On What Would Have Been All My Children and One Life to Live Creator Agnes Nixon’s 98th Birthday, a Loving Tribute to the Daytime Trailblazer — Plus, a Photo-Filled Walk Down Memory Lane
Robert Phillips/ABC/Courtesy of The Everett Collection; Steve Fenn/ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
If not for her, we’d never have met Erica Kane, Victoria Lord or Tad Martin.
You know that person in your life who scoffs at the idea of watching a soap and would deny knowing anything about them? While they may not know the name Agnes Nixon, who would have turned 98 years old on December 10, it would be almost impossible for them not to be familiar with the legendary scribe’s work.
They’ve undoubtedly heard of All My Children and One Life to Live, the groundbreaking soaps she created. They probably know of Erica Kane and her portrayer, if only because they’ve lost often enough to be referred to as the Susan Lucci of whatever it was they were playing. (Hopefully, as with Lucci’s Emmy run, they eventually scored a win.)
And if they’re being honest, they probably tuned in to Nixon’s soaps at some point. Maybe they watched One Life To Live‘s housewife-turned-hooker Karen Wolek break down on the stand, or the unforgettable scenes in which All My Children newlywed Jenny was killed by an exploding jet-ski. (Hey, it happens.)
When soap fans bemoan the fact that “they don’t write ’em like that anymore,” they might just as well add, “not since we lost Agnes Nixon,” who passed away on September 28, 2016. Interestingly, the subtitle of her biography My Life To Live not only sums up what made her so special but might also be indicative of a problem which currently plagues the genre she so loved: How I Became the Queen of Soaps When Men Ruled the Airwaves.
How She Rocked the Boat
It’s hard to imagine what Nixon might make of today’s four remaining daytime dramas (the writing teams of each, it’s worth noting, are currently headed by men). Rare are the socially-relevant stories which she almost casually wove into the fabric of her tales. “I wasn’t trying to change the genre,” she told NPR during a 1990 interview. “I was just trying to write what was interesting to me.”
But change the genre, she did, even as network executives — read: men — tried to prevent her from doing so. Whether it was Guiding Light’s Bert Bauer getting a pap smear or All My Children‘s Bianca Montgomery coming out, no topic was out of bounds. When it came to writing soaps, Nixon believed in chronicling the human condition. “There’s nothing new,” she told the Washington Post, “but it’s ever-changing. Life is fascinating, and if you look at your family and your friends and you have a writer’s viewpoint, you can see each person’s life as a soap opera in itself.”
Writing People, Not Characters
It was that ability to see the residents of Pine Valley, Springfield, Corinth and Llanview as people rather than characters which set apart Nixon’s writing. Some might have viewed All My Children‘s Erica as an over-the-top, much-married diva bordering on caricature, but Nixon understood what was at the beating, human heart of her creation’s every move.
“She has a lot of problems,” Nixon told the Post. “Her father deserted her and her mother when she was at a very impressionable age, and she has very low self-esteem. She really needs a man to make her feel marvelous, because she only sees herself reflected in a man’s eyes.”
An Impossible Act to Follow
That simply, Nixon managed to succinctly sum up one of daytime’s most complicated characters. And in looking back at Erica’s life, that single through-line tracks over decades of story. It is that deep understanding of both the people who populated the worlds she created as well as those who would visit them daily that made Nixon’s a talent the likes of which we may never see again.
Share your favorite Nixon-created storyline in the comments below, then join us in revisiting one of her greatest creations, All My Children, via the gallery below. In it, you’ll find an incredible array of memory-stirring photos, including some you’ve probably never seen before.