Welcome Back, Genie! Laura’s Heart Could Save General Hospital

Thinking Fans Comment Update Aug. 25:  horselover fears Genie’s return is just another bait and switch … Mike, a disappointed ex-GHer, will come back for Laura … so will Denise … and more. See Comments below.

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In 1982, at the height of Luke and Laura mania on General Hospital, I was fortunate enough to publish “The Legend of Luke and Laura” in the classic soap magazine Afternoon TV, where I was then editor.   The extraordinary two (later three) part series of articles chronicling the history of the characters’ romance became a legend itself because its writer, Marilyn Henry, combined the skills of  a professional writer (The Films of Alan Ladd) with insight, feeling and an adult understanding of what really made these two characters psychologically reverberate both in our hearts and in soap history.Genie Francis

All these years later, I’m proud that Marilyn is one of Marlena’s Thinking Fans. To commemorate Genie Francis’ short return to General Hospital beginning today, Monday, Marilyn has written an appreciation of Laura and the Emmy-winning Ms. Francis. She briefly recaps and explains their history on GH and, as a longtime fan of the show, recommends that Genie’s  heart, talent and womanly goodness be the panacea for a show beset with the ugliness of  crime and violence. Marlena couldn’t agree more …

                                                  Marlena

                                                   XXXOOO

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By Marilyn Henry

Genie Francis returns to General Hospital today, August 25th, for a short run.   She is one of the most beloved actresses of daytime and the fans have been begging for her prolonged return for years, to no avail.  Now the show seems to be at its lowest point, suffering from acute ennui on the part of the viewers.  Even the complainers have given up hope for change and the message boards, which used to be alive with rantings and ravings, are oddly quiet.  So the question is: will Genie’s eagerly awaited return be enough to bring mob- and violence-weary fans back into the fold?

Or is it simply too late?

Genie Francis started on General Hospital at age 14, after just one other acting job on the TV series Family.  The daughter of actor Ivor Francis, Genie had been around actors and listened to actor talk all her life and was already sure she wanted to be a

Genie Francis should have become the heart and soul of the show, much as Viki is at One Life To Live. But when GH went plot-driven and mob-infested, it was not a place where a character of decency and depth could thrive.

part of the business. She had excellent instincts and GH, under Executive Producer Gloria Monty, was trying to establish itself with the youth market, so she was given as much air time as the law then allowed.

She played Laura Vining, adopted daughter of the Vinings, but actually the biological daughter of leading lady Dr. Lesley Williams, who thought her child was dead, due to a baby switch at birth. Lesley fought to get her child back and won, but Laura was resentful and proved to be a great deal of trouble and cause of much heartache. (Laura was first played as a pre-adolescent by Stacy Baldwin and Genie took over as a teen.) She ran away, took up with a man who was rejected by Lesley and wound up being so angered at being dumped and laughed at that she pushed the lover violently and he hit his head and died.  Lesley quickly stepped in and took the blame and went to prison, while Laura, paralyzed with guilt and fear, couldn’t talk about it.  Finally she confessed, her mother was freed, and Laura was put on probation.

During this time, young Scotty Baldwin, son of prominent lawyer Lee Baldwin, had fallen for the teen and wanted to marry her.  Both sets of parents objected because of Laura’s age, but the couple got engaged.  Scott’s off and on girlfriend, nurse Bobbie Spencer, was not happy and tried one trick after another to break up the couple, thinking if she could make Laura break probation, then Laura would be out of the way and Bobbie could have another chance at Scotty.wedding

Finally, she called in her shady brother, Luke, to see what he could do to mess up Laura’s deal with the law. Problem was, Luke, who was on the fringes of the mob, and was attending Port Charles University, was introduced to high schooler Laura in the college study hall by Scotty, and fell hard for her.  He then told Bobbie she would have to do her own dirty work. A few months later he and Bobbie were invited to the wedding of Laura and Scotty in the park, and like kids at a candy store window, watched their dreams walk down the aisle together and out of reach.

All this while Genie was trying to finish high school, which she did on the set. Anthony Geary, who had been hired to take some of the heat off Jackie Zeman’s conniving character Bobbie, wasn’t supposed to be there more than a year or so.  Several unexpected things happened behind the scenes that changed that. First, there was the amazing fan reaction to Geary’s mesmerizing presence on screen.  Tall, skinny and not especially handsome by soap standards, he was creating something fully dimensional and fascinating with Luke, and the mail was pouring in.

