Agnes Nixon: In tragedy and triumph

We learned Wednesday that Agnes Nixon died.

There’s not much I can tell you here that hasn’t been better said elsewhere. The New York Times published an excellent obituary.  Daytime Confidential and We Love Soaps have also paid tribute to Nixon. Many millions were impacted by the stories Nixon told, by the characters she created.

I had two thoughts when I heard about Agnes.

One was to really think about, and deeply appreciate, what she accomplished as a writer, as an artist. She rose from challenging beginnings and family tragedy and strife to become a successful working woman in the 1950s and 1960s, when such a thing was not common. Nixon was not just successful, but completely rocking it at a level that was unheard of at that time.

Even setting all the characters and creative achievements aside, she had few equals in ANY part of television. You had Lucille Ball, who owned Desilu for a time, and then you had people like Irna Phillips and Agnes Nixon. They may not have owned their shows per se, but their services, their creative abilities, became a company and an empire.

Agnes Nixon and her work became so popular because, like the best writers, she wrote what she knew. You can look at an uber-modern 2016 show like “Transparent,” with its core family, the dreams and hopes and disappointments of those people, created and written by someone spilling much of their own life onto that canvas, and you can see the DNA of a writer like Agnes Nixon in those strands. Erica Kane was long rumored to be based on Agnes herself.

Agnes got the balance right, the magic alchemy that gets people involved in a story. So many of her characters – Phoebe, Myrtle and Opal come to mind – were people we all knew, and also, at the same time, people who were just a little bit bigger, broader and brighter than our neighbors and friends.

The other thought, of course, is that it truly is the end of an era.

Her legendary work moves toward memory, the same memories so many of us have as children when we first saw these shows.

I heard the news on Wednesday and heard the first notes of this music, and I got goosebumps hearing this. It took me back to the opening of that book, to the telling of that story, and of so many others.

The words that Nixon wrote for the show, which appeared in the photo album in the show’s opening, hearkened back to the days of Preston Bradley, and the spark that Bradley ignited in Irna Phillps – to entertain people, to inspire them, to comfort them. Agnes Nixon did all that and more.

The great and the least, the rich and the poor

The weak and the strong, in sickness and in health

In joy and sorrow, in tragedy and triumph

You are all my children. 

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One thought on “Agnes Nixon: In tragedy and triumph

  1. what a lovely tribute, patrick.

    so sad to say goodbye to the last true giant of soaps, but i can’t say i was surprised: when she was getting an award at harvard in 2011 i was struck at how frail she appeared.

    the nyt obit was good, as was the la times:

    http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-agnes-nixon-snap-story.html

    also of interest: some of the comments at the av club (although you have to scroll through a lot of nonsense to find them:):

    http://www.avclub.com/article/rip-agnes-nixon-creator-all-my-children-and-one-li-243311

    Thanks, Lynn. The only remaining voice from the era that influenced me (and all of us) is Harding Lemay, who is also quite elderly. I’ve been thinking about an oral history project around various shows, and the clock is certainly ticking.

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