I’m just getting back to my desk here, so to speak, after some time away. There’s a lot of catching up to do!
Yesterday, Decades Network (a digital network that plays old sitcoms and shows) replayed an episode of Dick Cavett’s show that featured Agnes Nixon as his guest.
The time frame appears to be around 1977-78, when All My Children had been in the works and/or running for about eight years. Cavett, who has appeared on practically every network over the years, had a show on PBS at this time.
It’s an interesting interview, more relaxed in many ways than I think we ever saw Agnes in later interviews.
I did pick up Agnes’ autobiography in March, when it hit the streets.
I wish I could give it a rave, but I had mixed feelings about it.
The most fascinating part was the part we really didn’t know much about: young Agnes and her story prior to her rise to prominence.
Readers of the book will understand that in characters like Palmer Cortlandt, Agnes was in many ways writing about her own father.
The part that was truly her story is fascinating. But it is almost seventy percent of the book. When she gets to her soap-writing days, the momentum slows.
Like Bill Bell’s book, it feels sanitized when discussing other people, the networks, etc. There’s a bit of cordial professional conflict peppered in, but if you were looking for a really in-depth understanding of what it was like to be a woman heading productions like these in the 60s and 70s, that isn’t really the take here.
Aside from a pointed rant about the shows’ cancellations, she is relatively kind, and she gushes about many of the people who have worked with her and for her.
So if you want AMC dirt, you may be disappointed. But it’s worth a read to learn about the woman herself. She was fascinating, determined, and talented. It’s easy to see where Erica Kane got her strength.
There are precious few soap-themed books that have gone deep into authenticity. Eight Years In Another World remains the standard bearer. The recent Llanview book by Jeff Giles was very well done, allowing everyone to express their perspective.
Most other books have stayed in a relative safe zone. Some, like Kim Zimmer’s I’m Still Here, have been more revealing about personal things than about the ins and outs of the industry. (Yeah, Zimmer had some pointed words about the end of Guiding Light, but nothing that hadn’t already been discussed in the soap press.)
Jeanne Cooper’s book was similar. Lots of personal revelations, few professional ones.
I’ve had a specific book project of my own in mind for a while. But it’s been a challenge to move forward.
Actors and production people are, in general, reluctant to speak in a frank, honest way about their work. It could be a number of reasons: a perception that the squeaky wheel might be a difficult one to work with, or a code of silence (speak out, and never get hired again), to name a few.
Who will be the one to write another Eight Years? Who will capture the industry, in all its wonder and all its dysfunction?
Who will give voice to the love we have for the genre, while acknowledging its mistakes, acknowledging how we got to here?
I’m going to have to watch this clip again. It may be from 40 years ago, but the storytelling wisdom Saint Agnes drops on all of us in this clip is ageless and timeless.
POSTSCRIPT: Cavett was, well, Cavett-y in this clip. But I liked his intro, and the joke about “Dutch elm disease.”
Cavett has a tie to soap opera: his first wife, Carrie Nye, appeared twice on Guiding Light: once in the 1980s as the evil real estate agent Susan Piper, and then again in 2003 as Carrie Carruthers, part of the hugely unpopular Maryanne Carruthers storyline. (She died a few years later, in 2006.)