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Wednesday, July 11, 2007 10:47 am

Move over, Homer

Here’s the real story about Springfield, USA

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Untitled Document Simpsons schmimpsons. Who needs ’em? So what if Springfield, Vt., whomped us in USA Today’s contest to host the animated family’s movie premiere? Big fat hairy deal. I mean, sure, it would have been fabulous to have a swank event here in li’l ol’ Springpatch. Everybody could’ve gotten primped up and inflated with self-importance, which, in this Springfield, would probably translate into breaking out our best flip-flops and complaining that the opposite political party got all the good seats.
However, based on my totally unscientific study of movie premieres (I’ve been to a grand total of two), I can tell you that such extravaganzas share a lot in common with your garden variety big shindigs: an inordinate amount of time spent standing in line (even if it’s only three minutes, it still seems inordinate), making idle chit-chat with someone who keeps glancing over your shoulder, searching for someone more impressive to be seen idly chit-chatting with, and of course, an assortment of food products served on festively colored toothpicks.  
The only thing that makes a movie premiere better than, oh, say, your next-door neighbor’s nephew’s christening or Aunt Martha and Uncle Jack’s 25th wedding anniversary is the presence of actual celebrities — which, considering that we’re talking about a cartoon, means what? Harry Shearer? Oh, be still my beating heart! The best salve we have for our wounded souls is our undisputed claim to be the home of the longest-running television show of all time — Guiding Light.
No, there wasn’t any contest. It’s just a fact: Reva Shayne Lewis, Harley Cooper, Alan Spaulding, and all their lovers, ex-lovers, biological offspring, adopted children, half-cousins, evil twins, and clones live right here. I checked at the Guiding Light offices at CBS in New York, where someone who doesn’t want to be named because she promised to get one of the show writers to call me (ha!) told me that the show’s official setting is “Springfield, USA,” same as The Simpsons. “But,” she added, “the show does share many similarities with Springfield, Ill.”
For example: Whenever anybody on the show wants to have fun or cause trouble or sneak away with a lover, where do they go? Chicago. Where do all the rich people live? At the lake. And, coincidentally, the cops in Guiding Light’s Springfield are all white and incurably randy. Wikipedia claims it can’t really be our Springfield because Guiding Light Springfield is a smaller town than Springfield, Ill. — an argument that proves only that whatever “expert” contributed that article has never actually set foot our little town, which insists on behaving like a burg of 11,000. I checked with the true authority, known to her fans around the world as “Tammy Faye,” who, in 1997, co-founded a Web site for soap-opera fans, called Soapysirens.com. On Soapysirens, Tammy Faye lived in a trailer park and reported on her favorite daytime dramas; in real life, she’s computer technology specialist Becky Austwick, who lives here in Springfield (and used to work at Illinois Times). In 1997, Tammy Faye spun off and launched her own site, turninglight.com, focused solely on the daytime dramas Guiding Light and As the World Turns.
Don’t bother trying to find Tammy Faye; both Soapysirens and Turninglight are defunct. But Austwick, who began watching Guiding Light at her mother’s knee, has enough proof to convince me that it’s set in our town. For starters, whenever there’s trouble on Guiding Light, it’s Illinois State Police to the rescue — complete with the real arm patches, car decals, everything, Austwick says. Whenever any character recites a phone number, the area code is always 217. Before 2002, the Governor’s Mansion was occasionally mentioned in dialogue, and the Lewis brothers’ construction company won a contract for a state job. If that’s not enough, Austwick swears she once saw an episode in which a character called Cassie (born Danni Shayne, full name Cassandra Elizabeth Rae Layne Winslow) was having lunch at Light’s popular gathering spot, Company, and actually ordered a horseshoe. Tammy Faye featured a picture of that scene on Turninglight.com, and included a link to a recipe site.
“I remember getting a lot of e-mails asking if people have a lot of coronary problems in Springfield,” Austwick says (she told them about our famous Prairie Heart Institute). Did I mention there was once a doctor on Guiding Light named Daniel St. John? “I’ve always known it was Springfield, Ill. I don’t remember ever not knowing,” Austwick says. “I never understood why we didn’t make a bigger deal out of it.”
Well, maybe we don’t want to be associated with greed, corruption, addiction, adultery, and cloning. Or maybe it’s because Abraham Lincoln preferred The Edge of Night. We could, though, remember the first words spoken on The Guiding Light (they dropped the “The” in the mid-1970s), back in 1937, when it was a 15-minute radio drama on NBC. “There is a destiny that makes us brothers. None goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”
Of course, that’s too mushy. Here’s another take on the idea, courtesy of Austwick: “I once found a Web site that explained all the Springfields are really just one place,” she says, “connected by a wormhole.”  

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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