Originally provided by Arda Darakjian
This article appeared in TV Guide
on October 16, 1993.
Engagement: Luke & Laura, the soap sweethearts of the century, are back--again.
by Michael Logan
As General Hospital's Luke
and Laura--the hottest, hippest lovers in the history of soaps--actors Anthony
Geary and Genie Francis once took the country by storm. Now they're about to find
out if lightning strikes twice.
On Oct. 29, the darling duo--now
the parents of a 10-year-old boy but still on the run after all these years--will
make a budget-busting return to ABC's General Hospital, complete with explosions,
car chases, helicopters, parachutes, mobsters, catacombs, and a very deadly waterfall,
all shot on location in upstate New York. In other words, exactly the kind of
larger-than-life Luke-and-Laura adventure that brought soap-watching out of the
closet and sent the nearly canceled GH zooming to the top of the Nielsens
back in the late 1970s. But what about that lightning? Well, if truth be told,
Geary and Francis don't really expect it to strike again. Frankly, they don't
even want it to. "The first time around, people were screaming and pulling their
hair out like we were the Beatles or something," recalls the 31-year-old Francis,
who, pleading exhaustion, quit GH in 1981 at the peak of Luke-and-Laura
fever. "I don't believe we could ever again become that kind of crazy, media-blitz
"And," adds Geary, 46, "I wouldn't
be coming back as Luke if I thought that kind of hysteria was possible. There
was a time when I wasn't able to leave my house. I don't think that the price
will be as great this time. There are more than enough 25-year-old hunks around
for them to scream about."
But Geary and Francis still
have great expectations. After all, the Luke-and-Laura partnership--which started
with a rape and ended at the altar--was always one for the record books. More
than 30 million viewers tuned in to witness their "I do's" in November of 1981,
making it the most-watched soap event ever. The ceremony was so monumental that
even Elizabeth Taylor--one of the show's biggest fans--showed up as the high-camp
widow of Luke's archenemy.
While a Newsweek cover story
in '81 noted that aesthetes would find the Luke-and-Laura saga to be a "trashy,
electronic comic strip," it proclaimed that, for GH loyalists, the tale
"smacks of nothing less than Tolstoy adapted by Fellini, with Redford and Streisand
in the leads."
Of course, Geary never saw himself
as much of a Redford--"I've always been a pariah in this medium," he claims. "I
don't have the looks of a soap-opera leading man, and I don't have the insides,
either"--and the edgy, emotional Francis was far from a funny girl. Having landed
the gut-wrenching Laura Webber role at age 14, the actress literally grew up on
the GH sound stage. She played full-blown love scenes long before she'd
ever been kissed in real life; in one particularly kinky plot, loosely based on
the notorious Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato scandal, Laura accidentally killed
the lover she shared with her mother.
Eventually, Francis found herself
too busy for a personal life at all. After five years on the front burner, she
took a hike soon after the Luke-and-Laura nuptials. Revitalized by a breather,
she then waltzed right into her own series, NBC's short-lived Bare Essence,
and later costarred with future husband Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. Ryker on Star
Trek: The Next Generation) in the Civil War miniseries North and South
and its 1986 sequel, North and South: Book II. (Both will appear in yet
another sequel, the upcoming Heaven and Hell.) But daytime TV, she soon
discovered, is really where it's at.
"Having known nothing but soaps,
I left them thinking prime time just had to be more fun and exciting...but
it is not," says Francis with a weary laugh. After quickie returns to GH
in 1983 and '84, she signed onto Days of Our Lives in 1987 as newspaper
reporter Diana Colville. Three years later, she was back in the ABC fold as incest
victim Ceara Connor on All My Children.
