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THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST OF 'ALL MY CHILDREN'

"All My Children" fans are a unique breed. They were the ones who skipped their Anatomy finals to see Jesse and Angie get married. They remember exactly where they were when sweet Jenny Gardner met her end on that rogue jet ski. They can tell you, without batting an eyelash, the names of Erica Kane's husbands -- in chronological order. And they have conspiracy theories worthy of Oliver Stone to explain Susan Lucci's failure to win an Emmy.

The people behind "All My Children" certainly understand the passion the soap inspires. They celebrated the 25th anniversary of their show with a week-long series of flashbacks, a prime time special hosted by Carol Burnett, and this "scrapbook," replete with cover photo of Erica Kane. No real fan's coffee table should be without one.

In her introduction, creator Agnes Nixon describes her goals for the book: "To introduce new friends to the wealth and variety of entertainment 'All My Children' offers and, for the veteran viewers, to be the spur which allows them to relive, in vivid memory, all the warmth, humor, conflict and drama enjoyed for 25 years."

As a longtime viewer, I found "The Complete Family Scrapbook" (OK, so they left out the word "Dysfunctional") to be an entertaining trip down memory lane. Memories are plentiful because there is a ton of detail here. Apparently, author Gary Warner hasn't been nearly as prone to amnesia as the show's characters.

In chronological order, Warner has painstakingly outlined every story line played out over the last 25 years. Some of the most affecting have dealt with medical conditions such as AIDS, autism, bone marrow transplants, diabetes and Reyes syndrome. Racial violence, drug abuse, sexual harassment, child abuse and
drunk driving have also been played out on screen, with the show's writers using drama as a platform to inform and educate.

Serious stories notwithstanding, the real joy of "All My Children" has always been the kitschiness of its plots, well captured in the book's photo captions:

Brooke made the horrifying discovery that the woman she believed to be her mother, Peg English, was actually Cobra, the leader of an international drug cartel.

Natalie spent many torturous weeks at the bottom of a well, courtesy of her crazed sister Janet.

A hush fell over Dimitri and Natalie's engagement party when, at the stroke of midnight, Helga wheeled in Angelique -- her daughter and Dimitri's wife -- who had recently awakened from a 15-year coma.

And the winner is:

Ross Chandler enjoyed fleeting happiness with wife Ellen and their adopted daughter Julie. The happy family atmosphere fell apart when Julie stumbled upon her father raping Natalie Hunter.

For the diehard AMC fan, this scrapbook is a must. It includes a complete cast list from 1970 to present; biographies and photos of the current cast, and a 25-year story-line recap. There's also trivia ("Susan Lucci wears a size 4 dress"; "In Italy AMC is called 'La Valle dei Pini' ") and the requisite quiz: "When Erica found her long-lost father, what was he doing for a living?" (He was Barney, a circus clown.)

There's even a section called "The Stars Come Out in Pine Valley" with photos of the many celebrities who have made cameo appearances on the show over the years, including Burnett, Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Donald Trump, Boomer Esiason, Oprah Winfrey, Regis and Kathie Lee, and Buffalo News owner Warren Buffett, who has made several appearances on the show.

With all this information, I found it strange that there was no listing of Erica's husbands. A quick call to ABC Daytime resulted in a return call from the author himself, who happily explained that the "husband list" is actually a source of controversy. (It seems that although Erica's marriages to Mike Roy were illegal, Susan Lucci prefers to include them on her personal list.)

But, here's the real scoop. Warner notes that long-time fans may recall that, years ago, Adam Chandler sent his twin brother Stuart to the Caribbean to sign his divorce papers for him. Therefore, any marriage for either of them after that may be null and void, and technically . . .

Adam and Erica may still be married.

Can't wait 'til the day Erica gets that news flash. That performance will get her an Emmy for sure.

Review All My Children: Special 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition by Gary Warner General Publishing Group 285 pages, $25

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