Today is Neil “Citizen of the Month” Kramer’s birthday. In honor of that event, which is being celebrated across the blogosphere in a “carnival” hosted by Communicatrix, I’m going to come clean on a dirty little secret about myself that I’ve been hiding for the two plus years I’ve been writing in this blog. It’s embarrassing and may permanently alter your opinion of me. Are you ready?
I watch “All My Children.”
As the only other straight male I know who admits to watching this soap opera, Neil has written several posts on the subject, most recently when beloved character Dixie Martin was murdered by the serial killer that’s currently trolling through Pine Valley getting rid of all of the actresses who are giving the producers a hard time. Dixie had already “died” five years ago but the actress was lured back to the show last year, only to find herself arguing with the producers over some questionable storylines. Solution? Have Dixie eat the poisoned peanut butter pancakes (!) intended for her daughter-in-law. Neil wrote another post when the identity of the murderer (called the “Satin Slayer” because of the trademark satin ribbons he wraps around his victims) was revealed last week and Neil realized it was the very actor who helped his wife Sophia get tickets for the Jewish High Holidays last fall when she was in New York working as a Russian interpreter on a film.
I always comment on Neil’s “All My Children” posts, and considering his massive readership, I guess I’m not totally in the closet with my secret. But to openly discuss it here? Yikes, how can I? My “blog character” doesn’t watch soaps, he’s far too busy with his Important Writing Projects. Any free time he has is spent in quality moments with his adoring wife and daughter, watching obscure foreign films, or doing historical research in dusty, dimly lit newspaper archives.
Oh well, now that the soap is out of the bag, I’d like to officially blame my sister for my Pine Valley addiction. Just after college, when I was looking for a job, my sister and I found ourselves living back at my dad’s house in Chicago. We’d often eat lunch together, with her glued to “All My Children” and me shrieking about how unbelievably stupid I thought the show was. I told her she was crazy to waste her time with that trash. The next thing I knew, I was foregoing calls to potential employers so I could find out if Erica Kane would be cleared of murder charges and could stop posing as a nun; whether beautiful Nina Cortlandt, who had no idea that her housekeeper was really her grandmother and that her best friend Monique was her long-lost mother, would find out that she wasn’t going blind but was being lied to by her father Palmer so that she would end her relationship with Dr. Cliff Warner; if bad girl Liza Colby would learn that her boyfriend Tad the Cad Martin was also having a tempestuous affair with her nymphomaniac mother, Marian; or whether blue-blooded matriarch Phoebe Tyler Wallingford would discover that her respectable husband Langley, supposedly a college professor, was actually a con-man and purse-snatcher named Lenny Wlasuk from the carny circuit.
Oh, there’s more, so much more. Women falling in love with their rapists, people becoming full-fledged doctors weeks after graduating from high school, sweet middle-aged ladies turning out to be the ruthless leaders of international drug cartels, kidnappings, babyswaps, epidemics of amnesia and multiple personality disorder, miraculous recoveries of wheelchair-bound invalids, the entire community drinking tainted punch and falling victim to Libidizone, a drug that removes all sexual inhibitions, and a multitude of characters coming back from the dead on the very day that their spouse is walking down the aisle to marry their rival. And that’s just one week in Pine Valley!
The reigning queen of “All My Children” is Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci, one of two remaining original residents of Pine Valley (the other being respectable Dr. Joe Martin). Erica appeared on the very first episode of the show in 1970 as a high school senior and is still going strong almost four decades later. When I started watching the show Erica was the most famous supermodel in the world, despite the fact that she was 38 at the time and about 5-foot two-inches tall in heels. One of my favorite lines occurred when Erica was being seduced by newcomer Mark Dalton. After weeks of flirtation, Erica suddenly announced, “I can’t make love to you. You’re my father’s bastard son!” Indeed, Erica had just found out that Mark was the product of an affair that her father, famed director Eric Kane, had in Hollywood. Who knew? Another Eric Kane affair produced her half-sister, Silver Kane, an All About Eve-like mouse of a girl Erica took under wing, only to find Silver having an affair with her boyfriend and framing Erica for his murder. But oops, that wasn’t Silver at all, it was an imposter named Connie Wilkes. The real Silver came to town the following year and was promptly murdered. Erica’s brother Mark became a heroin addict and left town.
