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Remembering Agnes Nixon

ALL MY CHILDREN -  Agnes Nixon appears on All My Children's 40th Anniversary show airing January 4th and 5th on ABC Daytime's "All My Children". "All My Children" airs Monday-Friday (1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. AMC09
(ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)
AGNES NIXON

Credit: ABC

The daytime community is mourning the passing of Agnes Nixon, legendary creator of ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE, who succumbed to complications of Parkinson’s disease on September 28. She was 93.

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A Chicago native, the former Agnes Eckhardt was born on December 10, 1922, raised in Nashville, and graduated from Northwestern University. In 1951, she married Robert Nixon, who passed away in 1996; they had four children, Cathy, Mary, Emily and Robert, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Nixon began her career under the tutelage of Irna Phillips, creator of GUIDING LIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS, working as a writer on the radio serial WOMAN IN WHITE and, on television, for ATWT, GL, ANOTHER WORLD and SEARCH FOR TOMORROW (she served as SFT’s first head writer). When she became GL’s head writer in 1958, she began cultivating her reputation for crafting socially relevant tales, like the 1962 story of Bert Bauer’s uterine cancer, inspired by the death of a friend from cervical cancer.

In 1965, she created ALL MY CHILDREN for CBS and Procter & Gamble. “I wanted more authority, more freedom,” she explained to Digest in 2010. “I wanted my own thing!” When CBS opted not to bring AMC to air, Nixon became AW’s head writer, crafting one of the defining romantic triangles in daytime history, Rachel/Steve/Alice. “ANOTHER WORLD was very low in the ratings and it became the most popular show in daytime,” Nixon told the magazine.

On July 15, 1968, the first Nixon-created soap, OLTL, noteworthy for the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of its characters, debuted on ABC. Nixon told Digest in 2011, “When ABC asked me to do a show for them, I said, ‘May I do the stories that are controversial?’ And they said, ‘Absolutely, because we believe you have good taste and won’t be offensive.’ ”

AGNES NIXON AT HOME LAYOUT - 1989 (Photo by ABC PHOTO ARCHIVES/ABC via Getty Images)

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Her starting point for the series, she recalled, was the character of Victoria Lord, who suffered from a split personality. “Viki/Niki was, I felt, the thing that would get the audience’s attention while we wrote stories that were perhaps even more important to me. And the most important story to me was Clara/Carla,” a light-skinned black woman who couldn’t get a job until she began passing for white. “I had grown up in the South seeing the horrors of racism, and that was a thing I had always wanted to [combat],” she explained.

OLTL was a hit, prompting ABC’s interest in producing another Nixon work, so AMC finally hit the airwaves on January 5, 1970. Unique in its day for its focus on younger characters, like Susan Lucci’s Erica Kane, the show also dealt, in its early years, with a wide range of social issues, including the Vietnam War and abortion (Erica was the first television character to undergo a legal one, in 1973). In 2011, she joked to Digest, “People would ask me, ‘What are you planning next?’ And I’d say, ‘I haven’t read the newspaper yet!’ ”

Nixon continued to break new ground late in her career, as when Erica’s daughter, Bianca, came out as a lesbian in 2000. “I was determined to do the lesbian story,” she noted in 2011. “But I said, ‘Because of the homophobic element in society, we have to wait until it can be Erica’s daughter.’ [And] Bianca became one of the most popular characters on daytime.” “I am very proud of those stories, stories that have perhaps educated people,” she told Digest in 2010.

With Douglas Marland, Nixon also co-created LOVING, which aired on ABC from 1983-95. Nixon’s company, Creative Horizons, sold both AMC and OLTL to ABC in 1975, but even when she was not formally overseeing AMC’s writing team, she remained involved in shepherding the show creatively. “Agnes was always a presence,” recalls Ginger Smith, who was a producer on AMC. “She was always reading outlines and in meetings, or if she wasn’t in story meetings she was on the phone; and Agnes always had total access to the executive producers.”

