General Hospital’s Black and White Ball, Part 2: How Good Work Elevated Haunted House Hooey

By Marlena De Lacroix

In my last column, I blasted the plotting of General Hospital‘s Black and White Ball as schlocky and superficial.  The overall main story was presumably done by the head writer.  That doesn’t mean all of the scriptwriting for the month was awful; it takes a lot of different associate writers to write the scripts for a whole month of a daytime soap.  There actually were some decently written scenes, one of which I will examine in depth later.  It’s this kind of good work, done by dialogue writers, which makes bad soaps a lot more watchable.

What also often helps to make bad soap storytelling better is the very hard and creative work of  actors who must bring the scenes to life.  Here’s an examination of the three performances and one standout scene during the Black and White Ball which really elevated the awful overall plotting.

Anthony Geary and Jane Elliott (Luke and Tracy Quartermaine Spencer ).  What a treat for  you young ones who weren’t around to see either of these actors in the late 70s and 80s when their originally villainous characters first became legends.  The many many scenes leading up to and following Luke’s heart attack at the Ball. at Wyndemere offered a rare chance to see how dynamic, talented and creative they were.

We always thought Luke and Tracy’s was a marriage of  convenience, but during these scenes of sudden illness, the pair displayed the deep and marvelously mature love that had somehow grown between them.   “You dragged me out of the past (with Laura, et. al) and propelled me into my future,” Luke confessed to Tracy.”  Wowsa!  Their scenes together were so unexpectedly and richly romantic!

Question:  Was the development of the real deep love displayed by Luke and Tracy in the wake of  his heart attack in the script or did the actors invent it?  Elliot has always been a sharply intelligent actress.  Geary is notorious for writing his own lines.  Calling Tracy “wife” in all the dialogue sounds both Shakespearean and Geary-ian to me!

What made the Luke and Tracy scenes all the richer was the fact that we the audience have closely walked down 30 years worth of separate paths with these characters.  And here they are sharing a love that is even sweeter since we’ve watched them as separate characters, both rogues, struggle and suffer all these  years.  I reveled in the Spencers’ depth of emotion.  Middle-aged love is never portrayed on daytime anymore!  It takes actors of great intelligence to understand and realistically communicate this kind of mature  emotion.  Brava!  Who would have ever predicted that Geary and Elliot would become the Lunts of daytime television?  (For you young’uns who may not know:  The legendary husband and wife acting team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were renowned to be among the finest stage actors of the first half of the 20th century).

John Ingle (Edward talking to Robin Christopher’s Skye, who had just told him of Emily’s death.)  Ingle brilliantly delivered a long monologue which had to be the smartest written scene of the last soap year.  In his agony, Edward compared himself to the mega-successful  businessman Joseph P. Kennedy, his  idol, whom he had supposedly met while he was in college.  All his life, Kennedy was ruthless and successful in business, only to see an astounding number of children (like his famous murdered sons, President  John and Senator Bobby) and grandchildren die before their time.  Edward conducted his businesses the same way and now added the death of granddaughter Emily to those of sons Alan, Justus and grandson A.J.

Whoever wrote this monologue deserves an Emmy for relating similarities in the  lives of Kennedy and Edward Q. and writing about them so elegantly and movingly on a soap opera.   Real people from history are hardly ever talked about in soaps!  Marlena, a one time American history teacher, literally stood up  during Ingle’s scene, saluted the screen and shouted,  “Thank goodness someone in class was listening!”      

Ingle did the material so proud, I was wondering if the GH writing staff had written it as a valentine to the actor. As you may know, Ingle was the beloved acting teacher at Beverly Hill High for many years, in addition to being a highly respected professional actor.  If they had to knock off yet another member of the Quartermaine family, some writer with brains at GH figured out that the oldest Quartermaine had to be asking himself why.

Let’s be glad Joseph P. Kennedy has a long  listing in Wikipedia!

But seriously, I salute all the creative people at General Hospital whose efforts  made the dreadful B&W Ball more than a haunted houseful of hooey!


  1. Sue Crocker says:

    Actually, Justus was his grandson, not his son. 🙂 I really enjoyed watching the parts of the B&W ball you mentioned.

  2. I was choking up during John Ingle’s scene with RC. For two reasons, the comparison with Old Joe Kennedy and just to see such a GREAT actor work his craft.

    I would only hope some of the lackluster, one-note newbies were watching how it should be done.

  3. I can’t not enjoy watching Tony Geary. He will always be the best soap opera actor out there for me.

  4. I am not a big GH fan, but John Ingle has always been so amazing.

    I found the clip of the scene Marlena mentions and I am still bawling. It’s just exquisite, not only because of the parallels that Edward clearly draws in his speech, but because the whole thing is (a) in character and (b) draws from years of history.

    Every executive producer and every writing team of EVERY show should watch that clip.

  5. Chere Marlena,

    Yes, Tony and Jane were the highlight of the B&W ball. Wonderful work, made even better by 30 years of character development.

    I also loved Tracey’s comment to the hospitalized Luke after returning from Emily’s funeral. She gave harrowing descriptions of the people there in the midst of their grief, then turned it around saying to Luke, “Don’t you dare make me go through another day like that. Don’t you DARE.”