Anthony Geary--who won a 1982 Daytime
Emmy as Outstanding Actor--was equally anxious to put GH behind him. He
left the show in 1984, then--rather than accept one of several offers to join
a prime-time soap--tried to bury his alter ego by taking a series of quirky character
roles on stage and in independent films. In 1990, Gloria Monty (the powerhouse
executive producer responsible for teaming Luke and Laura) was seduced back to
GH, and she in turn got Geary to rejoin the show by offering him a million-dollar
contract and a rock-solid promise that he wouldn't have to play Luke. Geary dyed
his blond hair red, donned a pair of brown contact lenses to cover up his baby
blues, and created the role of Luke's look-alike cousin Bill Eckert--a guy who
wound up making some soap-opera history of his own. When first introduced, Bill
was portrayed as a mysterious, brooding seaman. But as the door of the GH
writers' office began to revolve, he changed character almost as often as he changed
underwear. The seaman (who eventually went blond) blossomed into a wholesome,
upstanding family man right out of Father Knows Best, then--in a rather
quick succession--he became a shark-fighting swashbuckler; a wealthy, Noel Coward-ish
bon vivant; and, last, an unkempt, two-timing, alcoholic pig. Though well-acted
by Geary at every turn, the metamorphoses stand as some of the most confusing--and
unpleasant--in daytime memory.
"A lot of people have found Bill
unsuccessful--but I don't," says Geary, who will briefly play Bill and Luke until
the former is written out for good. "It was a battle getting there, but we finally
found out who he was--a man who lives in quiet desperation and is much too existential
for the soap medium. But I don't think there's anything to apologize for. I would
never consider the success of a character to be gauged by his popularity with
the audience." Still, there's an unmistakable sense that the 2-year struggle has
left Geary mad as hell and desperate for the creative high that Luke Spencer once
gave him. "Anger is a great motivator of mine," he says. "I just don't want to
fade out--I want to burn out. I want to go out with a Viking funeral."
Thus the decision to resurrect Luke.
Though whispered about for years, the Luke-and-Laura reunion only became official
last spring, after Geary and Francis (who'd seen each other just twice since playing
the roles) held extensive creative discussions with ABC brass and GH's
current executive producer, Wendy Riche.
"None of us had any desire to duplicate
the past--and we don't need to," says Riche. "The chemistry between Tony and Genie
is still magical, and the audience will still respond to the unconditional love
between the characters because that kind of emotional bond is a rarity--in soaps
and in life."
Geary, in tandem with Irene Suver,
a Washington-based writer and long-time pal, concocted the plot that will bring
Luke and Laura back to Port Charles. But the stars' enthusiasm for the comeback
really soared when ABC fired virtually the entire GH writing team in August
and hired Claire Labine, the eight-time Emmy winning writer/producer who co-created
ABC's landmark soap Ryan's Hope. "The minute Claire was involved," says
Geary, "I let out a deep breath and relaxed. I knew we'd be OK."
Not that there aren't still trepidations
"If we weren't terrified, we'd be
insane," laughs Labine, who sees the Luke-and-Laura partnership not as a show-biz
phenomenon, but as "two old and dear friends whom we deeply loved but lost. Now
they're coming home again--and in that context it's much less terrifying for us
Through thick and thin, Luke, the
madcap iconoclast, and Laura, the passionate earth angel, were always each other's
life jacket. Now, that sentiment is echoed by the stars in real life. Says Francis:
"I have never, ever, had an acting partnership that was a safe, as full, and as
exciting as the one I had with Tony. I didn't want to go through life without
having a chance to taste it again."
And Geary (who has once again permed
his hair to achieve, as he puts it, "the Bozo look") says he would "never have
brought back Luke without Laura, because she defines him. His feelings, his life,
are all about her. I had so closed the door on Luke that there was a point when
I couldn't even remember who he was. But when I sat down with Genie again, and
looked at her and touched her and smelled her, it all came back. I can't do it
The wedding party: Anthony Geary
and Genie Francis tied the knot as Luke and Laura on Nov. 17, 1981.
Geary and Francis say the old magic
is still there.
from the table of