His scenes with Genie were lit with an inexplicable sexual chemistry and though fans loved her with Kin Shriner, who played Scotty, they were beginning to watch to see the explosive meetings between Luke and Laura. (Genie was 17 at the time and Geary was 33.) Scheduled to die in a failed mob hit, Luke was first to rape young Laura in the disco he managed for the mob.

Then GH head writer Doug Marland was dismayed when asked to do that story and Monty insisted, so Marland quit and Pat Falken Smith was hired. Pat wrote characters with strong psychological understanding, and took on a rape story that was told from both points of view, a most unusual approach. By the time the tale was told, there was as much sympathy for the perpetrator as for the victim. In fact, both were victims and the crime drew them together, to commiserate and heal each other. It was clear that married, self-absorbed Laura was fascinated by street-smart Luke and that the shock of the rape had shaken her out of her self-involvement. For the first time she was thinking of someone else’s plight. 

Thus it was decided to give the death scene to Luke’s friend, Roy Delucca, and keep Geary’s Luke. That decision led to the greatest soap love story ever told.
While Tony Geary was drawing much attention from the press, Genie Francis was less available due to her studies and the long hours on the set.  Her style of acting was subtle.  She was playing a character who was passive and did not give much away with words, and yet we could see her thoughts on her face.  With both Genie and Tony, you didn’t dare look away if you wanted to understand the scene and to gather from their faces what the other characters were about.  Both were marvelous at giving to the camera exactly what was needed.  Genie kept up with Geary beautifully and their rapport was electrifying to viewers.  They seemed able to finish each other’s sentences, even each other’s thoughts. They both left the show, then returned together in 1993. Still, it was Geary who was still winning all the Emmys, Geary who got the soap world’s praise for his charismatic acting. They were a team who gave generously to each other, and it just never seemed quite fair.

Let go from GH when she asked for some time off to join her husband,Jonathan Frakes, in England where he was directing a movie, Genie was written off in a cruel way that scrambled GH history.  Fans were not happy.  She made it clear she would be pleased to return, but hadn’t been asked.  When she finally was asked, it was for a three-week stint that gave fans a mock wedding to Luke and ended in Laura going back into coma-induced limbo.  And they had already brought back Tristan Rogers as Robert Scorpio, yet he did not have a single scene with Laura!kiss

Genie returned to Maine and her family and the home-furnishing store, Cherished Home, she had opened there.  And fans waited impatiently and got up petitions and wrote angry letters, pleadings letters, and still TPTB did nothing to bring her back.  The writers had put Luke into a eye-rolling marriage with Tracy Quartermaine, turned him into a lay-about boozer with no apparent interest in his children, and generally betrayed everything we knew about Luke Spencer, one of the most interesting characters ever invented for TV.  And there is no assurance that Genie’s return this time will even involve Luke with Laura or repair the gaps in history. 

It doesn’t seem fair that a talent as magnificent as Genie’s isn’t being seen either on screen or on stage.  Watching Genie act is a gift for the audience and one that needs to be offered as often as possible.  Any return of a major character and stellar actor to GH causes both excitement and trepidation. Can Headwriter Guza curb his driving need to ruin every one-time great character, as well as every newly emerging character?  Is he even capable of writing the sort of story to which the Laura character can bring to the fore all the luminosity and subtle depth of Genie’s talents?  

Genie Francis should have become the heart and soul of the show, much as Viki is at One Life To Live.  But when GH went plot-driven and mob-infested, it was not a place where a character of decency and depth could thrive.

Let us hope the much longed-for change is coming, that GH is reaching the turning point and will again become the “can’t miss” show it once was.  The show has actors who are among the most talented in the business.  Now it needs to give them something meaty to act.  And Genie could lead the way to a newly energized and character-driven show, a show that will awaken the message boards and give us joy!  

Comments

  1. cilla says:

    This commentary is simply perfect…brilliant, in fact.

  2. horselover says:

    Genie Francis is THE reason I started watching GH in 1977. And while I found many other reasons to continue watching GH when she left (Robert & Holly were a favorite!), she always remained one of my all-time heroines.

    Sadly, the show is so bad and so mob-driven that I will not watch Genie’s return. In fact, I haven’t watched GH in two years. Unfortunately, I think Genie’s return will be all about Lulu and the mob. GH has already ruined so many beloved characters for me: Robert, Holly, Anna, Rick, Scotty, Felicia and even Heather that I can’t bear to look at the Phelps/Guza versions. Sad.

    ABC and GH need to wake up soon and change the behind-the-scenes powers if they want a significant change in the ratings. Bringing back vet after vet, doing the old bait and switch, and ruining the character in the process will not bring a ratings spike. The only thing that will is a complete overhaul.

