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Profile : Days of Her Life : DEIDRE HALL’S BATTLE WITH INFERTILITY IS A MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE STARRING HERSELF

Libby Slate is a frequent contributer to TV Times and Calendar

As psychiatrist Marlena Evans on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” Deidre Hall is one of daytime’s reigning divas. But her real-life quest to have a baby rivals almost any soap opera plot line.

For 20 years and during two marriages, Hall tried every procedure known to woman to conceive a child: numerous rounds of artificial insemination, surgery and in-vitro fertilization. All of that gave her a roller coaster of unpleasant physical and emotional side-effects but no baby.

Finally accepting her infertility, Hall, 48, and her third husband, writer-producer Steve Sohmer, turned to a less conventional method. They hired a surrogate named Robin, who was artificially inseminated with Sohmer’s sperm. On Aug. 23, 1992, Robin gave birth to David Atticus; on Jan. 19, 1995, she produced David’s brother, Tully Chapin.

Sunday night, ABC delivers a television version of Hall’s saga with the film “Never Say Never: The Deidre Hall Story.” Hall plays herself and also was an executive producer; her husband wrote the script under the pseudonym Bill Tyndale.

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Daniel Hugh-Kelly portrays Sohmer, and Eve Gordon plays surrogate mom Robin. “Days” star and Hall friends Wayne Northrup and wife, Lynne Herring of ABC’s “General Hospital,” appear as themselves.

The film is rich with true-life details, among them videotape from David’s birth. Ironically, Hall had to be persuaded by Sohmer and executive producer Stan Margulies to play herself.

“In hindsight, they were 100% right,” says Hall, in the photograph-packed living room of her Bel-Air home. “The concern I had was, ‘Can I really re-create or re-enact the moments I was living? Another actress would have been more detached, could have enacted them with more ease and less discomfort. But the difference between re-enacting and reliving was very little.”

The “most frightening part” of playing herself, she says, was depicting the day David was born. The joy of a new life beginning was tempered by the sorrow of another one ending: As Robin was in labor, a dear friend and attorney of Hall’s (played in the movie by Mark Lonow) was dying three hospital floors below.

“Those were very difficult, emotional moments, and they’re all there on film,” she says, eyes misting at the memory of her barely conscious friend holding a Polaroid photo of her newborn to his heart. “In the moment of re-enactment, I felt such an incredible embrace from the crew. You could feel a pulsing, a sensitivity to it. There were no mistakes made--no equipment dropped, a cough not heard, a page not turned. I’d anticipated the worst, and everyone got me through it.”

She had also anticipated problems in chronicling the arduous procedures she had undergone in pursuit of motherhood. But with the exception of one scene about an in-vitro surgery--"a terrible, terrible moment ... I didn’t want to be there"--her fears proved groundless. “All the conversations, the scenes with doctors, the friend giving me a shot--as difficult as they were to live, they were not difficult to shoot,” she says.

And of course, there is the payoff of a happy ending, with more than a few warm-fuzzy moments along the way. “My husband said, ‘I didn’t write an infertility movie. I wrote a romantic comedy.’ There are great charming romantic scenes in it.

“It’s a love story between Steve and Deidre that spans more than a decade. It’s a love story between two women who come together as strangers and share an exquisite trust. And it’s a love story about falling in love with a child you haven’t met.”

For Sohmer, who received a doctorate in Shakespeare at Oxford the month before the film went into production and whose other credits include the miniseries “Favorite Son” and “Op Center,” writing the film was a “joy.”

“Knowing the people involved, it was fun to capture the characters,” he says. “A writer usually works in isolation, but as I was typing away, I had the opportunity to discuss with Deidre, scene by scene, how it should be laid out.”

In one pivotal scene, for instance, Hall needed to tell Robin--who had initially refused to participate because she did not want to bear a child whose mother was favorite tabloid fodder--what it was like to be unable to have a baby. Sohmer, who has a grown daughter from a previous marriage, told Hall he did not know how it felt to be infertile. So she wrote him a six-page response, which he crafted into a speech that ultimately persuaded Robin to change her mind.

And, of course, fleshing out himself was a unique assignment. “I had no trouble writing it,” he says. “I approached Steve Sohmer in the piece as a character. There were qualities I wanted to give him--I’m tremendously supportive of Deidre. I’m a tremendously optimistic person, and I wanted that sense to radiate from him. I tried to write him so that the focus remained on Deidre and Robin, but he was there for them.”

Sohmer and Hall hope that the film’s candor will help any viewers thinking about surrogacy, and that it will mark a departure from the usual “woman in jeopardy” TV fare.

“This is a story about people bonding,” Hall says, “an evening that will make you feel replenished and uplifted as a human being.”

“Never Say Never: The Deidre Hall Story” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC.


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