January 16, 2014 marks the 44th anniversary of the first time soap viewers were introduced to Susan Lucci and her character of Erica Kane. When Lucci appeared on television screens as Erica for the first time on January 16, 1970, the world of soaps changed forever. When people think of soaps they think of Susan Lucci. Even the person who has never watched a soap or thinks the genre is beneath them has no doubt heard of Lucci’s and Erica Kane.
Lucci is now known as “Daytime’s Leading Lady” and that is an apt description for the actress who never left the role of Erica Kane until “All My Children” was cancelled and aired for the last time on September 23, 2011 and will retrieved her role as Erica Kane with the reboot of All My Children in 2015. For almost 42 years, Lucci as Erica built a bond with soap viewers that will never be matched. Over those years, Lucci was made “TV Guide’s” list of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time, coming in 37th, received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. She has been one of Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People and was named one of VH-1’s Top 200 Icons of All Time
Perhaps the most important accolade Lucci and her character of Erica has received is that of an agent of cultural change. When Erica Kane stepped onto the “All My Children” set in late 1969/early 1970, the United States was in the midst of the change brought about by the women’s rights movement, and Erica was the epitome of the modern American young woman of the time who set goals, dreamed dreams and pursued a career outside of the traditional roles women and society at large had been accustomed to.
“All My Children” creator and soap legend Agnes Nixon created the character of Erica Kane to reflect the changes in society for women and commented at the time that characters like Erica were a new breed of woman who wanted love independence and fame. These women felt that is they could attain their dreams they would be satisfied, but often found that dream of satisfaction to be elusive. Susan Lucci took that character treatment and played it to perfection as Erica constantly set new goals and chased new dreams, but never quite found the satisfaction she so desperately desired.
Lucci was cast in the role of Erica as part of Nixon’s attempt to bring younger cast members to the show to attract a younger audience without alienating the older audience. This she hopes would give “All My Children” a contemporary look and feel. Lucci fis auditioned for the role of Tara Martin, but it was quickly apparent that the feisty Italian was not a fit for the young, innocent ingénue. She was a perfect fit for the fiery and goal driven Erica and soap history was born.
Erica Kane was one of the characters that fit into a new soap archetype created by Nixon as well as master soap creators Irna Phillips and Bill Bell. This archetype quickly became known as the “Bitch Goddess” and exhibited traits of materialism and selfishness. Instead of waiting for a man to rescue them, they would go after material things and make it on their own. This was Erica Kane and this was Susan Lucci. As Nixon has said many times, there was never any doubt that Susan Lucci was Erica Kane.
As Erica, Lucci met the issues of the day head on and this in the end may be what Lucci is most known for. From the start, Erica faced the issues modern women were facing and Lucci and the writers at “All My Children” never shied away from even the most controversial topics. In 1973, with the Supreme Court having just issued its landmark “Roe vs. Wade” abortion ruling, Erica Kane had the first legal abortion shown on television. The storyline involved Erica aborting her child with then husband Jeff Martin and in a very controversial decision for the writers the choice for an abortion was made simply because Erica didn’t want to have a child at that time. Lucci moved through the storyline with displaying every emotion possible as Erica made the choice to abort and dealt with the aftermath as her husband found out and she went through the emotional turmoil left in the wake of the decision. The soap writers made sure to portray the choice as the wrong move at the time, but the audience rallied around Erica and Lucci and came to see the character as a champion for free will and choice. The bond between Susan Lucci and her audience was formed here and has never been broken.
Overtime, Lucci successfully navigated each and every storyline given her with her continual zest for life and her desire to make Erica Kane soap’s number one character. Perhaps what Erica is most known for are her numerous marriages and no matter who she was with at the time, Lucci always made sure that audiences believed that Erica had found the love of her life. This is a testament to how well Lucci knew not only her character but her fans as well.
Lucci made sure to work closely with the writers to have Erica face the most current and topical issues. When her beloved daughter Bianca came out as a lesbian, Erica’s first thought was of how the revelation would reflect on her. This was in true Erica fashion, but as she often did, Lucci made her audience identify with Erica’s struggle and brought them along as she slowly accepted this news revealed that she loved her daughter for who she was, no matter what. Lucci always went above and beyond to portray Erica as a woman fiercely loyal to her family, especially her mother and her daughters. Who can forget the Christmas episode when Erica brought her granddaughter and placed her into the arms of a comatose Bianca, only to have Bianca react and awaken just in time for Christmas?
The greatest testament to Lucci’s popularity and legendary status came in May of 1999 when her name was announced as winner of the Emmy for Best Actress. This honor is always something to be celebrated, but for Lucci and her fans it was the moment of a lifetime. In that one moment, years of frustration was swept away and the soap audience and industry was able to recognize Lucci for her contributions to the genre and to their lives. For eighteen years, Lucci had been nominated for best actress only to see another actress take home the statue. As Lucci herself has admitted, she got to the point where she thought she would never actually win. She even started to joke about it and make appearances where the lack of an Emmy became the focus of the skit. Finally, though, in a moment most fans remember very well, Shemar Moore opened the envelope and yelled, “The Streak Is Over!” as he announced that Susan Lucci was the winner. What happened next speaks volumes about the love and respect her fans and her peers have for Susan Lucci. As she rose to take the stage, the audience stood in unison for an ovation that lasted several minutes. Many of her colleagues openly wept and good friends and long time fans like Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey yelled encouragement from the sidelines.
No matter what Susan Lucci does from this point on, she will always be Erica Kane and she will always have the distinction of changing American culture for the better. Perhaps there is no greater accomplishment to put on a resume or biography.