Television
11:01 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

As 'All My Children' Ends, Susan Lucci Says Goodbye

Susan Lucci is the most famous actress in daytime drama, but her reign comes to an end on Friday, when her soap — ABC's All My Children — broadcasts its final episode.

Fans have been following the drama of Pine Valley — the fictitious Philadelphia suburb where the show takes place — since 1970, and much of that drama has revolved around Lucci's character, Erica Kane.

So when ABC decided to cancel All My Children (or, as fans say, "AMC"), Lucci was understandably unhappy. She wrote about it in the paperback edition of her memoir, All My Life.

"I went through the whole range of human emotions, sadness and disbelief and some anger," Lucci says. "It kind of messed with my sense of self-worth as a performer, and my journey through that. And at the end of the day, as I say in the chapter, I'm filled with gratitude."

'A Modern-Day Scarlett O'Hara'

Erica Kane, Pine Valley and All My Children have been a huge part of Lucci's life. She first stepped into the role when the program began in 1970: Lucci was 22 and just out of college; Erica was a tempestuous 15-year-old girl who always wanted to be the center of attention.

"Erica Kane was a spectacular role for any actress to play, and I felt so lucky to be the one who got to do it," Lucci says. "To find the part of a 15-year-old girl that was that juicy and had that much potential, I really thought Erica Kane had the possibility to be a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara."

Erica and All My Children creator Agnes Nixon gave Lucci plenty of room to hone her craft. When Nixon wanted to write a gay character into the program, she made that character Erica's daughter because Erica was the most popular character and Lucci could handle it.

Lucci says the role she has played for 40 years wasn't exactly Sophie's Choice, but it was still pretty sensational.

"I got to do the romance and I got to do the ladies room brawls and the knock-down drag-outs and all of that, so I got to play a lot of range within that part," she says.

The Numbers 19 And 11

Millions of people in the U.S. feel that they are intimately acquainted with Lucci — both as Erica and as herself — but there are two things that even those who aren't so well acquainted with her know: Erica by the numbers — in this case, the numbers 19 and 11.

The number 19 represents the number of times Lucci was nominated for an Emmy award.

"On my 19th nomination, I did finally win the Emmy for best actress, and I was just so amazed to win and so thrilled to win. I loved being nominated and I made no secret about that. It's really a rush to be nominated by your peers in the industry," she says. "But winning is the best; winning is better."

On that fateful night in May 1999, Lucci accepted her award to a standing ovation and, in some cases, tears from the audience.

"I truly never believed that this would happen," she told the crowd. "I wasn't meant to get this award before tonight, because if I had I wouldn't have that collection of poems and letters and drawings and balloons and chocolate cakes you made me all this time to make me feel better."

The other Erica Kane number, 11, represents the number of times Erica has been married, almost always in some breathtaking bridal gown that would make even Kate Middleton jealous.

Lucci, on the other hand, has been married to the same man for more than 40 years. She has two grown children, and she's a grandmother. She says that, luckily, she's never had to explain the differences between her and her character to her children.

"When my daughter was about 5 years old, one summer day she looked at me and she said, 'Mommy, how do you act like Erica Kane?' And she tossed her little hair, like Erica did," Lucci says. "And I was just so thrilled that my daughter saw the difference, that she knew there was a difference. That made me feel so happy."

From Soaps To Salad

When Erica and the denizens of Pine Valley take their final bows on Friday, it may not actually be the end. All My Children may move to the Web — and Susan Lucci may move with it.

"My heart is certainly there with Agnes Nixon, with All My Children, with Erica Kane, with our incredibly passionate viewership, our fans," Lucci says of the Web show possibility. "I would love to."

But starting on Monday, should you turn to that old familiar ABC time slot, instead of All My Children, you'll get the food talk show The Chew; and instead of soaps, you'll get salad.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host: This morning, one of the longest running programs on television comes to an end. The soap opera "All My Children" will have its final broadcast. Fans have been following the people of Pine Valley on ABC television, Mondays through Fridays, since 1970. "All My Children," or as the fans say "AMC," will be replaced next week with a talk show about food called "The Chew."

The network says the new program is informative and authentic and centers on transformation, food and lifestyle. It is also considerably cheaper for ABC to produce than a drama with lots of characters, sets and writers.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer talked with actress Susan Lucci, the soap opera's founding mother, about her 40-plus years with "All My Children."

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: Susan Lucci is the most famous actress in daytime drama. She plays Erica Kane and most of the action of "All My Children" swirls around Erica. When ABC decided to cancel "All My Children," Susan Lucci was very unhappy about that decision and very angry. She wrote about it in the paperback version of her memoir.

