She was the biggest star on the planet and could do what she damn well pleased — and that included taking a job on a daytime soap! It's been 33 years since Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor stunned Hollywood by appearing on ABC's General Hospital as villainess Helena Cassadine, who campily crashed the wedding of Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) and put a curse on them that lasts to this day.
At the time, Taylor told People magazine, "I'm wild about General Hospital. Someone from [ABC] came to see me when I was doing The Little Foxes in New York, and I agreed to do the soap when I got to L.A. I had a ball."
The ceremony — airing November 16 and 17, 1981 — drew a record audience of 30 million. And we're still talking about it! TV Guide Magazine asked Geary and costar Jacklyn Zeman, who plays Luke's sister, Nurse Bobbie Spencer, to flash back on Taylor's trip to Port Chuck. Here's what they had to say.
Geary: I'm sure nobody from the network went to Elizabeth about this unsolicited, because the possibility that she'd do GH was just too crazy to even imagine. Someone from her team must have floated the idea first. This was back when she was married to Sen. John Warner and wasn't very happy sitting on the farm in Virginia. She told me that GH — especially the Ice Princess story — took her out of her lethargy every afternoon. Luke and Laura's love story made Elizabeth feel very nostalgic. She said it reminded her of her youth and the great romance films of the old studio system.
Zeman: Ms. Taylor had a spectacular existence — fame, money, jewels, yachts and husbands galore — but being on GH gave her real pleasure. It was such an inspiration to see her come on our show and say, "I don't care what anybody thinks!" She didn't need anybody's validation. She was the ultimate cool girl.
Geary: There were rumors in the press that Elizabeth had insisted on her dressing room being painted violet to match her eyes and that it have floor-to-ceiling fish tanks. Ridiculous! She didn't pull any star s--t. [Laughs] In fact, I'd seen far more star s--t from some of my castmates! She was sweet, funny, self-deprecating — a dream to work with.
Zeman: You have to remember these were very different times. Show business was compartmentalized. Soap actors didn't do primetime. Primetime actors didn't do movies. So [Taylor] was a big shot in the arm for GH and all of daytime TV. Her guest stint broke the rules.
Geary: After her appearance, we suddenly had a glut of big names wanting to be on GH but [then-executive producer] Gloria Monty wasn't biting. Her attitude was, "I don't need stars. I make 'em!" It's a testament to Elizabeth's star power that her character [now played by Constance Towers] is still with us all these decades later. Helena has died and come back more often than I've had a glass of wine. There's a reason for that longevity — the character was born of magnificence.