31 July 2002 | mark.waltz
The Soap that has EVERYTHING!
As a 20 plus year viewer of "All My Children", I remain faithful to the lives of the Tylers, Kanes, Martins, Cortlandts, Chandlers, and many other families who have made their way through the medium sized city of Pine Valley, Pennsylvania; Located near the "One Life to Live" town of Llanview, "All My Children" is nevertheless quite different. It was Agnes Nixon's bible for this show which inspired her creation of Rachel (Robin Strasser) on "Another World", basing her on the unseen character of Erica Kane. Three years after Rachel's debut on "AW", "AMC" finally made it to the airwaves; Looking at early pictures of both Strasser and Susan Lucci, one can see why the rumor that they are sisters has flown for years. While untrue (with Phyllis Diller as their mother!), it has created a legend only daytime could produce. In the late 1970's, Lucci and Strasser finally worked together when Strasser played Dr. Christina Karras (who ended up marrying Erica's first husband) prior to joining "One Life to Live" as Dorian.
While Lucci is Pine Valley's first lady, she has shared the spotlight with many others, most notably Ruth Warrick as Pine Valley's Grande Dame Phoebe Tyler. While now a wheel-chair bound shell of her former self, during her heyday, Phoebe was a force to be reckoned with, and in the 70's, while in a wheelchair while faking paralysis, "Citizen Kane" vet Warrick called herself a "Bitch on Wheels". Sadly, Phoebe slipped to back burner after her on-screen husband Louis Edmunds (Langley) was shuffled out of the story (although he is still mentioned as being out of town), but the memory of her confrontations with Erica's beloved mother Mona (the late Fran Heflin) still remain, as do her constant belittlement of the "less-than-worthy of her time" members of Pine Valley's other side of the tracks who would end up somehow involved with her younger relatives. "All My Children" was the first soap to feature a major black supercouple (Frank and Nancy Grant, followed by their nephew Jesse and his love, Angie), the first to add comedy (Opal Gardner among others) to their front-burner storylines, and the first to truly explore such issues as homosexuality (both male and female), AIDS, and incest. "All My Children" has featured many over-the-top villians (most notably Ray Gardner, Billy Clyde Tuggle, Janet Green, and currently Vanessa Cortlandt), actors in dual roles (David Canary, Ellen Wheeler, Michael E. Knight), and actors coming back after their original characters were killed off (Francesca James), or even after they were truly dead (Mike Roy). Where the return of Eve LaRue Callahan (Maria/Maureen) fits into this mold is yet to be seen.
"All My Children" has especially been successful in its telling of gothic style storylines, straight out of Edgar Allan Poe, the Bronte Sisters, and Daphne DuMaurier. Palmer Cortlandt (Broadway veteran James Mitchell), his Mrs. Danvers like housekeeper Myra Murdock (the wonderful Elizabeth Lawrence), and his fragile daughter Nina (beautiful Taylor Miller) were created to bring "AMC" into the 80's; Later, the equally mysterious Chandler family was created, with David Canary giving one of daytime's legendary performances as the totally different twins Adam and Stuart Chandler; Where Adam is Pine Valley's controlling power broker, Stuart is the heart and soul of the town, taking over where the late Mona Kane and the missing in action Ruth Martin left off. The Dimitri Marrick storyline of the early 1990's was a retread of the Palmer/Daisy Cortlandt storyline, complete with Helga, another Mrs. Danvers style housekeeper who had the gaul to lock Erica in the crypt of her rotting father-in-law. Other storylines, such as former rebellious teenager Hayley Vaughn's transition into the show's major young heroine, freshly copied older storylines. Kelly Ripa took over the storyline Julia Barr (Brooke English) had done 15 years before.
