Soap Opera Legend #1: Genie Francis

Many years ago, Blackgama, an association of mink ranchers, started a print advertising campaign that became a cultural touchstone: “What becomes a legend most?” The answer: featuring a star like Lauren Bacall or Barbra Streisand modeling one of its coats.

In our daytime soap world, there are numerous legendary performers — both alive and dead. I have had the great fortune to have interviewed many of them. This week: a recollection of and an evaluation of the work of Genie Francis, who starred in a number of soaps, but has most notably played Laura Spencer on General Hospital.

As those who are old enough remember (and as those who are too young have heard about, ad infinitum), the world stopped those two days in November 1981 when Luke Spencer (played by Anthony Geary) married the much younger Laura Baldwin (Ms. Francis) on GH, and soaps received their highest ratings ever — over 30 million people watched the nuptials. That was pretty good for a romance that began with a rape that ABC rebranded a seduction when the undeniable chemistry between Geary and Francis led GH to pair Luke and Laura as a supercouple. (This was an ugly event in daytime history. ABC Daytime even demanded that journalists go along with the relabeling effort.)

Still, there’s nothing but love and joy and amazing talent about Francis — and she has it to this day. Laura is now a grandmother and (I love this!) the mayor of Port Charles. She is happily married to the hospital’s best shrink, Dr. Kevin Collins (played by the always amazing Jon Lindstrom).

But back to the beginning: Francis was 15 when she debuted on GH.  (I had the pleasure of interviewing her that same year.) Laura, of course, was the daughter of Dr. Lesley Webber (played by Denise Alexander) and Dr. Rick Webber (played by Chris Robinson). The character also had an interesting sister named Amy Vining (played by the late Shell Kepler). As we all know, Laura had a teenage love, Scotty Baldwin (still played by daytime icon Kin Shriner but now called Scott), whom she married before Luke.

In real life, Francis is the daughter of the noted actor Ivor Francis; her mother, Rosemary Francis, was an actress too. Prior to coming to GH, Genie guest-starred on that wonderful prime-time show Family.

Why do we all love Laura — and Genie — so much? From Day One on GH, Genie’s Laura, besides being luminous, was smart, sincere and intelligent. Both Genie and Laura grew up in front of us lucky viewers. (When I interviewed her for the first time all those years ago, she was … just lovely!)

According to an old Intimate Portrait: Genie Francis on Lifetime — check it out on YouTube —Genie had a rough time being in the national spotlight. It was an era when drugs plagued soap sets. In that special, Genie admits to doing cocaine (oh no!) in those years. But she did come clean — and I admire her so much because she admitted her problem publicly by doing a public service announcement (PSA).  She didn’t have to do it; what a great heart she has.

But back to Laura: Genie was brought onto GH by the groundbreaking executive producer Gloria Monty, whose GH became an American institution. How downright superlative it was. I never missed an episode back then; did you?

We all know that Laura came and went a lot in the early days. Genie left to do prime time and raise a family with her husband, Jonathan Frakes (of Star Trek: The Next Generation; he was also briefly on The Doctors.)  She met him when she was starring on the prime-time soap opera Bare Essence (1983) and the miniseries North and South (1985).

Over the years, Genie starred on other soaps. On Days of Our Lives, she played Diana Colville (1987-89), a reporter involved with Roman Brady/John Black, played then (and now) by Drake Hogestyn. Later, she played Ceara Connor on Agnes Nixon’s All My Children. ABC wanted her back on GH to raise ratings — so the network fired her from AMC and sent her back to GH.  (It really happened.) She was also on The Young and the Restless as Genevieve Atkinson.

And today we GH fans still have Genie to love and enjoy. She and Tony Geary made daytime history that long ago November 1982 wedding day. But what amazing acting work Genie has done in the years since — and continues to do.

Comments

  1. David Johnson says:

    MA CHERE MARLENA, MERCI BEAUCOUP FOR THE LOVELY TRIBUTE TO GENIE FRANCIS. I DID ONE INTERVIEW WITH HER ON ‘GH’ WHEN SHE WAS VERY YOUNG. AS I RECALL, SHE WAS YOUNGER THAN 19 YEARS OLD, BUT OF COURSE I COULD BE WRONG ABOUT THAT, NATURELLEMENT!! 🙂

    • Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a Connie Passalacqua Hayman says:

      Cher Davide–Yes Genie debuted on “General Hospital” when she was 15. We were both teenagers when we separately interviewed but of course. Tourjours l’amour!

  2. Genie is a national treasure. She deserves an article honoring her work as often as possible! Great job, as always, Marlena!

    Marlena says: Thanks as always dear friend and cherished colleague!

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