Another dose of Agnes

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for mentioning this clip to me – it’s a recent post by Michael Fairman,  a well-known soap journalist.

This is, shall we say, the expanded remix of what Fairman produced as a memorial tribute for Agnes Nixon at this year’s Daytime Emmys.

It’s quite moving to see so many people get so emotional about Agnes and, really, about the passing of an era.

It’s a lovely clip. It gets a bit syrupy at the end – how very daytime! – but much of the clip has some very moving emotions and reactions, real and authentic words from many of the people who loved Agnes Nixon and owed her a debt of gratitude.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fairman years ago, on that trip where Guiding Light invited a number of bloggers to see the new production model and somehow decided to invite me. Really nice work, Michael.

The Gospel of Saint Agnes

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.)

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.