Nixon, who trained as an actress before turning her attention to writing, put in cameo appearances on both AMC (2005, 2008, 2011) and OLTL (2008, 2012). Vincent Irizarry (Deimos, DAYS), who played AMC’s David, worked with her during her last appearance in Pine Valley. “One of the highlights of my 14 years on that show was doing those scenes with her,” he says. “The same magical, beautiful spirit of hers that you saw off camera was there in abundance [on camera]. I really do believe that she was touched from above with this genius, and beautiful, creative spirit and light. It was evident whenever you saw her.”

After AMC went off the air in 2011, followed by OLTL in 2012, Nixon began working on her memoirs, which she completed just days before her death.

Over the course of her career, Nixon penned over 25,000 hours of television, was honored with the Trustees Award for Continued Excellence from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1981 and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 2010, and received five Daytime Emmys for writing.    

LAS VEGAS - JUNE 27:  Actress Agnes Nixon poses for a portrait with Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards held at the Las Vegas Hilton on June 27, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for ATI)

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Susan Lucci (ex-Erica, AMC): “I am devastated to learn that we have lost Agnes. I adored her and admired her–and I am forever grateful to her! May this liveliest and loveliest of women rest in peace.”

Erika Slezak (ex-Viki, OLTL): “I am so terribly saddened by the death of Agnes Nixon. She was more than a great writer, producer and boss, she was a warm, loving and wonderful woman with a truly delightful and somewhat wicked sense of humor. It was my very great privilege to have known her and to have worked for her. When she hired me to play Viki on One Life To Live, she changed my life and my career and I will forever be grateful to her. I wish her peace and angels all around her. She deserves that!”

Lauralee Bell (Christine, Y&R): “My dad [the late William J. Bell] never spoke about the beginning of his career without talking about the Great Agnes Nixon being a part of it. Love to her family.”

Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis, GH; ex-Beverly, OLTL): “1st pro acting job was on #OLTL Where would I’ve begun without her? #AgnesNixon May she live on after death like any great soap character.”

Bryan Cranston (ex-Doug, LOVING): “I am saddened to hear of the passing of #AgnesNixon. Talented and kind, she gave me my start 33 yrs ago on ‘Loving.’ Sweet passage dear one.”

Robin Strasser (ex-Rachel, AW; ex-Dorian, OLTL): “Few can match the accomplishments of #AgnesNixon Her genius was a gift to many! She was generous, exacting, imaginative! Truly incomparable!”

Sarah Michelle Gellar (ex-Kendall, AMC): “This incredible woman #AgnesNixon not only created my incredible character #KendallHart, she created #AllMyChildren. And more importantly she was the epitome of class. I learned a lot from you Agnes.”

Alicia Minshew (ex-Kendall, AMC): “Just heard the sad news about the passing of the sweet and incredible genius #Agnesnixon…. She was a class act and a true talent. She helped give me the life and friendships I have today. And for that I am truly grateful to her. We all miss her stories and now will miss her as well. Thoughts and prayers are being sent to her family. RIP sweet Agnes.”

Josh Duhamel (ex-Leo, AMC): “Sad to hear of the passing of Agnes Nixon. I’m thankful everyday that she created ALL MY CHILDREN and the character that gave me my first shot in the business. She will be missed.”

Jean Passanante (GH head writer; former AMC and OLTL head writer): “Devastated by the death of Agnes Nixon, brilliant woman and pioneer who brought substance and humor to daytime. Grateful for her mentorship… [She] was a petite woman with a giant heart, a wicked laugh and a head full of stories.”

Ron Carlivati (ex-OLTL head writer): “Sad to learn of the passing of Agnes Nixon, one of my biggest champions and biggest inspirations. She will never be forgotten.”

Dena Higley (co-head writer, DAYS; ex-head writer, OLTL): “A tiny lady but a force of nature. A talent like no other. The time I spent in her presence a treasure. Rest peacefully Agnes Nixon.”

Walt Willey (ex-Jack, AMC): “Agnes Nixon was, to me, the epitome of class, erudition, and grace…. Agnes, you honored and delighted me every time we had anything to do with one another. You will be greatly missed.”

Cameron Mathison (ex-Ryan, AMC): “RIP Agnes Nixon. It was such a pleasure to know you and be a part of your Pine Valley family.”    