"AMC" also does not forget long-forgotten characters; We catch occassional glimpses of deceased loved ones such as Natalie Hunter, Jesse Hubbard, Travis Montgomery, Cindy Chandler, and Jenny Gardner Nelson popping up to guide their survivors. Liza Colby, a favorite bad girl of the early 80's, came back over a decade later, with Marcy Walker now playing her as a much reformed Liza. Following soon after was her previously infrequent seen mother Marian (the delightfully humorous Jennifer Bassey) who had long been decorating social events, but hadn't had a storyline since she was discovered to be the murderer of a short-lived Pine Valley villian. Recent returns of Timothy Dillon (actually, Natalie's son by Alex Hunter, adopted by Trevor Dillon) and Angie and Jessie's son Frankie (seen years ago on "Loving") are signs that "AMC" is keeping this tradition going.
Currently, with the long "Proteus" storyline taking a breather with some new directions underway, "AMC" is creating new stories for some underused characters (Brooke/Edmund), and introducing some fabulus new roles played by favorites from other soaps. Anna Stuart, introduced as the snooty mother of socialite Greenlee Smythe (the spunky Rebecca Budig), is being built-up as a new love interest for long-time unattached Jackson Montgomery (fan favorite Walt Willey); I can't wait to see Erica's reaction to his new love interest. Marj Dusay, as the always entertaining Vanessa Cortlandt, has been stealing the scenery all year as the drug lord Proteus; Her "Medea" like relationship with her sons Leo and David is fascinatingly sick, but like good theater, you just can't turn your head.
"AMC" has a very rich history, filled with too many wonderful performances over its 32+ year run; However, who can forget Sandy Gabriel's wealthy and trashy Edna; Candice Earley's tragic performance as reformed hooker Donna Sago Tyler; Kathleen Noone as the wealthy but down-to-earth Ellen Sago; Gillian Spencer as Daisy, the long-lost first Mrs. Palmer Cortlandt; Natalie Ross's ultra-snobby performance as Greg Nelson's disaproving mother Enid; Meg Myles as Adam's obsessive secretary Joanna who was secretly married to Stuart; Jane Elliott as the first gold-digger to swipe Palmer Cortlandt; Genie Francis as the bitchy but tragic incest victim Ceara Connor; Ellen Wheeler as AIDS patient Cindy Chandler, the first woman to show Stuart Chandler how it felt to be truly loved; Susan Pratt as the powerful but otherwise confused Barbara Montgomery Cudahy; Robin Christopher as Skye Chandler (long before she discovered she was really a Quartermain of "General Hospital"); and Cadi McLain as dumb country bumpkin turned smart Dixie Cooney, the girl who showed Tad the cad what love really meant. Of the older characters who remain, one of the continuously strongest presences is felt by Eileen Herlie's wise and wonderful Myrtle Lum Fairgate; If only her daughter Rae Cummings (Linda Dano) or granddaughter Skye Quartermain would visit her from their soaps, she would have more to do than play support to Erica, the wonderful Bianca, or Opal.
Unfortunately, most of the male characters pale in comparisson to the above (and many more) female characters; Long-running male characters on the show often become overshadowed by the women in their life; Just take a look at Paul Martin, Linc Tyler, Charles Tyler, Chuck Tyler, Cliff Warner, Benny Sago, Mark Dalton, Tom Cudahy, Jackson Montgomery, Edmund Grey, Dimitri Garrick, well you get the picture. Unforgettable men on the show are either dispicable villians like Ray Gardner, Eddie Dorrance, or Billy Clyde Tuggle, or powerful businessmen like Palmer and Adam. Tad the cad Martin is perhaps the only young character to remain a strong presence; Jesse Hubbard would have gone that direction as well, but died too young. David Hayward is perhaps one of the only more recent characters to actually have a stronger backbone than other characters, but "AMC" men tend to mellow too much to make their days in Pine Valley stretch into years. Of course, he's been around for about five years now, which is long considering.....
To sum what I've written up, "All My Children" is a story of fascinating characters intertwined with the half-dozen or so who have remained for 20 years or more. The on-going flow of people who affect their lives are always interesting, and with a talented producing and writing team, there are many more to come.