Heart-stopping plots, groundbreaking social issues for our day, more love and lust than anyone could even imagine in their own lifetime, some of the hottest hunks and babes on the planet, and the ultimate diva and reigning icon, Erica Kane. These are just a few of the items that would be on a short list of what has made up one of the most popular and iconic shows in television history for 41 years, All My Children
The brainchild of its creator, Agnes Nixon, for over four decades has followed the perils, the love and losses in the lives of the people who reside in Pine Valley. But as they say, all good things must come to an end—well, sort of! In April of this year, ABC Daytime handed down one of the most controversial decisions in the history of TV. Canceling both All My Children and One Life to Live at the same time! A decision that did not go over lightly with the fans! Oh, no. A revolt was the order of the day and they let their public outcry be heard. And while ABC decided to stay on course and replace AMC with The Chew (starting next week) and OLTL with The Revolution come January of 2012, entertainment media company Prospect Park stepped up to the plate and acquired the rights to produce new episodes of AMC and OLTL and move the soaps to the web. So, like any good soap opera, there is a cliffhanger! Just who will be part of the show when it moves to the Internet? That remains the $64,000 question!
But before we say goodbye (for now) to the beloved performers and characters tomorrow, Sept. 23, when ABC airs its grand finale, we caught up with the stars who comprise some of the cast of AMC shortly before their final days of taping. They shared their memories, their amazing camaraderie and plenty of tears.
But where do we start but at the beginning with the daytime queen herself. For 41 years, Susan Lucci has embodied Erica Kane and made her a household name! Susan reflected on all that she was able to do with the role—an actress' dream. “I did pinch myself all along the way. I feel so lucky,” commented Lucci. “I knew it from the very beginning that Erica was special, and then all along the way. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ The range I have got to play as Erica has been astounding. I think back to her modeling days in New York City, and being at the Met, and running down that grand staircase and all that went with it. Also, the comedy with David Canary [Adam/Stuart Chandler] comes to mind, and the great romances, but also the groundbreaking and socially relevant storylines … Bianca’s coming out, Erica’s addiction to prescription pain pills … both those stories were told in real time. That is a luxury of this genre.” Susan had her perspective and a preview on how the show should and will end: “I want AMC to go out with a bang, not a whimper! And, like all great novels, there is going to be some type of cliffhanger, where you go, ‘Well, then what happened? Well, did they get together?’ So there won’t be things tied up in a bow!” Susan knows that she has left an indelible impression on pop culture and our social consciousness, whether we see Erica again or not. “People will call Erica 'Vixen' and 'Femme Fatale.' I have no problem with those titles. That is fun as an actress. But what makes me really, really happy is that the audience also got the heart from her, and that she wasn’t nasty and a bitch for its own sake. Erica was looking for love and I think they got that and I think they understand that. I think Erica is viable and relatable. I don’t know if that is an answer to what legacy Erica will leave behind, but I guess time will tell.”
Cameron Mathison and Rebecca Budig have become such close personal friends through playing onscreen lovers, Ryan Lavery and Greenlee Smyth, that when it came down to the realization that they may never work this closely day in and day out again, the tears flowed. Budig stated sadly, “I remember looking at Cameron and saying, ‘This is the last time we may ever makeout.’ I got so used to being intimate with him and kissing him and hugging him. Next time I see Cameron with his wife, I am not going to be kissing on him, and loving on him. It’s just weird. And it hit me.” Mathison responded, “I said to my wife Vanessa, ‘In exactly one week, our show ends on network television.’ And it’s a big deal for me. It may not be a big deal for everybody, but it feels like a big deal. My kids were in the car the other day and asked me, who my best friend is. And, I looked at my wife. And then my kids said, ‘No. Like a real friend.’ And I sat there and I thought, and I thought, and Vanessa and I turned to each other and we said, ‘It would probably be Rebecca.’ [Teary-eyed] It’s true.”
But when talking about their all-time favorite AMC storylines the duo perked up! Budig said, “For me it was my first few years on the show and being obsessed with Ryan and leaning on my friend Leo, who was played so magnificently by Josh Duhamel. It was so character-driven back then and all the characters were defined. I also loved the whole Libidozone story! I loved that line, ‘Let’s get naked!’ that Cameron blurted out. It was so funny.” Mathison went for his humble beginnings for his AMC favorite storyline. “When I first came on the show I did not know how good I had it. Ryan was a con man and he saw this princess who was part of this royal family. He decided to con her because he knew she had money. And he pretended to have a lot of money. And … she actually did not have a lot of money and she was actually broke! She thought Ryan was this rich guy and so she decided to con him! So we both thought we were loaded when we got married, and then we found out we were both broke and fell in love anyway. I thought that was really brilliant!”
