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ICYMI: Agnes Nixon’s New Memoirs

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Daytime pioneer Agnes Nixon, whose achievements include creating ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE, completed her memoirs shortly before she passed away in 2016 at the age of 93. Her amazing life story is chronicled in the book My Life To Live, on sale now — and Soap Opera Digest was lucky enough to print an excerpt that chronicles Nixon’s creation of Pine Valley and its inhabitants, and the nail-biting moments where her five years of hard work crafting AMC seemed to vanish into thin air.

The death of her father, Nixon writes, brought about a shift in her writing style — and, ultimately, the desire to create a show of her own.

I had always felt the older serials centered on interpersonal conflicts: jealousy, hate, love, or avarice. Any of these can, indeed, create dramatic tension, but I wanted to do more with my scripts. I wanted to show the causes of the tragedy that beset humankind. The trauma of my shattered family made me want to explore whether many of the world’s problems were caused not only by the emotions of one person but by outside circumstances. I was searching for recovery for myself.

Along the way, I met Freddie Silverman, the CBS director of daytime programming. Freddie’s interest in writers was as strong as his interest in story, and he often encouraged me to write a show of my own. I admitted it was a dream of mine. He was indefatigable in urging me to keep at it, insisting he would help me get it on the air. Therefore, I felt if I ever needed a friend, I had one at CBS.

Deciding on the subject matter of a soap opera, however, is not as easy as you might think. My studio floor was littered with bits of paper with possibilities jotted on them, but none of them contained a problem that would involve a large number of interconnected characters. Then, one day in 1961, a friend told me about something she had observed at a reception at the beautiful home of a well-to-do couple. The hostess had been her husband’s secretary, and of course there had been a lot of gossip about that. While the party was in full swing, the doorbell rang and the hostess answered. She opened the door to a beautiful teenage girl who said, “Mother!”

The hostess said, “I told you never to come here again,” and then she slammed the door in the girl’s face. My friend didn’t know what happened after that, but she was struck by the odd scene.

After thinking about that situation for a few hours, I knew I had my plot. But in my reconstruction, the young woman became a young man, and many other aspects were changed. 

As Nixon dreamed up the cast of characters for the new show, it came to include  what would become AMC’s signature part, “the beautiful, self-indulgent, and determined-to-get-her-way Erica Kane.”

Probably the greatest motivator in Erica’s life is the fact that her father abandoned her mother, Mona, and her to follow his career as a movie producer in Hollywood. But Erica never admits that fact. Rather, she blames his flight on Mona, who stoically accepts Erica’s criticism that she was an inadequate wife. 

Nixon felt it necessary to identify the soap’s theme before naming it.

I tried to think about who the show would be about. I sat down at my typewriter, and the words just appeared on the page …

The great and the least

The weak and the strong

The rich and the poor

In sickness and health

In joy and sorrow

In tragedy and triumph

You are All My Children

When I got to the last of the seven lines, I knew that ALL MY CHILDREN would be the title of the series.

On a family vacation to St. Croix, Nixon finished editing the final outline for AMC, the end of a five-year creative process. When she returned home, disaster struck.

Bob [her husband] kept his eyes trained on the carousel as our bags came off one by one. He asked, “Have we got it all?”

“All but one,” I said.

Bob said to me, “Where is the AMC bible?”

I said, “In the old big Gucci.”

He said, “That’s the one that’s missing.”

Despite all the airline’s efforts, it stayed missing for ten desperate weeks.

Five years of work, lost in the air. I was crushed. Nothing seemed to matter. My agent said to me, “Maybe you’ll have to start over again.”

“Are you crazy? I couldn’t possibly. I don’t have it in me,” I replied.

Then I received a beautiful phone call. “Mrs. Nixon, we found it!”

I felt as if life was worth living again. 

Excerpted from MY LIFE TO LIVE: How I Became the Queen of Soaps When Men Ruled the Airwaves. Copyright © 2017 by Agnes Nixon. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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