Helen, who played matriarch Nancy Hughes from As the World Turns' inception, graduated from Monmouth College in Illinois, where she earned degrees in dramatics and music. She later moved to New York, where she continued her voice and piano training and gained experience as a soloist in various church choirs.
Helen made her television debut in the role of a queen in a fairytale that General Electric produced at its experimental television station in Schenectady, New York. She later appeared in many dramatic television roles, including the productions of Studio One, Philco Radio Television, and Suspense. She made her daytime debut on Guiding Light in 1952 before joining As the World Turns four years later.
In 1988, Monmouth College awarded Helen with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. The following year, Helen chaired a national committee that raised more than $1,000,000 to replace the school's "little theater" with a state-of-the-art theater. On opening night in Monmouth's new theater, Helen reprised her role of Eleanor in The Lion In Winter.
A little-known fact is that Helen was originally fired from As the World Turns by the late Irna Phillips, who was unhappy with Helen's portrayal of Nancy. After thirteen weeks, however, a suitable replacement couldn't be found and Helen was rehired.
Helen was married to Broadway producer, Robert Willey, from 1954 until his passing on May 12, 2009. Helen Wagner died on May 1, 2010.