On Friday night, May 21, 1999 during the 26th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in NYC, Outstanding Lead Actress presenter Shemar Moore proclaimed with delight: "The streak is broken, the Emmy goes to Susan Lucci!" The audience broke into wild applause, as Susan Lucci looked to her husband, Helmut Huber, in disbelief. "What did they say?" she asked. "Did they say my name?" "Yes," he assured her, then helped her to her feet. The deafening applause continued as she approached the stage and tried to speak. She fought back tears, overcome by the audience response and the long-awaited Emmy win she so desired. We've all seen, or read, her heartfelt acceptance speech (if not, click here), and heard about the standing ovation she received when she arrived in the press room. Here's the inside story.
Madison Square Garden established a communications center on the fifth floor. There were two press rooms, one for journalists, one for photographers. Getting press clearance was an achievement in itself. You could only cover the event from one room. Not both. No photos were allowed in the writers room. No writers in the photo room. (As a writer/photographer, that made it challenging for me!) There were "one-on-won" rooms (my spelling) where magazine shows like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood conducted video interviews with the winners. There were several phone lines available for daily newspaper reporters to call in their stories. There were television monitors in each room, but the sound was kept off. Instead, each journalist was equipped with headsets to hear the broadcast. Refreshments were set up in yet another room down the hall.
Before going any further, there should be a clarification of the term "room." These were not rooms of four-walls as we know them. These "rooms" were created using "pipe and drape," a production term meaning stanchion pipe, rigged in specified dimensions (like at a trade show) with hanging curtains separating the cubicles.
For the winners, the route from the auditorium to meet the press in these pipe-and-drape destinations was circuitous at best. Winding corridors, the slowest elevator on the planet, more winding corridors. It could take the lucky recipient over 10 minutes to arrive in the designated press area.
The Award for Outstanding Lead Actress was announced second to last. Immediately after her big win, Ms. Lucci was whisked into the "Green Room," where she made several phone calls (See Inside the Bubble: "Like Mothers Like Daughters.") By this time, the last award was announced and the show was over. The audience began leaving the auditorium. The exit route passed directly in front of the Green Room. Susan was kept inside until most of the audience filed out. The General Hospital company, winners of the last award, Outstanding Drama Series, was escorted to the press room before Ms. Lucci.
The wait was well worth it. As Susan arrived, the entire room erupted in applause and cheering. Cameras flashed, and flashed, then flashed again. She was overwhelmed by the response. She posed with her statue, holding it to the sky. Kissing it. The photographers captured each second pose by pose. It was clearly obvious how truly happy Lucci was of her long-awaited win.
Armed with hundreds of photos, the photographers finally let her move on to the writer's press room, where she was again met with a standing ovation. The cheering and applause did not seem to end. She was charming and gracious and stood smiling until it did. With the poise of a seasoned performer, she took to the microphone and thanked the room.
The journalists asked her everything you could imagine about winning: "How do you feel?" "I can't believe it!" she said. "What's it like to win?" "Terrific!" Lucci responded. "Did you want to win?" "Yes!"
When someone called out: "What will they say about you now?" she replied: "Well, they can't say I am a 19-time Emmy loser!"
She expressed how she loves going to work, and how much she loves doing the work she does. "It's like doing a brand new play every day," she said. "It's incredible for an actor." She feels blessed working with the talented performers that comprise the AMC cast. She has no plans to leave Pine Valley. Contrary to popular belief, she could have left the show many times to do other long-term projects. "Prime time series were created for me," she revealed, "but I turned them down. I am already on a hit show, why should I go elsewhere? I love daytime, and as I said in my thank you speech, I intend to go to work on Monday, and be the best Erica Kane I can be!"
Earlier in the week, Susan had been interviewed (or should we say embarrassed?) by Charles Gibson on Good Morning America. Amid his stating that her previous submissions for Emmy consideration were not good, and suggesting perhaps that's why she has yet to win, he asked her if she'd prepared an acceptance speech this year. She explained that in the beginning, way back when, she did prepare something, but had stopped a long time ago. In the press room, however, she admitted to thinking about what she would say if she won, but she didn't do that until the day of the Awards. For being fairly extemporaneous, her acceptance was touching, telling, and from the heart. Why didn't Dick Clark's producers make the orchestra stop interrupting, and let her have her long overdue daytime in the sun? The band may have played on, but gratefully, Lucci ignored them and said her piece. Her only regret, not having enough time to thank everyone she wanted to thank.
As the question and answer session continued, Lucci marveled at the night's good fortune. "I really still don't believe it! " she confessed. "I heard the man say, 'the streak is broken,' and I thought, what streak? I usually go a little numb. I started going numb a few years ago. So, I asked my husband, did they really say my name? And he assured me, they had!" At that, she delivered a smile that went from ear to ear and back again! Then she admitted she had a place reserved for the Emmy statue. "It's going straight on the mantel in my living room."
She also took the opportunity to thank the members of the press. "You who are in this room, who have given our industry the credibility it deserves, thank you for your support and encouragement. You take us seriously, and for that, I have always been grateful. Thank you for coming tonight to cover this event."
As she was being ushered off the stage she was asked: "What does an Emmy winner do now?" "Well," she replied, "tomorrow I am going to be interviewed by People Magazine for a cover story, but only for a little while, because then Helmut and I are heading straight to the golf course to watch Andreas, our son, compete in a golf tournament!"
With a last pass in the photographers room for photos of Susan with her husband, Helmut Huber, the PR Executive from ABC whisked Susan off to the ABC Emmy party. This was my first experience covering the Daytime Emmy Awards, and it's one I will never forget. It was the year Susan Lucci won!
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