|Born||September 3, 1918
Lubbock, Texas, United States
|Spouse(s)||Robert Willey (1954–2009) his death|
Wagner has played matriarch Nancy Hughes on the soap opera As the World Turns (with only a few interruptions), since the show's debut in April 1956. She is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as being the longest-running character played by one actor on television. Wagner spoke the first lines of the program: "Good morning, dear."
On November 22, 1963, about ten minutes into that day's broadcast of As the World Turns, a scene in which Wagner's character was conferring with her father-in-law ("Grandpa" Hughes, played by Santos Ortega) was interrupted by Walter Cronkite's first news bulletin that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas (This bulletin was audio only as the studio camera was not ready until 20 minutes later). Wagner later remembered that she and Ortega continued with the scene (which was being broadcast live as was the norm in those days) despite the broadcast interruption, unaware of the unfolding national tragedy until they were told about it once the scene was finished. ()
She has taken some breaks, both voluntary and involuntary. After six months in the role of Nancy, show creator Irna Phillips fired her because she did not favor the way Wagner poured coffee. After an overwhelming consensus was reached to hire her back, Irna did so begrudgingly.
Wagner left the show again in the early 1980s. Then-producer Mary-Ellis Bunim wished to take the show in a different direction; the show fell out of the top slot in the daytime Nielsen ratings, and Bunim wished to gear the program toward the younger generation by showcasing the Hughes family less. Wagner and co-star Don MacLaughlin walked away from the show after vocal dissent in the press. However, she returned to the role in 1985, and in 1986 Wagner and an ailing Don MacLaughlin were prominently featured in the show's 30th anniversary celebration, where their characters, Nancy and Chris Hughes, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. After the death of McLaughlin in 1986, Nancy became a widow and later met and married Dan McClosky played by Dan Frazer. Wagner later was part of a storyline where Dan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. After many years of little to no part in the story, Wagner returned to the screen with a pivotal role in a 2004 storyline, revolving around her grandson's marriage to naïve teenager Alison Stewart (played by Jessica Dunphy). 2005, 2006 and 2007 also proved to big years for Nancy, as she averaged around three appearances a month. 2008 saw Wagner have a sharp decrease in the number of episodes she was featured in, only appearing twice that year. In 2009, Wagner was notably absent from April onwards and her character didn't even make an appearance when her son Bob had a brain tumor removed. Wagner returned to the screen on 25th November 2009, during ATWT's Thanksgiving episode.
Although Wagner has played Nancy for more than 50 years, she has never won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work. She was finally awarded a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for her role on the show in May 2004. She was also prominently featured in the show's 50th anniversary episode in April 2006.
In 1988, Wagner's alma mater, Monmouth College (IL), awarded her with an honorary degree of "Doctor of Humane Letters". The following year, Wagner chaired a national committee that raised more than $1 million to replace the school's "little theater" with a state-of-the-art theater. On the opening night in Monmouth's new Wells Theater (), Wagner played the role of Eleanor in The Lion In Winter.
Wagner also played the role of Trudy Bauer during the first few television years of Guiding Light in the early 1950s.