For more than 40 years, All My Children's Erica Kane has slapped, clawed and connived her way into our hearts. It all began in 1970, when a fresh-out-of-college Susan Lucci landed the role of the soap's villainous vixen. Since then, Erica has done just about everything—organized a prison escape, exposed a Nazi and tackled taboo issues like alcoholism and anorexia. She even had the first legal abortion on daytime television.
"When I started playing Erica, she was a 15-year-old bad girl in town, and the fact that people got her at all, even then, was amazing to me," Susan says. "Pretty soon people were saying 'Erica's a role model,' and that amazed me. But it had to do with her being independent, not taking no for an answer, standing up for herself, having a career and a family and all those things."
After four decades of playing our favorite femme fatale, Susan says she's not ready to retire her just yet. "Frankly, I haven't been able to walk away from Erica Kane. I love playing her," she says.
Susan says one of the best things about playing Erica Kane all these years is the opportunities it's given her. Outside of All My Children, she has appeared on Broadway, danced the cha-cha in front of millions on Dancing with the Stars and recently written her first book, All My Life.
She says she feels like she's in her 30s, but in reality, Susan just turned 64. "I think we're all given a certain gene pool, and it's up to us to do the best we possibly can," she says. "So much is available, so you can do a lot of things."
For the past 15 years, Susan says she's maintained her petite figure through daily Pilates. She also says she's had no plastic surgery, aside from some "nose management," which she had done when she was 47 to help correct a breathing problem.
There are many differences between Susan and the character she plays on TV, but perhaps the most striking one is their love lives. While Erica has been through countless lovers, Susan has been happily married to her husband Helmut for 41 years. Together the couple has two children, Liza and Andreas. "If the shoe were on the other foot and Helmut was the actor kissing all those women, like I've been kissing all those men, I don't think I could have done so well," Susan laughs.
On screen, Susan's character Erica has taken 11 trips down the aisle and been married eight times—that's more husbands than anyone else in soap history! "I spent more time with these men in a lot of ways than anybody else, and with every one, [I have] a wonderful memory," Susan says.
General Hospital's legendary lovers Luke and Laura, played by Tony Geary and Genie Francis, are the most celebrated couple in the history of daytime drama. Thirty million people tuned in to their wedding in 1981, making it the highest-rated episode in soap opera history.
Over three decades, these star-crossed lovers have been torn apart and gotten back together over and over. In 2002, Laura's descent into madness sent her to Paris for treatment. By 2006, the couple remarried on their 25th wedding anniversary...but no soap couple lasts forever. Shortly after their wedding, Laura returned to Europe for treatment, once again leaving Luke and Laura fans hanging.
In real life, Genie and Tony haven't seen each other since Genie left General Hospital. Now, they're reuniting on Oprah's stage!
Tony and Genie have known each other for more than 31 years, but they say they never dated in real life. "We spent so much time together on the show, doing four or five days a week, kissing and stuff. We got if off together on the air," Tony says.
As for their infamous wedding day, they say the things they remember the most are the heat (they were filming in L.A. in August) and the dress. "I was not allowed to sit in that dress," Genie says. "The dress was very important, and [our producer] Gloria was very tense that day." Genie says she was given something called a "lean board," so she could rest without having to sit down.
Genie hasn't appeared on General Hospital since 2006, but fans are dying to know if she'll be returning to the show. "If there was a way to go forward with Laura and make her into what I would like her to be now, then perhaps I would do that," Genie says. "She has to move forward. There's nothing in me that is wiling to play a victim anymore."
While soap fans everywhere are rooting for a Luke and Laura reunion, some might be surprised to learn about a real-life lover from Tony's past—the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. "I spent a couple of years with her, and it was a wonderful time in my life," Tony says.
When Angie and Jesse first came to All My Children in 1982, they were the first African-American supercouple in daytime television. Played by Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan, they were a modern-day Romeo and Juliet—the good girl and the street-smart bad boy. Fans of the couple tuned in religiously, watching as Angie became a doctor and Jesse a detective. In a tragic twist, Jesse was killed in 1988...only to be resurrected from the dead 20 years later!
Over the years, both Darnell and Debbi have left and returned to the show several times, but now that they're back, they say they're still having fun. "[Darnell] is such a special person in my life," Debbi says. "Even the years that we were apart and we didn't see each other and we weren't working together, we always stayed in communication. I love him dearly."
Darnell and Debbi have both won Emmys for their roles, making Debbi the only African-American actress to ever snag the daytime acting honor.
Since 1983 women across the country have been tuning in to All My Children for Tad Martin. Played by Michael E. Knight, he first came on to the scene as "Tad the Cad," leaving a trail of broken hearts all over Pine Valley. Over the years, he has survived amnesia and a deathly plunge off a bridge.
Michael says he was a wallflower growing up, so playing a "cad" on TV was fun for him. "Women were a mystery to me, and to get [to play] Tad at 22...you'd be surprised how confident you get when women have to say 'yes' because it's in the script," he jokes.
These days, Michael's character is more of a family man—having married his soul mate, Dixie, three times now. Michael says he had a hand in how his character has changed throughout the years. "When Tad started, you saw the Lothario thing. He was sort of a villain, and I didn't feel too good about it. So Jackie Babbin, the producer at the time, said, 'What would you do to it?' And I said, 'Can I make him funny?' And I think it's one of those things that's kept him around, because you can always rely on him to look at it from a different direction."
For more than 20 years, The Young and the Restless has been the number one rated daytime soap. Actress Jeanne Cooper, 82, plays the show's no-nonsense queen bee Mrs. Chancellor. After 37 years on the show, she's been nominated for an Emmy 14 times. She recieved a Lifetime Achivement Award from the daytime Emmys in 2004, and in 2008, she took home an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress.
Jeanne hasn't been afraid to inject her real-life drama into the show. Both she and Mrs. Chancellor have publicly battled alcoholism, and when Jeanne had a facelift in 1984, her character got one too. In some ways, Jeanne could be considered the first reality show star because she actually allowed The Young and the Restless cameras to film her surgery. "[Executive Producer] Bill Bell said, 'Do you mind if we make a storyline out of it?' And I said if you do it in a documentary fashion...[I didn't want to] make it glamorous and Hollywood."
After all her years on the show, Jeanne says she is committed to her audience and she's proud of how her character has impacted their lives. "She has given hope, strength and vision to a lot of people," she says.