This piece appeared in Soap Opera Weekly in 1995.

by Jim Warren

Luke (Anthony Geary) and the faux gator.

LUKE WRESTLES AN ALLIGATOR to save his friends on the island of San Joaquin this week on General Hospital. The Spencers are trailing the elusive Frank Smith, and have been joined by Sean and Tiffany, who have their own troubles.

The alligator (Wally) sees Tiffany as a potentially tasty snack. Sharon Wyatt said of her green co-star, "I couldn't really see how close the thing was until they yelled cut. Then I looked over and thought I could be dead if the trainers hadn't grabbed him. But he did have beautiful eyes!"

Actually, four trainers were on hand for the all-night shoot, which included a stunt man for Geary as well as a faux alligator. Executive producer Wendy Riche was the only person from the GH contingent to actually touch Wally.

It was Riche who gave the final thumbs-up on booking Wally, after receiving the idea from head writer Claire Labine. "She came to me and said she was thinking of something special, and would we consider using a real alligator. She told me the story and I said, 'Let's check it out, let's see what was involved. How would the alligator perform; did we know what we were in for?' They told us how it could be accomplished, and it was very reassuring," Riche explained.

Once the alligator was booked, it was time to inform Geary of his new sparring partner. "It was a perfect thing for Luke to do, and Tony seemed thrilled," she said.

"Well, it sounded like fun," Geary said. In fact, "My first professional acting job was the crocodile in Peter Pan," he remembered. "I've come full circle."

The long shoot proved uncomfortable for the principals. Geary had to stand in a man-made pool, which, according to the actor, "had the mucky feeling of a real swamp." Meanwhile, a pregnant Genie Francis (Laura) tried to get comfortable in a folding chair. Wyatt got to sit down, although she was tied to a tree.

It was killing me," Wyatt laughed. "I was sitting on little chips of wood and the longer we sat the worse it got." When asked if he'd rather be waterlogged or tied to a tree like Sharon Wyatt, Geary said, "I'd rather be tied to Sharon Wyatt!" But he noted, "I prefer to play in the water than be tied to a tree."

Geary and stunt double Steve Holiday (left).

Laura (Genie Francis) rests while cast and crew confer.

Tiffany (Sharon Wyatt, above) is too tied up to talk.

Executive producer Wendy Riche meets guest star Wally.

Sidebar: Down by the San Joaquin riverbank

IN HIS THREE YEARS ON THE JOB, GENERAL HOSPITAL set designer Matthew Jacobs has had to make comfortable sets for countless actors--including, recently, a large dog named Foster. However the San Joaquin riverbank, which was shown last week and is seen again this week, gave Jacobs the opportunity to create a comfortable setting for an alligator.

"The entire set is close to 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep. That is including the pond--which is 20-by-30. The water is heated to a nice temperature; the alligator trainers have requested the temperature be about 80 degrees. The pond has a ledge so that the alligator can crawl up out of it, and that is also the area where the guy that wrestles with the alligator [enters]."

At the time of Jacobs' conversation with SOAP OPERA WEEKLY, the alligators were en route to the set. "They haven't arrived yet, but their dressing rooms are being prepared," he said with a laugh. "We have one live alligator and one mechanical one, which will be used quite a bit for the actual wrestling because the live one can hurt people."

Once the frame of the set was built, Jacobs and his crew rented "at least a hundred different tropical trees and bushes, and they are all real," he says. "We have 30-foot-tall queen palms, ficus and ferns. We also dumped a truckload of dirt into the pond itself and around the platform." Jacobs brought in the people who do the fiberglass work for the Disney theme parks, to do the GH pond. Platforms were carpeted so thuds wouldn't be heard when actors walked around the pond. --QCW


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