I never thought there would come a day that I would be writing this, and to have experienced and been a part of the final All My Children press junket. I am talking 41 years of a legacy soap opera with so much heart, at times bigger than life, and with such slice-of-life beloved characters that have fascinated Americana for four decades… and it was coming to an end as we know it on network television. As I sat and watched as the actors were circulating through the press, it was with anticipation, heavy heart and many times choking back the tears, that I conducted these final (for now) AMC interviews.
For many of the actors, it felt like this day was the day that the reality of the situation finally hit home… that soon, this unit that has gone through so much turbulence and had been tossed around from one side of the country to the other would not be seeing each other on a daily basis from this point forward. That like you, the viewers, and myself who covers the genre, this was to be a difficult process. And yes, Prospect Park is moving forward with their online version of the show, and that is wonderful news, but on this day, I think I felt, “What if I never get to talk to so-and-so again? I love talking to them! How can this be happening?” I will tell you this, after this junket and the interviews were concluded, I went home and was both emotionally drained, sad and yet uplifted at the same time. Odd, right? But you must understand. To be there with these actors who I have come to care so deeply about and have spent so much time writing about, and that moment in time, was like being part of a piece of television history, and was something I would recall as one of those rare moments in my professional career.
On this day there were remembrances, laughter, and tears. When Cameron Mathison (Ryan) and Rebecca Budig (Greenlee) spoke of the reality of taping the final shows, Rebecca said emotionally, “I remember when I taped these great last scenes with Kendall and it was weird though. It hit me. I started to cry and I got misty. I called Lisha (Alicia Minshew’s nickname) and I said, ‘I just read these scenes and they are good.’ Because in our character history together we have fought, we cried, and it was sweet. In it, I tell her I love her, and we have more scenes than that, but this was our one-on-one moment. It was just overwhelming. I think of so many years being here! I remember looking at Cameron and saying, ‘This is the last time we may ever make-out.’ I got so used to being intimate with him and kissing him and hugging him, and 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.” Cameron replied, “After you just said that, I think I subconsciously may be in denial and that is probably not the healthiest way to feel that. Like 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 in the car asked me the other day who my best friend is … And I looked 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. It’s a moment like that in front of my kids, and it’s raw and honest and you have to answer it honestly. The show ending is not going to change that, but it changes externals, which can make things different. We all know the reality of that when family and life takes you in different directions. It has an effect.” Needless to say, after this exchange Cameron, Rebecca, and I, all tossed around the Kleenex tissues.
It happened again when the fabulous Jill Larson (Opal) recalled the recent AMC Fan Club Event when a fan came up to her and thanked her for all the years of joy and laughter she has brought her. Jill overcome said, “Emotions are close to the surface right now. I did not have any understanding of daytime, or the power and the potency of it in people’s lives. I feel so honored that I get to do a job that brings that kind of delight to people. That is extraordinary 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 I have become a lot like Opal as the days have gone by. That part is a huge honor. Then there is a piece that I had no anticipation of … that by attending charity events because of our visibility, we are able to help bring in money and support in a substantial way most of the time. I always wanted to have a way to participate, but being able to help raise money and awareness is a huge honor of having this job. 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. This has been an extraordinary ride for me. I will add this little anecdote: I was doing a scene with Michael and Jacob and Walt. I came off the set, and I went, ‘Oh my God! Nowhere else will I have the opportunity to work with people I know so intimately. I know how they are going to use their bodies, I know the sounds of their voices, and I know the timber of their humor, and I know the way they look at me.’ It offers an opportunity to relax into an acting moment and bring out a depth of truth that you cannot manufacture with a stranger. You just can’t. It doesn’t matter how good an actor you are. It’s just a kind of acting experience I will not have anywhere else. I know that, just because of the nature of what this is.”
Bobbie Eakes (Krystal) echoed Larson’s sentiments with her recent encounter at the AMC Fan Club event, “There was a grown man who sat down at my table and was well-dressed. And 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 are 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!”’
Vince Irizarry, who has magnificently played Dr. David Hayward for all he is worth, spoke to what he and others will takeaway from the challenging times the show faced. “There is so much. You do forge relationships with the people you work with. And it was hard when we left New York for Los Angeles and left the crew there. We loved the crew there. They were amazing. Some had been there for 25 to 30 years. And, to say goodbye to them was like saying goodbye to your family. And actually, you are with them more than you are with your actual family! That is how I feel with the people here. The crew is wonderful, and the actors. We all went through something very unique. We moved together here. I think in some ways it brought us together as a cast. It is an unusual experience. I was saying to our executive producer, Julie Hanan Carruthers, ‘I have never been with a company before where every time we call a meeting there is some announcement of some ground-breaking thing going on, and then subsequently there were the meetings that we had been cancelled, and then the next meeting, ‘Oh, and here is the new production company, Prospect Park.’”