When she wasn’t busy hunting down terrorists in Bosnia, protecting herself from violent prison mate Kathy Bates, or facing off with grizzly bears (I kid you not), Erica has spent a lot of time planning her lavish weddings. She’s been married 10 times, making her official name Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Montgomery Montgomery Chandler Marick Marick Montgomery. She has three children, but only remembers giving birth to one of them.
Her daughter Bianca was born in 1988 and is now (at the age of 19?) the head of a multi-national corporation with its headquarters in Pine Valley, Pennsylvania. Why not? The tiny hamlet of Pine Valley is also the location of billion-dollar rival conglomerates Cortlandt Electronics and Chandler Enterprises. Not to mention Tempo, the nation’s most respected news magazine, and two internationally renowned makeup companies, Enchantment and Fusion. Erica’s other daughter is Kendall Hart, the product of a rape her father sanctioned between his daughter and his sleazy director friend Richard Fields on Erica’s 14th birthday. Erica was so traumatized by this event that she forgot she had given birth to Kendall until the teenaged girl (originally played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) appeared on Erica’s doorstep. Erica only learned about the existence of her third child last year. In 1973, a few months after Roe v. Wade, “All My Children” made television history when Erica Kane had a controversial abortion. Of course she developed an infection following the procedure and nearly died, which helped her husband Jeff Martin (and viewers) forgive her. Imagine how surprised Erica was last year when she found out that the doctor who had performed her abortion 33 years earlier had actually taken the embryo and implanted it in his infertile wife and then raised the child as his own. In one of the creepiest and scientifically ridiculous plot developments in the history of the show, Josh Madden, now a major character, is TV’s first living abortion. Oy.
Despite all the outrageous storylines, “All My Children” was also known for tackling serious social issues. In addition to Erica’s retroactively reversed abortion, the show was the first daytime soap to deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome in Vietnam vets, the burgeoning women’s movement, interracial romances, eating disorders, spousal abuse, and homosexuality. Donna Pescow arrived in Pine Valley in 1983 playing openly gay doctor Lynn Carson. Another character, recently divorced Devon McFadden, convinced herself that a love affair with Pescow was the answer to her problems but the good doctor explained that people don’t become lesbians just because a relationship with a man didn't work out. Years later, in 2000, Erica’s own daughter Bianca came out of the closet as a lesbian. Erica flipped out, fell off the wagon (despite the character’s previous stint at the Betty Ford Clinic), escaped to Las Vegas under an assumed name, and became Sin City’s most celebrated showgirl (in her late 50s!). Erica eventually came to her senses and accepted Bianca’s homosexuality. “All My Children” is attempting to break new ground these days with the introduction of Zarf, an internationally famous rock star who descends upon Pine Valley and announces that he is really the transgendered Zoe, a lesbian, who is in love with Bianca. Erica is thrilled that her daughter’s newest love interest has a penis, even if he IS planning to have it cut off. Help.
One of the oddest things about soap operas is something known in the industry as SORAS—Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. Don’t get too attached to any of the young actors playing toddlers on the show, because they may go upstairs at the end of one episode to get a toy and come downstairs the next day as a teenager. This has happened to nearly every child on “All My Children,” most recently to bratty Colby Chandler who went off with mother Liza as a five-year-old and returned a year later for her Sweet 16 party. And since her party, she is aging rapidly, I expect her to assume a major role at Chandler Enterprises any day now. Only Erica Kane seems to be going in reverse. Soon she will be younger than her TV daughters.
