Nineteen. That’s how many times Susan Lucci was nominated for an Emmy before she finally, mercifully, was named best lead actress in a daytime drama back in 1999. In the process, the woman who has spent more than four decades playing mega-diva Erica Kane on “All My Children” became a loser legend, an inadvertent poster child for dignity in the face of defeat.
But if Lucci has something to teach the rest of us about how to handle setbacks with grace, she’s not sharing much of it in “All My Life,” a memoir that skims the surfaces of her experiences — her childhood in Garden City, N.Y., her rise to fame on “All My Children,” her experiences with marriage and motherhood — without truly plunging into the deep.
As written by the soap-opera icon with the assistance of Laura Morton, “All My Life” reads like a series of transcripts from the actress’s half of a conversation. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to describe the book as a really long Christmas letter from an excessively blessed friend, one who can’t stop herself from devoting five pages to the “remarkable feat” of planning her husband Helmut’s surprise 70th birthday party. The words may be well-intentioned, but they take a turn toward the dull pretty quickly.
To Lucci’s credit, she knows her audience will be hungry to read about the Emmy win that ended the drought. So she opens the book with a prologue that recounts what happened right after that long-, long-, long-awaited envelope was opened, then revisits the career milestone in meatier, more personal detail in a chapter titled “The Elusive Emmy.”
“Yes, there were many times when I — and so many fans from all walks of life — asked, ‘What would Erica do in a moment like this?’ ” she writes of the times when she didn’t get the award. “The answer, of course, is she would have run up onto that stage, grabbed the statue out of the other actress’s hands, and said ‘Are you kidding me? I’ve earned this award! It’s mine, damn it!’ And she would have done it long before receiving nineteen nominations. In the end, though, we all know how well that tactic worked for Kanye West, right?”
That focus-on-the-upside attitude dominates the book, although in what is practically a requirement for the celebrity memoir, Lucci does share a few darker secrets from her past. One involves her regret that as a child she did not immediately rush to her grandmother’s side when she heard her calling for help in the middle of the night, minutes before the heart attack that killed her. (“For years, I never told another soul this story,” she says.) She also delves into a car accident that nearly left her disfigured and a miscarriage she suffered while a controversial abortion story line played out on “All My Children.”
But other than those occasional digressions into serious territory, Lucci keeps it ultra-breezy, making sure to touch on the buzzier moments in her career. Her participation in “Dancing With the Stars” and her brief stint on Broadway in “Annie Get Your Gun” merit full chapters. Even smaller moments — like the classic “All My Children” scene in which Erica Kane screams maniacally at a grizzly bear — get their share of text time.
In an era when some Americans don’t hold down the same job for four months, let alone four decades, Lucci is a rarity. But again, she fails to offer many meaningful insights into what has kept her in the same gig for so long. Attempting to explain why she has played the same role since Richard Nixon was in office, she cites her love of Erica Kane (“a part like this doesn’t come down the pike every day,” she notes); her commitment to her family; and the flexibility her relationship with “All My Children” provides. “While I remain inspired by so many other actresses’ work to this day,” she writes, “I decided a long time ago that it was important to stick to my own path and make it the very best one it could be.”
Her comfortable salary is never mentioned; in the ’90s, she reportedly made more than $1 million a year, a large amount for a soap-opera actor. Apart from a section of the book that talks about moving the “All My Children” production team from New York to Los Angeles to save money, Lucci says little about the rocky times and dwindling ratings that currently dog the soap genre. That oversight is particularly glaring in light of rumors that “All My Children” might be canceled, which would make Susan Lucci unemployed for the first time since 1970.
But in “All My Life,” Lucci doesn’t have much time to ponder such matters. She’s too busy doing what one of her favorite songs — a pop standard that she cites as a personal touchstone — always told her to do: accentuating the positive.