Chrishell Stause (Amanda) is truly one of them most delightful and beautiful actresses to ever grace the soap scene, and her takeaway from AMC is one that in just hearing it brings tears and smiles. She lived her dream! How many of us can say that? Stause revealed, “Since I was a little girl, I was a girl with a dream from a very small town, and a very poor family. It was kind of a crazy dream to have. I had always wanted to be on a soap opera and be a soap actress. I grew up on The Young and the Restless, and so it literally was a dream come true when I got this job. I was freaking out and was so excited. And so looking back six years, I remember thinking every day could be my last. They set me up to know that when you sign a four year deal that doesn’t mean you will last that long. And I have seen people go in the door and out the door. Somehow, I felt like a cockroach that was still surviving and still here! (Laughs) I survived a serial killer, a tornado, and a bomb! After a little while, I could put some roots down and understand that I was here. I elbowed my way in, I guess, to be someone that the fans rooted for. I have to say, it has been a dream come true. I will always take away so much from this show, because it has opened up opportunities for me. No one can speak more highly of everyone that had a hand in the decision in putting me up there, because I know I was green and nervous at the beginning. But I am just so grateful that they gave me a shot. I will take away from this … family. It is like a home over here. We all protect each other. And I hear stories about other shows, and it is not like that here at all. You come in every day, and you spend hours and hours with these people. If you didn’t like them, it would be a miserable place.”
J.R. Martinez (Brot) who is now taking Dancing with the Stars by storm also took AMC by storm being the first real-life Iraqi war vet cast in a contract role on a soap! J.R. also had a personal connection to AMC long before he landed in Pine Valley! “For me, to have the opportunity to do this show is unbelievable. 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 ever since. It has been cool to see how my life has come full circle, and for me to kind of be part of the ending of this aspect of it, I am honored. I know for the future, Prospect Park believes in it and the Internet is the way for it to go. So for a lot of fans it’s exciting. I know some people don’t know how to access the online thing, but it’s there. Once they get that dialed in and figured out, they are going to be excited, too”
Daniel Cosgrove, who has played Scott Chandler twice in his soap career, has the distinction of appearing in the final cast of the last three network soap operas to be canceled… ATWT, GL and now AMC. Daniel also has self-effacing humor about the whole thing! “People are going to think, I am the grim reaper or something! ‘Yes, just call me the show killer! Mr. Bell would you like to see the end of your Victor Newman?’ And, ‘Great news everybody! We got picked up for three years! Bad news, Cosgrove starts next week.’” (Laughs) Cosgrove on a more serious note spoke to the sadness of soap cancellations and the times we live. “I was on Guiding Light collectively for five years and I did not think it would affect me till the final days of work. It got emotional then. As the World Turns - I had no emotional attachment, but I was 40 pounds heavier then and heavier than I had ever been in my life. I have never watched one episode of me on that show, because it reminded me of where I was. But, I always felt regret, that as much as I was looking forward to working with such a great cast and opposite Terri Conn (Ex-Katie, ATWT, now Aubrey, OLTL), I felt if I was ready to go and was physically and mentally fit, I would be awesome. I kind of felt like a zombie through it, and the way they dressed me did not help either! (Laughs) I look back at those days and don’t even count it. I feel like I failed them and I failed myself. And with coming back to AMC, I was ready! My first question was: Is David Canary coming back? I was really looking forward to that, but it all happened so quickly once we were canceled. That sense of stability that daytime once provided us for decades is no longer there.”
