Susan Lucci as Erica Kane, then and now.
Earlier this year, when Susan Lucci was in New York, signing copies of her just-released memoir, All My Life, a man came up with his book ready to be autographed and said to her, "You know, Susan, they tell us that cotton is the fabric of our lives, but really, it's All My Children."
Susan Lucci on All My Children's last day, the big cliffhanger and her future online
However sweet, if hokey, the line was, Lucci has been thinking a lot about how true it's been for her. Just hours after she performed her final scene as All My Children's
indomitable Erica Kane — perhaps the last time
ever she fills those heels — and staring down the show's end-date, the 64-year-old actress couldn't be more grateful to have spent her last 41 years in the role. But putting that legacy into words does not come easy. "To have started in 1970 and have the passion from the audience now is just thrilling. There really are no words," Lucci tells TVGuide.com. "I have nothing to compare it to."
One thing she can say is that Erica Kane, in all her biting, entitled glory, was on the page from Lucci's very first audition. "I remember thinking she had the possibilities to be a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara," she says. "[Series creator Agnes Nixon's
] characters from the get-go were flawed, all of them. Erica was a troublemaker."
TV Guide Network special pays tribute to All My Children
Her first scene revolved around a 15-year-old Erica and her mother, Mona, arguing about — what else? — a boy. Recalls Lucci: "Erica is getting ready for her math tutor to come over. He was somebody's else's boyfriend of course, and very cute, and Mona kept saying, 'Erica, shouldn't you be studying math to get ready for your tutor?' and Erica just wanted to put on her mascara."
Lucci was one of four actors hired to play teenagers (she was 23 at the time), and credits Nixon for being ahead of her time in giving younger actors "something good and real" to do on television. "That was visionary for her to write a show where each generation had major story lines. The only parts for somebody playing a teenager then were The Rose Tattoo
or A View From the Bridge
or The Glass Menagerie
, really," Lucci says. "And here was Agnes, writing a show on network that involved every generation including the high school kids."
From her earliest days, Erica knew she was destined for fame outside of Pine Valley — and didn't mind making that plain for all to hear. "Because I was supposed to be the naughty girl in town who wanted a glamorous life, they kept teasing my hair up to enormous heights and put a full set of false eyelashes on me. I was too shy to say anything, but I kept thinking, 'Wow, I'm supposed to be 15 and I've got all this going on! Also, I was getting a big headache from those false eyelashes."
"But you could always see what was driving her. She wasn't petulant for its own sake."
Since then, Erica has gone on to model, own a disco, serve as editor-in-chief for a glossy magazine, host her own talk show, found her own cosmetics line and write three memoirs. She also lived through rape, had an abortion — the first legal one to be portrayed on American television — went head-to-head with a bear
, overcome drug and alcohol addictions, dealt with the coming out of her daughter Bianca, survived attempted murders, car accidents and tornadoes and, making recent headlines, gotten involved with a much younger man. She's been married 11 times and gave birth to three children.
It's a life that's made Eric Kane the most recognizable, iconic name in soap operas — and well outside
— which is why Lucci is still processing how it could be coming to an end. "It is an incredible legacy, and I don't know that I can break it down. What I saw in my scripts inspired me. I'm going to guess that the audience saw the same thing," she says. Meanwhile, All My Children
fans remain vocal about their disappointment over the series' cancellation. "I did an online radio show called Soap Central
a few weeks ago and the host, Dan J. Kroll
, gave me a bound booklet of what he said was just 1 percent of the response he had received after he announced I was coming on," she says. "In one week, he said he received 500,000 e-mails ... It's amazing, the outpouring, the passion from fans."
It's for that reason that Lucci is also feeling a lot of anger. On Tuesday, the paperback edition of her memoir will be released
, and it will include an epilogue the actress says she "worked very hard on" and in which she blasts ABC daytime executives for making creative decisions that she feels killed the show — namely, pushing Nixon out in favor of new head writers who were more interested in crazy plotting than character.
"I wasn't alone in thinking that. I mean, the fans were very upset about it because they didn't recognize any of the characters [from the way they were being written]," Lucci says. "I think that it was clear from the focus groups and the falling ratings that the show was in the hands of the wrong head writers. If you could listen to the focus groups, you'd know something was off. I felt it was allowed to go on too long," she says.
Susan Lucci blasts ABC head of daytime for demise of All My Children
But with Nixon and veteran writer Lorraine Broderick back in control for the past few months, Lucci is eager to report All My Children will go out on top. "Even now, they're pushing the envelope in storytelling, we were getting scripts that were a little different structurally, propelling character forward..."
She's also enjoyed having veteran actors come back to reprise their original roles on the show for a final time, in particular David Canary and Julia Barr, who played Adam and Stewart Chandler, and Brooke English, respectively. "They were the was most exciting for me. They're people I worked with so much and who I adore and who I know the audience always loved ... Their presence has been so missed," she says. There was also her scene with Carol Burnett, whom she hadn't worked with before. "Carol was the first real outspoken celebrity fan of All My Children," Lucci says. "I would find myself looking into her big blue eyes, like 'Oh my god, I'm doing comedy with Carol Burnett.' It took my breath away."
And, for the record, Lucci wanted to do one last scene with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who originated the role of Erica's daughter Kendall Hart and with whom she reportedly had a long-standing feud. "I never had any idea where that came from. I don't know anything about it," Lucci says. "I really was hoping that she and Alicia Minshew [who has played Kendall since 2002] and I would have something to do together. That would have been funny." (Gellar did return, but was written into a scene opposite Eva La Rue, who tweeted this pic from the day and also revealed details of Gellar's new character.)
Check out photos of Susan Lucci
Asked about what her plans are for the day, her first not going to set, Lucci pauses. "You know, the emotions come over you when you least it expect it," she says, recalling the teary tribute the cast had for Nixon the night before. Later in the day, she'll make her final goodbyes at the wrap party before flying back to New York with her husband for good. She still needs to pick a dress for the occasion.
"We didn't have to say goodbye last night. We could say, 'See you tomorrow.' So that felt good," she says. "Tonight, we plan to celebrate."
ABC will air All My Children's
broadcast finale on Sept. 23. What will you miss most about Erica Kane? Do you hope Lucci changes her mind
and decides to continue with the show online?