Stars Of One Life to Live: A Passion for Animals
David Fumero, Bree Williamson, and Hillary B. Smith talk about the pets in their lives
By Dustin Fitzharris
Brainwashing. Stalking. Amnesia. Multiple personality disorder. These three individuals have been through it all. Well, their alter egos have in the town of Llanview on ABC’s One Life to Live.
In reality, David Fumero, Bree Williamson, and Hillary B. Smith’s lives are much more ordinary. Fumero is happily married to fellow cast member Melissa Gallo (Adriana Cramer). Williamson, a native of Toronto, just gave birth to her first child, and Smith recently celebrated her 27th anniversary with her husband, Philip. There’s not a lot of drama there, but that’s the way these three want it. When the cameras stop rolling, they leave their New York studio and head home to care for and play with pets.
Tails caught up with these actors to let them brag about their doggies and talk about their characters and what they hope for in the future.
DAVID FUMERO (Cristian Vega)
You are a big dog lover. Where did your love for dogs come from?
I’ve pretty much had a dog most of my life. I’m Cuban. I came to this country when I was 8 years old, and since I can remember we had a dog in the house. My parents were the type that, if they saw a dog in the streets they would feed her. Then that dog would eventually become ours. The neighbors had a St. Bernard, but they were over her because she destroyed their house. We took her in and she was the sweetest dog ever. She didn’t destroy our house! After that we had Blackie. She came to our house as a puppy, and we kept her. I got my first Bulldog, Bordeaux, in my mid-twenties. I had him here in New York, and then I had two more Bulldogs in Florida.
Right now you have one dog.
Bella. She’s here in New York. She’s a 5-year-old French Mastiff.
Is it true you once missed ABC’s Super Soap Weekend because of your dog?
I tried to skip out of it. I didn’t get to. My excuse was one of my females was giving birth, but it was a false alarm. She ended up not being pregnant. It was just my grandmother overfeeding her. We waited, though. I think it’s 62 days, and then they have their litter.
What advice would you give to people who are considering getting a dog?
Go by your lifestyle. If you’re going to go to a shelter and choose a dog, you’ve got to pick a dog that fits your lifestyle. If you have a really active dog and you’re not an active person, you could end up with a crazy dog in your home. If your doggie needs exercise, you’ve got to give him exercise. That’s why I went with a French Mastiff. They can keep up with you if you want to play, but they don’t mind relaxing either.
You’ve been on One Life to Live off and on for 12 years. What’s it like being a soap hunk? You know our readers want to know!
For me, I’m just glad I’m employed. There is flattery that comes with it—soap fans are cool. They always make you feel great.
What’s the best part of being on One Life to Live?
It’s kept me in New York City. If you’re an actor and you’re not in New York, you should probably be in L.A. One Life has kept me here on the East Coast with my family.
What’s been your favorite story line?
I liked the whole brainwashing thing, where Cristian was semibad. I loved working with Renee Goldsberry, who played Angelina at the time. I got to work with a lot of different actors too. It’s nice when they involve you with other people on the show.
Have there been any story lines you thought were clunkers?
Yes. When I heard I was going to this fictitious place called Mendora (laughs). That was weird.
What was that?
It’s this separate place on the planet that only exists on TV. It was fun, but bizarre.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don’t really think about that too much. On and off in my life, I’ve been of the one-day-a-time philosophy. I’m kind of back on that. Hopefully, I’ll be very busy.
What would you like to see for Cristian?
My ideal story line would be more about Cristian and less about the people around him. He’s always the supportive one. He just helps everyone along. I’d like for him to be a little selfish and maybe work on himself a bit. I like the edginess.
To learn more about David, visit abc.com/onelifetolive
BREE WILLIAMSON (Jessica Buchanan)
Tell us about your dog.
I have a Dachshund named Blue. He’s 5 years old.
Because he has blue eyes. He’s a piebald.
Can you explain that?
It means he has a very odd coloring. The same thing happens in horses. I think it has to do with the fact that he has a recessive gene.
Is it difficult raising a dog in New York City?
It’s not hard. I live close to Central Park, and they have this really wonderful thing where they have off-leash rules from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. So, every morning we go. He gets to run around as if we had a backyard, and he loves it.
Did you have pets growing up?
Yes. I always had a dog. Cats. And I even had horses. My grandfather had about an acre of property, and we had horses. I used to ride. I used to show.
When was the last time you were on a horse?
Wow, a long time ago. Probably in Mexico with my parents on vacation.
You recently had a baby.
Yes! I gave birth to my son, McGreggor Edward Roberts on Sept. 21.
What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time? Right now, you’re catching me on vacation in Toronto. I’m visiting with my family. I love working. My friend Gena and I also put on a musical (Queen Bea: A Soapsical) at the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York.
After everything you’ve done, what are you the most proud of?
I’m proud of [One Life to Live]. I got to do something on Gossip Girl that was fun. It’s a really good show.
Will you get a playmate for Blue?
I think one is enough now, but I never want it to be a home without a dog in it.
For more information on Bree, visit her official website: breewilliamson.tv
HILLARY B. SMITH (Nora Hanen)
You’re the animal lover of the cast, right?
Actually, there are a lot of animal lovers in our cast. Even though I don’t have a pet at the moment, I do have the fund.
Yes, the Willie-Coppee Fund, named after your friend Lindsay Harrison’s Bichon Frise, Willie, and your Golden Retriever. Can you tell us more about it?