Susan Lucci and Walt Willey have made Erica Kane and Jackson Montgomery a very popular daytime duo. And while Susan is the face of daytime soaps, it is hard to imagine life without her on our television screens as Erica Kane. I asked them, after so many years together, what would they want to say to each other as this show winds down? It ended up being one of those moments I wished I had captured on film. Willey started, “I came into this as an extra in a movie theatre scene on AMC when they debuted Raising Kane. And to think eventually I became the paramour, and the one that people want to go off into the sunset with Erica Kane! That is an honor. From a kid from the Midwest, and to come out and hang out with this woman is a huge deal.” Susan then responded, “First of all, Walt has been incredible. It has been a joy every single day. And I grew up in a small town myself, and it is thrilling to have given this a try in show business, and being received so well by the audience and my fellow actors. Walt and I never had a bad time. We have had such a trusting relationship. The sad thing is, if Erica Kane had the ears to hear and the eyes to see she would recognize that this is the great love for her, but she is wounded. That is part of a good thing, that she never got fixed. We are always rooting for her going, ‘Will she get it? Will she finally get it?’ Sometimes, I am on the set and I look across and see this handsome man and I go, ‘My goodness. This handsome man, plays opposite me. How flattering that they think this is the right one for Erica.’ And how lucky I am and how dopey Erica Kane is that she doesn’t realize it!”(Laughs)
Christina Bennett Lind and Sarah Glendening have made Minx a last minute favorite as the show was heading to its conclusion over the last several months. As Bianca and Marissa, it is hard to once again imagine that a same-sex couple may never be seen quite, to this extent, be in the future of daytime soaps. And these gals were feeling the weight of this situation this day, too. “I am feeling sad,” said Sarah Glendening. “The thing that is starting to really hit home, even though Prospect Park is on the horizon, is that we will be certain to lose key members of our crew and design team, maybe. No matter what it is, it will be different. So this is the end of something major!”
“It does feel like this whole experience with AMC has been cyclical,” stated, Christina. “From the day I flew in to start working I did a press junket, and I kept recalling what I said in those first interviews. I think it started with denial to take this role. I had to be a little bit in a denial, and fearless in that I was stepping into someone’s shoes that no one ever thought could be filled. And so now the denial is starting to wear off. I had a breakdown in the make-up room the other week. So that is starting. It is like saying goodbye to an old friend. I was not expecting that coming on to a soap opera. I always thought before I came on to this show, that soaps were sort of mirrors of what life was like for people who were living glamorous and crazy lives. This has really been eye-opening to me to perform to this show with its loyal fans and do something that is bigger than me, that is bigger than acting, and especially in the climate we are in with where we are at with gay struggles. That we are a part of changing at least one person’s mind of what a gay relationship looks like … that is huge!”
And Jacob Young admitted that playing JR as a short-sided, bigoted jackass in the Minx story was not so easy for him to do, but necessary! “JR is basically a homophobe and a gay basher. And some of the things that come out of his mouth, I just go, “Oh God.” But it is great politically, because for that stance it makes the story possible.”
One of the very special treats for me this day, was to see three of my long time daytime favorites, Thorsten Kaye (Zach), Michael Knight (Tad), and of course, Susan Lucci. When Thorsten and Alicia Minshew (Kendall) sat down for our interview, it was paramount on my mind to address one of the most beloved Pine Valley favorites who is no longer with us, Eileen Herlie (Myrtle). I asked Thorsten to speak of his late screen partner. “Oh, Myrtle. I loved that woman so much, not just because she was a cool actress, but she was such a cool lady,” a very emotional Kaye revealed. “She just ‘got it’ and yes she is gone now, but she had a good run. She was up there when she passed on and she knew it, but she always got her hair done. Getting the opportunity to work with Eileen, that is probably one of my favorite memories of the show.” Alicia then recalled, “When we did Zach’s memorial, I remember Opal getting up and talking about Myrtle and saying, ‘Zach is now sipping martinis with Myrtle.’ It was just a beautiful moment and I remember balling my eyes out. She was a great woman.” But while we took the time to talk about some of Thorsten favorite memories, we also talked about the worst. Anyone remember a small kiss between Zack and Bianca’s bride-to-be, Reese, played by Tamara Braun? Perhaps not one of my AMC greatest moments and the very honest Kaye thought it was dreadful, too! “This is where we get into how people write, and so they say we need a result. They say, ‘OK. We are going to go here.’ But you can’t get ‘here’. Not only is she a lesbian that has been accepted, but I never played that Zach was attracted to her. And she is also married to one of his dear, dear friends. So 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.’ They never did that kind of thing to Zach and Kendall that much. You can’t work backwards.”
So how did the cast think that the show should bow out on network TV? What would they have liked to see happen to their alter egos? I came to find out when the original plans for the finale were scrapped, due to the exciting news that AMC will live on past ABC, there were many ways the stars felt things could have or should go. Vince Irizarry informed me, “Well, 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. Eventually, as you see, some characters actually come and thank David for the things he has done, so that is good. It is a start in a community where everybody turns a blind eye on everything amazing that he has done. 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. He loves to tell people in Pine Valley, ‘Look at yourselves! You’re not so different than me. You are just lacking the brilliance.’”
Rebecca Budig: “I think I would have liked to have seen us have more character-driven scenes and Ryan and Greenlee talking about their feelings of Leo and Gillian and really having more exploration of that, and what that means to a relationship and how we get to the other side. And, so I think I would have liked to have seen that, more so than the same old thing we have done for years. It is just that I prefer more character driven story than plot-driven story, but that’s me.”
Chrishell Stause: “I don’t know what is happening with Prospect Park. I have no clue yet if I will be involved or not, but I did like the ending we shot. I thought it was cute and a nice ending for what we did. If they change it because they want to have a cliffhanger or something, I mean, how do you do that? I am a little torn. Do you do it like DALLAS and have a bomb go off and then see who survives, as opposed to this lovely ending? So I am not sure what would be good. It is hard to go that way if they were to blow up people, or it might be nice to have at the end looking into a window of a very lovely scene.”
I think Bobbie Eakes actually came up with the most controversial and interesting ending! “They have asked me what I would like to see happen to Krystal, if and when the show continues on. I told them and Debbi Morgan, ‘If Angie could just give Jesse his blessing that I could be with him, I would love that.’ Otherwise the fans would hate me if I went after Jesse. But I would love to work with Darnell Williams (Jesse). I mean, they are like the quintessential happy couple. No one can replace Debbi. Angie would have to die or be so mad about the baby-switch that she leaves. But she wouldn’t do that. She would truly have to die. And it would be so emotional, but it would have to happen quickly. So here is what I got… They kill Angie, and Krystal shows up at the funeral with something very sexy on and in the most Marilyn Monroe-esque way says, ‘Oh Jesse. I am so sorry.’ (Laughs) People also said to me, ‘Don’t you want to be with a man as a happy ending?’ And, I said, ‘Why, does being with a man have to be the happy ending?’ She came in single, and maybe she will go that way … sleeping with truckers! (Laughs) I started out in bed with a trucker and that is how I would like to go out!” (Laughs)
Jill Larson revealed what she would like to see happen for the one and only Opal! “I would like to see Opal have some promise of love. I would like to see her see that her child and grandchildren are in safe healthy places in their lives. And, that her gal pal, Erica, is by her side. I marvel at the creativity and genius of Lorraine Broderick and Addie Walsh and Agnes Nixon and everyone who is putting these last episodes together. I could not imagine how I would go about it to do something that is satisfying and opened ended enough so they also have a cliffhanger. I personally don’t think everything should be tied up and completed for a number of reasons. And even if we did not have the potential to go on like we do at this time, I think that something that has been evolving for 42 years… I think it would be sort of diminishing of what came before if you tried to tie it up in some neat little bow. I know the writers have sought to give each group of characters their moments. I feel it would be inauthentic to finish things up in some definitive way. It’s not accurate to the soap art form. I don’t think it would be real to the audience. I feel that the audience is so intimately connected to the characters that they would rather use their own imaginations as to where the characters go on from here.”
And speaking of Opal’s gal pal, Erica, what has it been like for Jill to work side by side with Susan Lucci all these years? Jill in deep sincerity said, “First of all, Susan is wonderful to work with. She is spontaneous and has a wonderful sense of humor. I feel the writers have lost track of her sense of humor in recent years. It is starting to come back again now, but she is very funny. When we are not acting together we are singing musicals! (Laughs) I have learned a tremendous amount from Susan about being a women and a celebrity. She has extraordinaire grace, and intelligence in the way she gives herself to everyone who approached her. I would love to be able to present myself with as much grace as she does. She is amazing to me. I have seen her in so many situations where I think to myself, ‘How does she do that?’”
Michael E. Knight has made Tad Martin one of the all-time most beloved and memorable characters on AMC. What are his thoughts on an ending? Michael related: “I think it just might be worth it to exit the characters. Lets face it, they can’t bring Dixie back from the dead a third time, we can’t get married a third time. It might be nice to give the audience one thing that is complete. The audience deserves a happy ending. ”
Knight continued, “And as for my character, you notice that the character is getting softer and softer and softer, so there is less than I can do. Tad is now the morale compass of Pine Valley. We went through four writing teams in six years. I think that is a lot to ask the fans who know it and know the legacy since they were watching since college and high school. I feel they played it as well as they could. Agnes was missed, and Agnes 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? I think the network is being bitch-slapped by what happened. Good, bad, or indifferent, this show is a piece of pop culture. So it begs the question for me, what do you do when the show moves online? Do you make a clean break?”
Susan Lucci admitted that there should not be a definitive ending to AMC, “Like all great novels, it’s going to end with some cliffhanger. And like if you are reading a novel, you go, ‘Well, then what happened? Well, did they get together? Did they stay mad?’ So there won’t be things tied up in a bow.” Walt Willey chimed in: “I talked to Agnes Nixon just a few days ago. I asked her, ‘What are you going to do Agnes?’ And she said, ‘Well, I am not going to tie everything up in a bow!’ And God bless her. I don’t think she really thought anything was going to be over! Agnes knows things that none of us know. Her storylines come out and they are not ripped from the headlines … the headline are ripped from Agnes!” (Laughs)
And who better to speak to the abhorrent cancellations that still cut like a knife to the soap industry and their loyal fans… then the actors who lived through it! Jill Larson really said it best, “I understand for the network it’s costly to do these shows, and so many, and so on. 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 the passionate response of the fans. Look, there is no way to put a positive spin on it.”
Susan Lucci spoke to how the fans saved AMC from total extinction: “I know the fans have already had our backs, and have been there always no matter what. It is one thing to say you love the show, but they have been loyal and active. I don’t ever recall a response to a shows cancellation like that – in primetime or daytime. I feel so honored that the fans have embraced us so much and have remained actively making themselves known.”
In speaking to the future of the series of AMC as it heads to the Internet, while many of the actors are still in a state of limbo as to whether they are continuing, everyone is optimistically cautious. However, Thorsten Kaye made quite an interesting analogy: ”I like the idea of All My Children online. I think it’s all doable but they have to figure some stuff out. I think if a team is hurting in one city, and you move the team and it’s hurting in another city, there are other reasons. You need to figure out why it wasn’t working. Once they do that, I think it’s going to be fine.” Bobbie Eakes had another vantage point: “It’s a sign of the times, and the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. But there is such an audience for soaps. Susan said it at the Emmys, ‘We are going off network television, but they are alive and well, and they are going to be fine.’ It is just like what happened with the music industry years ago and things went digital. Record labels started to disappear and the artist came up with their own stuff. That is what is happening with television migrating on to the web. It may mean lower salaries for a lot of us, but still affords a lot more opportunity, and the daytime drama genre is not going to go away. It’s just going to be in a new home.”
It was at the end of a very long day and the last interview that I spoke with Susan Lucci and Walt Willey. But in that moment of seeing Susan, I was just overcome with emotion, and we discussed it between us. I recalled being there for her greatest triumphs – in the audience when she won that long awaited Daytime Emmy – and at the opening of her Broadway debut in Annie Get Your Gun conducting a very special interview with her after the show, and all the other times in between. When Susan spoke of what she thinks her legacy will be and that of Erica Kane, she humbly stated, “I have been traveling around the country a lot with my book tour, and women would come up to me and say, ‘It is because of Erica Kane that I became a lawyer. It is because of Erica Kane that I believed in myself enough to start my own business, get my masters degree or go back to school.’ Erica gave them the courage do whatever it was they wanted to do. That in spite of all her flaws and naughtiness what they get from her is her spirit. In addition, that she refused to live her life as a victim, and that she picks herself up and goes forward. That has touched me a great deal. Also women will come up to me and say, ‘I learned to speak English by watching Erica Kane.’ I was always taught as an actress that a really good sign of acting is if you really don’t understand what they are saying in words, but you know what is going on anyway. It’s amazing to me that people would be flipping around all the channels and they decided to watch me. And, learn to speak English through me. So I often ask them, ‘So, did you then become a big diva?’ (Laughs) 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 they also got the heart from her. 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 I left behind, but I guess time will tell.”
And with that the press junket ended. Susan got up, and I got up. We gave each other a big hug and she said, “We will see each other again. I know we will. Thank you for your beautiful words.” And I mean, where do I go with that? Except that I was tremendously moved and very proud, and overcome. And how do I exit this blog? I feel like it has to be in the words of Agnes Nixon, and as corny as that is and you may have heard it, or read it a million times, it gets you every time ….. “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.”
Here’s to you AMC for 41 years! Till we meet again in the very near future!