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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Books about TV: Agnes Nixon's Memoir "My Life to Live" Part 1

Recently I read Agnes Nixon's Memoir "My Life to Live" that she wrote shortly before her death. Below are my thoughts on the first seven chapters of this book.

As anyone who has a long history with soaps and reads about its history knows Agnes Nixon had a long career in daytime writing and later creating soaps. Her memoir is more about her family life than the exploits behind the scenes at a soap opera. Part of it is because of how she wrote, she didn't spend much time on set, so obviously she wouldn't have those sorts of stories.

The book begins with the basics of her family tree, and how they ended up in Nashville. There is a lot of discussion of her mother Agnes and father Harry's tortured relationship. Agnes loved him more than she should, and the relationship was doomed to fail. That said from the day they met to marriage took twelve years (and we thought soap opera courtships were long.) Agnes stayed with her family raising Aggie (Agnes Nixon) with the help of her extended family - four unmarried sisters and her parents helped out looking after little Aggie. What was funny, though ironic is as a girl she had paper dolls and her favorite was Tillie the toiler, who was in some ways a precursor to Erica Kane of "All My Children". Agnes' Dad had a business in Chicago called Perfection Burial Garments that he hoped she would run some day.

Agnes also shares how she got to go to St. Mary's for her education, due to her father. There was awkwardness as her parents were divorced and it was a Catholic University for women, but the nuns didn't blame her. One of the major parts of the discussed her first love, Hank Priester, who sadly died as a pilot in World War II. This explains Phil/Chuck/Tara on "All My Children", where there was a happy ending. Hank's family loved Agnes like one of their own, and she continued to be part of their extended family even after he passed. In the back of her book, the radio play she wrote about her lost love, "No Flags Flying" was included, and it happens to be the text she used to get the job at "The Guiding Light" as a writer for Irna Phillips. Her father set up the meeting between them hoping to get Agnes to quit writing, but obviously it backfired. In this section, there is a small mention of the Hummerts who were Irna's main competition in soaps back in those days. The Hummerts had ten series on radio and stories were copied from one to another. Due to how quickly the shows were done, and how no scripts had to be memorized for radio some actors appeared in more than one live serial. (The whole opening of "Soap" is based on how Frank and Anne Hummert began their shows with this is the story of, which is funny come to think of it as their programs died out years before that parody began airing in the late 1970s.)

Those are the highlights of the first seven chapters of the book. Since so much is biographical and very little of it was about daytime, I figured it made the most sense to recap her life prior to soap opera in one entry. The next posts about this memoir will be about her professional life.

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