One of the all-time giants of American soap operas is gone. Agnes Nixon, creator of the landmark ABC daytime dramas All My Children and One Life to Live, was an instrumental figure in making soaps a socially conscious medium and created Susan Lucci’s iconic AMC character Erica Kane, died today. She was 88. No details of her death were provided.
Born in Chicago in 1927, Nixon started out as a writer in the postwar early days of TV as a protege of legendary writer-producer Irna Phillips, who created many of the earliest American soaps. Nixon became a writer on the Phillips-created shows Woman in White and As the World Turns and would serve as head writer on Phillip’s iconic Guiding Light — then titled The Guiding Light — from 1958-66.
Nixon was highly in-demand early in her career, serving as co-head writer on Search for Tomorrow from 1951-56. She later would serve as sole head writer on Another World for 300 episodes from 1965-69, before creating her first series.
As a writer, she pioneered the use of soap operas to discuss real-world issues, penning what is widely believed to be the first medical-related narrative in the genre’s history. Inspired by a friend who had died of cervical cancer, Nixon wanted to educate women to get regular pap smears and subsequently penned a 1962 storyline in which Guiding Light lead character, Bertha “Bert” Bauer had a cancer scare.
Because of content restructions of the day, Nixon was forced to find creative ways to discuss the topic, as she was forbidden from using the words “cancer,” “uterus” or “pap test.” Despite these limitations, the storyline popularized the pap smear significantly among American women and for this Nixon was recognized as a pioneer in 2002 by Sentinel for Health.
Nixon made the jump from writer to show creator in 1968 with One Life to Live, a series on which she was specifically given the mandate to incorporate a more contemporary tone — not only examining class divisions but also racial and ethnic diversity, among them Jewish and Polish-American characters and most notably the first African-American soap opera leads played by Ellen Holly and Al Freeman Jr.
Thanks to the success of One Life, Nixon then was allowed to bring All My Children to television, premiering the series in 1970. The show was known for frequently incorporating real-life controversies and social issues, including the anti-war movement, the AIDS crisis and abortion. Nixon served as head writer on the series several times throughout its long tenure, and still was shaking things up well into the twilight years of her career. In 2000, notably, Nixon would be personally responsible for the first time the series saw a major character come out, with Bianca Montgomery revealing she was a lesbian.
Nixon also created the series Loving, which ran from 1983-95 on ABC but never managed to catch on like her other series.
In addition to her groundbreaking storylines, Nixon also created some of the most famous and iconic characters in soap opera history, most notably All My Children‘s Erica Kane. Introduced in 1970, Kane was portrayed for more than 40 years by Lucci, whose name became synonymous with consistently being nominated for, but not winning, Daytime Emmys. She earned 18 nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series before finally taking home the statuette in 1999. She was nommed again twice after that.
Nixon’s survivors include her son, Robert Nixon, a conservationist and filmmaker who among his other credits was co-producer on 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist.