Who Created All My Children’s Erica and Sugar on the Run?

Elizabeth Rodrigues

By Marlena De Lacroix

You ever think you’re going to hate something and you wind up liking it?  I certainly chortled when I heard jail-bound Erica Kane on All My Children was going to escape  from the cops during a  police van crash and go on the run handcuffed to a  bank robber named … Sugar.

Susan LucciSome AMC writer has to be an old movie fan, I thought!   The Defiant Ones is a 1958 movie in which convicts Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis go on the run chained  to one another after escaping following a train crash).  And Sugar?  Darlings, how many times we all seen Jack Lemmon/Tony Curtis in the 1959 drag comedy classic  Some Like it Hot, in which Marilyn Monroe plays a sexy/sweet band singer named … Sugar.

I have a theory who that 1950s movie fan/AMC writer might be … but more on that shortly.

I actually thought Erica and Sugar were quite fun together all of last week. The Rosie Perez-flavored Sugar (whose given name is Carmen Morales) is a real shot of energy for AMC and the debuting Elizabeth Rodriguez a refreshing acting partner for Susan Lucci.  Anyone who thought Sugar was an ethnic stereotype was proven wrong when Sugar turned out to be a fully-rounded human being.

This being a soap, before the second day was over, Erica and Sugar had confided in each other about their love lives. Sugar’s love Mondo had staged a bank robbery and he had left her literally holding the bag, and she’s fighting mad at him.  Erica told her the story of herself and Jack (with lots of flashbacks).Susan and Jack

“I saw the way that man at the police station looked at you, and he really loves you,” said Sugar.  “Compared to him, Mondo is spit….”  Now, if a soap character uses the word “spit” like that and Marlena still wants to stay tuned in, that’s really saying something.

The on-the-run sequence hasn’t been rollickingly funny, but at least it was an attempt at humor, something we’ve rarely seen the character of Erica do for a long time.  (And her dear comic galpal  Opal hardly appears anymore!).  What made AMC my favorite for decades was its sense of humor, sometimes a very sophisticated sense of humor, sometimes a campy one.  It’s that campy humor ingeniously mixed with a still human character that made Susan Lucci’s Erica the most popular character on soaps for decades.  All hail Lucci, but Erica hasn’t had the opportunity to be truly funny or light in her very own storyline for at least 15 years.  The endless troubles of those two albatross-y daughters Bianca and Kendall!  Dudley Do Right Jack!

Yes, it’s about time to freshen Erica!  I think the whole storyline starting with Erica’s conviction of Martha Stewart-style insider trading and her new association with Sugar is meant to give the character back her badly needed solo spotlight.  And, as I read it, it may be  attempt to show why Erica became the most popular character on soaps over the earlier decades of the show. A lot of young viewers who started watching in the 90s have no idea why the now pain in the butt mini-skirted mogul momma was once daytime’s Numero Uno.

That’s probably why during the on-the-run sequences, Erica told Sugar the story of her life, strategically recalling many by-gone eras (with lotsa of great  flashbacks), including her early days with Jack.  What a treat, since Erica’s history hasn’t been mentioned in years.

When Sugar asked her if she had ever killed a man, Erica told the early 80s story of her accidental murder of her lover Kent Bogard.  When Erica was telling the Kent story, I began thinking …

Agnes NixonAgnes, is that you?  Who else is left at AMC, other than Lucci herself, who knows Erica’s history?  I began to theorize that Agnes is writing this story.  After all, Nixon’s greatest creation was Erica, and during her long and glorious tenure at the show’s helm, she wrote all of Erica’s stories.  Speaking of Erica and Sugar,  Ms Nixon loved to pair characters from different social strata like grande dame Phoebe and chauffeur Benny, and former hooker Donna and doctor Chuck.  Plus, she’s renowned for writing ethnic/racial characters (think Jesse and Angie) who are fully-rounded human beings, not stereotypes.

Hey, didn’t I fantasize back in a column when Angie and Jesse came back to the show that Nixon was involved in bringing them back?  Lo and behold, there were many rumors she was consulting on that story.Warren Buffet  And two weeks ago ABC released a picture of the now 80-year-old Nixon backstage with her good friend Warren Buffet, who is guest starring again. He’ll visit fellow business mogul Erica when she gets to jail.

Did  the “retired”  Nixon really create the Sugar and Erica story ? It’s just an educated guess.  But I can tell you from the many interviews I did with Nixon years ago, she’s not the kind of person who would let  Erica or her master soap creation AMC go down in flames with the rest of the now low-rated ABC soaps if she could help it.  Her will of steel — and more — is Erica’s!  

Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I think you’re right, Marlena. Erica hasn’t been this fun to watch in years and we’ve had more Opal lately, too. There was a great scene the other day where Erica encouraged Carmen to follow her dreams and learn from her failures that was the type of writing that drew me into AMC as a preteen when my mom was watching her soaps. Between that scene and the Jesse/Samuel conversation yesterday about how their struggles, it feels like either Nixon or former co-writer Wisner Washam is back behind the scenes. Whoever it is, I hope they stick around and continue to improve this once fabulous soap.

    Marlena says: That my oldest fan since the days of Afternoon TV (1980-83) agrees with moi means a lot. Steve, maybe you or a reader can tell me why the young fans seem to worship Washam so much today. All I can remember is that Washam was married to Judith Barcroft (who played Ann Martin on the show) and that I saw them once years ago on the ferry coming back from the most expensive town in Fire Island. I can sight a soap star anywhere!

  2. DS9Sisko says:

    Marlena,

    I must say I agree with your take on the Erica/Carmen story. I have heard and read other comments that have decried pairing and arc, but they lack the historical context you have provided.

    What absolutely sold the story for me and made me invest in Carmen, as well as RE-invest in Erica, was Erica’s story about how even when she was down (the disco! with flashbacks with Mark!), she always believed in herself and urged Carmen to believe in herself, too.

    THAT scene to me was gold. It was pivotal in that it not only told us what the core essence of Erica Kane has been all these years (not simply the petulant, self-absorbed diva who once shouted down a bear) but a woman who even at her lowest never gave up on herself. And as such, it told us all we needed to know about CARMEN, because it gave her purpose and motivation, what all good characters need for us to invest in their journey.

    A final note about the criticism from others that Carmen is a stereotype. I agree with your take: that she is an ethnic character who is a fully rounded person. The people who complain about now are completely missing the point that one of the most ‘stereotypical” characters in the history of daytime made a triumphant return to the canvas: Jesse Hubbard.

    Jesse was the quintessential “angry young Black man”: street smart, prone to trouble, smart assed, and even (for the time) “jive talking.” A lot of that Jesse still exists some 25 years later. And yet, Jesse was more than the sum of his various stereotypical parts and viewers were allowed to go on his journey with him because he was full rounded.

    Those who criticize Carmen now are likely the ones who would have criticized Jesse then (and there WERE complaints), but they miss the point: the Jesses and the Carmens of the world DO exist. They are not representative of all Blacks and Latinos but, in real life, to say there should be no representation is to deny them THEIR humanity.

    Like you, Marlena, I await to see where this story takes us. Great column.

    Marlena says: Wow! Thank you! You are quite a writer yourself, D!

  3. Jonathan says:

    Marlena,

    I have to agree with you as well. I just finished watching Tuesday’s episode on my DVR and every scene had meaning in it. Sam/Jesse, Erica/Carmen, Opal/Richie. The conversations the characters had with each other were introspective and enlightening. It really was a throwback to the days when Mona and Nick were having a cup of coffee and just chatting away. But the chatter wasn’t meaningless. The conversation actually furthered the story. All My Children hasn’t been like this in a VERY long time so the only thing that makes sense is that Agnes Nixon is behind all of it. If your theory is right, I hope she stays more actively involved. I know it may not be possible at her age but I bet money that she’s far more sharper than a lot of these “headwrongers” (you coined that term, I believe) who are writing soaps these days.

    And regarding the fascination of Wisner Washam by us youngins (I’m 29 and have been watching AMC since I was 5), it is my opinion that he should also be credited with writing some of the most memorable and iconic stories that All My Children showcased back in the 1980s. I don’t know much about him myself; what I do know about him I’ve read in Dan Wakefield’s book “All Her Children.” Washam didn’t deviate from Nixon’s original vision of AMC when he wrote the show exclusively (while Nixon was on break tending to Loving) and he wrote with the same humanity and passion that Nixon did.

    Marlena says: Thanks for the info on Washam. Also you made me LOL when you remembered that I originated the term “headwronger.” I sure did in a column I wrote in SOW in 1997 called “Headwriter, Headwrongers, Headbangers.” It was the very first condemnation in the soap press of Megan McTavish’s abysmal headwriting work on AMC. It is still my proudest achievement as a soap journalist.

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