Thirty years in the business; nominated for five Daytime Emmy’s – the last for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her go-to designers for the red carpet: Badgley Mischka and Marchesa. Sleek, honey colored hair. Smooth skin. Green eyes. Perfect teeth. She is beautiful and a genuine actor’s actor. But as much as she loved the craft, Beth Christian (formerly known as Beth Ehlers) gave it all up and walked away to create an entirely new professional identity.
For a hefty twenty years, she was most well-known for playing the beloved “Harley” on CBS’s Guiding Light. She was discovered in a public school play at age nine; and had an agent by age ten. Her first movie role, as a teen, was with David Bowie in The Hunter.
To anyone who knows her, she’d always said, “One day, I’m going to go back to school and get my college degree.” For Beth, acting was never going to be a forever job; or the only thing on her tombstone. Millions of baby boomers make career changes in mid-life and sometimes they leave behind a very successful career. And, if you’re newly divorced, have two children to support and you choose a career in politics, which is not known for it’s financial rewards, it’s downright scary.
“I felt unmoored all the time. Acting was my identity and suddenly I did not have one. I was letting go of one existence but hadn’t yet become what I was going to become. That middle space was very frightening.”
Show business had changed; shifting over to packaged marketing, social media, and other commercial forces that, to her, had nothing to do with acting. She was frustrated that her contract with CBS prevented her from accepting some good prime time TV and movie roles. Harley was an enormously popular and entrenched daytime TV character but soaps were slowly becoming an endangered species. So, she sort of understood when Les Moonves told her agent, “Why would I let her off a show that she is helping to keep on the air?” She finally decided to leave the business.
She read voraciously for inspiration; authors like James Baldwin who said that, for any real change to take place, it means the loss of everything familiar – a loss of comfort. It’s a shaking loose of everything you once knew.
At Rutger’s Bloustein School, she took her first Public Policy class and fell in love. Public Policy is everything: politics, law, social work, economics, etc. It’s seat belt laws, energy use, no smoking policies, and much more. If there is problem in society, can or should government fix it? Beth’s heart pounded out of her chest with excitement. She’d found her calling and went on to receive her B.S in Public Policy.
Beth went on to work for N.J. State Senator, Bob Gordon and has since become Chief of Staff in his new position as the N.J. Commissioner of the Board of Public Utilities; a pretty meteoric rise. That board regulates the distribution of public utilities including water and PSE&G. When Mr. Gordon was a State Senator, she helped to draft legislation and is very passionate about clean energy initiatives; particularly solar and wind farms.
Looking back, if her metamorphosis sounds easy, it definitely was not. Making a midlife change is a lonely endeavor filled with long stretches of self-doubt. She says, “Being solitary; alone in your head is so unbelievably hard. The people closest to me are really what helped me through it. I think you really need that person(s) who can see the light at the end of the tunnel along with you; someone to remind you that ‘you got this’.
And yet she is surprisingly effusive about leaving acting. “It wasn’t hard to regain my anonymity. I do not miss being recognized all the time. I do miss ‘Harley’. I lived her life for so many years. There are real feelings in acting. It’s not all pretend. When I cried, those were real tears generated from real emotion. I feel like Harley was a real person.”
As for what it’s like for an actor to be nominated for an Emmy and not win, Beth says, “It did hurt to not win for those Best Supporting Actor nominations because I put my heart and soul into those performances. But by the time I was nominated for Best Actress, I knew I was leaving the business and I really just wanted to get up there and say thank you to the fans.” But she is most grateful to her friends, for new love in her life, to her two nearly grown sons, and her ex-husband, to whom she remains very close.
She still gets recognized now and again, and she takes those opportunities to thank her fans. As for the future, the world of politics has become more exciting than ever and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if, one day, Beth Christian ends up in Washington, D.C. They’d be lucky to have her.