Thorsten Kaye plays one half of the uber-popular duo of Zach and Kendall Slater. When AMC moved west (for what at the time seemed a way to save the show from extinction) Kaye decided he would not stay with AMC full-time. But with the series ending on network television, it was just something he knew he wanted to come back and be a part of. Thorsten explained, “It seemed like it would be a good ending to come back and be a good button for what Alicia Minshew [Kendall] and I were doing and for the fans. Look, it’s a good job, and good people. As I have said before, if the show hadn’t left New York, I would have stayed on through.” So why did “Zendall,” as they are more commonly known, work? “The writers left us alone,” Kaye surmised. “And instead of waiting for us to fit into what they wrote, they wrote to what we were doing, which was very cool. It’s great and it does not happen enough in this genre.” Of course, Thorsten had the unique distinction of being the vehicle to bust up Bianca and Reese shortly after their same-sex wedding, with that unexplained thrown-in kiss heard around the soap world between Zach and Reese. Till this day, it is something that gay fans of the show have been irate over! “Not only was Reese a lesbian and that had been accepted, but I never played that Zach was attracted to her,” exclaimed Kaye. “And she is also married to one of his dear, dear friends. So I say to the producers, ‘Explain to me this kiss?’ And they go ‘Well, Ryan sees it!’ And I go, ‘Ryan sees it? What does that have to do with us?’ I said, ‘Just let us please go into a room and close the door, and let it be that Ryan’s imagination takes over. Don’t show something that does not make sense to anybody, and it doesn’t help you tell your story.’”
If there is one character that also separated themselves from the pack it has to be the outlandish and wonderful Opal Gardner, played with sheer comedic and dramatic brilliance by Jill Larson. The actress tried to sum up her Pine Valley experience: “It has been quite a roller coaster ride really since the spring of 2006 when I went off contract. Then they started using me! I think it was Chuck Pratt [ex-head writer, AMC] that saw the value of the character and started using her more regularly. I did become the resident psychic and I did make all the other residents of Pine Valley look a little dense, because I had 100 percent accuracy and nobody would believe me!” [Laughs] Jill got emotional recalling the love of the fans at the recent All My Children Fan Club event. “Emotions are close to the surface right now. [Teary-eyed] I did not have any understanding of daytime, or the power and the potency of it in people’s lives when I started here. I feel so honored that I get to do a job that brings that kind of delight to people. That is extraordinairy to me. My character has evolved over the years in a way that I did not necessarily intend, but the voice of my mother, and my grandmother, and aunt Edna are in there with me, and they have come forth now in Opal after all my years of playing her. I thought she was a great distance from me, but clearly that is not the case. At the fan club weekend there were so many families that came. There was the daughter, and the grandmother, and the great grandmother in the wheelchair, the children and the grandchildren. Soaps really provide a common language and glue for families of every generation. I understand for the network it’s costly to do these shows. But, I don’t think they really appreciate the value and the uniqueness of this form, and the power of it. They are looking at a much larger view than what perspective we are coming from. And I hope that they heard a loud and clear outcry and passionate response of the fans. Look, there is no way to put a positive spin on it.”
When the reality set in that this may be her last days as Opal, Larson said sadly, but proudly, “I will miss Opal. The one reason she has been so popular is that she serves as a model for women who want to be daring and who have the courage to say whatever is on their mind without editing, and have the courage to wear what makes them feel good. The idea of it is: having the self-confidence to be your truth, no matter how outlandish it is. Women don’t always have that courage. I certainly don’t. She has given me courage.”
Christina Bennett Lind and Sarah Glendening have made the last minute same-sex pairing of Bianca Montgomery and Marissa Chandler a fan favorite! The duo spoke to the overwhelming response from the viewers and their ability to enlighten and show the national audience, that gay is OK. Lind stated, “I owe the fans a lot. I owe them a great deal for my success on the show. I think they see a real love between the two characters that is not a stereotype. It is not written that way. Recently, I have been getting a lot of people coming up to me in person saying, ‘This storyline has given me the courage to do something. Or, this storyline in the last couple of months has given me hope that I will find love.’ That we are a part of changing at least one person’s mind of what a gay relationship looks like, that is huge!" Glendening echoed with, “I did have a number of gay people come up to me and say, ‘I am gay. And the way you are portraying this is so beautiful and so real.’ And people feeling that they want to give me their stamp of approval. That is actually one of the biggest compliments I could get. Or, even getting, ‘This has changed my opinion or view.’ You sign up to be an actress and you don’t necessarily think you are going to change the world. If you want to change the world, you would sign up for the Peace Corp. But this experience has been so incredible and I am very sad to see it go off the air.”
