In the 1981 Mel Brooks movie History of the World, Part I, his character delightedly declared, "It's good to be the king." A year later, Days of our Lives met its undisputed King of Villainy, Stefano DiMera. And Salem would never be the same again.
Be it a sinister scheme to destroy his enemies, a tender moment with one of Stefano's loved ones, or the Phoenix conducting an opera as he triumphantly revels in a victory -- the great Joseph Mascolo played that part with such vigor that viewers were glued to their televisions with each performance. He created an epic character fans grew to love. Well, grew to love to hate, perhaps, but to pinpoint the exact moment we fell in love/hate with him is impossible.
Instead, we decided to look back at some of the players in Stefano's wicked games. He loved chess, after all, and to pay tribute to the big guy, let's see who would be on his master board.
The Eight Pawns
These are the pieces who were often manipulated to do Stefano's bidding, even if they didn't want to.
1. E.J. DiMera -- He was literally sent to town with one mission: make sure the DiMera family has a next generation. But then he went and fell for his mark. And E.J. spent the rest of his time in Salem struggling between with his love for his father and his love for Sami. The Sami vs. Stefano fight over E.J.'s soul was believable and powerful to watch.
2. Renée DuMonde -- Stefano put the "m" in manipulation when it came to Renée. All she wanted to do was marry Tony and live happily ever after, but that kinda blew up. Her "sister," Lee, turned out to be her mother, and Stefano was her father and Tony's father. Whoops! Stefano wasn't very forthcoming that he wasn't actually Tony's biological father, which meant Renée and Tony could have been together. And Stefano wasn't any kinder in his will when he "died" and set forth a ton of agonizing hoops Renée would have to jump through to earn her inheritance. Poor Renée!
3. Kate Roberts -- Though Kate eventually grew to genuinely care for Stefano (for a time), that certainly wasn't the case when she was literally blackmailed into marrying him. Those old, hard feelings resurfaced when Stefano tested Kate's commitment to him, which didn't work out well for either of them, as it turned out. Yet, what Stefano didn't bargain for is that Kate went from pawn to powerhouse, and she turned the tables on him by co-taking over his entire empire (for a time).
4. Princess Gina -- What's a little mind control and art theft among friends?
5. Hope Brady -- We have to include her in her original recipe "Hope" state, since she got to pull the final trigger. Should she have kept her cool? Possibly. But if someone was going to push Hope over the edge, it was going to be Stefano, and he was going to use Bo to do so. Both elements of that ploy were entirely believable.
6. Steve Johnson -- You know that previously mentioned mind control thingy? Yep, that -- though Stefano (and E.J.) didn't stop at art thievery with the Patch Man. He turned him into an assassin. Luckily, he never ended up killing anyone, though John was minus one kidney because of him, but that's a long story. In the end, Kayla's love broke Steve free, but Patch vs. Stefano would go on for years to follow.
7. Celeste Perrault -- Initially, this sassy psychic was part of Stefano's elite inner circle of followers (sometimes against her will), but Celeste soon saw the errors of her ways, especially after reuniting with her daughter, Lexie. From there on out, it was a constant battle between Celeste and Stefano with the prize being Lexie's soul. In the end, Lexie ended up out of that vampy red dress and into her scrubs. Celeste for the win!
8. John Black -- The original pawn had many tangos with Stefano over the years. Not only did John the Pawn fight with his master, but John Black Alamain DiMera Ling(?) spent his non-brainwashed life trying to prevent the big fella from taking over any part of his new family and history.
The Two Knights
Though not biological, they would fight for the family and do whatever it takes for it!
1. Peter Blake -- Devilish Peter literally strolled into town to take care of "family business." He was committed to the core, and Stefano loved that. Help kill John Black? Sure! Gaslight Laura Horton? Okay, then! Kill a guy to keep his secrets safe? Why not! Yep, Peter did a lot of deranged things in the interest of the family and holding onto what he believed was his -- just as Stefano wanted.
2. Kristen Blake -- Kristen was more "DiMera" than most biological DiMeras. A real chip off Stefano's block. Sure, sure, she was rather sweet and innocent when she first arrived in Salem, but then Kristen fell hard from the Light Side and became a Sith apprentice to Master Stefano, quickly learning the ways of the Dark Side of the Force. Stefano was and always will be proud of his dedicated, diabolical daughter and her many sinister schemes.
The Two Bishops
They were blindly devoted to this man, worshiped him, and spread the gospel according to Stefano!
1. Andre DiMera -- We're actually a little irritated at the lazy rewrite to make Andre Stefano's son, because he had perhaps the best backstory ever. Frustrated with Tony's inability to get on board with the evil, Stefano snatched up his nephew (Andre) and gave him plastic surgery to look exactly like the son who was failing. This Frankenstein monster then became the most dedicated DiMera soldier of them all. From murdering half of Salem and stashing them on an island to terrorizing the town with threats of revenge, Andre has always been a creature created exactly in Stefano's image.
2. Dr. Wilhelm Rolf -- We'll give Steffie this -- the man knew how to find good help! He had a doctor who could rip away all of John's memories and store them right on a handy DVD. How resourceful!
The Two Rooks
While he had many castles, these locations were forever etched in our memory.
1. The DiMera living room -- It's iconic. It's where Stefano would sit at his chessboard and greet his guests/victims. It's where Stefano would conduct opera arias. It's where that awesome giant portrait of Stefano hung overlooking it all! Now you see why we can't stop throwing a fit because they don't sit there anymore.
2. Secret rooms -- The tunnels under the DiMera mansion are well known by reputation. Rafe, Lexie, well, this list could go on, so a lot of people were all guests there at one point or another. They were as legendary as Stefano's schemes. And, had Joe not crafted such a believable mustache-twirling villain, things like "secret rooms and tunnels" wouldn't have flown either. But he did. So we believed they were a part of Salem too.
Dr. Marlena Evans -- He didn't call her his "queen of the night" for nothing. Stefano's obsession with Marlena bordered on otherworldly. *hello, Devil possession* But through it all, she seemed to be the one who also carried a slight cloak of immunity as well. He could have ended her many times, yet he didn't. He also paused a time or two before going after one of her kids, out of what had to be some sort of twisted respect/love/worship for Marlena.
Roman Brady -- He was the original enemy. And their battle was so epic that it actually spawned two leading heroes. Had Stefano never battled Roman, we wouldn't have John right now!
While villains on daytime dramas often come and go, Stefano created roots of steel in Salem -- a twisted family tree that's still growing 35 years later. The Phoenix has fathered seven known biological children, two adopted ones, and we're still unsure of where Tony DiMera ultimately fits in, but he raised him, too. Sure, a lot of those apples didn't fall far from said twisted tree, but a few have battled with their angels and demons, and some even became pillars of the community (eventually). All the while, Stefano held them as tight as he could in his powerful talons. He was, at heart, a proud father.
But perhaps the only rival to Stefano's love for his family was his thirst for power and revenge. He created, shall we say, a few enemies throughout his time in Salem. In fact, he initially came to town to seek vengeance upon one of them, thus creating a decades-long reign of terror. We'll forever be grateful to Joe Mascolo for creating such an iconic character.
How have you been handling the death of Joseph Mascolo? What are some of your favorite Stefano or Massimo memories? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.