book reviews

A review of Not That Man Anymore: A Message From Michael

Throughout most of the 1980s, I was a big fan of the now defunct soap opera, Guiding Light. My mom and my sisters watched the show, which always aired at 3:00pm in our time zone, just in time for me to get home from school. Although my time after school was always taken up with horseback riding when I was a teenager, I still watched Guiding Light, often taping the episodes on our VCR. During my high school years, the villain “Roger Thorpe” was especially popular. Roger Thorpe was played by the late actor, Michael Zaslow.

Michael Zaslow died aged 56 on December 6, 1998. He had suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for some time before his passing. ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a motor neuron disease that causes a progressive decline in a person’s ability to move, speak, or even breathe. Zaslow, who also performed on Broadway and in the movies, was fired from Guiding Light as his illness progressed. However, he was allowed to keep acting on Search for Tomorrow, since the writers of that show created a storyline that included Zaslow’s real life condition.

Didi Conn starred in the film, You Light Up My Life. Michael Zaslow was also in this film.

Although Zaslow has been dead for over twenty years, I was reminded of him recently when I watched a clip from the 1977 film, You Light Up My Life. I was reminded of that film in January of 2019, when Shirley Boone, mother of Debby Boone, died. Debby Boone, of course, made the song “You Light Up My Life” a huge hit, but her version was not used in the movie of the same name, in which Zaslow starred. The film version of that song was sung by the late Kasey Cisyk, who also died tragically young. As I was writing about Shirley Boone on my old blog, I was reminded of that old movie. I saw the younger version of Zaslow on it and decided I would finally read his story.

Not That Man Anymore: A Message From Michael is a book Zaslow and his second wife, the late Susan Hufford, wrote together. It was published in 2005, just a year before Hufford herself died of cancer. Hufford was an actress, novelist, and a psychotherapist; she and Zaslow were married on June 7, 1975, and they raised two adopted Korean daughters, Helena and Marika. Sadly, Helena died on December 28, 2004 at age 19, just days after finishing her first semester at Wellesley College.

When I decided to purchase and read Not That Man Anymore, I did not realize that anyone in Zaslow’s family had died besides him. I did remember when he died and the circumstances of his death, since it was reported in People magazine and, in those days, I read People all the time. I was sad, since I knew that ALS is not an easy way to go, and I had remembered Zaslow on Guiding Light. Still, it took Shirley Boone’s passing to get me to buy and read the book, which to my knowledge, is only available in print, rather than a digital download. It’s also not cheap to acquire at $19.95. Fortunately, I thought the money was well-spent, as this was a beautifully written book.

In 1994, Michael Zaslow won a Daytime Emmy for his character, Roger Thorpe. This was also the year he was fired because of his ALS, although he was not officially diagnosed with the disease until 1997.

I just finished reading this morning. I’m glad I read the book, since I had no idea how accomplished and talented Mr. Zaslow was. Not only was he an award winning actor, he was also a musician who sang and played piano. He was on Star Trek, a show I never followed, but that captured the hearts of many of my friends of Generation X. The book is well-written and poignant, as Hufford and Zaslow explain the heartbreak of what ALS does to its victims. Zaslow was full of life and spunk, and he tried very hard to keep fighting as the illness inexorably took over his faculties. Zaslow and Hufford were devoted to their daughters, trying hard to shield them from the realities of the disease and keep life as normal as possible for them.

Not That Man Anymore is movingly written, but it also conveys the frustration people who are facing life threatening illnesses must contend with as they navigate the United States healthcare system. In one heartbreaking chapter, Zaslow is confronted by a physician who adamantly tells him he must accept that he has ALS, and stop trying to find a healthcare provider who will tell him otherwise. As Zaslow had been traveling around the country seeking other opinions, he was delaying his access to the right care, although tragically, ALS is pretty much a death sentence. But then, we all must die of something. It’s just that most of us live beyond the age of 56.

Zaslow played Roger Thorpe from 1971 until 1994, with a few hiatuses throughout the series. Guiding Light, which started on radio in 1937, was permanently cancelled in 2009. I remember that we arrived back in the United States just in time for me to be able to see the tail end of the final episode. It was the end of an era, but it was pretty much time for the show to end. It had become unwatchable as budgets were slashed and the best actors left the show. Zaslow worked with actress Sherry Stringfield, who went on to achieve fame on ER. She came to Guiding Light just out of college and was one of several actresses who played Roger’s daughter, Blake. In his book, Not That Man Anymore, Zaslow and Hufford write about what a good friend Stringfield was to them. Indeed, after Zaslow, Hufford, and their daughter, Helena, had died, Stringfield was there for their surviving daughter, Marika, who got married without them. Marika, like me, also studied social work, although she attended New York University.

I’m not sure who else remembers Zaslow and wants to read his story, but for the few who are reading this blog, I will recommend this book about his and his wife’s experiences with ALS. It really offers an interesting glimpse into the life of an actor struck by a disease that probably doesn’t get enough attention. It’s definitely a must read for Guiding Light fans. My only quibble about this book is that it contains a photo section with extremely small print. My aging eyes can no longer read small print as well as they once did. I guess it’s time for bifocals.

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2 thoughts on “A review of Not That Man Anymore: A Message From Michael

  1. Susan says:

    I remember Mr Zaslow from One Life to Live. I’ve likely seen him in other productions. ALS sucks. A few years ago, I was working agency as an RN. I was assigned to a nursing home one night. One name came up that was very familiar. I’ll call her Mary. Mary had been a nursing supervisor when I was going to nursing school and working critical care as a nursing assistant. She was all energetic and bubbly, full of life. Now she had ALS and could no longer care for herself. I did not have opportunity to see her and I didn’t want to bother her needlessly or potentially violate her privacy. It’s been a few years, and I’m pretty sure I read her obituary. I hate that someone like her, or anyone, would have such a horrid disease.

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