    John Ingle’s speech comparing Edward Q to Joseph Kennedy was brilliant. I, too, loved the real life comparrison both because it was so apt and so rarely done on soaps. Bravo!

    But the really tragic thing about Edward’s speech learning the news of Emily’s death is that it was juxtaposed with Monica learning the same news from Jason. I felt the Monica-Jason scenes were horribly rushed and poorly written. Didn’t do justice to the years we’ve invested in the Qs to have such an important Monica scene huried through, just so we could get back to more scenes with Sonny.

    On a related note, I was so pleaased they had Leslie Weber come to the funeral. The show has treated her character so badly since bringing her back to life a decade ago. So it was especially nice to see Leslie and Monica shared that scene which also honored their past connections. Nice that the writers rememebred that bit of history.

    Also nice they got Dillon and Ned to come back for the funeral. Too bad they couldn’t use any flashbacks of Emily as a kid.

  6. John Ingle made me cry and it is such a shame that TIIC are slowly killing off such a great family. I do want to say that Leslie Charleson’s scenes with Steve Burton were phenomenal as well

  7. I loved the scenes with Luke and Tracy and I think that you made an excellent point when you said “What made the Luke and Tracy scenes all the richer was the fact that we the audience have closely walked down 30 years worth of separate paths with these characters. And here they are sharing a love that is even sweeter since we’ve watched them as separate characters, both rogues, struggle and suffer all these years.”

    With most soaps the same pairings are visited over and over and over again…Bo and Hope, John and Marlena, Blair and Todd, Josh and Reva, Luke and Laura, Nikki and Victor etc. There is this idea of a couple who “should be together.” Unfortunately writers have a hard time writing interesting married life, so the couples split up, only to reunite, only to be split up, only to reunite and on and on…basically rehashing the same story over and over again. It’s an excepted soap convention and don’t get me wrong…I love John and Marlena and from my (very) short stint watching Y&R I think Nikki and Victor belong together, but with GH’s Luke and Tracy it’s refreshing to see a pairing that’s not expected and that throws the typical convention out the window in favor of something that is ultimately more compelling. Something that’s new; that’s different. That takes two characters who each have rich GH histories and are pillars of two established core families and brings them together in a love story that is the most realistic portrayal of married life that I’ve ever seen on a soap because it actually deals with all of the emotion and baggage these characters have from 30 years of past loves and losses. Viva la LuNacy! And long live the Quartermaine and Spencer clans!

    Marlena says: What a great letter with good points. I had never heard that acronym before-LuNacy. Oh ha ha! I have to admit I like the complex, mature, redeeming union of Luke and Tracy because I am a married person. How rare it is to see characters you can really relate to on a soap opera any more!

  8. I, too, was struck by Edward learning from Skye. I was like, ‘where is he going with this’, and I realized it, even before he spoke of him losing his son, The President, that he was talking about Joe Kennedy. I thought that was a very accurate comparison, and I could see it haunting Edward. I find it absolutely ridiculous that the only young Quartermaine left on the show is JASON, who spent as much time as he could hating the family. Yes, I’m still mad about AJ, Justus, Alan AND Emily. They SO didn’t need to die – NONE OF THEM.

  9. Oh, there’s just not enough room to express my disappointment for the B&W ball. It could have been done in 1/4 the time, and spared me looking at those dreadful David’s Bridal gowns for so long! LOL

  10. The scene with Edward talking about losing all of his family wasn’t just a valentine to John Ingle, but to those of us who were watching it. GH that’s how you should do soap, not murders all the time.

    Luke and Tracy are an interesting case. They shouldn’t work, but somehow they just do. The two characters don’t have illusions when it comes to the past, and yet they stand together (or at least when Tony Geary isn’t on vacation.)

  11. I completely agree with what you said, Marlena. While I enjoy the younger characters, it’s the veterans that keep me watching the show. The scenes you mentioned were compelling and well-acted. Actually, you couldn’t even tell they were acting. GH is an excellent show that neglects its vets too often when instead, they should be integrating them into bigger storylines – or at least active storylines. I say this as a 38-year-old who has watched the show on-and-off since the early 80’s. Hopefully the producers get the hint. And hopefully they stop mindlessly killing characters that could easily leave the show the old fashioned way – by just disappearing.

  12. I, too, realized before Edward mentioned his role model losing a son that he was drawing a parallel between himself and Joe Kennedy. What made it even more poignant for me was that this show aired on Robert Kennedy’s birthday. Deliberate? I don’t know, but I teared up … for Edward’s loss and our country’s loss.

    Marlena says: Your letter made me tear up Beverly. Amazing! I remember Senator Kennedy well and with you still mourn his loss.

  13. UGH… mature.. Luke and Tracy.. they are just drunk all of the time, at each other throats all of the time… Luke disappears for months on end is captive and Tracy could care less… gosh if that is anyone’s idea of what a real mature marraige should look like, I feel badly for them. Tony Geary and Jane Elliot have so much more to play and they have been resigned to circus clowns and doing the same act over and over and over again.. for years…maybe the black and white ball was an exception.. but the rule is that they are actors and chracters over 40 so they don’t get a real love story they get comedy relief….and it just isn’t funny any more. They just need to give them something else to play. It is a shame wasting the talent of two of GH’s best actors.

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