SUSAN LUCCI: I went through the whole range of human emotions, of sadness and disbelief, and some anger. Also, how it, kind of, messed with my sense of self-worth as a performer, and my journey through that. And at the end of the day, as I say in the chapter, I'm filled with gratitude.

WERTHEIMER: Erica Kane, Pine Valley, "AMC" have been huge in Susan Lucci's life. She stepped into the role when the program began when Erica was a tempestuous 15 -year-old girl.

LUCCI: I had just graduated from college the year before. I was 22.

(SOUNDBITE OF "ALL MY CHILDREN")

LUCCI: (as Erica Kane) I want to be special and I'm going to be.

JACK STAUFFER: (as Chuck Tyler) What you're going to be is miserable if you keep expecting everybody to fall in line with your ways.

LUCCI: (as Erica Kane) Hey, I'm having a hamburger or another attack on Erica.

STAUFFER: (as Chuck Tyler) Do you have to be the one that everybody likes best to make sure that they like you at all?

LUCCI: (as Erica Kane) Yes.

I know the scene. It was with Chuck Tyler.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: You began as you went on, I must say, Eric continued to be a character who always wanted to be the center of attention. Was it a good role for you?

LUCCI: Oh, I think Erica Kane was a spectacular role for any actress to play, and I felt so lucky to be the one who got to do it. So to find, on the part of a 15-year-old girl that was that juicy and had that much potential, I really thought Erica Kane had the possibility to be a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara.

WERTHEIMER: Erica gave Lucci lots of room to hone her craft. Agnes Nixon, who created the program and many other soaps, gave Erica lots to do. She had an abortion, right after Roe v. Wade made that legal. When Nixon decided that she wanted to write a gay character into the program, she said that character would have to be Erica's daughter, because Erica was the most popular character on the program and Lucci could handle it.

Susan Lucci says that the role she's played for 40 years was not exactly "Sophie's Choice," but it was pretty sensational.

LUCCI: You know, I got to do the romance and I got to do the ladies room brawls, and the knock-down drag-outs and all of that, so I got to play a lot of range within that part.

WERTHEIMER: Now, millions of people in this country feel that they are intimately acquainted with you and your life - your life is Erica and even your real-life. But there are two things that even people who are not well acquainted know. And that would be Erica by the numbers. And I would say the numbers would be 11 and 19.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: What is 19?

LUCCI: What a great way to ask that question. Thank you. Nineteen, well, it has to do with the Emmy. On my 19th nomination, I did finally win the Emmy for best actress, and I was just so amazed to win, and so thrilled to win. I loved being nominated and I made no secret about that. It's really a rush to be nominated by your peers in the industry. But winning is the best; winning is better.

(SOUNDBITE OF "DAYTIME EMMY AWARDS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The streak is over. Susan Lucci.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WERTHEIMER: Lucci came to the stage and the audience kept clapping. Many of the people there were in tears, including her fellow nominees. Lucci held the Emmy in both hands a white knuckle death grip. Susan Lucci wanted that long-awaited moment to last.

LUCCI: Thank you so very much. I truly never believed that this would happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUCCI: I wasn't meant to get this award before tonight, because if I had, I wouldn't have that collection of poems and letters and drawings and balloons and chocolate cakes you made me all this time, to make me feel better.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WERTHEIMER: The other Erica Kane Number 11 represents the number of times that Erica has married, almost always in some breathtaking bridal gown that might make even Kate Middleton jealous. But Susan Lucci has been married to the same man for more than 40 years. She has two grown children. She's a grandmother. I asked her if her family had to explain to new friends: my mom is not like that.

LUCCI: When my daughter was about five years old, one summer day she looked at me and she said, Mommy, how do you act like Erica Kane? And she tossed her little hair, like Erica did. And I was just so thrilled that my daughter saw the difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUCCI: She knew there was a difference. That made me feel so happy.

WERTHEIMER: When Erica and the denizens of Pine Valley take their final bows today, it may not be the final-final end. "AMC" may move to the Web and Susan Lucci may move with it.

LUCCI: My heart is certainly there with Agnes Nixon, with "All My Children," with Erica Kane, with our incredibly passionate viewership, our fans. I would love to, and we are trying, as we speak, to work that out. I'm just waiting for a response at this moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC, "ALL MY CHILDREN")

WERTHEIMER: Now, on Monday, should you turn on the TV at the old familiar time slot, instead of "All My Children" you'll get "The Chew."

And instead of soaps you'll have salad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "THE CHEW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Now here's another little tip. To dress a salad, never pour the dressing right over top of your greens...

WERTHEIMER: Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

INSKEEP: From NPR News, it's MORNING EDITION which has only been going Monday through Friday since 1979. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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