On this day in 1927, Agnes Nixon, the creator of the long-running television soap operas One Life to Live and All My Children and the woman credited with introducing social issues into soaps, is born in Chicago.
Soap operas originated in the 1930s as short radio programs, and got their name from the fact that soap manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive frequently served as sponsors. In the early 1950s, soap operas moved to TV and aired during the day, when they were watched primarily by housewives. After graduating from Northwestern University, Agnes Nixon worked during the 1950s and 1960s as a writer for such soaps as Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Another World and The Guiding Light, TV’s longest-running soap, which began as a radio show in the 1930s and was later known simply as Guiding Light.
Nixon went on to create One Life to Live, which debuted in 1968 and centered around two families–one wealthy, one poor–in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania. According to The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, One Life to Live was “the first serial to present a vast array of ethnic types, broad comic situations, a constant emphasis on social issues, and strong male characters.” The show’s main character, Victoria Lord (played by Erica Sleazak since 1971), has suffered a long list of health problems, including cancer and dissociative identity disorder, and has also been forced to contend with such issues as divorce, rape and widowhood.
In 1970, Nixon’s second soap creation, All My Children, premiered. With Nixon heading up the writing team, All My Children, which was set in the fictional town of Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, tackled a wide range of social issues, from anti-Vietnam War sentiment in the 1970s to drug addiction, depression, child abuse and, starting in the late 1980s, the deadly AIDS epidemic. Although topical, provocative storylines are now standard fare for daytime dramas, at the time Nixon began writing her work was trailblazing. In the early 1970s, one of All My Children’s main characters, Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci since the show’s inception, was the first daytime character to have a legal abortion. In 2000, Nixon created a storyline in which another major character, Erica’s daughter Bianca, comes out as a lesbian; she later shares the first lesbian kiss on daytime TV.
In addition to One Life to Live and All My Children, Nixon is also a co-creator of Loving, which aired from 1983 to 1995 and was then renamed The City, which ran until 1997.