Charita Bauer’s personal tragedies made her character, Bertha “Bert” Bauer, a memorable matriarch.
Many TV stars do their share of public service announcements. Twice in
her career, Charita Bauer turned her personal tragedies — cancer and a leg
amputation — into public service announcements.
Soap opera fans knew Bauer as “Bert Bauer,” the matriarch of
the central family on Guiding Light, the longest running radio-TV
drama in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Art imitates life
Bauer, who died in 1985 at age 62 years, played Bert for almost 35
years. But in 1962, uterine cancer threatened her career and her life.
||Bert Bauer’s TV tribulations
were inspired by real-life actress Charita Bauer.
Charita Bauer beat cancer. So did Bert Bauer. Charita’s illness and
recovery were written into the script.
“Bert Bauer’s struggle with uterine cancer helped provide
information to many women,” her New York Times obituary said.
She was credited with raising uterine cancer awareness among many women who
watched the show. Many went on to get Pap tests, the standard screening test
for the disease.
In November 1983, Charita Bauer lost her right leg to a blood clot. So
did Bert Bauer, whose “amputation” and recovery became part of the
“…Through the character of Bert Bauer, the actress was able to
touch and educate several generations of television viewers,” her obituary
Her acting and her “ability to touch and educate” did not go
unrecognized. In 1983, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented
her with its lifetime achievement Emmy, the Times said.
From stage to small screen
Bauer was born in 1922 in Newark, N.J. She became a photographer’s
model when she was 8 years old, but was soon appearing on the Broadway stage.
In 1933, she debuted as a child actress in the play Thunder on the
Left, according to her obituary. Other stage appearances included
The Women, The Life of Reilly, Madame
Capet and Good Morning, Corporal. In 1976, she toured in a
production of Plaza Suite.
She broke into broadcasting in the 1930s on Let’s
Pretend, a children’s fantasy radio show. Bauer went on to land
other radio roles and became the voice of Bertha Miller “Bert” Bauer
on The Guiding Light in 1950, 13 years after the program began.
(The soap opera became Guiding Light in 1975.)
“The similarity in the last names was coincidental,” according
to the Times. “For four years after the television premiere of the
serial she continued to perform in both its radio and television
The program started on NBC radio before moving to CBS radio in 1947. It
became a CBS TV show in 1952, but the network dropped the radio show in 1956.
The TV show finally ended in 2009.
When she died, Bauer was the show’s last original character.
Some feared she might have to leave the show after surgeons removed her
diseased limb. But she was determined to return, which she did in April 1984.
The Guiding Light story line closely followed her actual
experience. Bert suffered leg pain; doctors discovered a life-threatening clot
and ordered her limb amputated. She had to learn to walk again on a prosthetic
In a famous scene at the hospital in fictitious Springfield, hometown of
the Bauers, Bert, in a wheelchair, is rolled up to wheelchair-bound Josh Lewis,
played by Robert Newman.
A car crash has left Josh unable to walk. He feels helpless and hopeless
and Bert understands.
“Josh! Josh, it takes time! she admonishes. “Josh, we’re
at the beginning. You’re at the beginning, so am I! Look how far
we’ve come already. Don’t look at the distance left to go!”
Josh, thus inspired, replies, “Don’t expect miracles, is that
what you are saying?”
Bert says, “No I’m not telling you that! Because life itself
is a miracle, and don’t you ever forget it!”
In another memorable scene after her amputation, the fiercely
independent Bert drops a teacup, tries to pick it up, fails and bursts into
tears. The camera focuses on her remaining leg.
Yahoo blogger Cynthia C. Scott called Bert’s fight against cancer
of the uterus “another seminal “Guiding Light” moment, which
inspired many of its female viewers to get screened after watching the
show’s heroine go under the knife to fight the disease.” She added,
“Fans watched Bert bravely struggle with her illness and recover from her
amputation through therapy.”
Writing in 2007, Scott concluded, “despite the fact that it has
been decades since either Bert or Charita graced the screen, their presence is
still very much felt in fans’ hearts, who continue to remember fondly this
indomitable and beloved character.”