They set the country on fire. On November 16, 1981, General Hospital's Luke and Laura said "I Do" to a record audience of 30 million viewers. Exactly 25 years later to the day, the now-divorced soul mates will marry again. Will lightning strike twice? TV Guide caught up with five-time Emmy winner Anthony Geary, 59, and Genie Francis, 44, who is making a brief return to GH after a four-year absence, to get their take on the pressures of fame and their upcoming nuptials the ultimate soapy sweeps stunt.
TVGuide.com: What made GH, and especially the wedding, so hot and memorable back in the '80s?
Tony Geary: The soap medium had become pretty staid it was like radio with pictures and we really shook it up. Unlike today, we weren't afraid to tell a great romantic story. We were fun and dangerous, and we teased the fans unmercifully. Luke and Laura were flirting for almost a year before running away, and then during the runaway they didn't jump into bed not only because she was married [to Scotty] but because of Luke's guilt for having raped her. By the time they married, there was a real visceral release.
Genie Francis: People still mark time with that wedding. They remember where they were, what class they cut to get in front of a TV.... GH moved into the pop culture. Suddenly watching us was no longer just for housewives it was the cool thing for kids to do. It was a social phenomenon.
TVGuide.com: Would you have ever guessed you'd still be here 25 years later?
Francis: Oh, no! And getting married again? Absolutely not.
TVGuide.com: This all seems sort of rushed, doesn't it? Laura comes out of her catatonic stupor after four years, they remarry, and then you're gone again? There's so much to cover: Lulu's abortion, Lucky's drug addiction, Luke's marriage to the town bitch... and that little matter of Laura killing her own stepfather.
Francis: I think the whole story's been done in fast-forward, which is a little sad, because there are such terrific writing and acting opportunities in the story of the Spencers. It's a shame to gloss over them quickly.
Geary: The reality is that [Genie's return] is only about the 25th wedding anniversary. They want to squeeze the last bit of blood out of this franchise that they can.
TVGuide.com: Genie, you've moved to Maine with your husband, Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and now run a home-furnishings store. Are your Hollywood peeps shocked that you quit the biz?
Francis: Most of my actor friends don't believe it's possible to let go of it and be happy, and for a while that was true for me. For the first two years I ached, every day. And I had such bad dreams. But then I made the decision to start working on my little shop and all that went away. To create a success solely on my own away from ABC, away from GH, away from Tony was huge for me. A lot of actors think they can't be happy without the acting.... But I think I couldn't be happy with it anymore.
TVGuide.com: Tony, you've made a similar escape to Amsterdam, where you have a second home.
Geary: During the heyday of Luke and Laura, I had no life. I never could hold a relationship. I was miserable. The downtime from the show was terrifying to me. And I had a lot of bad behavior during that downtime, and it slopped over into [the show] as well. Unless I was being Luke Spencer, I didn't know who to be anymore. So when I came back to GH in 1991, I promised myself that I was going to find a retreat somewhere where no one knew me and that didn't leave a lot of the world. When I found Amsterdam, I'd never felt so at home. They could not care less about celebrity. Nobody knows me, and I love it.
TVGuide.com: Genie, you really cut loose in your 2001 Lifetime Intimate Portrait, admitting you had drug and alcohol problems during your younger days on GH. What did you think when Gloria Monty when interviewed by Lifetime expressed surprise at your substance abuse? As the executive producer of GH back in the '80s, wasn't she like the all-time control freak? How could she not know?
Genie: No, she wasn't surprised. She knew. I think she was stunned that I finally spoke out. Stunned.
Geary: In a moment of self-preservation, Gloria probably opted to act surprised. But she knew. The woman knew everything that was going on everywhere in that studio.
TVGuide.com: Rumor is, Laura will slip back into catatonia and Genie will exit GH by the end of the month. So that's it for the Luke and Laura reunion? What a rip.
Francis: [Shrugging unhappily] So far, ABC has only engaged me for a limited period of time, and there's been no talk of anything further. So it would be premature for me to say anything on the subject.
Geary: It speaks to the power of Laura as a character and Genie as an actress that the audience feels their presence even when they're not around. The viewers adore Genie. And even if she's off the canvas, the story will continue anyway. One of Luke's lungs will always breathe for Laura.
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General Hospital fans, be sure not to miss TVGuide.com's own Daniel Coleridge's brand-new Q&A with Genie Francis.