Julia Barr (Brooke, AMC, 1976-81, 1982-2006, 2010, 2011, 2013) I still have the note that Agnes wrote to me after my first Emmy win [for Supporting Actress] in 1990. That note meant more to me than any award ever could. She was an extraordinary storyteller because she understood the essence of all the characters she created — and was able to express over and over again in her stories the sorrow and the great joy of the human condition. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of all of that. Lorraine Broderick and I had lunch with Agnes at her apartment about a year ago. She was very excited that her memoir was nearly complete. Even when her health was not 100 percent, her enthusiasm for telling stories never waned. Truly, the most remarkable woman I have ever known!

Darnell Williams (Jesse, AMC, 1981-88, 2001, 2008-2011, 2013) Agnes was like a surrogate mom to me. She was such a champion of mine and I loved her so much for her respect and her faith in me. She just made you feel at home. There was no pretense to her. She had a genuine love for everybody that she hired, or was responsible for giving work to. Everybody loved Agnes, everybody, and she was not shy about sharing her love with the people that loved her. What a saint. What a strong-willed woman. What a very beautiful woman. What a loss. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this woman or her generosity. If I were to put it in words, I’d have to take my heart out and put it on the page.

Eden Riegel (Bianca, AMC, 2000-05, 2006-07, 2008-09, 2010, 2013) I remember first meeting Agnes and being struck by her warmth, wisdom and this great love she exuded — it practically enveloped everyone in the room in an invisible hug. For the AMC family, she was our creator, guardian angel, fairy godmother and protector. She was a titanic force, creating stories that were groundbreaking and heroic, so it was hard to believe she fit all that genius in her tiny little unassuming frame. She was a force of love, in her life and in the stories that she told. I am honored and humbled to have been a part of a story that was near and dear to her heart, Bianca’s coming out. It wasn’t the first time she had told a story that no one else dared to, and she brought to it her characteristic passion and dignity. I know it changed people’s minds and changed people’s lives. I got the letters. Agnes changed the world with her stories. She never stopped caring, and helped guide and oversee the show long after she might have taken a much-deserved break. I will miss Agnes and always think of her with love and gratitude.

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Ginger Smith (Smith began her behind-the-scenes career at AMC in 1988 and was the executive producer of its 2013 online reboot) I have known Agnes Nixon for 28 years. I met her during my internship at AMC and as I moved through the ranks, she became so much more than my boss. She became my champion and my mentor. She was a great leader and an amazing friend. She encouraged me to always be curious, tenacious, kind and to live life with an open heart. “Work hard but live life.” When the show went off the network, Agnes and I continued to share meals, tell stories, have lengthy phone conversations and work on the online production of ALL MY CHILDREN. Two years ago, she came to my surprise birthday party, staying two hours but traveling four hours to get there. My love for her is endless and today my heart is broken. When we would finish any phone conversation, she would say to me, “Good night, babe, I love you. Talk soon.” Agnes Nixon was a creative genius, a force of nature, a great storyteller, a woman succeeding in a man’s world. To me, first and foremost, she was my friend. So, my dear friend, I say, “Good night, babe, I love you. Sleep well. Job well done.”

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Lorraine Broderick (Nixon’s protégée joined AMC’s writing team in 1979 and served multiple stints as its head writer) Agnes was a truly creative force and an inspirational leader who brought out the best in everyone around her. She wrote emotionally driven, groundbreaking stories reflecting the social changes of the day that live on in the memories of her many fans. I am proud to be one of them. It was truly an honor and a privilege to work with Agnes every day for so many years. That she was able to raise a beautiful, loving family while consistently generating so much compelling, moving story speaks not only to her talent but to the boundless energy and enthusiasm she poured into both her personal and professional lives. The work family she created at ALL MY CHILDREN will be forever inspired by her laughter, her love, her amazing memory, her generosity and her true gift for storytelling. Thank you, Agnes, for everything. You will be profoundly missed.

Frank Valentini (GH’s executive producer served as OLTL’s final EP) Agnes was a pioneer and not only did she create iconic shows, she was brave enough to tackle social issues when no else would. She will be greatly missed but her legacy will live on in her compelling stories and extraordinary work. I loved working with her and will miss her humor, wit and intelligence.

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