    Marilyn Henry says: Horselover, I understand your skepticism and, frankly, share much of it. But I love Genie enough to want to see her acting again, and Julie Berman is talented enough to bring out the best in both, even if the script doesn’t. I think we all dream of a change in regime!

  3. Tara says:

    What a refreshing read! While I don’t think that one character or actor can “save a show,” I think that Genie Francis is iconic enough to do so. Laura Spencer ties so many people together on the show. She is the light on General Hospital. Its been far too dark as of late.

  4. Mike says:

    Although I grew up to be a gay man, my first tv crush was on Laura Spencer / Genie Francis. I adored her character and followed Genie from show to show for several years, wherever she appeared.

    I was already finding it difficult to watch GH when they wrote Laura off the show. Mind you, I’m not someone who looks back on the Monty years with rose colored glasses – I remember the stories went on for months and months (starting off strong, seriously sagging in the middle, and going out with bang); I remember many characters relegated to the background — but I can’t deny the sense of excitement those days brought to the show and the fact that so many classic, long term characters originated then makes me look back on those days with fondness.

    So when they wrote Laura off, it was almost a relief for me. Finally, I could give up — there was nothing else for me to watch for any longer. And today, when I do tune in for a visit, I can never stay long because it is just sad to see this mob-infested show, this morally topsy turvy world Guza has created where good guys are bad and the bad guys are good and criminals are the heroes and all women are co-dependent sluts (if not in depiction, then in the eyes of the men). Old characters aren’t even recognizable by actions (Luke, Robert, Holly, Anna) and new characters are so weakly fleshed out, they are paper thin. All characters are caricatures and are defined by a word or two — and that definition is how they are written day in, day out, month in, month out, year in, year out, never evolving, never changing — watching the show is like reading a really bad chapter of a book, over and over and over again.

    But for Laura — for Genie — I’ll make a brief return to the show to see her. And I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that Guza and Co. don’t totally obliterate the character by the time they get done with her.

    (Actually, I’m convinced that the reason Guza so carelessly kills off legacy characters — and no one stops him — is because TPTB are convinced there will be no ABC Daytime in a few years so it’s just a free for all. Write like there is no tomorrow because in their minds, there isn’t. I can’t see any other justification for the continuous gutting of the foundation of this show and it’s characters ).

    Marilyn Henry says: Mike, I, too, have wondered how ABC could have allowed this once top soap to have sunk so low, not just in ratings but in content and moral ambiguity. There have been days when the same suspicion you have has crossed my mind. But I love the never-ending story that is soaps and feel we cannot give up on them. Hang in there as long as you can!

  5. James says:

    Wonderful essay. So insightful and so on the mark.

    I’m looking forward to seeing Genie on screen again. She lights up every scene. And in the three weeks she was on back in 2006, she proved she is the heart and soul of the show, without even trying.

    However, I do fear that Guza will ruin Laura’s return with all his masturbatory fantasies about Sonny, Jason and the Zacaras.

    I read that Genie agreed to come back only on the condition that they not kill off Laura. That makes me feel a little better, but I still worry about Guza committing character assassination with his determination to destroy everything that came before him on this once great show.

  6. Denise says:

    This was a great read and so true! I, too, was drawn to GH by watching Genie Francis’ Laura and I continue to come back each time she makes a guest appearance. Then I check back out when she leaves. Why not just get her back on board full-time instead of all these guest appearances? I agree with horselover in that major changes need to be made at GH, starting at the top. Bringing on new characters, backburnering or at worst eliminating your veterans, pushing couples that have zero chemistry, making your bad guys the moral center of the show: these all equate to failure for this former #1 soap. Mr. Frons needs to take a page from the CBS soaps who stay true to their history and is still on top in the demographics, and stop blaming the O.J. Simpson trial for the soaps drop in ratings.

  7. Chris says:

    What a wonderful Genie editorial, Marilyn! The trip down memory lane most certainly made my Monday, and I’m proud to reveal that I STILL have your original 3-part Luke and Laura article from 1982!

    Marilyn Henry says: Chris, I blush to read you still have those L&L pieces I did for Afternoon TV so long ago. Those articles, and Marlena!, allowed me the opportunity to actually spend time on the GH set and meet Tony Geary and learn how a soap is done. I loved every minute of it!

  8. Ms C says:

    That’s the problem with GH these days — there’s no heart.

    Look at who the core characters are. Jason, a robotic thug who unrepentantly murders people for a living. Carly, a shrewish, unsympathetic, unheroic, selfish, mattress-backed banshee.

