The Mother of My Children
Fernandez, Maria Elena, Newsweek
Byline: Maria Elena Fernandez
As TV's most iconic soap opera signs off, its creator, Agnes Nixon, reflects on four decades of drama.
There's a reason All My Children actor David Canary calls the soap's 83-year-old creator, Agnes Nixon, "a wonderful person packed with the devil." The petite Nixon may be all smiles, but in her imagination lives a long cast of characters responsible for some of the most steamy relationships and deranged scheming in the history of daytime television.
For her stories, Nixon draws deep. Erica Kane, the world's most iconic soap character, emerged from Nixon's own complicated relationship with her parents. As an only child of divorce growing up in Depression-era Nashville with virtually no contact with her father, Nixon knew what abandonment felt like. But she could never open up to her mother about it. So she created in Erica a needy woman who filled the void with every man in Pine Valley and wasn't shy about blaming her mother, Mona, for her emotional problems.
"Erica and I both have an abandonment complex, which is very valid," Nixon says. Of course, "the way I reacted to it is certainly not the way Erica has." Nixon was married 45 years before her husband died; Erica is engaged to be married for the 12th time.
Today, it's the fans of All My Children who are dealing with abandonment issues. When the soap signs off ABC on Sept. 23, it will leave a Susan Lucci-sized hole in American popular culture, especially because Lucci hasn't decided if she's joining the Web version being produced by Prospect Park.
"In my eight-page audition scene, Agnes established character and history between Erica and Mona, and a real mother-daughter relationship where a 15-year-old girl was rolling her eyes at her mother, like in real life," says Lucci. "And Agnes brought so much humor to it, too. It was a role that immediately transcended, and there was no reason for me to leave," she adds, explaining why she has played Erica continuously since 1970.
As a child, Nixon had dreamed of becoming an actress herself--but that quickly changed when she arrived at Northwestern University and saw future Oscar winners Patricia Neal and Cloris Leachman in action. "?'Oh, my goodness,' I said to myself. 'Girl, you better write!'?" she recalls with a laugh.
But Nixon's father, who was paying for her education, wanted her to work in the family business--making burial garments. "He was always telling me I had no ability as a writer," she says, and to prove it, he arranged a meeting, through a friend, with Guiding Light creator Irna Phillips, assuming she would reject his daughter's writing on the spot. Instead, she offered Nixon a job.
Nixon says Phillips taught her the art of writing a continuous story. But more important, she showed her how to hold her work in the highest regard--even when arranging someone's 10th marriage or killing off a character for the second or third time. …