"The great and the least, the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, in joy and sorrow, in tragedy and triumph, you are all my children.” With that phrase Agnes Nixon began the story bible for what would become her signature soap opera, ABC Daytime's All My Children. It seems fitting the quote should also be used to mark her passing.
Born Agnes Eckhardt on December 20, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, Nixon endured her parents' divorce, relocating from the Midwest to Tennessee as a child and a toxic relationship with her father on the road to making television history. Like many of the heroines she would create for daytime television, Nixon turned her personal sorrows into successes, using them for fodder in writing for such Irna Phillips serials as Woman in White (on the radio), The Guiding Light, As The World Turns and Another World. She also served as head writer for Roy Winsor's Search For Tomorrow early in her career.
As legend has it, Nixon's father arranged a meeting between the unyielding Phillips and his daughter, hoping the Queen of Procter and Gamble soaps would dispel Nixon of the notion she could make a career as a writer. Unfortunately for Pa Eckhardt, Phillips saw raw talent in the Northwestern University graduate.
Nixon proved to be one of Phillips' two star pupils in the art of daytime serial writing, the other being a young William J. Bell. It was during Nixon's time writing for Phillips' The Guiding Light on CBS that she first began to push for more topical and ethnically diverse stories.
In 1962, Nixon wrote television's first uterine cancer storyline for heroine Bert Bauer (Charita Bauer). The fictional arc caused droves of female viewers to have their first pap smears.
Nixon left Guiding Light in the mid-60's for NBC's then-fledgling Another World. Originally conceived as a spinoff of As The World Turns, critics wrote the daytime drama off as an uninspired knockoff, with the Matthews of fictional Bay City essentially being carbon copies of the Hughes clan from Oakdale, Illinois.
Nixon turned Another World's fortunes around by introducing a new kind of character for daytime — the scheming man-eater. Rachel Davis (Robin Strasser), tempestuous daughter of hairdresser Ada (Constance Ford), married her way into the upper class Matthews clan and quickly proceeded to scandalize the family. When Rachel set her sights on Steve Frame (George Reinholt), a man whose heart belonged to her sister-in-law Alice (Jacqueline Courtney), Another World's ratings skyrocketed, making Nixon the most in demand soap writer of the day.
Upstart ABC Daytime was desperate to have Nixon create a hit soap opera for them. She didn't have the heart to pitch them All My Children (which had previously been rejected by P&G), so she created a new, racially diverse drama with the working title "Between Heaven and Hell".
While the network suits weren't sold on the name, they green-lit Nixon's new serial and One Life to Live debuted in 1968. The soap opera broke new ground in that it premiered with several black characters featured in lead stories. One of OLTL's first major sagas found Carla Gray (Ellen Holly), a black woman, passing for white. OLTL also featured Polish and Jewish families all interacting with the Lord dynasty, including long-suffering, Dissociative Identity Disorder patient Victoria Lord (most notably Erika Slezak) .
Following the success of OLTL, ABC asked for a second soap. It was Nixon's husband Robert who encouraged her to submit All My Children. Nixon's dream soap finally made its way to air in 1970, introducing the world to another scheming soap brunette who would quickly steal Rachel's thunder — Erica Kane (Susan Lucci).
AMC wasn't just about the teenage machinations of Erica Kane in those early days. The series dealt with real-life issues such as the Vietnam War, child abandonment, illegitimacy, unwanted pregnancy and how to raise children and pay for their college educations. Via Erica Kane's many marriages, Nixon explored a plethora of female sexual health issues that remain politically-charged to this day, from birth control to abortion.
In the 80's, Nixon's AMC brought on a new generation of fresh-faced young stars. Long before there was a Beverly Hills, 90210, or a Pretty Little Liars, millions of soap fans were tuning in for the pubescent angst of Tad "The Cad" Martin (Michael E. Knight), his tragic sister Jenny Gardner (Kim Delaney), her rich boy beau Greg Nelson (Laurence Lau), blonde ice queen Liza Colby (Marcy Walker) and star-crossed lovers Jesse Hubbard (Darnell Williams) and Angie Baxter (Debbi Morgan).
It's to Nixon's testament that her show-saving character Rachel Davis (later played by Victoria Wyndham) remained one of Another World's most enduring and popular characters until its 1999 cancellation. As for Nixon's One Life to Live and All My Children, those beloved sudsers ran for over four decades respectively on ABC and even made the jump to the internet for a time. To this day, fans clamor for their return and a resurrection of the kind of care, respect and class Nixon brought to her daytime dramas.