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Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin
Photo courtesy of Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin

Multi-award-winning TV executive and producer Mary Alice “Mickey” Dwyer-Dobbin was responsible for bringing the European-based “Smurfs” to the American populace. She worked on the animated musical series “Schoolhouse Rock!” and introduced Dr. Ruth to a cable audience. Dwyer-Dobbin started her career assisting on game shows and ended it as the executive in charge of some of television’s most iconic soap operas — “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns” and “Another World.” It was her work there that resulted in some offbeat encounters with the daytime dramas’ notoriously passionate viewers.

“The daytime audience was very involved. Once the Internet was up and running, and chat rooms were there, they really let you know what they thought about your stories and about you. And, of course, I was always the one they blamed for everything,” Dwyer-Dobbin said, laughing. “Somebody walked up to me once after I retired and said, ‘Are you the soap opera lady?’ In this particular setting, I really hadn’t pointed that out to anyone. I said, ‘Well, yes, I guess.’ He said, ‘Oh, you seem so nice. You don’t seem like the person they’re talking about in all those chat rooms.’ To which I replied, ‘Oh, thanks a lot.’”

Dwyer-Dobbin retired in 2005 after an acclaimed 37-year career in TV, where she held numerous positions for multiple networks. Dwyer-Dobbin never anticipated working in the television industry and had her sights set on a career in education after graduating from Webster University in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in speech and drama. She spent two years teaching those subjects at the high school level before deciding to collect a master’s degree in theater from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Dwyer-Dobbin opted for a career switch and, after a period of personal discovery back in St. Louis, traveled to New York on a joint job hunt/vacation. A gentleman she met while job-searching noticed Webster on her resume and was enamored by Webster President Jacqueline Grennan, SL, who had been charismatically speaking on late-night talk shows wearing her nun’s habit. The gentleman put Dwyer-Dobbin in touch with a game show producer, who hired her as an assistant in 1968. Dwyer-Dobbin had her foot in the door, and she stayed in both television and New York — she currently lives on Long Island — for the remainder of her career.

“Television really is fun,” Dwyer-Dobbin said. “It’s very involving, and it’s very intense. There’s never a dull moment. There’s something different happening every day, a new challenge every day. It was also — when I was involved in it — very good for women because daytime programming was specifically developed and produced to attract women. Most of the networks were headquartered in New York, and I wanted to stay in New York. I liked the energy, action and opportunities that New York offered.”

“I was on the Board of Trustees for nine years. I saw Webster as it was starting to expand to some of these countries. I just think that’s absolutely wonderful and carries forth the vision the Sisters of Loretto originally had of serving the underserved. Not just of St. Louis and the United States, but now of the world. And I’m proud of what my little speech and drama department has become. The Conservatory is a wonderful training ground for future professionals and non-professionals alike. There are many Webster grads out and about in the theater arena doing good things.”
- Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin

Dwyer-Dobbin moved on to a network supervisory role with ABC as “Ryan’s Hope” was being developed, simultaneously keeping her eye on “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” Then, she worked on Saturday morning children’s shows as well as “ABC Afterschool Specials” and “Schoolhouse Rock!” Dwyer-Dobbin received the Television Critics Circle Award in 1977 and moved to NBC later that year to take over the network’s children’s programming. She introduced “The Smurfs” to the U.S. audience on Saturday mornings. Viewers fell for the humorous blue characters, which came as no surprise to Dwyer-Dobbin. Focus groups comprised of different genders, races and ages had foreshadowed the show’s bright future.

“They loved it. They tried to climb inside the television set as they were watching it,” Dwyer-Dobbin said. “Then we said to them, ‘Who do you think will like this series?’ They said, ‘Oh, my best friend, my brother, my sister, my mother, my father. Everybody will like this.’ We knew we had a hit on our hands when we saw that. That was really a fun experience. Because when you do focus groups, you don’t always get that kind of reaction to the material.”

Dwyer-Dobbin was named vice president of programming for the women’s cable network Daytime — as well as its eventual successor, Lifetime — in 1981. The cable industry was in its infancy, and executives were working on a shoestring budget. That didn’t prohibit Dwyer-Dobbin from vaulting the career of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose groundbreaking cable TV work began in 1984.

