more. His arms went behind his head, then to his knees. He sat forward, leaned back, slid down in his chair. His wiry body, coupled with his intent to always be in motion, seemed more in tune with a 20-year-old track star waiting for a race, than a 45ish-year-old actor with a 20-year track record waiting to go on set.
Jay is the newly remarried proud father of the first female child in his family in generations. He also has two sons from a previous marriage. He is fourth generation transplanted Californian and half-Mexican.
Like Fletcher, Jay was amiable, and naturally humorous. Thoughtful, quiet; his presence unconsciously commanded my attention, whereby onscreen Fletcher often seemed invisible until he wanted to be noticed.
Jay was lean, graceful ... classy. As I watched him talk, move, walk, I saw him as the sort of man women, all women, had no choice but to notice. Again, this quality seemed as natural to him as his breathing. This inbred sensuality is much less a part of Fletcher, who is more the cute and cuddly American version of Dudley Moore.
A few years ago, Fletcher was married, while Jay was not, and he had as solid a home life as soaps will allow. Did Jay miss that storyline? “During all that I became a better actor. It gave me a security to do what I did as Fletcher, to make him what he has become today.”
Did Jay, as Fletcher, miss having a wife? His grin brought to my mind a naughty little boy. “For Fletcher, I’m glad she’s gone. He has more latitude. Possibilities are open, more interesting.” He smiled even wider and his deep brown eyes crinkled at the corners. “It’s fun to play with. I enjoy the act of acting.”
Fletcher Reade is a wanderlust, an untamed man who nonetheless managed to find his niche. In the years since the demise of his wife, Fletcher has shown himself in a different light and even been tested next to a number of women. He’s toyed with Maureen, is forever sparring with Alexandra, and, these days, it is speculative as to whether Holly will fall under his many charms.
No wonder. When told a young teenager described him as “the most attractive older man on daytime TV,” Jay shrugged. “If a girl is sensitive to an older man’s looks, it follows she’d be sensitive to what happens to him in the story. I’m flattered but it’s not my doing I look this way.”
He pushed his nose sideways, and made a face. “It’s my parent's fault. Yet,” he said, “if someone watches because of my looks, they may continue for the story. That might be one reason Fletcher’s been around so long. He affects the public and they say, ‘He’s cute’; then, ‘He’s funny’; then, ‘He almost made me cry.’ Whatever holds interest. As long as they watch."
By this time Jay had already gone on set, and returned to the dressing room. He was finished for the day but seemed in no hurry. It was this quality, in how both Fletcher and Jay were always in motion yet not necessarily in a rush, which showed how much a part of each other the two men shared. There is clearly more Jay Hammer seeping into Fletcher Reade these days than either seems to note.