Photo: Provided by Victoria Rowell
Victoria Rowell is best known for her role as Drucilla Winters on the number one daytime television show “The Young and The Restless” from 1990 until her final appearance in 2007. Her character, a once runaway teen who later transitions into a supermodel and becomes the wife of Neil Winters (who is played by the late Kristoff St. John) captivated audiences worldwide.
Rowell said she got her start on the show after being asked to audition by the creator, William Joseph “Bill” Bell. “I auditioned with very little notice, and I was very fortunate to get that job,” Rowell said.
Rowell said she loved her role because she was able to build communication with Bell who respected the integrity she brought to the show.
“I was very proud to be part of a Black ensemble cast. We had crossover appeal obviously in the storyline and with the audience internationally,” Rowell said. “The show ended up being licensed to over a hundred countries, so the business aspects were also some of my favorite elements.”
For Rowell, it was vital that Black people saw themselves on the screen represented by something more than the stereotypical mammy characters.
“African-Americans watch daytime television 83% more than any other non-black household. Black women are the secret weapon for ‘The Young and the Restless’ and that keeps the show at number one,” Rowell said.
Audience members wrote to Bell about wanting to see a stronger Black presence and image of themselves which made Rowell and St. John’s roles prominent to the show’s success.
“Kristoff and I were the beneficiaries of Black women who spoke up and spoke out and made it possible for us to have very long careers together on ‘The Young and the Restless,’” Rowell said.
While the dynamic duo made history on the show, St. John, unfortunately, lost his life early last month at the age of 52. According to reports from TMZ, the actor was found unresponsive in his San Fernando Valley, California home by a friend Sunday, February 3. St. John was pronounced dead on the scene.
While a cause of death has not been confirmed, St. John’s ex-wife, Mia St. John believed the actor died of a broken heart due to the suicide-death of their 24-year-old son, Julian, in 2014.
Rowell was at home when she heard the devastating news of her castmate’s passing. “My initial reaction was shock and sadness. I wish they knew more,” Rowell said as her voice trailed off into a brief silence.
When asked what it was like working with St. John, Rowell said the two had fun and enjoyed working with each other. “We laughed, we played practical jokes, we traveled with our work, we worked on other sets. We understood the power of our TV marriage and the chemistry we had. It’s something you can’t put a price tag on,” Rowell said.
“We loved working together, and we continued to work together. My only regret is that we weren’t able to convince the powers that be to reunite us on ‘The Young and the Restless,’ though we asked multiple times,” Rowell added.
Since the show, Rowell also filed a lawsuit in 2015 against Sony Pictures TV, the show’s producers, and CBS for what Rowell claimed to be retaliation by the studio for her speaking out against racial discrimination on the soap opera. According to Rowell, her reason for the lawsuit was for the lack of African-Americans in front of and behind the camera. Rowell also claimed she was denied re-employment.
At the time, Rowell responded that the lawsuit was beyond not gaining re-employment on the show: “This is not about me, but the many, many other African-Americans denied the right to participate in front of and behind the camera on ‘The Young and the Restless.’ The retaliation is deep and broad. I have lived with it for many, many years… I’m not afraid; I am empowered. I am seeking justice.”
Following Rowell’s response, CBS said: “We were disappointed to learn that after leaving the cast of ‘The Young and the Restless,’ on her initiative, Ms. Rowell has attempted to rewrite that history through lawyers’ letters and a lawsuit that has no merit. We harbor no ill will toward Ms. Rowell, but we will vigorously defend this case.”
Reportedly, the case was dismissed in 2017 after a settlement was reached between the parties.
When asked about the lawsuit, Rowell said that she no longer wanted to comment on the case but wanted the public to understand that she was advocating for “fairness, purity, and economic inclusion.”
Rowell said that Black filmmakers, writers, producers, need to form partnerships until they see green.
“My green is called America Multi-Cinema and UMC (Urban Movie Channel), [and] Bob Johnson, who gave me an opportunity to exercise my theatrical talent. Do your diligence, and be willing to do the footwork,” Rowell said.
Speaking of footwork, Rowell herself has continued to produce and create her own content. One example is “The Rich and the Ruthless,” a comedic series which tells the fictional story of the only black-owned daytime television show. It’s currently available to watch on the streaming service, UMC.
“It’s ‘Empire’ meets ‘Games of Thrones.’ The main character, Kitty Barringer, is a composite of any wife who’s dealing with a husband in the corporate world and how she struggles to maintain her own identity,” Rowell said. “It’s the business of running a company and being a mother trying to find balance.”
Rowell is also the creator of another series on UMC called “Jacqueline and Jilly.” It follows the story of a beloved daughter of an affluent political family in Hampton, Virginia that develops an addiction to prescription opioids.
Through her production company, Days Ferry Productions, both “The Rich and the Ruthless” and “Jacqueline and Jilly” have received several pre-nominations for the Daytime Emmy Awards. “My cast and my crew are working very hard, and the results are the third season, and recognition from the National Academy of Television, Arts, and Sciences,” Rowell said.
Despite what Rowell has had to face in the industry, she continues to work on her many projects while never letting Hollywood define her.