Oh my God, I think I’ve just proven that I’m a bigger “All My Children” freak than Neil Kramer could ever hope to be. What do you think Ann Coulter would say? In my defense, the show has gotten so bad lately that I can usually fast forward through an entire episode in less than 10 minutes. My poor wife is forced to sit through them and has, against her will, become interested in some of the characters, especially her namesake Kendall and little Miranda Montgomery, Bianca’s daughter and Erica Kane’s first grandchild. Miranda is the product of Bianca’s rape by Michael Cambias, a horrific occurrence that seems to be one of the most popular ways women get pregnant on soap operas. Following Miranda’s difficult birth in a rainstorm, Bianca thought her daughter was dead for a year after her best friend Babe Chandler passed her off as her own child named Kate. Don’t ask. Just expect the little girl to hit her teenage years before the next presidential election.
In 2005, “All My Children” lost one of its foremost citizens, Phoebe Tyler Wallingford, when actress Ruth Warrick died at the age of 90. Like Susan Lucci, Warrick had been on the show since Day 1. Warrick was once a distinguished member of Orson Welles’ rep company. Her first film was Welles’ 1941 classic “Citizen Kane” in which she played his first wife, Emily Norton Kane, the niece of the President. The montage of their marital problems as shown through the ever-lengthening distance between Orson Welles and Ruth Warrick at the breakfast table, is one of the most iconic sequences in the history of the movies.
In the early 1980s, Ruth Warrick published a book, “The Confessions of Phoebe Tyler” and also recorded an LP as her feisty character. Somehow she got booked into a rock club in Chicago that was owned by my sister’s boyfriend at the time. Of course we jumped at the chance to see Phoebe Tyler in Concert. I don’t remember that much about the evening except the moment that Warrick, looking for a male volunteer, singled me out in the audience and brought me up on the stage. To the crowd’s delight, she sang a love song to me as Phoebe. I’m sure I turned as red as Erica’s Enchantment lipstick as Warrick caressed me while singing these lyrics: “I love you, yes I do, I love you. If you break my heart I'll die. So be sure that it's true, when you say ‘I love you,’ It’s a sin to tell a lie!” When it was over, she planted a lingering kiss firmly on my lips. Okay, I’ll admit it. Ruth Warrick was in her late 60s and I was in my early 20s, but it was HOT. Unlike her snobby character Phoebe who only had three husbands (very conservative for a soap opera), Warrick had gone through five husbands in real life and had acknowledged several affairs with her leading men, including a torrid romance with Anthony Quinn during the filming of “China Sky” in 1945. Hey, maybe I could become Phoebe’s fourth husband! Believe me, there were greater age differences between many of the couples in Pine Valley.
Watching soap operas can really mess with your head. If you follow the basic tenets of “All My Children,” you can try to have your husband or wife killed and then expect them to come back to you because, after all, you LOVE them. Any crime can be forgiven with the swell of music and a commercial break. Have you lost a loved one recently? Don’t worry—even though you saw them in their casket, they might actually be alive and well and working on a top-secret project in Eastern Europe for an extended period. They will come back into your life at some point—probably at the very moment you profess your love for someone else. But even If they’re really dead, have no fear. They probably have a twin brother or sister they forgot to tell you about. Tired of your job? You can switch from TV producer to renowned doctor to makeup company executive in a matter of months, as Erica’s abortion-boy Josh has recently done. Do you like to travel? You’re in luck! You can be on a beach in the Bahamas at the beginning of the show and then march into a Pine Valley courtroom 15 minutes later to testify in your mother's murder trial. Beam me up, Erica!
Birthday boy Neil is currently on a long road trip with his wife Sophia. They’re traveling to Portland, Oregon, to TequilaCon, an annual debauchery for bloggers. Did I mention that Neil and Sophia have been separated for several years but still live together? He writes about Sophia quite often on his blog but some of his readers still think she’s a fictional character. One of the other main characters on Neil’s blog is his talking penis, who always has something interesting to say. Neil recently participated in a charity auction for single women to win a date with a blogging bachelor. Neil received more bids than any other contestant. The winner of the auction was none other than my friend and former author, Tamar Jacobson of “Mining Nuggets,” even though she’s not single and Neil isn’t a bachelor. I’m starting to think that Neil has been influenced by all those hours he’s clocked in Pine Valley. Watch it, Sophia. Neil’s career as a supermodel or international drug smuggler can’t be far behind.