“I love Dr. Ruth,” Dwyer-Dobbin said. “Dr. Ruth was an iconic character. She was an indefatigable personality. I still run into her every now and then. She’s still going. It was interesting because people higher up the chain were a little concerned she might be too risqué for the audience. You could do a lot of things at that time on cable that you couldn’t do on network.”

Dwyer-Dobbin rejoined ABC in 1986 as vice president of daytime programs, East Coast. She was promoted from senior VP of ABC daytime to executive VP in 1993, where she oversaw the soap operas “All My Children,” “One Life to Live,” “General Hospital” and “Loving.” Three years later, Dwyer-Dobbin was tasked with turning around the Procter & Gamble-owned soaps “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns” and “Another World.” She worked as the executive in charge of production for these dramas until her 2005 retirement.

“You have a responsibility to the shows and the audience — to try to give them stories that continue the development of characters,” Dwyer-Dobbin said. “The audience changes over the years, too. There was always the challenge of trying to break new ground in the kind of stories that were being told. Sometimes we succeeded, and sometimes we didn’t.”

Young Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin acting
Photo courtesy of Webster University

Dwyer-Dobbin was born and raised in St. Louis, and said she chose Webster after attending Visitation Academy because of its strong, well-known theater department and the Sisters of Loretto. She quickly learned performing wasn’t her strength, so she concentrated on backstage duties like production and management, which later aided her in the television field.

Dwyer-Dobbin has stayed in contact with three of her four Webster classmates who were speech and drama majors, and the friends typically gather at every one of their five-year class reunions. Dwyer-Dobbin will be in attendance at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts 50th Anniversary Celebration, which will take place on the Webster Groves home campus April 20-22. She’s also close friends with Peter Sargent, Dean of the Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts, whom she credited with growing the Conservatory throughout the decades.

“I’m just thrilled with what Webster has become since it was the small, Catholic women’s college when I attended. Now it has become this worldwide university,” Dwyer-Dobbin said. “I do a lot of traveling now. When I have the opportunity — if there’s a campus in the city or country where I’m going — I try to visit. I was in China a number of years ago and visited our campus in the Shanghai area. A couple years ago I was in Bangkok and visited our graduate campus there. Just in May, I was in Athens and visited our campus there.

“I was on the Board of Trustees for nine years. I saw Webster as it was starting to expand to some of these countries. I just think that’s absolutely wonderful and carries forth the vision the Sisters of Loretto originally had of serving the underserved. Not just of St. Louis and the United States, but now of the world. And I’m proud of what my little speech and drama department has become. The Conservatory is a wonderful training ground for future professionals and non-professionals alike. There are many Webster grads out and about in the theater arena doing good things.”

Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin with President Stroble
Photo courtesy of Webster University

Dwyer-Dobbin has received numerous awards for both her work in television and involvement at Webster. “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns” earned Emmys under her watch. In 1999, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ New York Chapter. She collected an award for promoting television in New York City from Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004. Dwyer-Dobbin was named a Webster Distinguished Alumna in 2001, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2011 and, in recognition of her continued loyalty to Webster, was awarded the Mary Elizabeth Newell Award in 2013.

Dwyer-Dobbin has been a longtime contributor to Webster and likewise donates to the Sisters of Loretto. She gives annually to several endowed scholarships — including one for stage management — and funds an endowed chair position in honor of Sargent’s 50th anniversary with the Conservatory. She spearheaded the creation of a Class of 1963 scholarship that honors the spirit of the Sisters of Loretto who taught Dwyer-Dobbin and her classmates. Dwyer-Dobbin said she’s happy to give back to the university that provided her with so much.

“I really do credit Webster with giving me the foundation to be able to accomplish what I did in my career and in my life,” Dwyer-Dobbin said. “I went to Webster on a partial scholarship. I participated in every aspect of Webster life that I could. I feel a debt of gratitude for what they prepared me to do. I value what Webster continues to do. I want to help students accomplish the best they can based on their Webster experience.”