Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FLASHBACK: Susan Lucci 1978

INTERVIEW: The Role She Almost Turned Down

By Lawrence Van Gelder
New York Times
January 29, 1978

When Susan Lucci is spotted by strangers, they are as likely as not to greet her with something on the order of: "Gee, I'd like to kick you in the teeth. But keep up the good work."

To strangers, the brown-eyed, auburn-tressed actress is Erica Kane. And Erica Kane, as viewers of the television soap opera ALL MY CHILDREW know, is, to put it mildly, gently and quaintly, a femme fatale.

"She's after a terrific life, and she wants it yesterday," Miss Lucci said. "She wants every man who's remotely attractive to think she's wonderful and to fall in love with her. She uses men as trophies."

So fans - housewives, professional football players, college professors - of one of the televisions most popular soap operas, in which Erica has been practicing her wiles since the premiere in January 1970, are understandably ambiguous about her.

Things are different in Garden City, where Susan Lucci grew up, the younger of two children of Jeanette and Victor Lucci, and where she now lives with her husband, Helmut Huber, and their daughter 2 1/2-year-old-Liza Victoria.

"I noticed after I was married that Garden City was very pretty," Miss Lucci said. "You don't notice that when you're growing up. We decided it would be a good place to be. And coming home from Manhattan to familiar surroundings and familiar people after a day of taping the turmoil of Pine Valley, U.S.A., can be refreshing. The shopkeepers have known me since I was a little girl."

When she was 3, she knew she wanted to be an actress, Miss Lucci said. "And my favorite game as a child was to act out stories and play all the parts. At first my mother and father would think I had kids in my room with me, because they heard different voices. And then they realized it was me."

By the time Miss Lucci was in St. Joseph's grammar school, she was playing leads in Cinderella plays. And at Garden City High School, where she was under the guidance of Inez Spiers, head of the drama department, she was playing Tuptim, the Oriental slave in "The King and I," and Maria in "West Side Story."

The Luccis were proud of their daughter's achievements, but reluctant to see her make a career of acting. "Now that I've done it," she said of her successful career, "my parents are both very, very happy."

Next stop was Marymount, College in Tarrytown, N.Y., where Miss Lucci enrolled as a drama major. College productions widened her circle of acquaintances among people with similar aspirations, and shortly after her graduation in 1969, Miss Lucci found herself making a movie and appearing in bit parts in commercials.

By that autumn, the movie - supposedly destined for Cannes but never released - was still in the shooting stage. ABC - in the person of Joan D'Incecco, a casting director - was looking for someone to play Erica, and Miss Lucci, who figured her career lay in the movies, was too busy to audition.

Finally she did, and when the part was offered, she was ready to turn it down because she was still certain she would soon be off to Hollywood. Her agent persuaded her to change her mind, and Erica Kane was born.

"I saw an opportunity to play this part from her point of view," Miss Lucci said. "It was not that she was a cardboard villain. She was just thoughtless. She only thought of attaining her own goals.

"Erica is like Scarlett O'Hara. She lands on her feet. She's determined. She's willful. But she's fun."

Multitudes of televisions viewers think so, too; and, as with Scarlett O'Hara, they find it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

So it was that as she knelt in church one Christmas Eve, Susan Lucci became aware she was being watched by two teen-age girls.

"Oh, my God," she could one say, "Erica prays!"

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