Like many daytime stars, Louis Edmonds had a career that spanned well beyond the small screen - though he is best remembered for two classic soap roles: AMC's lovable conman Langley Wallingford, and Roger Collins, a dour presence on the monster-packed cult classic Dark Shadows. But he was also a pioneer performer on television and a critically acclaimed Broadway star.
Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Louis was drawn to performing at an early age. As an alter boy at a local church, he fell in love with the sensation of being the center of attention and soon realized that acting would provide a similar experience. After studying acting at Carnegie Institute of Technology, Louis moved to New York City in 1948 to pursue stage work.
In the Big Apple, his star rose quickly, and he appeared in dozens of stage productions, including several stints on Broadway. In his personal life, he came out as a gay man, and had two long-term relationships: one with one of New York's first "celebrity chefs," Tom Cowman; the other with a handsome model/actor named Bryce Holman. (Each relationship lasted about nine years.)
Some of Louis most notable stage appearances included a crucially acclaimed string of Chekhov plays produced off-Broadway by David Ross; and Broadway plays ranging from a long-running hit (A Passage to India) to a famous flop ("Maybe Tuesday," which opened on a Wednesday and didn't make it to Tuesday.)
Louis also made his mark in a new and growing medium: television. Like many of the best stage actors of the 1950s and'60s, he appeared in dramatic anthologies like The U.S. Steel Hour and Hallmark Hall of Fame. In 1962, he took his soap opera role, on Young Doctor Malone.
In 1966 he made his big-screen debut in Come Spy with Me, a Troy Donahue vehicle Louis later described as "a third-rate James Bond-style film." Louis played a gun-wielding assassin named Gunther. When filming in the Caribbean wrapped, he returned to New York and joined the original cast of Dark Shadows, a Gothic-themed soap opera on ABC. It premiered on June 27, 1966.
On Dark Shadows, Louis played Roger Collins, brother of family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who was portrayed by Hollywood screen legend Joan Bennett. By the time the show left the air in April 1971, he had played six characters in 322 episodes. (Most major cast members also played multiple roles.)
Featuring vampires, werewolves, and witches, Dark Shadows was the first soap opera to draw a large number of young viewers, and it spawned a huge amount of merchandising, including a series of novels, toys, games, puzzles, bubblegum cards, and much more - and many of the items featured Louis' photo. Along with cast mates, he even achieved immortality on a View-Master reel, a notable pop-culture accomplishment.
Louis' TV career stalled after Dark Shadows was cancelled, as he and some other cast members were typecast in their evil-monster roles. He continued to work on stage, however, and in 1979 he got a chance to return to daytime, again on ABC, when he joined the cast of All My Children, as a conman going by the alias "Professor Langley Wallingford." Langley conned his way into the heart and bank account of Pine Valley's pillar of society, Phoebe Tyler, played by Ruth Warrick. The role was meant to be short-term, but because the team of Edmonds and Warrick had a special spark, the relationship went on much longer than anticipated. Langley and Phoebe eventually became one of the show's "super couples" - unusual for characters (and actors) over 50. Their sometimes steamy courtship culminated in a lavish wedding, which made the cover of Soap Opera Digest.
Langley and Phoebe's storylines often had an element of humor, as the pair playfully bickered and made up. They even had some passionate "bedroom scenes," and their marriage was complicated by extra-marital affairs. Langley dallied with the family maid, Opal Gardner, then played sublimely by Dorothy Lyman. Opal and Langley's screen time was also charged with comedy and drama, which helped Louis score three Emmy nominations, though he never took home a statue.
Basking in the spotlight Langley brought to him, Louis developed a cabaret act, which he performed many times in New York City. He even talked AMC's producers into letting him burst into song during a memorable fantasy sequence on the show: After an argument with Phoebe, he belted out a tune called "Nobody Cares About Langley," accompanied by leggy chorus girls.
In the early 1990s, Louis began a long, brave battle with throat cancer, which kept him off All My Children for several months. After radical surgery and radiation treatments, however, he returned to the show. On the set, he was frail and could no longer loudly project his once-booming and lyrical voice, so the show's writers gradually gave him less and less to do. Eventually, he merely appeared on episodes featuring big events like weddings and funerals and was given few if any lines, which of course frustrated the actor, who had once enjoyed major, front-burner storylines on the show.
His last appearance on All My Children was during the show's 25th anniversary celebration in 1995. He shared a few scenes set at Myrtle's dress shop, with Ruth Warrick, Eileen Herlie (Myrtle), Jill Larson (Opal), and guest-star Carol Burnett, who played Langley's daughter, Verla Grubb. In those scenes, Louis had almost no lines, and he sadly decided he would never return to Pine Valley, though he was asked back several times.
Louis' health declined quickly throughout 2000, and in early 2001 he died of respiratory failure, a complication of the after-effects of his cancer surgery a decade earlier. Near the end of his life, Louis collaborated with New York-based author Craig Hamrick, on Louis' biography, Big Lou. In the book, the actor openly discussed homosexuality as well as his struggles with alcoholism and depression. Big Lou, which gets its title from the nickname he was given on the set of All My Children, contains comments from many of Louis' co-stars, including AMC's Ruth Warrick, Eileen Herlie, Rosa Nevin, and Carol Burnett, and is available on Amazon.com.