  9. Deborah says:

    Good lord, let’s continue to worship at the altar of Genie/Laura. Please, can we get down and walk among the real people? Glorifying Laura’s rape and sainting the “angel” has got to be one of the favorite pastimes of the media. TG can’t go anywhere without being asked about it — because heaven forbid he has a story or a life outside of Laura.

    Not everyone who watched back then saw it as an epic love story. Not everyone who has watched over the years would say Laura was the “heart” of General Hospital, and not everyone is anxious to see Tony Geary’s Luke forced back into the male chastity belt that was LnL. Luke is not awaiting “salvation” by his angel, he’s allowing other parts of the character to come to the surface — deeper, darker, more interesting parts. The current pairing of Jane Elliot and Tony Geary is breathtaking and allows both actors and characters to reach further than they have in the past.

    Laura as the Joan of Arc for General Hospital? Honestly, you’ve read too many press releases.

  10. Gene says:

    I believe Frons is letting Guza do what he wants to do with the soap and no one is telling him no. I hope that a miracle happen and the ratings drop even lower so that they will have to be changes behind the scenes.

  11. Marilyn (and Marlena) — this is a great summary of the magic of Genie Francis and Laura.

    Not to take away from anything that Marilyn has said, but I will say that in the current GH environment, I thought Luke’s marriage to Tracy was actually a positive.

    It may have started off as a joke, but I thought it made Luke look like far less of a fool (with all of his comings and goings). And it gives Tracy a humanity that she is sometimes otherwise lacking.

    The scenes when Tracy had to face the fact that Luke loved Laura more (when Laura was coherent a year or so back) were just heartbreaking. I think it’s very interesting that these two broken people have this uneasy alliance.

    Marlena says: I’m an old admirer of Luke and Laura, but I love the Luke and Tracy alliance too. Patrick dear, I think you may recall when I called Geary and Elliot the Lunts of daytime here! I don’t think it has to be an either/or situation. Imagine the fireworks of great acting if Laura and Tracy had to fight over Luke. And I mean using real words and emotions, not a whiny verbal catfight Guza style.

  12. oneatatime says:

    Great essay! I stopped watching years ago when Sonny and Carly became the moral center of General Hospital, but I’ll DVR the show to watch Genie’s scenes but fast forward thru everything else. Guza and Phelps have proven time and again how much they despise the show’s history, characters, and fans… and until the two of them are thrown out, there is no hope for General Hospital.

  13. Fabobug says:

    Hi Marilyn,

    Love your essay, but disagree with the optimism. In my mind, Guza is like a battering husband: he occasionally makes overtures of kindness, only to sabotage every sweet gesture with another cruel stroke.

    TPTB at GH have no intentions of giving us the vibrant character-driven Laura-fronted soap we want and deserve. I do honestly see an abusive dynamic being played out between Guza and the pre-2002 GH fans, and I for one want no longer want to play a role in it.

    For that reason, I’m probably not likely to watch Laura in this go-round. I’m tired of getting my hopes up, then creatively being bashed in the face. But with a new regime in place, I would certainly give it another look. (Paging Ed Scott and Tom Casiello.)

    Marlena says: Fabs, I certainly agree with you about Guza! But the last time Genie guested, her goodness and talent certainly shone through. With her first line Monday, (to a crying Lulu) “It’s going to be all right. Mama’s here,” Genie already zapped Guza’s rotten, abusive, sicko heart.

  14. AuntieKaye says:

    I’ve watched GH since the black/white version with Dr. Hardy, Audrey & Emily. It actually used to be about the hospital, the patients and the staff. My theory is that Guza wants desperately to be his own Godfather, and can’t write subtle, character-driven dialoge to save his soul, if he has one. Enough with repeating the same 3 scenes between Kate/Sonny/Carly/Jax/Jason/Emily, etc. We all get there is evil in the world. How about at least 1 hour a day where there are love and relationships?

  15. pam says:

    i starting watching in 1980. I recently transferred all my beta tape of gh to dvd. There will never be a time in soaps as great as the LN L era. I love Luke & Laura.

  16. DS0816 says:

    I may check out “General Hospital” for Genie Francis’s visit. I’m already tuning in “All My Children” because it now has Beth Ehlers. It is evident to me that some performers draw me in, and elevate material that is good or bad. With Francis, she is a daytime original who is reason alone in watching a given program (she has also had roles on “AMC” and “Days of Our Lives”). So I wish her well. But I will also say that I’m anticipating the viewing to be a struggle given what “GH” has become. (Thank goodness for my DVR, and for the fast-forward button on my remote control.)

  17. gina d. says:

    I have watched General Hospital for 38 years, since before Dr. Steve Hardy married Audrey March and television was in black and white.

    I don’t think GH will get better until Bob Guza has been fired. He is the ruination of GH. Having the mob be part of the storyline is ok but it being the sole storyline is unacceptable. The whole show centers around the mob. If I want to watch the Godfather I will rent the DVD. I want to watch General Hospital not mob central. Go back to the days when the police were the good guys and the mob were the bad guys. If you want to show a little code of honor among the bad guys then do it, only don’t make it out to be that the mobsters are the moral compass of the show, it isn’t working, the fans are disgusted and are tuning out in droves.

    We want our General Hospital back!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Matthew Cormier says:

    You said it all and then some. I began watching “GH” in 1992 so I recall the return of Luke and Laura very fondly and I always believed in my heart that Laura was the heart and soul of the show and that she really needed to be placed as the leading character on the show in the same way that OLTL has made Viki the lead character and DOOL has made Marlena the main character.

    What makes me most angry is that while she has been away from GH not one other soap has offered Genie Francis a role. One would think that a talent and name as big as hers would be involved in a bidding war with nearly every soap on television!

    I am hoping (though probrally without cause) that this is the turning point GH needs to make a change and get back to some character driven drama that is mutli-layered and focuses on emotions as well as plot.

  19. Marilyn, what a wonderful piece on Genie/Laura and GH. I started watching GH again when Genie first started and have watched it on and off since then. When Genie left the show, the light went out of it. And the disintergration of the characters began. Since Jason Morgan was the anti-hero, Lucky got to take the place of AJ as the sap who could do no right. Nicolas floundered in one ridiculous story after another, and Lulu who started out strong, became a whiny, shrill, harpie, Carly Part Deux. I personally checked out of the show after Michael was shot. Coming after the senseless and stupid deaths of Alan, Justus, Emily, and Georgie, I find it hard to care about the show. Ironically, I’d rather watch Night Shift, where Robert Scorpio is finally acting like Robert Scorpio.

  20. Kim says:

    Just today I got wind of the rumblings that GH may be nearing its demise. I opt for a medically-induced coma, instead.

    As an ardent admirer of both GH and Genie, of course it’s a thrill to see Laura onscreen. But I’m afraid – v.v. afraid – that “they” will write her in a dopey, non-Laura vein and cause a ruckus way huger than when they wrote Sam as someone who would have a young mother and children threatened in a park, or who would stand by idly watching a baby – Jason’s baby, no less – be kidnapped.

    So I say let’s do as physicians sometimes do when a person has a brain trauma that needs time to heal; let’s induce a coma – a hiatus of sorts – until somebody can come along with a cure for what ails GH.

    I don’t want to see any more character assassinations. So many! What “they” did to Lorenzo Alcazar still hurts.

  21. fanoflaura says:

    I really enjoyed your article and hope that the show brings her back from some of the more ‘oldtimer’ storylines between her and Luke.

  22. Tiffany says:

    I have become a fan of Genie Francis when I watched her in The Note. I decided to research her and I found out that she was on GH. I had in 2006 started watching GH with my sister, and it was when Genie had returned. The thing was though that after she left I stopped watching. Then I saw her in The Note, she had looked way different. I went to youtube, and started watching old clips and fell in love with LnL. I am a big fan of Genie Francis, and I would love to see her come back full time. I am one of her younger fans, being that I am almost 19. I am happy that they brought her back but it just isn’t the same with her not with Luke. I know that I haven’t watched the GH as long as most but I have done my research, and GH needs to go back to what it was about. They need to bring back the major people that made the show # 1. I want to see Luke and Laura back together, and I know that I am not alone.

  23. LnL luvah says:

    Wonderful article.. I to am happy to see Genie on my screen again.
    Guza, Frons and Phelps are killing their show because of their total disregard for what most fans want.
    We want love, romance, family, friendships relationships goodness, it’s okay for the mob and some violence to be a part of that..but we just can’t take “All Sonny.. All the time”
    I predict GH will not last much longer if TPTB continue down the destructive path they are currently on.

  24. Tammi says:

    Ratings soar when Genie Francis returns and is with Tony Geary (Luke). Their chemistry brought viewers in by the millions and brought the almost cancelled show into the limelight. Why would the current writers not realize that they have the makings of a giant soap again but refuse to let Genie come back full time. They have Luke portraying a drunken fool and Laura on her way to Paris — C’Mon — what is wrong with those writers — Give us Luke and Laura! That is what the fans want.

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