It’s not a foundation, because it’s not tax deductible. We haven’t gone there yet. It’s a discretionary fund we set up at the Sherman Oaks Veterinary Group in Sherman Oaks, California. It’s been able to help out animals and the [guardians] who find them. It helps them with the prohibitive cost of taking care of animals.
What kinds of things would the fund assist with?
Operations, blood work, hydration, and broken legs. It’s really for animals that are on death’s door or are really in need, and their [guardians] can’t handle it. Someone said to me, “I know this is for dogs, but we have a kitten who was found and is almost dead and needs a lot of fluids and antibiotics.” She said if we could help out, she would like to adopt the cat. We were like, “An animal is an animal.” So, they did adopt the cat and name it Star.
How long has it been since Coppee died?
It’s been five or six years. Gosh.
You haven’t gotten a new dog. Why?
We decided we weren’t going to do it until we could be more stationary in our lives. What happened was, our kids went away to school and Coppee ended up coming with us wherever we went. She even went to college one year. With the kids off now, we’re really on the go, and I would much rather wait until we’re a little more settled.
Tell us about Coppee.
She was beautiful. She had a tough time. She was allergic to everything, the poor thing. When she was 6 months old, we had to chop off the top of her femurs. Her hip was so bad that she was moaning and whining in her sleep. One option was to put her down. We took her to the surgeons and they said, “No, this is what we can do.” Then she got allergies and used to rub her face raw. So, we put her on Prednisone. They told us it would shorten her life, but she lived until she was 16, and I swear she’d still be alive today if we hadn’t put her down. All she wanted to do was please us. I think she really knew how sad we’d be if she died, so she just kept going.
Where did your love for animals come from?
I had one dog growing up, and I loved horses. I loved birds. I was the youngest of four girls, so I loved things that just wanted to give unconditional love. Most animals are that way. I’m also fascinated watching animals in their environment. I’m not into chasing animals away and seeing how they react. I just like to sit there and observe.
You’ve been on One Life to Live for 18 years. What’s been your favorite story line?
I have a couple. I loved the whole rape story line when I first came on. It was also intertwined with the romance of Bo and Nora—them falling in love while she was doing the rape trial and figuring it all out. Then that launched the Wait Until Dark stuff where Nora went blind and Todd was stalking her at the beach house. I love that stuff, because you can sink your teeth into it. My favorites are when everyone steps up to the plate and the writing is right there.
Why do you think fans have responded so passionately to Bo and Nora?
Because they fell in love with them while they were falling in love. They went on dates with us. They went through the heartaches; they went through the support. They watched a relationship that wasn’t judgmental. It just existed. [Bo and Nora] found strength in each other, and they loved the flaws and allowed them to become funny frustrations.
And now they’re back together again.
They wanted us back together. It’s like kids wanting their parents back together, because their childhood memories were so good.
You’ve been married to your husband for 27 years. What’s your secret?
Every time he threatens to walk out, I hold a gun to him.
That’s so daytime!
Yes. “Don’t walk out that door or I’ll shoot you!” No, I guess he is my friend.
Did you really meet him when you were 14?
You kept in touch all that time?
Well, we taunted each other for a few years. Actually, I rode around on the back of my husband’s dirt bike when I was 15. We were together until I guess I turned 16, and then he broke my heart, as guys do. We saw each other for a couple of years here and there down in Florida where I grew up. I stayed really good friends with his friends. Then I went off and began doing a lot of theater. Then I got a call from someone saying he was getting married. So, I called to congratulate him, and he said, “I’m not getting married. I’m going to marry you in five years.” I was like, “Okay, whatever.” And it was five years later that we ran into each other, because our best friend had gotten married. We were each other’s dates. A year later we were married.
You’re doing an online series called Venice in addition to One Life to Live. Tell us about Venice.
I play this character named Guya. Crystal Chappell (formerly Maggie on One Life to Live and Olivia on Guiding Light) started this, and it’s a real tribute to the Guiding Light fans. Crystal wrote this character for me, and I’ve had the best time. Guya is passionate. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s explosive with enthusiasm, and she feels so deeply.
Is it different doing a show for the web?
Yes. It’s very free. There’s a lot of improv. It’s the most free I’ve ever been. It’s art, and it’s what I started off in this business to do.
You’ve been doing soaps for close to 30 years.
That’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to live in New York and do a soap.
I was a fan. I loved the consistency. I loved the idea of family and story. What I loved most was it wasn’t a scary place. It was a place full of understanding, where there were always lessons to be learned. There was a moral compass, where you really understood right from wrong.
Do you think soaps have changed?
They’ve changed a lot, and I would love for it to go back to that feeling of, it’s going to be all right, because you’ve got Viki there who you can always talk to. Or you can always go to Nora, because she’ll always fight for you. Or you could go to Bo, and he’ll make sure the bad guys are caught. That was very comforting. In a world where everything seemed so unsure, things were very sure on a soap.
For more information on Hillary and the Willie-Coppee Fund, visit hillarybsmith.com
Dustin Fitzharris is an award-winning journalist who is known for his celebrity profiles. His articles on Patti LaBelle, Reba McEntire, Jackie Collins, Vanessa Williams, Melissa Etheridge, Phil Donahue, and many others have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country. His previous articles for Tails profiled Chudney Ross, the youngest daughter of superstar Diana Ross, Audrey Landers, and All My Children favorite Julia Barr. Fitzharris resides in New York City and is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Visit his website at DustinFitzharris.Wordpress.com