As many of you know, I used to love soap operas. Yep, I loved my stories. I don’t so much anymore, for many reasons I’ve written about. However, I do keep track of the soap news, and here’s the big news for the week: Genie Francis, who became famous when she portrayed the role of Laura Vinning Baldwin Spencer, is coming back to General Hospital.
As many of you know, I was not a GH fan. I was a Guiding Light girl, all the way. Yet General Hospital was a religion for many people. It started in the late 70’s when it was dead last in the ratings. Gloria Monty was brought in to boost up the ratings. There were instant changes. The teleprompter? Gone. The sets that looked like your grandma’s house? Gone. Long scenes? Gone. Monty brought in Douglas Marland, and he transformed the show. In a year, the show was riding high. The actors became stars. One of the stars was a young girl named Genie Francis.
She looked every bit like a California girl. Long blonde hair, slender build. The type of girl who might go to the beach as soon as school was over. Her only other acting job was an episode of Family where she was Buddy’s enemy in a skateboard contest. She was sixteen and suddenly famous. They paired her character up with Scotty Baldwin, and they got married. Douglas Marland wanted to give her a break, she just went through a year of an exhausting storyline of being separated from Scotty, then back together, and then separated again, then married. Monty refused. Francis was one of the stars. No way was she getting a break.
Marland left, and Pat Falken Smith came in. She and Monty noticed chemistry with Francis and another actor, Anthony Geary. He played Luke Spencer, a soap opera hood. Spencer came in Monty’s office and said, “I hate soap opera.” Monty said, “Honey, so do I. Let’s change that.” Soon they sure did.
Pat Falken Smith had an idea that she used on Days of our Lives. With Luke and Laura, there was an attraction. However, Laura would never willingly cheat on boring old Scotty. On to plan B, which became one of the most controversial stories on a soap which I would see thirty years later on You Tube.
On a night when he was drunk and confused, positive he was going to be killed by the mob, he invited Laura to dance in the disco where they both worked. They were all alone. “Rise” by Herb Albert played as they danced, then he started to make moves on her. She protested, saying no, no. He ignored her. The next thing we saw was bright lights from the ceiling, Laura saying no as Luke raped her on the disco floor.
Yes, this doesn’t make sense. This is why I was never a Luke and Laura fan. It didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t know about it when I was a kid, but when I found out when I was older I was horrified. People went crazy over a guy who raped a woman as a way to seduce her? I didn’t get it. I just didn’t get it. To be honest, I still don’t get it.
However, they were a hit. A monster hit, being on the cover of People and Newsweek. Suddenly all the shows had to have supercouple! If GH had an unusual villain, the other shows had to have a villain as well! If GH had to have lovers on the run story, the other soaps did as well! If one of the characters burped, well… you get the idea. When they got married, not only was the whole town there (except for Rick Springfield’s Noah Drake) Elizabeth Taylor made an appearance as Helena Cassidine, cursing Luke and Laura because…oh, I forget why. However, the fact that Elizabeth Taylor was even there proved that soaps weren’t just the shows your mother watched anymore. They were a phenomena.
Soon Francis left the show and tried to get into primetime. Eventually she came back, and Luke and Laura were reunited, then Geary and Francis left the show together. She did a couple of mini series. Francis went on to other shows where I watched her. She’s always had a likable quality about her I liked, playing characters that were warm and friendly. However, GH called again, and she answered. Soon Luke and Laura came back.
This is when I was watching GH sometimes because Claire Labine was doing excellent work over there, and although I still didn’t get Luke and Laura, I liked Laura. Again, Francis excelled at playing a warm, caring woman who loved her husband and her family. Laura’s the type of character that you just liked. She wasn’t sticky sweet, just a genuine person who, oh, happened to save the world once from an evil genius.
In 1998, their son Lucky (played by Jonathan Jackson) found out about the rape. Angry, he confronted his mother and she tried to explain what happened. “You told me when it was love at first sight,” he said. “When the lights were going, and he had you pinned down…” She tried to explain, but he kept on going, saying all the things many viewers felt for years. It was a powerful scene, and Francis and Jonathan Jackson gave powerhouse performances.
A couple of years later, Francis left the show after the contract dispute. Francis later told an interviewer she thought it was because she said publicly that during the Luke and Laura heyday she was doing drugs. Either way, GH lost a bright star when Laura killed her stepfather Rick Webber and went into a cationic state afterwards.
Francis went to Maine and started a business called The Cherished Home, which sells cottage furnishings. She was happy with her husband and her children, but soon GH called her back, wanting her to come to celebrate Luke and Laura’s 25th wedding anniversary. How could she refuse? Laura came out of her cationic state, married Luke again in a fake ceremony (Luke was married at the time to scheming Tracy Quatermaine) but soon went back into cationic state. Her brief performance nabbed her a well deserved Emmy (personally I though it should’ve been a tie between her and Bold and Beautiful’s Lesli Kay)
Now she’s coming back. I looked at her website and she still looks like that California girl. A little older now, but she still looks warm and friendly. Although I am happy she’s working again, I still have mixed feelings about Luke and Laura. I think I always will. For although GH has tried to make up for it, nothing can make up for the fact that one night, Luke Spencer emotionally and physically raped Laura Baldwin. You can’t tape over the fact she said no. It’s not something that can’t be erased.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries