In 1981, more Americans watched Luke and Laura’s wedding on General Hospital than Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s televised nuptials. The daytime soap opera was a cultural phenomenon, and the headstrong Laura, played by Genie Francis, was the role model for millions of young women.
Laura was initially a supporting character. “When I was a little kid and started playing the role, all I did was be myself in that situation because that’s as much as I knew about acting when I was fourteen years old,” Francis recalls. General Hospital was on the verge of being canceled when the soap’s producer decided to center the show around Laura in the hope of attracting young viewers. Laura’s attraction to the character of Luke, an older disco owner with connections to organized crime, was supposed to be a temporary obstacle to her romance with good guy Scotty. The writers changed her storyline after they noticed Francis’s great chemistry with Luke’s portrayer Tony Geary. People who had never watched soaps before were enthralled by Luke and Laura’s action-packed love story. General Hospital soon rose to number one in the Nielsen ratings.
Francis and Geary left the show in 1983 at the height of their popularity, returning a decade later to much fanfare. Although Francis had departed in 2002 to focus on raising her two children and Geary recently announced that he's retiring, Francis has returned to General Hospital to tell the final chapter of Luke and Laura’s story. She spoke to Bio about the iconic couple’s farewell and how playing Laura has shaped her life.
This is the end of an era. So many fans love Luke and Laura. What has their relationship meant to you?
Well, obviously it’s been a huge part of my life and bringing it to a closure is personal and I’m very glad I am a part of it. It would be wrong if I were not. I’ve been kind of weepy, in and out, facing the reality of really having it be over because it’s been my life for decades; every anniversary, the 25th year anniversary, the 30th year anniversary. I’m feeling very nostalgic and appropriately grateful for what I had.
Laura has returned because her son Lucky has been kidnapped and she needs Luke’s help to save him. What can you reveal about their storyline?
I can’t reveal actual story because that just isn’t right, but I can tell you that it’s definitely going to be a crowd pleaser. It’s sort of like a bookend story, which is great. There will be more [actors] showing up as surprises. There’re some unbelievably powerful scenes between Jonathan Jackson and Tony Geary that are just not to be missed.
Jonathan Jackson, who plays Lucky, has been starring on the primetime series Nashville for the past few years. What was your reunion like?
It was great. I didn’t get to have a one-on-one scene with him, which was a sad thing for me. But him coming back to the set that day, everyone was overcome with emotion. They embraced him. Then we all looked at each other. We embraced each other. He was like, “Mom!” You could see everyone was so touched to remember a time on this show that was so special that everyone looks back on with a lot of love.
After Luke leaves the show, Laura is going to stick around for a while. What will an independent Laura be like?
I’m hoping they can find a way to not necessarily reinvent Laura, but rediscover Laura. We all know who Laura is and we don’t want to reinvent her, but to check in with her at this age, at this point in her life, I would love it. I have an empty nest, and I would love to just be back at work full time.
Looking back, what have been your favorite and least favorite storylines?
My least favorite, no question, was having to do the [presumed] death of Lucky. That was so painful. I played it as real as I possibly could, but it was so dark. I really think that was sort of the undoing of Laura because it was too painful and she was so crushed and I think it just got too dark. Everybody loved that storyline so much of the three of them together. So I think having him die was too negative and too awful at that time. So I’m glad that’s been rectified. But that’s definitely the one that I didn’t like doing. I loved doing all the stuff with him when he was little, every bit of it. I loved the comeback [in 1993] when Luke and Laura were reunited and they parachuted into town. Those were all really exciting times because Laura’s afraid of heights and they’re in the airplane together and he says, “You’re going to jump,” and she rolls her eyes like, “Yeah, right. Stop pulling my leg.” And then they smash cut to her screaming her head off as she drops out of a plane. Those are moments that I love because there is humor in it. There always was a little bit of humor in the story and I like that they kept that going.
Are there any ways in which your life has paralleled Laura’s?
I know that when little Jonathan [Jackson] came into my life something in me said, “It’s time for you to have a baby, too.” It just gave my soul permission to realize that this was something I wanted in my life. Then Laura had an emergency cesarean. I had an emergency cesarean. I wasn’t as nervous about it when I did it because I’d already done it as Laura and I kind of knew what it was going to be like. It was a dress rehearsal.
You’re married to Jonathan Frakes who played Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which show has the harder core fans, General Hospital or Star Trek?
It’s very much equal. We both have a very strong and loyal fanbase and what’s interesting is there is quite a bit of crossover. When Jonathan goes and does his appearances, he’ll get tons of comments from the people in line for his autograph about me.
For several years, you lived out of the limelight in a small town in New England. Why did you decide to leave Hollywood?
We have a house in Maine that we have had since our children were two years old. That was our best home time since there were no distractions of Hollywood and no matter where we went in the world, we always returned to that home. So when we finished in London and we went back to Maine, we had a lot of trouble getting schools in L.A. for our kids and I turned to my husband and I said, “Why don’t we just stay?” He said, “Really?” and I said, “Yeah. Why not? Let’s just stay.” So we did that for three years and then I got a little concerned about their upper school education and we wanted them to go to a private high school which really isn’t available out there. So we came back for that.
Do either of your children have the showbiz bug?
When my daughter was young, like 14 years old, she desperately wanted to go out for auditions and start acting and I just kept putting it off and putting it off. It was very tricky but I found ways to get around it. I didn’t want her to do it when she was young. She is very talented as an actress. She’s even more talented as a writer and a director. She’s very bright and if she wanted to pursue show business at this point, it would be fine with me and I would support her. I just didn’t want her to do it in childhood. My son had absolutely no interest in being in front of the camera. He is intrigued by being behind the camera so it’s possible he may go in that direction.
Other than Laura, what would be your dream role?
I’ve always wanted to do something that’s a little more light and comedic. That would be fun for me. It’s a lot of fun for me because I spent an awful lot of time doing tragedy and making people cry and I just like having something that’s light so something along those lines would be nice for me right now. I think it would be really fun to do a show like The Office that’s absurd or Portlandia where you could just be really absurd. That kind of comedy looks so appealing to me… We’ll see what the future holds. I think I’m going to be like Betty White. As I get older and older, I’ll be free to be more and more absurd.