May 21

This Day in History

Hollywood

May 21, 1999:

Soap star Susan Lucci wins first Emmy after 19 nominations

 “The streak is over…Susan Lucci!” announces Shemar Moore of The Young and the Restless on this night in 1999, right before presenting the Daytime Emmy Award for Best Actress to the tearful star of ABC’s All My Children. The award was Lucci’s first win in 19 straight years of being nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of Erica Kane.

A native of Garden City, New York, Lucci moved to New York City after graduating from college in 1968. She played bit parts in the films Goodbye, Columbus and Me, Natalie (both 1969) before landing the role of the troubled teenager Erica Kane on a new soap opera, All My Children. The show debuted on January 5, 1970, and Lucci would go on to play Erica Kane over the next four decades, as the character married no fewer than 11 times (to eight different men, and several of the marriages were invalid), had several children and grandchildren, was kidnapped, survived an airplane crash and a car accident, battled drug addiction and became the owner of her own cosmetics company (among other notable events). By 1991, Erica Kane was, according to TV Guide, “unequivocally the most famous soap-opera character in the history of TV.”

As reported by the New York Times, Lucci at that time was the highest-paid actor on daytime television, earning more than $1 million per year for her work on All My Children. Her honors included a Best Soap Actress win in a 1985 People magazine poll, and a 1989 Soap Opera Digest Editors Award for an “outstanding contribution to daytime television.” One thing she didn’t have, however, was an Emmy. She received her first nomination in 1978, and before long had received several nominations in a row without a win. After reportedly losing her temper after failing to take home the award in 1982 and 1983, Lucci began accepting her runner-up status with more humor. In the fall of 1990, she appeared as a guest host on an episode of Saturday Night Live, in which all of the show’s cast and crew members carried Emmy statuettes past her during her opening monologue. She also filmed a commercial for a sugar substitute called the Sweet One, in which she lampooned her own hunger for an Emmy.

Lucci was the favorite to win that May night in 1999, and Moore’s announcement brought the audience in the theater at Madison Square Garden to their feet for a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Lucci’s emotional acceptance speech brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd, including the talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and Lucci’s All My Children co-stars Kelly Ripa and Marcy Walker. After thanking her husband, Helmut Huber, the All My Children cast and crew and her fans, Lucci closed her speech by announcing “I’m going to go back to that studio Monday and I’m going to play Erica Kane for all she’s worth.”

In addition to her work on All My Children, Lucci guest-starred repeatedly on the prime-time soap opera Dallas during the 1990s and has appeared in a number of TV movies, including Lady Mobster, Mafia Princess and Secret Passions. In 1999, she starred on Broadway in the revival of Annie Get Your Gun. Lucci also competed in the seventh installment of the reality series Dancing With the Stars, which aired in the fall of 2008.

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