Vincent Irizarry has played dastardly doctor David Hayward and has been responsible for bringing more “back-from-the-dead” resurrections in the last few months that have made AMC must-see soap viewing! Vince knows he has had the role of a lifetime. “As an actor, I loved the story they have given me over the last few months and that they used me as much as they did. It has been a great story. It has been an interesting journey with this character for the last 12 1/2 years. I have loved playing him. I think the way David would like things to end is that everyone in Pine Valley would fall to their knees and thank him for all the good he has done, and of course, that is not going to happen. David has saved enumerable lives in this town—their children, their husbands and wives. He has moved one part of one person to another and kept them alive. But people always vilify him.” Irizarry recounted some of his favorite evil moments on AMC. “There was one time David stepped over his mother while she was having a heart attack in the parking lot, and Erica is going, ‘Dr Hayward. I am so glad you are here.’ And I am like, ‘Oh, you bitch.’ And I keep walking off. And she is like, ‘Dr. Hayward why would you walk away from her?’ And someone goes, ‘That’s his mother!’ He loves to tell people in Pine Valley, ‘Look at yourselves! You’re not so different than me. You are just lacking the brilliance.’ Look, in the end, I will take away from this experience the wonderful relationships with the people that I work within every area of this show. It’s been incredible.”
Bobbie Eakes has played the saucy Krystal Carey for over eight years, and scored two Emmy nominations in the Lead Actress category for her performance. As time has gone by, the once Southern-fried Krystal has kind of lost her accent! Bobbie admits, “I intentionally softened Krystal as she incorporated herself in this town with sophisticated people. I think of Madonna moving to London and then she started sounding very British! [Laughs] And I think Krystal over the years is putting on airs, too! She was trying to fit in, but I do miss the antics. I was thinking it would be fun for Krystal to have a long lost twin who was just like Krystal. I thought that would have been a good way to bring her “dead” daughter, Babe, back … where the twin had a daughter just like Babe! So it’s not really Babe who comes back, but someone who looks just like her. Very soapy I know, but stranger things have happened in Pine Valley!” [Laughs] And like castmates before her, Eakes had her misty moment on this day. “There was a grown man who sat down at my table at the AMC Fan event, and he was well-dressed. As we were talking to one another we both started crying. He was just talking about what this show has meant to him all these years. He has been watching it since it started. And I am thinking, ‘Wow. You just forget what we mean to people.’ I got all choked up. It seems trivial to a lot of people. I think some primetime actor made some snide comment on Twitter about soaps. He said, ‘Oh, they’re canceled? I thought they were already canceled. You mean, they are not gone yet?’ I thought, ‘Dude, let’s not go there. There are a lot of great actors on soaps!'" But Eakes has a special shout-out to the people who mattered most. "I would like say to the fans thank you for watching and this fierce fan response that has not just given this soap hope, but others. General Hospital should be thanking us at AMC! There is no way they are going to do this to them, the way they did it to us.”
Dancing with the Stars contestant and AMC star, J.R. Martinez (Brot) came to soaps with no acting experience whatsoever. He is the first real-life Iraqi war vet to land a part on a daytime drama. J.R. shared his thoughts on the series finale. “For me, it is pretty bittersweet. I have been here for almost three years and the way I have been able to grow here, and the relationships I have with people here and what All My Children has meant to me, is amazing. My mother is from Central America and when she came to the U.S. she watched AMC, and that is how she learned a lot of her English … watching soaps, which can be a bad thing depending on what storyline you are watching [Laughs]. She watched it when she was pregnant with me, and when I was growing up. All I heard growing up was, Jesse, Angie and Tad. So for me to have been here and to become close with Darnell Williams (Jesse) is amazing in itself. And, my first scene on the show was with Tad and it had been a whirlwind. It has been cool to see how my life has come full circle, and for me to kind of be part of the closing of this aspect of it, I am honored.”
Michael E. Knight who has played Tad Martin, one of the permanent fixtures and identifiable staples of AMC, gave some insight into how AMC got to the place it finds itself in—going off the air this Friday! “First of all, Agnes Nixon was missed, and she was out of the mix for the last four or five years. Therefore, the heart and soul of the show came with her. Agnes gave a piece of her heart and soul and put it in Pine Valley. And without that direction the show became confused, and the storylines got dismissed. Maybe it would have been better to be cancelled a few years ago, but then again look what’s happened? Prospect Park is moving the show online! I think the ABC network is being bitch-slapped by what happened. And good, bad or indifferent, this show is a piece of pop culture. People that have not watched for the last five to 10 years are shocked that we have been cancelled. I hate to say it, but it is true. There is something that happens with characters that are in your house five days a week.”
And as the dwindling soap genre takes another big hit on Friday, and fans from coast to coast gather together (or separately) to watch the final episode on ABC, tears will be shed and a cathartic moment will be had for longtime viewers. But, unlike Guiding Light and As the World Turns before it, there is hope waiting in the wings with the series moving to its new home on the web. Cue: Organ music! To be continued...
What is your fondest memory of Pine Valley? Share it with us in the comments below.